Main | May 2005 »

April 2005

April 22, 2005

My Friend is Sick

my friend is sick --
sodden with airplane fuel,
his socks are damp and his
shoes go ''squelch, squelch,
squelch'' whenever he moves,
which is not
often.

airplane fuel
is a metaphor
of course, but
for what
I'm not sure ...

his self-conviction
has unhappily melted away,
and joins the fuel
on his shirt
in thick globules.
he does not have
the strength
to clean it up.
I drink beer with him
and eat
turkey sandwiches
I do not mind the smell
because
he is beautiful,
like bumblebees
and
fresh cucumber.

it will get better,
I tell him
spilling mustard on my shirt.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:54 AM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2005

Kevin

On April morning in the fourth-grade we became, by accident, news stars on the evening bulletin. It came about this way: we were in the right place at the right time when Kevin was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Final school bell rung and we filed out in volume to the corner shop across the road. We bought meat-pies and summer and the older ones amongst us would try to touch the pimple breasts of the seventh-graders.
Kevin Sanders never joined us. His face was disfigured from a long-ago fire accident and his family was very poor. The sixth- and seventh-grade terrorists would often call up pizza shops and order huge meals to the Sanders' home.
They could never pay the bill.
Kevin had a rusted bike too big for him and a helmet that had begun peeling, exposing the white polystyrene egg employed to protect his head.
We were sitting against the shops' wall when Kevin crossed the street without looking. In retrospect it was not carelessness on his part, it was this: the bike was too big for him to control immediately and Kevin's legs had not yet reached the pedals before gaining momentum. His momentum took him under the wheels of a 4WD.
Kevin and his bike were dragged ten-metres before the car stopped; we watched with our hands down girl's tops or on our mouths wiping excess sauce. There was a lot of excess sauce on the road and someone screamed.
''Is he dead?''
''I don't know.''
''Rich, is he dead?''
''I don't know.''
We stayed there until the ambulance came, watching the middle-aged driver wipe sauce away to get to Kevin. We caught a glimpse of his helmet before passers-by raced over and pulled the driver away. Her white skirt was red and shiny and we realised it had been her screaming.
A news crew arrived and we were all pleasantly surprised. Four of us, myself included, were interviewed, but only Richie's account was aired that night.
''What actually happened here, boys?''
''Well, Kevin just zoomed onto the road and got stuck under the wheels. You could see the blood and everything.''
''So you know this boy?''
''Yeah, yeah. Kevin Sanders. He's a fifth-grader. His bike always was too big for him.''

Kevin was released from hospital a month later. A month later the principal called for the seventh-grade terrorists to come up to his office.
''Have a seat, boys.''
The five of them sat on the bamboo seats and stared at the principal's head. They all agreed later that it looked like a pumpkin.
''Listen boys, this is serious. It's about Kevin Sanders. You know Kevin Sanders, don't you?''
The boys nodded and thought about the pumpkin.
''He will be returning to this school in a week's time...'' the principal noticed his secretary at his door and shooed her away, ''...he will be coming back to this school, boys, and do you know what I want you to do?''
Just stares.
''I want you to make his time here as easy as possible. I shouldn't have to say this, but Kevin's been through a lot, and it will be difficult for him to settle here again.''
Kevin Sanders had never settled.
''Is this understood?''
Chorus: ''Yes, sir.''
''Now why have I called you five gentlemen here to ask you this? Mmm? Any ideas?''
Chorus: ''No, sir.''
''Because, gentlemen, it has been brought to my attention that you five played a significant role in bullying, generally excluding, Kevin Sanders. Considering his previous, and most recent misfortunes, I think it's fair to say that this behaviour is inexcusable. Are we agreed?''
''Agreed.''
''Agreed?''
''Agreed.''
''So what are we going to do to prevent further exclusion? Mmm?''
Pumpkin stares; blinks.
''Gentlemen?''
''Well, we could stop teasing him, sir.''
''That's a start, but it goes a lot deeper than that, doesn't it?''
Chorus: ''Yes.''
''I want you to go out of your way to make Kevin feel welcome. I want you to ask him to participate in your games. I want you to consider him a friend... Now, if there's any word that you have been tormenting Kevin, as I know full well you have been, there will be immediate suspension for all of you.''
The five turned their pointed attention to the wall clock. They blinked in time with the second hand.
''Is this understood?''
''Yes, sir.''
Kevin re-enrolled, as promised, one week later. He was no longer Kevin Sanders to the school fraternity but a nameless freak; a misfortunate cartoon character shaped from an impecunious family and gross physical abnormalities.
He could not understand why he was invited to birthday parties and he never attended any. He was as aware as anyone that the burnt flesh and shaved head would bring anybody down. So all he did was eat his butter sandwiches at lunch on the quadrangle and shiver at the sinister familiarity with the asphalt beneath his legs.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 2:11 PM | Comments (1)

a little piece about exploding stars & writer's block...

i had sat on that damned porch for months, waiting for life and waiting for words, but they did not come and so i left my typewriter silent and drank iced-beer and read celine and hoped that the stars would explode.
it was a rotten business.
it was one of those nights. the typewriter sat next to me and smiled smugly. i shifted in my seat, lit a cigarette and stared at the brightest star... if just that one star exploded... imagine the fart of the cosmos, the bright/hideous/angelic scream -- and so the ancient debris would fall towards earth and i would laugh and run inside and tell my two housemates: ''it's happening!''
''what?''
''a star's exploded; it's sending itself towards us. shards. shards of stars!''
''stop drinking.''
''no, no. it's happened. come outside!''
and they would. and we'd watch the rocks coming towards us.
they'd say: ''what'll we do?''
and i'd say: ''there's nothing to do. we just sit here and see where they land. they might not even hit this country, or any country, or they might land next door.''
and i'd pour another drink and bring the radio outside.
and life would scream back to that porch, and the words would too.

over several months i grew less and less hopeful of a star exploding. i had read a lot but the unemployment checks were coming with Find Work Soon demands, so i left the porch and did something else.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 2:04 PM | Comments (1)

Poem for CM Killen

i have a beer in one hand &
a banana in
the other

the beer says: ''please take another
sip''.
so I do.
the banana says: ''please take another
bite''.
so I do.
the beer, feeling confident, says:
''we should do this more often''
and I say
sure
the banana, being smarter than the
beer and far smarter than
me
says: ''why were you with her anyway?''
and I say:

shuddup.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 1:57 PM

A Night in Itaewon

itaewon.jpg

Scene: Itaewon. Seoul's western quarter, and party district, owing largely to the proximity of the US's largest military base in South Korea. ''The Strip'' is a grim vein of tarmac cutting through smog, heavily stained pavement, Russian-owned brothels, and super-tight clusters of American-themed pubs and clubs designed to bleed the GIs of their money. In addition to this are the food-vendors situated every 30-metres on the sides of the road selling everything from chicken kebabs to gimchi pancakes. The smell of testosterone and garbage married to the slippery sounds of chart R & B can prove nauseating if one isn't very, very drunk.
We are sitting in the American-themed ''Hollywood'' bar which has an unspoken anti-US army, pro-Western teacher ethic. Pitchers of Korean beer (Red Rock, brewed by OB and impossibly cheap) sit in front of us. A friend, Dray, a fellow teacher hailing from Portland, ushers over a heavy-set, goateed Canadian teacher. Dray whispers to me: ''Man, check this guy out; he's the fucking gas!'' The Canadian introduces himself as Dean.

DEAN: ...and that's why this country's fucked!

G_M: Because Koreans ''don't know what time it is''?

DEAN: Yeah.

G_M: Do you care to elaborate?

DEAN: Not really.

G_M: Well, how long have you been here?

DEAN: Three weeks.

G_M: Three?

DEAN: Almost.

G_M: Almost 3 weeks. Okay (lights cigarette). What is it you've seen or experienced that's given you this impression.

DEAN: What have I experienced?

G_M: Sure.

DEAN: Well, fuck man, I've experienced the girls... man, I don't mind the small breasts, you know. That's cool. Such soft skin... it's all good. AND THEIR HIPS -- different pelvises, man. Tasty.

G_M: (still smoking; grinning) Girls?

DEAN: Yeah -- you know what I mean... that slick shine to the pole.

G_M: What the fuck are you talking about, Dean?

DEAN: The fucking exotic dancers, man, whatever you fucking call them. Slidin' up and down, up and down these friggin' poles... they're all shiny with pussy juice.

G_M: I don't know if the girls are that turned on, Dean.

DEAN: Huh?

G_M: (takes sip of beer) The girls. I don't think they get turned on enough to secrete on the poles. They're working.

DEAN: Man, you just don't know what fucking time it is. Anyway, I can hook you up with some girls if you like.

G_M: Jesus Dean. I'm fine, thanks. Can probably sort that on my own.

I secretively signal to Dray, catching his attention. I then give him the ''fuck you'' sign.

DEAN: Are you married or something?

G_M: No, I just think...

DEAN: (interrupting) You're a donut puncher, right? I fucking thought so...

G_M: Jesus, Dean. I was just going to say that I'm not sure if I trust your dating services, dig? I want some quality guarantees, and I'm not sure if you're capable of fulfilling them.

DEAN: Sure, man.

G_M: Why was it you came here?

DEAN: Well, you know, it's all good, right? Small breasts, pointy pelvises. It's all good.

G_M: You came here to teach because of sex?

DEAN: Hell no! I've gotta girl back home, d'you know what I'm saying?

G_M: No.

DEAN: I came here to see something new. Expand my comfort zone, see? You have to see new shit to expand, right?

G_M: Sure.

DEAN: Well, I came here to expand and...

G_M: What?

DEAN: Well a girl was pushin' me up for cash back home...

G_M: Alimony?

DEAN: Yeah, acrimony, geddit? Okay. Nah, alimony, yeah and I'm tellin' 'ya -- don't knock up any girls, okay?

G_M: Sure. But listen: this expansion thing. Are you expanding? Expanding how?

DEAN: Confidence baby. You know, coming here, alien environment, a country that just doesn't know what time it is; I've come here and negotiated all of this independently.

G_M: Independent of what?

DEAN: Anyone or anything I've known.

G_M: But you've used sex as a bargaining tool, and sex is obviously something...

DEAN: YOU WEREN'T LISTENING! The girls here have small titties... small...

G_M: Okay. But what about the job? Teaching? Is this something that's helped your expansion?

DEAN: Maybe. It's expanded my fucking patience... I fucking hate kids.

G_M: Have you had any experience with kids?

DEAN: Aside from my three kids? No.

G_M: (taking a large swig of beer) You were saying earlier, Dean, that, quote ''this country's fucked''. I wasn't satisfied with your explanation. Can you give me anything more; an different response to why ''this country's fucked''?

DEAN: Ahh, shit, man. I'll tell you something, okay. Back home I used to like, you know, bang around -- yeah? I climbed towers and picked flowers and then some girl would go and grow a foetus and I'd have to leave the state. Yeah? So I leave that shit behind. I move to places where I can expand...

G_M: Expand the number of girls you've fucked?

DEAN: Shit man, don't get self-righteous, I'm going somewhere with this. So I move to China and then here and you know what? Korea just doesn't understand climbing towers and picking flowers, they just don't. I climb hills and what do I see? I see designer-jackets and designer cars, but no-one knows what time it is.

G_M: I think I understand...

DEAN: D'you know what my degree's in?

G_M: I was just about to ask...

DEAN: Philosophy. So if I can't lay these abstractions on you, then I can't help you -- look, I'm lost and maybe I can be found here, by myself, in a country certifiably crazy and that'll give me some help.

G_M: Hope in what?

DEAN: Hope in myself. Maybe the world. Maybe if I can negotiate alien places I'll have the ability to negotiate peacefully with myself. Shit, I've had a few to drink now. But, fuck it, yeah, you understand.

G_M: Yeah, I do.

DEAN: D'you know what the other foreign teacher I work with said about me?

G_M: No.

DEAN: She said I have an ''extreme social dementia borne from irregular priorities''... tell me, how the fuck do I negotiate that?

END SCENE

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 12:50 PM

WA State Election: Barnett's Wet Dream


A surprise canal proposal from WA premier aspirant Colin Barnett has proven a spectacular piece of poor strategy, challenging what previously looked like an indomitable position for the state's Coalition.

Barnett's response to Western Australia's water supply problem centres on the construction of a 3700 km canal, similar to one currently used in California, designed to channel water from the state's Kimberly region to Perth. Logistically breathtaking, Barnett's proposal is significantly more dramatic, more expensive and less researched than current Labor premier Geoff Gallop's industrial suggestion. Gallop proposed the construction of a desalination plant in the area of Kwinana, an industrial suburb straddling Perth.

Whilst Labor's proposal has been criticised for its pollutant potential -- the Greens refuse to support the idea because of concerns over Greenhouse gas emissions -- the desalination plant remains a much less contested policy than Barnett's canal. Under Gallop's plan, water rates would increase, but only marginally compared to the forecasted increases required to pay for Barnett's project. Secondly, Gallop's idea has undergone substantial independent analysis, a virtue lacking from the Coalition's project.

Nobody likes a loser, and the potential for failure here is huge. Already, the distancing game is on. Answering a nationally piqued media, Prime Minister John Howard reluctantly responded to the canal project with non-committal bleats. Shaped by the context of partisan politics, this lack of federal interest will translate to the cruellest perception of credibility failure. Indeed, Federal Treasurer Peter Costello's remarks crossed necessary party platitude, and read as a veiled vote of no confidence.

This is mildly awkward for Howard, but it will be nothing compared to the shame Barnett will feel if he is forced to explain to corporate party backers why a seemingly unassailable position was surrendered so spectacularly.

Why is his position so threatened? Aside from the questions of credibility, raised by the Federal distancing, Barnett has stamped his face too forcibly upon an electorate previously content to vote for whoever was contesting Gallop. Gallop's unpopularity was such that Barnett's strength lay simply in being his challenger -- now voters must negotiate with Barnett's super-blown and now challenged image.

Prior to the canal proposal, Barnett was quietly and effectively handling the ''drugs issue'', the clearest example of wedge politics in this campaign. Barnett claimed the moral authority, charging that Gallop's decriminalisation of marijuana was disastrous, and hinting at WA youths' vulnerability to physical and moral atrophy through lax drug laws. Barnett took a hard right, peddling a conservative approach to drug use, distancing himself cleverly from Gallop and corralling the large pockets of fashionable conservatism.

In fact the drugs issue was such a divider that there was the slim chance WA would face an enlightened public discussion on the topic. The canal, and the questions it raises, will, for the time being at least, ensure that no such thing happens.

The media occupy an enhanced power here. Voters have short memories, and if the media drop this right now, it's possible Barnett will recover. But this seems unlikely, considering the frenzy the canal proposal has already whipped up. Barnett's next move will be the magician's Sleight of Policy -- a thick and sustained course of conservative policy announcements to divert attention. All of this while registering unwavering confidence in his canal dream. Barnett faces a very difficult juggling exercise that now gives Gallop a chance at this election. Stay tuned.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 12:34 PM

Conversation with a Star: An Exchange with an On-line Writer

The following is a copy of a review I submitted for a writer's work on Francis Ford Coppola's on-line workshop www.zoetrope.com. Following is the exchange between myself & the writer, an exchange unhappily inspired by the review.

Your review of Going Nuts At The Movies by Gary Paul Libero
Entered Jun 16 2004 10:46PM

Man, what dross. This is your idea? To anthologise the "weird and wacky" behaviour of American trash in cinemas?
Your bespectacled peanut-patron may have been overweight, but your passage is OBESE with lumbering hyperbole...
ultimately, who cares? a man eats peanuts, loudly, in a cinema. Your attempts at humourously assassinating the man's character failed -- the descriptions lacked pith or wit and were filled with the tedium of a dull self-righteousness.
Look, if you're compiling a collection of interesting cinema stories (are there that many? are there ANY?) gimme something INTERESTING. like maybe there's this prostitute, right? and she receives customers in the backs of cinemas, yeah? and then one customer suffers heart seizure. THAT I might read. Or there's this police helicopter, yeah? And it's circling above a late-night cinema searching for... I don't know, maybe your peanut man's stolen a trailer, or something, okay? And the peanut man, in commandeering this trailer, finds an RPG in the back of it. Peanut man, in an inexplicable fit of violence, shoots down the law's 'copter and it crashes into the cinema ruining the patron's enjoyment of "Miss Congeniality". BANG!
Right?
Whatever. Your story's irrelevant. In fact, I wouldn't even bother relaying that story to my friends. If I did, they'd... I dunno... burn my eyebrows... or something.
You better have better stories. If you don't, abandon journalistic integrity (fuck veracity) and INVENT something.
cheers
M

***

Gary Libero, the writer in question, responded thusly:

Hey Marty!

Thanks for taking some time to read and review my short story.

As I said to another reviewer who didn't like this, perhaps I shouldn't have posted it in here. The collection of stories I referred to is a compilation of TRUE stories. Nothing fictional to do with whores and helicopters (unless something like that actually happens to me one day). I think the story might be read differently in a context of other stories like it. And yes, there are more. Many more! Some from myself, others from friends. There is an in-theater blowjob story you might enjoy, but it's not mine to post.

But sadly, your review offered up nothing useful to me. Your use of every five dollar word you might have learned this week fell on deaf ears. I can't say I'm sorry you didn't like it because I don't apologize for my words.

Also, if you haven't noticed, there is a feature on this site called "opt out". If you don't care for a story and can't offer up any worthwhile criticism, opt the fuck out of it.

I'll be sure to look for your story on here and reciprocate the favor!

Never not,
Gary

Marty wrote:

Gaz,

good, good. never apologise for your words, in fact "never retract, never explain, get it done and let them howl..." d'you know who said that? never mind...
upon reading the first couple of lines of your zmail (zmail?) I immediately felt a little... guilty? but your knee-jerk defense and cuss words soon put an end to THAT little show of emotion.
i understand these are stories that have happened to you, but if they're THAT dull then, "fuck veracity". but sure, stick to your guns...
dunno what you mean by "reciprocating the favour"... sounds ominous. I'll wait here for the shit to hit the fan...
be good,
m

p.s. opt-out? never. there's too much fun to be had, no?

Gary replied:

From:Gary Paul Libero -- Thursday 6: 36 p.m.

I don't know what to think of you Marty. Sarcasm is hard to detect via the written word.

Reciprocating the favor simply means I will read one of your stories on here and review it, just like you did for me.

Also, I'm not sure anyone has ever called me Gaz before. Interesting.

Until we type again,
G

The final response was, alas, a whimper...

From: Marty **Thursday 7:45 P.M.

GPL,

I'd like to extend this missive, gaz, but I've gotta date with the pub very soon, so I've gotta go and look pretty... to satisfy your curiosity, however, I've got a great grin across my face, largely because i have a sick, atavistic sense of humour & no job.
But so it goes.
Secondly, thanx for not responding to my story (thanking you in advance...) with the bloody, retributive fangs of a Nixon, or Bush, or any one of those scum-fuckers you guys like installing into office.
Have a safe and peaceful nite,
m

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 12:06 PM

The Bar

Scene: Small, smoke-filled pub.
Characters: Attractive, twenty-something man (M) & attractive, twenty-something woman (W).

M: ... so we're just animals; animals who elaborately repeat history.

W: angrily And our love?

M: dismissively That's independent.

W: Of what?

M: Of animals.

W: So humans aren't just animals?

M: No, we are. This haircut, this (pointing) watch; it's all the Emperor's clothing. We're base, but we have complex distractions like the myth of science and complex abstractions to prevent us from seeing this.

W: So love's a giddy, distractive abstraction?

M: Yes.

W: angrily Why are we together?

M: Because I love you.

W: abrasively sarcastic But I'm a thread of the Emperor's clothes.

M: But that's only repulsive if you don't see yourself as just an animal.

W: Is love important?

M: My love is important.

W: Why am I still fucking with you? Huh?

M: Because you love me.

W: Don't get fucking presumptuous with me. Why am I with you?

M: I've eaten watermelon & drunk vodka to that question & I still don't know.

W: Neither do I.

M: Look, as humans, we're constitutionally, genetically bound to service base history --

W: interrupting Oh, you're such the fucking optimist --

M: Listen. My clothes, music taste, diet -- it's all perfunctory. We're animals who have a highly evolved ability to tell ourselves that we're not. The Beatles, yeah? ''All You Need is Love''? John was shot by an unhinged virgin because John couldn't deliver that gift. The humanitarian aid package of universal love and acceptance. When the trip ended, people realised that there were much more powerful figures than Lennon & Leary. It quickly became ''All You Need is a Market'' and Lennon's kids got lost or got powerful.

W: Chapman was a nut. And you're a piece of shit. You're also only answering your questions, answer mine -- why am I still with you?

M: Because I love you.

W: You said --

M: interrupting Because, regardless, I'm compelled to you... I'm... compelled to you.

W: Why?

M: This... because you're delicious, soft and hard and gently thrilling.

W: You're sounding less like an animal now...

CLOSE SCENE

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:52 AM

BLOOD AND THE MOON -- Remembering Elliot Smith

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
-- W.B. Yeats (''A Coat'')

It was in a Seoul pub called the 3 Alleys, and months after the fact, that I first found out....
Our group of friends had discovered a real spirit; tequila shots were drunk in rapid succession, and we had a healthy monopoly on the jukebox -- it was snowing outside and we had the open fire within reach.
And it was against this backdrop that I overheard the news that Elliot Smith had stabbed himself to death.
I was in South Korea and the distance between Smith's death and the news reaching my ears was substantial.
Whatever.
Elliot Smith was dead and the news proved shocking -- surprised at the grim cocktail of sadness and repulsion settling in my stomach, I took refuge in the bathroom. I waited out the tides of shock in isolation.
And again -- whatever. My reactions are secondary to the fact that a terrible history of depression had destroyed one of our greatest living singer-songwriters. And so that's what I'll address here, having established my part in this devil's story.
Smith's history is indeed a grim one. A victim of child-abuse, the dramatic internalisation of the external that occurs with children took place with fevered levels of corruption. Smith never overcame the seeds that were ruthlessly planted in his youth, and a path of alcoholism, drug dependence and impossible creativity were to be the defining points of a tragic life. And this leads us to an interesting question, concerning the very nature, the engine, of creative output....
There is no doubt that Smith's music is sculpted by very loud strains of melancholy. His work is a dramatic example of catharsis -- indeed his pain is so evident it's at times difficult to shake shameless pangs of voyeurism when listening to him.
Smith's tragic life, and melancholic output, are well known -- and to add to this I think it's safe to say Smith was inordinately sensitive; he became Vonnegut's mine-shaft canary, the creature employed for its super-sensitivity, sent down mine-shafts ahead of humans to test for poisonous gases. Well, Smith employed himself, but we all used him and he never came back. This sounds pretty close to Lennon or Hendrix or Morrison, doesn't it? Or how about Bukowski, Hemingway and Brautigan? Not all of these characters suicided, but the marriage of creativity and tragedy defined them all, as did their acute sensitivity. Of course any such list is designed to strengthen argument superficially -- one could compile a simple list of artists that produced art without using tragedy as a muse, but what remains clear is how much pain was required for Smith to create what he did.
Let's go back a little... a child can be likened to blotting paper up until the age (it varies) when relatively sophisticated intellectual and emotional apparatuses are constructed -- before this point, before certain ''filters'' are established (a product of experience, hence age), the child absorbs environment, and it leaves something permanent in the back of the brain -- tragedy will invariably leave a dark ink stain, largely indelible, if the spill is made before the time a child suitably matures to be able to deal effectively with the event.
Well, Smith was a victim of child abuse, and never seemed capable of losing the stains in his brain. He tried valiantly, however, and now we, the listeners, occupy the strange position of being able to enjoy the products of these fatal pains.
elliotsmith.jpg

***

After hearing the news, I went home and put my Elliot Smith CDs on and continued drinking. If I tried hard enough, I thought I could see Elliot remembering forgotten beauties whilst at the piano, or the bar, but it slid and never returned and for what he must have thought were the best of reasons he ended it with a knife.

***

I'm damned sorry Smith was abused -- I'm damned sorry any human is -- and Smith's history made him beautiful in the eyes of everyone except himself. So be it, this world is often marked with tragedy, but Smith is someone to have mined gold from it for the rest of us. Be thankful, because he died so that we could hear it.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:29 AM | Comments (2)

Strange Rumblings in the Suburbs: The WA State Election Wrap-up

-- February 2005
Out here, in WA, it was a strange week, & that's a value call -- but in a week characterised by suicide phone calls, self-inflicted gun-shot wounds and hari-kari political strategy, it's a fair call.
It began with news of Hunter S. Thompson's suicide -- a man whose time & skills were great, but already run & ruined by the turn of the 1980s. His meta-crippling mythomania & flailing self-conviction assumed grim levels & so, for what he must have thought were the best of reasons, he ended it with a pistol.
And so it was Election Night when I received a call from an older & skilled friend stuck on the idea of suicide & observing Barnett's demise now seemed less fun. Yes, it was Election Night, & the State had decided that Barnett's obvious errors were enough to elect an unpopular and charm-less incumbent. It was a spectacular loss, but this meant little to my friend, who was once again battling the old-wood splinters in his heart & determining if he had the conviction to defeat them. It's an old struggle -- it predates Socrates -- & yet the force and subtlety of sunlight & swans won my friend over, and he decided to live. He told me this over the phone.
At the same time Gallop picked up the pieces & it translated to an easy victory, equating to some historic electoral command, & the voters settled into routines pre-designed and tested. Indeed. It was a loss for Barnett's risk-taking & a profound loss for the Electorate's imagination, & out in the suburbs the people quietly demanded to know when the next rose-bud would bloom.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:25 AM

Michael & Paul

Michael and Paul are very young
Michael is 9
brother Paul
is 7.

They say, after we have
climbed trees, thrown balls
eaten chips and bought
Summer and hot-dogs,
They say: ''Let's climb trees again'' and I say
''Okay''
because
I know about what they don't.
About rape and smoke and rocket science
About politicians and
the ordinary wasps in human's hearts.

When the sun goes down they say: ''Please tuck us in''
and I say
Okay.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:24 AM

Listen

Listen: there was a boy who
attended my school;
he was younger than me
and wore thick, black glasses.
he never cried
but always looked sad
because
he was a prophet of beetles and bees.

On a wet Tuesday
he was crumpled
by a car going
too fast.
his parents carried
his little black coffin
on their backs.

On Wednesday
we were in the playground
looking at girls
and fruit.
''What was his name?'' Mikey asked.
''Dunno. Dead but,'' said Tommy.
''Third-grade?'' Mikey asked.
''Think so,'' Chris said, picking his
nose.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:22 AM

Album Review -- Mogwai

Mogwai
Kicking a Dead Pig

[RockAction Records; 2001]

There's a nauseating swarm of cliches that follow Mogwai reviews around; they attach themselves parasitically, gorging themselves on meaning and insight before, after their meta-feast, the digested fruits are dispelled to the ethers... the ubiquitous ''kings of post-rock'' jars, as does the unimaginative ''apocalyptic'' recourse... the point being, it is easy enough to capture Mogwai's spirit with a very simple epithet, say: Mogwai, with a cultured insouciance and amps turned to 11, provide us with the exhilarating yolk of punk mentality, filtered through a post-rock lens. Oh, and they like wearing Kappa and getting soused on vodka whilst they're doing it.
Post-rock can be an elitist cathedral -- overblown with pomp and dilettantes, it's an arena shared by both visionaries and barely-adequates. Mogwai, drunk on wine, poetry and virtue, ensure, however, that the bar is raised high.
So what of this collection of re-mixes?
Blips, beats and bass are brought to this album courtesy of artists as varied as Arab Strap, Max Tundra and Kid Loco and, with the assistance of others, commit unpardonable crimes against traditional song-structure. This is a fierce brand of song terrorism... but does it work?
At times there remains, through the mixes, the deftly laconic, ascending guitar leads I know and love; there remains also that unusual Mogwai signature -- the sense that you've been transported to a nihilist's arcadia, if indeed such a place is possible to imagine.
But, and this is the crux of the thing, the Mogwai tracks here have been so heavily carpeted with cold bleeps and blitches, trance beats and pastiches of ''found noise'' that a divorce is achieved between Mogwai and the tracks in favour of the distressingly morgue-like penchants of the po-mo remixer. Which brings us to an interesting question: are remix albums there to pay a unique fidelity to the original material? Or do they primarily serve the talents/egos of the re-mixer? Or how about option three: Who gives a shit?
The second track on Disc 1, ''Helicon 2'' revives the cute, but poorly recorded and ultimately incidental original, which can be found on the early EP Ten Rapid. A genuine improvement on the original, ''Helicon 2 (the Max Tundra remix)'' serves the original's simple, sweet guitar riff with added pillows of comforting effects, stoic drums, and mellifluous xylophone, but not before we're frightened shitless by an opening 1.20 of fuzzy, industrial screaming. This, you feel, was made with a computer and a heart.
The other highlight to be found on Disc 1 is, appropriately enough, the only re-mix committed by Mogwai themselves, ''Mogwai Fear Satan''. The dirty gravity of a Jumbo jet's noise is preserved here, as is the steady, steady climb of a wall of noise so steep it inspires vertigo. But, in truth, the rest of the album (which features Young Team staples ''Summer'', ''Like Herod'' and ''R U Still in 2 It'') serves eerie interpretations amidst the gloss of pretension and hospital aesthete.
The second disc features just two tracks, both of them ''Mogwai Fear Satan'' (yes, this track features four times on the two discs, yet very few, if any, similarities exist between them). The first re-mix is accredited to U Ziq, the second to the interstellar coupling of Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine.
The MBV-mix stands at over 16 minutes; it holds that you could find time to vomit viciously off of at least half the Disneyland rides before the song's completion... in fact it's a bodily function that may be brought on by a simple listen -- the song's first 10 minutes are a grotesque marriage of Dante's Hell and the soundtrack to Eraserhead. In other words, a grim cocktail of preternatural wailing mashed with the sounds of a Mexican construction site... but then, on 10 minutes, something like light appears. The distemper lifts and the sounds of angels appear -- the first real hint of Kevin Shields' influence. And damn if it's not a relief. You grab a drink of water at this heavenly oasis, and light a cigarette. The Shields' ebbs and flows cover you. But just as you're finishing your cigarette, and stubbing it out on the cloud you're sitting on, an assertive, distorted beat kicks in, and it's time to explore again... and when it's all over it's like those Sunday mornings when you had first discovered alcohol -- you've got a raging headache and partial amnesia, but a strange and glorious glow from doing something so wrong....

If you're fortunate enough to woo that someone special back to the pad after a first date, you would be well advised not to play this album. Shy of rupturing said partner's retinas, you may be arrested for gross indecency, and you can be sure you won't be getting that follow up call. Tread carefully....

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:16 AM

Album Review -- Apples in Stereo

Apples in Stereo
Fun Trick Noisemaker

[SpinArt; 1995]

apples.jpg

There's a photo of a girl I once knew in Seoul stuck to my bedroom door. The photo's not especially good, but that doesn't matter -- you see, it's the smile that the photo's captured that's important. It's a smile informed with an astonishingly accomplished sense of fun and the sharp and sexy buzz of intellect; it's a smile that evidences a soft and swollen heart and a fondness for mango daiquiris. It was a very good shag.
And it's also a smile that remains cosmically attached to the human magic it took to write this album -- an incurably charming marriage of sun-blessed melodies and ever-optimistic lyrics... in anyone else's hands, the good intentions that paved this album could very well have led to an album crippled with schmaltz, but kid, these are able hands....
Spiritual proteges of The Beatles, Richard Brautigan and temperate climates, Apples in Stereo have forwarded us gleaming tight pop -- they are the musical equivalents of Brautigan's best passages -- the one about the ''waterfall'' in Trout Fishing in America, or his descriptions of the Japanese beauty in Sombrero Fallout (''Yukiko turned like a beautiful page in her sleep...'') -- the point is, they are both masters of their craft, and their product is a profound simplicity, achievable only because of their respective skills.
Also achieved with this album is a sense of credible essence -- you know, like Teenage Fanclub's Byrds and Beatles homage; their influences are judiciously appropriated with soul and substance. Well, like the Fannies, the Apples too boast the talent of being educated and intelligent.
If Liam Gallagher could get his hands on Fun Trick... you can almost imagine his drug-addled features contorting in confusion and panic -- how could these American no-bodies have nailed The Beatles' essence so... accurately? Well, far from cheap proponents of self-aggrandizement and mimicry, The Apples lay forth pop-bubbles brokered from much firmer stuff. To assist enforce this sense of distinguish, it may be appropriate to mention here that psychedelic-pop stable, Elephant 6 (you know the E6 bands...), was partially established by Apples main-man Rob Schneider. Kudos.
The recording levels on this album are attributable to the use of an 8-track analogue; whether it was a decision decided by fiscal infractions, or to establish a proper sense of retro homage (I suspect the latter), the record does often sound as if it's been recorded in a dusty cupboard. Sure, there's a warmth, but there's also a sense of a dirty brown film hanging over the vocals. Damn it, in the super-sexy world of digital sound, I think a case can be made for re-mastering this record. And I know that the Apples would rather see me shot. I love them for that.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 11:10 AM

Hunter S. Thompson: The Dead Outlaw

mr-thompson.jpg

It was a Monday when I heard news of Hunter Thompson's suicide. He had ended it, like his hero Hemingway, with a shotgun blast, and so both writers died violently in their isolated mountain retreats. Both made the logical final step in their self-mythologising.
Hunter, like Hemingway, was a life pugilist -- an aggressive iconoclast driven to conquer physical and mental rings. And he succeeded, for a while. His self-styled 'gonzo' journalism hurtled him to the front of the counter-cultural zeitgeist, from where he manned an unlikely career as renegade journalist. He was obsessed with the smoky world of Washington; it was an obsession that drove Hunter to explosive expressions of loathing, the tones coloured by drugs.
And the writing was genuinely funny, but some saw the Dorian Grey facade for what it was -- a dynamic cartoon obscuring agonising levels of anxiety and mistrust, common symptoms of an encouraged misanthropy. Kurt Vonnegut noticed, and in his review of Thompson's book, Fear & Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, wrote: ''... the disease is fatal. There is no known cure. The most we can do for the poor devil, it seems to me, is to name his disease in his honor. From this moment on, let all those who feel Americans can be as easily led to beauty as to ugliness, to truth as to public relations, to joy as to bitterness, be said to be suffering from Hunter Thompson's disease. I don't have it this morning. It comes and goes. This morning I don't have Hunter Thompson's disease''.
Devastatingly portentous, Vonnegut anticipated Thompson's succumbing to his own disease 33-years-later.
Ashamedly, in being spectator to Thompson's tireless levels of self-myth making, I was distracted from the poison in his veins -- Thompson, the man, became inseparable from his grotesque and fantastical sketches of the American Condition. He was a super-freak, half-man, half-myth, a famous teller of tall tales about the Death of the American Dream. Now we suspect that the primal screams were real, of course they were real; we discover the humorous mimicry of insanity wasn't playacting and his famous gun-play, like Hemingway's, is now appallingly significant.

In 1964, then writing for the National Observer, a young Thompson set out for Ketchum, Idaho, to see for himself the death place of Hemingway. He wrote: 'Perhaps he found what he came here for, but the odds are huge that he didn't. He was an old, sick and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him - even when his friends came up from Cuba and played bullfight with him in the Tram. So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun'.
Thompson also wrote: '"Well," said Hemingway, "there's just one thing I live by and that's having the power of conviction and knowing what to leave out." He had said the same thing before, but whether he still believed it in the winter of his years is another matter. There is good evidence that he was not always sure what to leave out, and very little evidence to show his power of conviction survived the war.'
Thompson wrote his own epithet in this article, with its stresses on the power of conviction, and the trouble with losing it. Hunter had fed his myth well in the Sixties, and was symbiotically supported afterwards by a curious press. But it was also during this early period that Hunter was at his peak -- writing intelligent reportage on unprecedented cultural marks such as the Black Panthers, the Hells Angels and Haight-Ashbury. Hunter had the correct ratio of photographic-eye/intelligence/wit and drug-laced adventurism that produced culturally instructive writing. When he was good, he was very, very good, but with a man like Hunter, this delicate ratio was unlikely to last. There's good evidence that this ratio was ruined by growing levels of anxiety and undiminished drug use. Hunter's writing faltered and arguably hasn't asserted any relevance for two decades. His last published piece was a hyper-frenetic and unfunny dialogue with Bill Murray and his column writing for ESPN's web-site were ghastly examples of unintentional self-parody.

I almost cried when I read Vonnegut's review; for me it revealed my taking for granted of Hunter -- my gullibility in swallowing his myth, which, for me anyhow, contained some vague sense that he was bullet proof. Of course, nobody is, especially someone as sensitive as Hunter, and so, for what he must have thought were the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 10:49 AM

it was only a coincidence

it was only a coincidence
that the sky was blue
like a thousand dead princes
& the sun
was full.

it was just dumb luck
that the bare trees
against the blue sky
looked like wonderful
headstones
designed by Escher.

& it was pure chance
that we were in a yellow car
in the country
& the roads flowed
like squirrels
in love

& on the radio
a dead singer
sung.

you did not say
it was over
with your mouth
or your eyes
or your hands

rather
it was in the space
between us
sharing breathy units
of existence
with the dead singer,
the yellow paint,
the country road
the headstones
the sun &

the many dead princes

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 10:44 AM | Comments (1)

April 19, 2005

& in the winter...

And in the winter
when snails climb
bombs
You left.
And I could find nothing to write about
except
hangovers and the weather and
blackbirds.

The snails tell me there are worse ways
to live
&

sometimes I believe them.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 10:42 AM

if you are

if you are looking
for Summer
then come closer.

it can be here
or there
or in your sock drawer.
that girl
with the red-hair
and dragon-fly
laugh
who works behind
the counter
at the deli --
she may have it.
or I or
you
or

that apricot.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 10:42 AM