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The Last Post

I have a small suitcase of letters from years gone by that I’ve dragged from one house to the next. They’re almost relics, these letters, written by hand and posted, in a letterbox! How quaint. One day I decided to put sentences from the various letters together, just out of curiosity, to see if the people who had written to me would make up a ‘composite friend’.

The resulting letter had its own strange and beautiful logic and although I knew who had written each line, the letter now seemed to have been written by the universe, to itself and to everyone who lived there. So it is with good stories and good art. They seem to have always belonged with you.

A year has passed to the day since I decided to join the world of online scribblers. It’s also the day that I call it a day. I could tizzy up my reasons for stopping but the reality is I’m getting too lazy to want to write it anymore. I figure it’s better to call time rather than post every six months or so like a stalker with chronic fatigue.

Strangely, the year of blogging ended with exactly the same weather conditions as it began. The rain started as I began writing my last post as if it was just popping in for a quick cuppa. Before I knew it, that rain had settled in with its feet up on the sofa and proceeded to turn on the TV. Then it just stayed the night. Unlike last year when the rain was this relentless, this year I was not doggedly (and dumbly) determined to get to a muddy bog of a music festival. Maybe I’ve learned something. But probably not…

Given this is The Last Post, I’m going to do a recap of some ‘Travels in my mind’ posts. It may be nostalgic indulgence but when was it anything else?

I wrote my first post about my annoying and unwelcome habit of needing to go to events that are sold out and difficult. ‘Travels in my mind’ began  with ‘Shine On, you crazy diamond’ in November 2010, when I shared the fab experience of driving to the inaccurately-named ‘Shine On’ festival in driving rain with my friend K. (who thankfully came to her senses and decided we should leave within minutes of our arrival). On the way home, we were attacked by birds.

The weather also played a significant role in ‘Man on plane, I am sorry’, December 2010,  in which I was returning from a visit to my Dad who lives in another state (physically, not metaphorically). I was on a plane which had been delayed due to storms and it was unsurprisingly, a rough flight. At some point during my visit Dad and I had had a conversation about what kind of funerals we would want – we like to keep the conversation light.  That conversation combined with the bumpy flight had made me quite skittish. I got into a weird and awkward conversation with a salesman sitting next to me, causing me to conclude that (a) sometimes I would rather eat my own arms than talk about work and (b) you shouldn’t talk to strangers if you can’t get away from them.

In February I visited Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, better known as MONA, and embraced its underground architecture and Scorpionic themes of sex and death. I loved the intensity and fun, and intense fun of it. But on a second visit not long ago I realised you never get that giddy first date feeling twice. While there were works I didn’t see the first time, some of which I found confronting and some moving, there was little from my first visit that I found compelling on second view. And on a rare sunny day in Hobart, with a wedding party on the grounds and a new admission fee generating the same old gallery demographic, MONA seemed already bereft of its rock ‘n’ roll patina. Possibly I just wasn’t in the mood. I preferred my friend G.‘s exhibition I went to on Saturday. She had made the most delicate drawings of her old Mum and Dad sleeping, drawings that were softly loving and made you ache with the inevitability of old age and its cousin, death.

For Valentine’s Day, I told a love story – a story of my longest first date. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was one of the most popular posts. Everyone loves a love story. (Or was it the KISS video? I admit, I watched that video a few more times than was healthy and had to get ‘I was made for loving you’ surgically removed.)

A friend asked me the other night what had been the most popular post. Right up there was the one about my visit to the Tutenkhamun exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. But as I explained to L., my blog must appear in search results when people are looking for information about the exhibition. My Tutenkhamun post continued to attract hits long past the date I posted it – and as I said to my friend, I feel a bit bad because my post about ‘What I’d learned from the Tutenkhamun exhibition’ was fairly glib. As King Tut’s family history featured some intensive interbreeding and he had a cleft palate and a club foot, I wrote that one thing I’d learned was not to horizontal folk-dance with the siblings. To all those students and foreign tourists searching for actual information, I can only apologise.

The dance films ‘Pina’ and ‘The Black Swan’  inspired curiosity about the history of the pointe shoe and ballet, in the case of ‘The Black Swan’ (‘Shall we dance? Or just pointe?’, January) and my return to dance class (‘Minding the pees and queues’, August). Going to a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater was just a visual feast that reminded me of the variety of permutations possible within human movement and all that is good about watching people move through space (‘An assault on the senses’, July).

There was the post about my sensitivity to people’s voices, inspired by the Southern Gothic baritone of Tony Joe White (‘Tony Joe White’s Sonic Boom’, May), in which I pondered whether a person’s voice is merely a product of anatomy or whether a voice reflects a person’s inner being. A Cat Power gig inspired a conversation about the evolution of stage fright and what it must be like to make music (and a living) while being scrutinised under the spotlight (‘A year of the Cat’, January).

In June, I was preparing to head to Bali and Cambodia.  A simple Google search: ‘music in Cambodia’ led to hours of reading about that country’s music scene now and in its 60s heyday. The contrast between the energetic spirit of contemporary bands in Cambodia with the silencing of musicians under the Khmer Rouge was so compelling that I decided to make a radio documentary while I was on holiday. Returning to Melbourne, I wrote another post about the trip, mostly about the first night of the Kampot River Music Festival and a motorbike ride through the hectic streets of Phnom Penh with Jan, German music producer and ex-soapie star (‘Holiday in Cambodia’, July).

A post about the differing recollections that my friend and I had about how an ex-housemate’s life was saved touched on the elusive nature of memory itself (‘Two of these things are true and one is a lie’, September). Yet the best things about writing ‘Travels in my mind’ has been the triggering of memories, however truthful they may be, and the perennial challenge we all share: trying to communicate something of our experience to someone else.

Thanks for reading; thanks to those who talked back. Your comments and encouragement have been so very welcome.

Yep, that’s all there is.

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The tears, the ecstasy, the surrender…goodbye Melbourne Festival

Come tomorrow, another Melbourne Festival will be over. And as festival programs go into the recycling bin, all those memories of shows are either stowed away in the minds of those who saw them, or blow away into the ether. Here’s what I’m going to try to hang onto:

1. The strange experience of the Manganyar Seduction – a troupe of moustachioed men from the desert cities of Rajasthan, India, appearing and disappearing from behind the red velvet curtains of their individual boxes, stacked on top of each other four stories high, like the apartment block of a wild dream. Globes surrounding each box, in the way of a backstage mirror, lighting up when it was the inhabitant’s turn to draw aside his curtain and play his instrument or sing. The singers of the troupe sitting cross-legged yet bringing the whole of their bodies to their singing. I remembered a friend who plays Indian classical music telling me that in Indian culture, the voice is foremost in the hierarchy of instruments and all music – the raga repertoire – is taught through singing. When a number of the moustachioed Manganyar musicians sang simultaneously,  their arms imploring the very air to carry their message forth, the effect was…well, it was…let me tell it this way…The performance began simply and quietly with a man playing a lute. Somehow, sometime later, I found myself dabbing at the tears in my eyes, wondering where they had come from and how the music had managed to get past my mind’s defences to take hold of my heart and squeeze it in a way that was divine and kind of excruciating.

Later I discovered this was the normal response to the Manganyar musicians. “I’ve just come from seeing The Manganyar Seduction,” I said to a friend later that night. “Oh, I saw them last night…they made me cry!” she said. There were reports of two other weeping women. They made all the girls cry, apparently. And I thought I was special (sigh). “That’s the power of music,” said a  musician acquaintance when I told him of my experience of the Manganyars. He related going to see the late Pakistani musician, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and weeping the whole way through the performance from the moment the great singer opened his mouth. “I just had to surrender,” he said. With the word ‘surrender’ I had a vision of  floating down a river, with the powerful voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan both the sun on my face and the water beneath, holding me.

2. Konono No.1 is a band of musicians from Congo, who play electrified likembé (like an mbira or thumb piano), congas and drums made out of found bits and pieces. The electric likembé is slightly distorted, giving it a dirtier sound than the acoustic version. The percussion and bass sound (also provided by a likembé) provide a relentless groove, which voices and the likembés slice into. They sound like this:

There was something just a little bit perfect about a band with such an authentic and homemade groove playing under the fake stars of the Forum Theatre, with its fake Greco-Roman statues striking poses from the sidelines. The capacity crowd drew together an unlikely alliance of African/world music aficionados and people into noise or found sound, who were attracted by Konono No.1’s improvised, junkyard approach to music-making.

The rhythms made themselves at home and soon enough bodies were moving, including my own. As I scanned the crowd and said hellos, I realised that there were many people at the gig who I hadn’t seen for a while and that African music and dance was as much a part of the 90s for me as raves and riot grrrls. It belonged to my starry-eyed youth and the two-year London stint, riding the length of the Northern line of the Tube every Monday night for an African dance and drumming class in Stockwell. The dancing contingent was taught by Norman, whose body in motion, it has to be said, was well worth crossing town for.  For the return journey, even the unsettling light of The Tube couldn’t shake my good mood,  sated as I was, with thighs that felt as solid as tree trunks and polyrhythms clashing amiably in my head.

3. Alwan was not part of the Melbourne Festival but was my third experience of the potential of music to induce ecstatic trance within the festival’s duration. Alwan is a trio playing Middle-Eastern music and they play every Thursday night at Claypots, a bar/restaurant in St Kilda, which for the benefit of non-Melburnians, is on the south-side of the Yarra River and therefore, to me, a north-sider, might as well be on another planet. Take the south-side women, for example. The women who come to this gig are of a more bohemian bent than their other south-side sisters, so rather than having shoulder-length, straightened, blonde hair with honey highlights, they have long, wavy blonde hair with honey highlights. They wear long dresses  and kind of look like Stevie Nicks if she’s just come from the manicurist. They make every north-side girl feel like Virginia Woolf – cerebral, bookish, pallid and depressive.*

My friend, M., plays the darbukka, and the other two musicians between them play oud, accordion, darbukka, tambourine and those crazy horns of snake-charmers that are the hallmark of Middle-Eastern music as “exotic” to Western ears. The bar is fairly small and every time I go there, the gig begins sedately enough, with a few people sitting politely chatting. I always think ‘Tonight it’s going to be a fairly quiet one’ so by the end, I’m always surprised when people young and old, both men and women, are up dancing in the little space available to them, inches away from the musicians, among the spilled wine and the ground glass that has inevitably been swept off a table by the whirling long skirt of a Stevie Nicks lookalike somewhere along the line. The other night, there must have been some special fairy dust in the air because the south-side dancers were really going nuts and the musicians had to lean in close to each other to avoid getting knocked out.

As the drumming reached a crescendo while not one but two of the crazy snake-charmer horns blasted through the night air, one particularly enthusiastic south-side woman shimmied down her boyfriend’s body until her head was level with his groin. The north-side Virginia Woolfs quickly turned away, tssking and tittering nervously. But the couple putting on the soft-porn floorshow were not the only dancers who wouldn’t have been out of place in a Fellini film. There was the young man who comes every week and belly dances. There was an older Turkish man who looked like a philosopher. There was the ubiquitous creepy drunk guy. There was a 50-ish sexy woman (long, blonde wavy hair) in tight jeans and tight facial skin (“Botox?”, the VWs speculated) and her beautiful daughter whose long hair emitted wafts of perfume as she danced. There was the guy on his haunches by the door, who’d spied the oud player’s darbukka and slyly began to join in on the drumming, much to M.’s chagrin. “He’s like the naughty kid who knows he’s meant to be in bed,” was  A.’s laser-accurate comment. After the gig, it was like Cinderella’s coach disappearing at midnight how quickly the ecstatic dancers disappeared, leaving only the musicians to laugh about what had just transpired and the bar staff to sweep up the broken glass. “It’s amazing,” M.’s girlfriend said. “I don’t know how he plays. Every week there’s some woman’s gyrating bum in his face.” Ah yes, the euphoria of music. You do just have to surrender.

*May contain traces of gross generalisation

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Bali and Cambodia, here I come

The best ideas soon take on a life of their own and my, they are sociable creatures. As soon as they leave your head, good ideas are off gallivanting. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of something sparkly as your good idea disappears around a corner and makes its way into a welcoming world. So it is that a conversation with my friend K. at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival has evolved into 40 or so people descending upon Ubud, Indonesia, this week to celebrate K.’s 40th birthday. Continue reading

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Life beyond The Beatles

Ever had one of those moments when you can actually feel the muscles in your face trying to rearrange themselves into “Neutral Expression”?

I had one of those moments this week when I went out for coffee with someone I don’t normally go out for coffee with. As we don’t know each other that well, it took me by surprise when my coffee buddy said: “I haven’t really listened to any new music in about 20 years.”

I think I laughed a little nervously, before checking his face to see if he was serious. Then came my face rearranging, as I tried to remove “Incredulity”, “Bafflement” and the worst: “Compassion”. But really, it reminded me of one time when I met a guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker and my friend said to him “You look like Jarvis Cocker” and I said “Don’t ask me. I don’t know who Jarvis Cocker is.” The guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker said: “You know, the guy from Pulp.” I said: “Sorry but I lost a decade somewhere, the decade of one-word BritPop bands.” And he said: “What happened to you? Were you in jail?”

But back to Neutral Expression. I also remembered a recent conversation with a friend who’d said that the Rolling Stones should be banned for a while – “say, ten years” – as should The Beatles and Shakespeare. Put them on the bench. Make room on the team for new blood…and other sporting metaphors. I think I had one of those face rearranging moments then, too. Trust me, trying to get to ‘Neutral Expression’ from ‘Oh my god, he’s Chairman Mao’ is no small feat. But after what seemed a long period of consideration, the idea had appeal – especially if it was me who got to decide who would be banned.

As music is so tied up with memory, it’s also linked to nostalgia – the yearning for a golden past that may or may not have really existed. Let’s face it, it’s not for nothing there are radio stations whose sole output is “classic hits”. When you’re in your 40s, the music from your 20s, that time of your life when everything was shiny and new, begins to exert a special pull. Nostalgia calls seductively from memory’s cobwebbed corridor: “Trust me, nothing’s as good as it was back then. Why don’t you lie down there in the snow for a while?…Just rest your eyes…”

Don’t you sometimes wonder if Beethoven and Bach and Schubert would be laughing their heads off if they heard that orchestras are still compulsively playing music  composed more than 200 years ago, while contemporary composers can barely get a look-in?

I admire those people who remain open to the new in music while getting older – people like the late John Peel, who continued to introduce new bands to the world through his BBC radio show right up until his death  (although it’s apt to note that Peel’s headstone is inscribed with lyrics from his favourite song ‘Teenage Kicks’, a song from his youth: ‘Teenage dreams, so hard to beat’). In Melbourne, RRR’s Stephen Walker is another radio presenter whose musical rolling stone has gathered no moss. This week I made some new musical discoveries courtesy of the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who was generously sharing on his website songs he liked from albums released so far this year.

I’m not saying the music of Bach and Beethoven is no good. Or that I don’t understand the enduring appeal of a song like the Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ (I’m not crazy.) I’m just saying not to take Nostalgia’s word for it. Get out there and see a band you’ve never heard before.  Merrily wander along the goat tracks of Internet music websites, blogs and radio stations. Listen to radio stations that play new stuff. (The music of Cass McCombs had escaped my notice until this week when I heard, on community radio station PBS, County Line a divine song from McCombs’ new album.)

If your musical taste is in danger of calcifying, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to make yourself a ‘mix tape’ for the new millennium – no Beatles, nor Stones; no Blur, nor Pulp.

Wake up from your Golden Slumbers. Get up out of the snow – and explore. Meanwhile, just for old times’ sake…and because I missed it the first time…

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Ten songs, ten tales

‘It’s four in the morning, the end of December…’, ‘Is she really going out with him? Well there she is, let’s ask her…’Charlie I’m pregnant and living on Ninth Street’…Regular readers (or should that be singular?) will recall that last week’s post paid homage to the noble art of the story-song. I gave some story clues for ten songs. Here I provide the clues and – as promised – the songs’ names.

  1. A black boxer is framed for a triple murder – Hurricane, Bob Dylan
  2. Girl dumps her boyfriend because Daddy doesn’t like him; feels regret when boy dies in motorbike accident – Leader of the Pack, The Shangri Las
  3. Man goes to rehab; returns triumphant to wife and kids – To Her Door, Paul Kelly
  4. Woman writes to ‘Charlie’ about how well her life’s going; turns out she’s in jail and wants him to send bail – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, Tom Waits
  5. A man cries for the first time in his life; can’t stop crying; dies of dehydration – The Man Who Couldn’t Cry, Loudon Wainwright III
  6. Woman dreams of going out with the king of Sweden but ends up in jail, then in an asylum, then dead (Hint: has ridiculously cheery chorus) – Minnie The Moocher, Cab Calloway
  7. Man gets his girlfriend pregnant; has to marry her; his life turns to crap. – The River, Bruce Springsteen
  8. Man writes to friend to tell him he’s forgiven him for stealing his girlfriend (girlfriend has returned with a lock of girlfriend-stealer’s hair) – Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen
  9. A fan gets mad that his idol hasn’t written back to him and drives himself and his girlfriend off a bridge – Stan, Eminem
  10. A girl called Lottie writes a confession letter from the prison/asylum, having been convicted of murdering several folk in her town – The Curse of Millhaven, Nick Cave

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The verse and chorus of the human condition

I was in pop culture heaven: the characters on ’30 Rock’ – one of my favourite TV shows – were singing ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ – one of my all-time favourite songs.

It was the episode in which the innocent page, Kenneth, having been corrupted by the twin evils of coffee and doughnuts, tells Tracy Jordan, Dot Com and Grizz that he’s leaving New York and going back to the farm in Georgia. He’d sworn to his mother that New York wouldn’t seduce him into bad behaviour and now he’s let his mother down. ‘I’ve been Sodomised!’ he declares. Gladys Knight, who sings the original ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ makes a cameo appearance at the end of episode, telling the cast to knock it off because she’s trying to take a nap.

‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ is one of the great story-songs in that it somehow manages to convey something essential about the human condition in two verses and a repeated chorus. It’s a simple story: man from Georgia goes to LA dreaming of being a star; fails; decides to go home. The person telling the story is his woman and with one line she introduces the conflict of the narrative: ‘I’d rather live in his world, than be without him in mine.’ You get the picture that ‘his world’ is not really where she’d choose to be if left to her own devices but if she decides to stay in LA, with its excitement and opportunities, she’ll have to forego her man. Add classy call-and-response singing from Gladys Knight & The Pips. Serve loud.

And by the way, just how gorgeous are the Pips with their chair-groovin’ and Gladys Knight’s pink pantsuit?

That ‘30 Rock’ episode made me think of other favourite story-songs. What an artform! If you think capturing a narrative in a short story is hard, try doing it with a few verses and a chorus and put it to music that people want to hear. Maybe the degree of difficulty of writing a story-song explains why most of them tell tales of violence and despair.

Let’s play a game: if I give the précis of the story, can you name the song?

  1. A black boxer is framed for a triple murder
  2. Girl dumps her boyfriend because Daddy doesn’t like him; feels regret when boy dies in motorbike accident
  3. Man goes to rehab; returns triumphant to wife and kids
  4. Woman writes to ‘Charlie’ about how well her life’s going; turns out she’s in jail and wants him to send bail
  5. A man cries for the first time in his life; can’t stop crying; dies of dehydration
  6. Woman dreams of going out with the king of Sweden but ends up in jail, then in an asylum, then dead (Hint: has ridiculously cheery chorus)
  7. Man gets his girlfriend pregnant; has to marry her; his life turns to crap
  8. Man writes to friend to tell him he’s forgiven him for stealing his girlfriend (girlfriend has returned with a lock of girlfriend-stealer’s hair)
  9. A fan gets mad that his idol hasn’t written back to him and drives himself and his girlfriend off a bridge
  10. A girl called Lottie writes a confession letter from the prison/asylum, having been convicted of murdering several folk in her town.

Anyone want a crack at getting all ten?  I’ll give the full list of answers in my next post.

OK, I’ll give you the last one:

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Blessed by the free gig fairy

If I had such a thing as a budget, it would have been blown to smithereens at last weekend’s Golden Plains Festival. Luckily, the Freebie Fairy waved her magic wand in my direction this week and said ‘You may go to three gigs in three nights’. I said ‘Why thank you, Ms Fairy. I do believe I will.’

Night #1

Natalie Natiembe

Honestly, it’s not that my vocabulary needs extending, it’s my native tongue that’s to blame. There are certain concepts for which there are no words in English, I’m sure.  In Spanish or German or Russian, there must be a word for ‘when you should be nice to someone because they’ve been really nice to you –but you just can’t because you don’t like them very much’. Or a word for ‘Dylan Moran’s peculiar sex appeal’. Or the word for ‘when something is scary and embarrassing at the same time’. (A friend I won’t even identify by initial drew the scary/embarrassing concept to my attention when describing how she once barked at a rabid dog in the street.  It was being aggressive and she wanted to show who was top dog.)

What has all this got to do with Natalie Natiembe? When I was watching her band, I thought there should be a specific word for the pleasure of having no expectations of an event and then being completely blown away. And another word for the kind of energy that exists between band members when they are listening to each other and have become a whole. Either my vocabulary doesn’t contain that word or English has failed me but Natalie Natiembe’s band had that special chemistry. They were riveting to watch.

Natalie Natiembe is a musician from Reunion Island (east of Madagascar), who did a show at The Toff as a sideshow from her appearance at WOMADelaide. A woman in her 50s, she reportedly only took up singing 13 years ago, having previously been a waitress and an accountant. She came on stage solo and sang a song in French, acapella apart from a hand drum she was playing. It was the gentle, folky type of thing I was anticipating, until her band joined her on stage – playing keys, bass and drums. With a muscular rhythm section driving each beat into the room, Natalie, who until this point had seemed like a middle-aged, slightly shy ‘world music’ artist, morphed into a punk goddess.

Natalie plays a style of music called maloya, apparently a form of blues brought by African slaves to the French colony. I don’t know what this sounds like when it’s at home but at The Toff it was a mixture of beat-heavy rock, reggae and dance music sung by a woman who appeared to be channelling a mixture of Nina Simone, Patti Smith and Piaf.

The sound from this video taken at WOMADelaide is terrible but gives you an idea of Natalie’s amazing performance.

PS: Tune in to PBS-FM 106.7 on Sunday 27 March from 5-7pm for a live set from Natalie Natiembe or listen online at http://www.pbsfm.org.au

Night #2

Justin Townes Earle

A friend told me she’d had a one-night dalliance with a hipster. ‘I keep thinking I see him everywhere,’ she said at Golden Plains festival, as another bearded man wearing Ray-Bans, a trucker cap, a buttoned up checked shirt and skinny black jeans walked by. It became one of those festival running jokes. ‘I saw your guy on the ferris wheel, at the taco place, buying ice, playing drums in the band and giving someone first aid,’ I’d report back on return to base camp.

At the Justin Townes Earle concert at The Forum, the one-night-stand guy was out in force. There were hundreds of him in the audience; he was mixing the sound and was also on stage playing violin and doing backing vocals. Tell me, how did this beard thing start? Was it Iron & Wine? If you ask me (and I know you didn’t) beards are only good for one thing and that’s covering up a weak chin. Don’t get me started on The Abe Lincoln.

Justin Townes Earle plays guitar and sings very well.  He’s a good songwriter. He also seems down to earth, in that ‘I was born in Nashville to a famous musician and I live in Manhatten now’ kind of way. He’s got this whole retro designer folky thing going on whereby he’s photographed for his album cover slumped over a bottomless cup of coffee at a truckstop diner while wearing suspenders by Marc Jacobs. When he finished his concert with a couple of great covers, (including Bruce Springsteen’s Racing in the Street). He said he was tired of singing his own songs – and I believed him – as he is of the generation that can share with their fans how bored they are playing the same tunes over and over when touring a new album. I bet my friend’s hipster one-night-stand can’t get enough of him. Seriously though, it was a good concert.  No, I’m not being ironic. I’m so not cool enough for that.

Night #3

Chris Isaak

This is why Facebook isn’t necessarily a waste of time…An ex-colleague announced in her status update that she’d received free tickets to see Chris Isaak. Having passed by a poster for his concert the day before and thought ‘I wish I was going to see him,’ I commented: ‘I’m a pretty shade of green right now.’ She wrote straight back: ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ Why not, indeed.

That’s how I found myself standing on the side of a racecourse in Mornington, 40 kilometres out of Melbourne, the luminosity of the supermoon failing to compete with Chris Isaak’s mirrored suit (his second outfit – the first was an aqua suit with cowboy embroidery and just a hint of sequin action). When his band played the opening bars to ‘Wicked Game’ the audience collectively sighed and I smiled remembering my old friend V. swooning to that song when it first came out in the early 90s. Chris Isaak must either love that song or be a complete trooper because he must have had to include ‘Wicked Game’ in his set for every concert he’s performed in 20-odd years. And after 20 years, he’s still hitting that high note, sweet and pure.

Check out the video of the gorgeous young Chris in white singlet serenading Helena Christensen. Poor Helena spends much of her time in this clip looking sad because she’s lost the top of her bathers. You won’t be surprised to hear that when I watch this, I have a screaming level of envy for Helena. It’s not really about Chris kissing Helena’s neck, or her being serenaded by one of the greatest singers alive today. It’s because I can imagine how much Helena would have laughed while making this video.

“I had the pleasure of meeting the late great James Brown,’ Chris said, during the concert, in his deadpan Californian drawl. ‘And he said one thing to me…what he said was ‘Aarrhh!!’ (Chris makes the sharp, guttural sound of a cat coughing up a furball). ‘Well some folks would have just let that go. But I’ve been living my life by that ever since.  Lord knows it hasn’t been easy…’.  Oh Chris Isaak, I so want to play table tennis with you.

Among women over 30 of alternative bent, Chris is not so much a sex symbol as a demi-god known as ‘Chrisaak’.  He is the fifty-something man who can sing Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison covers in a mirrored outfit that would put Liberace to shame, yet can also be seen in a John Waters film, a satire on suburbia, the plot of which is summarized thus: ‘An uptight, middle-aged, repressed woman turns into a sex addict after getting hit on the head, and  then falls into an underground subculture of sex addicts in suburban Baltimore.’ He was also a boxer and a member of the SWAT team in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Is there anything this man can’t do?

Apparently Chris has had the same band for 25 years. In concert, he takes the piss out of  them.  He told the audience the pianist was doing real well getting over his alcohol and sex addictions. Having invited some women on stage, he pretended to be one of the girls explaining to her Mama that she didn’t do anything bad while out at the Chris Isaak concert. ‘Sure, I danced with one of them. But I swear he wasn’t a musician, Mama. He was a bass player.’

What a wicked game he plays. And that’s why we all want to play with Chrisaak.

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