25 January 2008

The Sound The Cat Made

I sent a link to my review of the Sufjan Concert to Asthmatic Kitty, which is Sufjan Stevens home made record label.

Lowell kindly sent me a t-shirt for my troubles. Thanks!

See my big nose.

Here then is a message from todays sponsor.

Below is a song called Barn Owl, Night Killer that we might see on the next Sufjan album.

23 January 2008

Bloodbook on the half shell

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

John Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath.

To me, these books are telling but one story.

It is said that humans will actually consume each other to survive, but in The Grapes of Wrath this only takes place metaphorically, whereas...

In The Road, McCarthy has whittled existence back to its most basic elements. Gone is the artifice of civilisation which counts for nothing in either case. For that, The Road is a more universal story.

In the journey down The Road, the lead character is distilled before our eyes until he is stripped of all personality. Only hope remains, so we can find ourselves easily upon the page. The darkness and our defeat. The light and our victory.

It is no coincidence that there she is on the final page of each book too. She who just is. Woman, mother, our gracious, compassionate earth. Survival.

I did love The Grapes of Wrath when I first read it - I had already met Woody Guthrie and knew his wonderful Dust Bowl Ballads. Woody is the definition of old-school cool, but he is a forgotten hero now. For shame. Bob Dylan saw fit to sit at his feet and Billy Bragg & Wilco did good work with his unrecorded lyrics a few years ago.

Anyway, I read all of Steinbeck after that, but I felt sad for him in the end; I feel like he ceased his yearning on the cusp of something great.

I just finished No Country For Old Men also by Cormac McCarthy. It only takes a day to read. That was also very good. There is a cold, cold killer walking the pages of the tale, I’m sure the movie makes much of him - I haven’t seen it yet - but it's not exactly clear what he represents. I guess he is simply death. Must be. No-one living knows his face. Very clever.

What I really liked was that title: No Country For Old Men. The book is coloured by a Texan vernacular and I'm going to put on that 10 gallon hat and tell you that it’s not that around these parts is not a good place for geriatric folk, it’s just that old men find they lack any sense of belonging. Now maybe that’s just a general fact of living and dying. There ain't no place on earth you can stay forever. Except maybe the dharma has declined and America has fallen heavy on her knees. The good guy even asks a lawyer for the definition of ‘mammon.’ Says its important to know about it.

When an author is going deep, deep, deep, I wonder if they set out with a message and then weave it so clever into the story or if it’s just a story that weaves a message for them. Now that’s a proper question for never knowing the answer sure. Perhaps it is just the telling that is the message. That’s what makes a book good, it don’t have to walk up and slap you ‘round the head with a moral club; no, it gets in gentle under the collar and starts to itch.

Well, I don’t really talk like that, not unless I want to. Mama always said I was clever though.

Picture is of Cormack McCarthy

13 January 2008

An Evening With Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens
Live at the State Theatre
For the Sydney Festival
January 12, 2008.

I drove 275km from Canberra and I was wearing a brand new t-shirt. That’s right, a brand new t-shirt. It has Japanese writing on it. I don’t even know what it means! You know me, I’m a real wild guy.

I don’t get out much to experience live music so this show was pretty special for me. In trying to share the experience with you, bear in mind that I can’t remember every song I heard.

The concert started with Seven Swans and was accompanied throughout by a gigantic kaleidoscopic slide show. They had even filmed Sydney scenes, including our archetypal Opera House. "Strange fins rising out of the ground." Sufjan also told us that he thought of Australia as, “Sun bleached blonde hair and koalas.” No worries. We’re used to that.

My favourite thing was the symphonic nature of the experience and that is of course the maestro’s signature. We were treated to an excerpt from his piece The BQE. It was Part 4 from memory and included a champion hula-hooper. Nice work if you can get it.

The brass section went off at every available opportunity. We were blessed with a smoking hot saxophone solo and the 2nd trumpet provided a rock solid foundation for the 1st trumpet to sound the sweet and glorious high notes. He hit them every time.

You can probably tell I really missed the string section, but Jackonsville and Detroit, Lift your weary head and Sister were real gems.

We heard Sufjan’s between song banter. The man knows how to tell a story, even if the audience has no idea what it is about. Listening to it, you get a glimpse of the personal experiences which have served to make the universal sound we all love.

I don’t know if Casimir Pulaski Day includes the intense bell ringing on Illinois which is its source. The bells signal that this aching, beautiful, haunting song is at heart an elegy and we got a real feel for that when he sung it.

At one point, he told the audience that, “We were extremely well behaved.” I took that as a sign to respond with a huge yell: “Show us yer wings!” I had to prove we’re just a bunch of yobs Down Under. In response, he launched straight into The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades.

We saw the wings later when the entire band donned them for the finale, Majesty Snowbird. Although it is hard for me to pick a favourite Sufjan song, this one is right up there for me. We learnt that this anthem is a tribute to a common, ugly bird, that ekes an existence out of winter. It was a joy to see Sufjan hammering the piano at the piece’s apogee.

For the encore, Sufjan returned and sang The Dress Looks Nice On You solo and then the band launched into a rollicking version of Chicago. Good choice.


The story doesn’t end there. Joe and I left and power-walked through the squalid night life of Darling Harbour to burn off the energy of the experience. It took nearly an hour. As we were walking back to the train station, I said, “Let’s go back past the theatre.”

There stood an exhausted Mr Stevens out the front, surrounded by the accoutrements of his trade. I stood idly by and watched while he stoically endured the ravings of a rabid fan. Think, “Your music is really sensitive but not in an emo way…” Man, give the guy a break, he writes Symphonies about freeways. I think he knows he is sensitive.

Finally, someone grabbed him and started pulling him to a car. I took the chance to slap him on the shoulder – yes, I touched him – and say, “The brass is fantastic. You should do a live album.” He turned around, looked me right in the eye, and said, “I know. I know.”

Hey. I’m waiting.

This exchange goes to show two things: great minds think alike and that Sufjan really really understands me! Seriously.

Thanks mate.

08 January 2008


Check out the 3100 Mile trailer. This movie looks like it will be very cool. I read about it at Sri Chinmoy Inspiration.

Also, view an educational short film about the dangers of coffee consumption. It is fittingly titled: The Woman Who Drank Coffee and Turned into a Water Buffalo. Haunting, poignant, terrifying - there is something there for us all really.

I just read all of the His Dark Materials trilogy. I would recommend it if you like Fantasy fiction, although the third novel was a little weak. They just made a movie of Book 1, Northern Lights. It is called The Golden Compass. I don't know if the movie is good, but you can see a bit of the story from the trailer. Apparently, there is some sort of theological controversy - there usually is.

This Saturday, I see Sufjan Stevens live at The Sydney Festival. I'll tell you about it afterwards. When I found out last year, I was so excited that I bought tickets for his Sunday night concert too. Now I can't go on Sunday because I start a new job on Monday and Sydney is three hours away.