Saturday, August 31, 2013

Singing Blind Boy Grunt

In my utopia (which would be a fabulous, and utopian sort of place), let us call it Tomton, I would promulgate many nifty and pleasant laws. One of my plans would see the end of large music companies controlling the art, ripping off the punter and the artist simultaneously. In this utopia musicians would be ubiquitous, hearing live music would be as simple as hanging out with one's friends enjoying good food and drink while playing and singing along. Indeed this would be true for all artists, for once the profit motive is removed history (and art) can begin, as we move out of the realm of barbarism.

So in a world short of this goal, I can find a similar form with support for intimate venues, and for musicians who are able to adapt and thrive in such an environment. One of the great drivers of intimacy, this is true for all arts, and assumes that love is a type of art, is passion. Passion for the music and passion for relationship with the audience.

So it was, with old fashioned utopian ideals in my head, that my wife and I went to see the Brewster Brothers play Bob Dylan at the Sorell Memorial Hall. Tasmania has just had the hottest July temperatures on record; it was hoped that the band would, as well, give us a hot time. The crowd was not disappointed.

The hall was well laid out, and a sold out crowd had gathered for the show. After a few minutes of settling down time, getting a beer and hand shaking and saying hello time, the first act started.

It seemed fitting that in a night of Bob Dylan's music we would start off with a singer-songwriter. Local Tasmanian boy made good Timothy Slater began the evening. The field of singer-songwriters is a crowded one, and this is a field where it is difficult to break new ground, where it is difficult to please a jaded audience who have heard it all. From our boy Dylan, to Paul Kelly, to Joni Mitchell this is a crowded group of talented artists. And too often one will hear the singer being more of an entertainer than an artist. The artist can be entertaining, but the one who is primarily an entertainer will not be an artist.

Luckily Timothy filled both roles. Talented and a good strong singer he did entertain and hold the crowds attention. Not always the easiest task for the supporting role. The best way to gain the attention of an audience who is expecting long time heroes is with honesty. Here the songs of Timothy Slater won over, if not the entire crowd, at least myself and the others sitting around me. With a smooth style, with a nice roll of patter between songs, and with songs that obviously spoke to and through the singer the crowd was more than won over. As a final touch he brought out his sister, local hairdresser Felicity to sing with him. The crowd went wild with the harmonies that only family can create.

So after a break for a beer and a chat, we all took our seats waiting for the main act to appear. As a long time Dylan fan (my sister took me to my first concert, Bob Dylan, way back in 1975) I was expecting for the Brewster Brothers to disappoint. Being a Dylan fan is that uniquely snobby sort of activity. I am only too happy to admit that I was not disappointed in the least. Apart from some technical issues with speakers that most of the audience did not even notice, the two sets played by the Brewster Brothers went down a treat with the locals. The cynic would say that rural Tasmanian audiences are starved for excitement and would enjoy anything that got upon stage. This is of course a lie and a slander.

While not quite capturing the breathless, flexible style of Dylan's singing, (and really who can?) Rick Brewster did a very good job of generating the warmth and depth of Dylan's lyrics. Passion and honesty are the hallmarks of any true musician. In this performance we could feel the affection that the Brewster's have for the music of Bob Dylan, and this affection came across to the audience. And from this affection came the honesty and the passion that allows for strong performances. Indeed there is little that is more deary for an audience than to hear musicians going through the motions, mentally calculating what will be done with their paycheck. There was none of this boredom from either act.

The second set of the Brewster Brothers was peppered with songs of The Angels. Whether it was due to the crowd knowing the songs better, or the extra beer and wine that had flowed, the audience spent the second set dancing in their seats, singing along and generally acting up. While I can not speak for the entire audience I can say that for this show I was not disappointed and that I happily got my money's worth. I am ready for another such evening. Maybe an evening of the Brewster Brother's singing the songs that influenced Bob Dylan? Is that Hank William's “Your Cheating Heart” that I can hear blowing in the wind?

The photograph was taken from the Blue Note Productions Facebook site

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Literature and Change

This is a response to an article by Tadhg Muller on the island website

Sometime last century, when I was still a wee bairn, I had ideas about art. Looking back I can laugh at my naive ideas of becoming an author, an artist. Now I can see my career as little more than a spectacular abortion. I could alone bewail my outcast fate, or I could face up to my numerous personal failings, to a heroic lack of discipline, an almost pathological contempt for the editing process, the various bad choices I made. Or I could look back over a life of brutal violence, of drink and drugs, of death and suicide of work and family and love. Sometimes I look back, and I want to cry, sometimes I have to laugh. And then I think, “but above everything don't write unless you have to; if you need money make boots and we will respect you as a competent cobbler; if you write for money your work will show it.”

One of the greatest pleasure that comes with growing older is surveying the history of our lives. The joy of I told you so, the sorrow of I told you so...

Now. Cold wet winter night. Raw and wild. My heart is sad and sore.

Sometimes I stand in front of the bookshelf in the bookstore, and I sigh a sigh of relief at having dodged a bullet. A vast accumulation of books to be judged by covers, a wall of images and colours that captivate and scientifically seduce the eye, and thus the mind. Standing in the stink of the temple marketplace, amid this babble of books, I think of Plato's begging priests and soothsayers who go to rich men's doors and make them believe that they by means of sacrifices and incantations have accumulated a treasure of power from the gods that can expiate and cure with pleasurable festivals any misdeed of a man or his ancestors. And I listen as white-noise muttering gains intensity. Listening to, breathing in, becoming this cacophony of privileged voices and I tilt slightly my head, and half closing my eyes the words appear, certain words form themselves and a song bursts forth. An echo of the Iron Lady herself -- There is NO alternative. And in my reverie I overturn tables. And in my profanity I leave and drag myself through the negro streets looking for an angry fix. Cheap thrills! 48 pills!

This is a large part of the reason why I use poetry as my medium. Partly because I like the ephemeral nature of poetry, better than the novel, poetry allows one to easily diarise our daily struggles for sanity and clarity and my daily readings. Having a family and working, poetry allows me the freedom to create, without the full time effort novels or larger pieces demand. Poetry better than the novel allows one to make rapid changes of tone, mood and subject. And poetry better than non-fiction history allows one the freedom to see things as they could be, for the true is a gaol of what has actually happened. Poetry allows the flights of imagination required for political action. Poetry allows for the building of utopias. And most importantly, poetry, being the most despised and ridiculed of all literature these days keeps me at arms length of any thought of earning a living through art.

"I never mentioned a man but with the view
"Of selling my own works.
"The tip's a good one, as for literature
"It gives no man a sinecure.”

“And no one knows, at sight a masterpiece.
“And give up verse, my boy,
“There's nothing in it.”

So what is to be done? So much!

Not so much a manifesto or a prescription, rather a suggestion. Utopia. No more let us write of dystopia -- we live this daily. Our age demands utopias. Use as a model the sexually free, politically free, Zeus mocking and theoi humiliating cloud city of Pisthetaerus. Or the classless society of De Sade's Tomoe. This island kingdom, was not only sexually free, but promiscuity was mandated. In this imaginary land the king (who was more a figurehead than a ruler) would not allow himself to eat off gold plates while the children the makers eat black bread washed down with bitter tears. Or even the science fiction of Gene Roddenberry, author of the first interracial kiss on American television profaning a time beyond money and property where all needs are met as easily as plucking fruit from swollen trees.

Maybe some practical examples. In the gallery built by Hobart's very own Bruce Wayne, MONA, there is a certain poo machine which is loved and hated in equal measure. The Cloaca. It leaves me cold to be honest, I stand at look and understand, in my own erroneous manner. And I think, how great would this work of art be, if from one end it was fed babies (for it is when we are children that we are our most authentic) and out the other end it pooped chains. For is this not the fate of our children? To be digested and transformed into consumers of shit, to be everywhere enchained shitty gold bond citizens excreted by a reactionary kultur process that puts short term profit above all else.

Last year I went to see a play called Murder. This was a play about, unsurprisingly, murder using the music of Nick Cave. And I sat in the audience and I thought, why not a play called Poverty with maybe the music of (among others) the Gang of Four. This imaginary play could make people think and talk about poverty and the role it plays in our society, and how Capital needs poverty to survive.

How different would have been the arc of the life of Emma Bovary if she had read, really read, Justine (Good Behaviour Well Chastised). Careful reading would allow her to see the brutally honest morality of de Sade. A morality that would have allowed her to understand her betters as they are. Blood sucking vampyres who prey upon the souls of the weak and vulnerable. Who see war and famine as money making ventures. She would have learned to hate her oppressors, rather than idolising them and trying to worm her way into their society. For it is no coincidence that the greatest villains, the greatest murders and thieves are the wealthy and powerful in the novel. For this is as true of our age as it was in the time of the Sun King. Or as The Philosopher wrote “The fact is that the greatest crimes are caused by excess and not by necessity. Men do not become tyrants in order that they may not suffer cold.” As the ideals of the ruling class are the ideals of the age, so we see much written and spoken to convince us that our real enemy is not the wealthy but rather those poorer and more unfortunate than ourselves.

I do not know, I may be right, I may be wrong. I do know, however, that I am write for myself.