Friday, December 30, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
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Survived Christmas just fine, despite all my initial concerns. Having mum there to take the heat off worked a treat - especially as she slightly over-indulged and I spent part of the afternoon looking after her: making sure she was drinking enough water, sobering her up with a strong black coffee, etc. Consequently I didn't have time to get into any political arguments with my uncle, so I actually had a surprisingly good day!
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Still not quite sure what I'm going to be doing on New Year's Eve, as it looks like there's a possibility that I'll have to do a shift on RRR early on new year's day: the last time I spoke to Kath Letch, the station manager, she was still short of a broadcaster for the 6-9 shift. This puts the kibosh on heading out to Anna and Adam's NYE party at their new house in Chewton, near Castlemaine in regional Victoria. (Obviously I've worked in arts administration to long - I said 'regional Victoria' instead of 'the country'. Oh dear. LOL) This sucks.
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And dammit I'm broke again. So broke in fact, that I've been living off a loaf of bread and a carton of eggs for the last four days. Blah, over it.
Today I went and sold a bunch of DVD's and CD's at a secondhand place, so that I could actually have enough cash to live well for the next week, til I get paid on Wednesday. I made enough that I can actually afford to go out on NYE, which is nice.
One day, I will hopefully move past this constant hand to mouth existence. I really must learn to start saving!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Bang Bang Rock & Roll – Art Brut [Fierce Panda/Shock]
Simple, sharp chords reminiscent of The Buzzcocks or The Fall coupled with semi-chanted lyrics from vocalist Eddie Argos. Art Brut this year were London’s answer to Franz Ferdinand.
Self Titled – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah [independent]
This delightful album skipped, jumped and twirled through 12 tracks of exuberant indie-pop, referencing artists as diverse as Talking Heads and Tom Waits without sounding contrived.
Takk… - Sigur Rós [EMI]
The fourth album from post-rock quartet Sigur Rós was simultaneously more vigorous and less bleak than its predecessor, 2002’s ( ),and with its moments of transcendent, tear-inducing beauty, recalled their 2000 breakthrough album Agaetis Byrjun.
Outside Closer - Hood [Sensory Projects/Inertia]
Imagine the organic electronica of Pretty Boy Crossover fused with the bleaker moments of Art of Fighting, with just a hint of Portishead thrown in for good measure, and you have an inkling of UK outfit Hood’s luscious, late night sound.
Picaresque – The Decemberists [Trifekta/Shock]
Portland US combo The Decemberists produced another combination of literate wordplay and rollicking, shanty-style indie folk tunes on this, their third album.
Empty Beats For Lonely Rappers – Pasobionic [Elefant Tracks]
Best known for his work behind the decks for TZU and Curse of Dialect, Aussie turntable wizard Pasobionic gave us a complex and evocative album of instrumental hip-hop on this solo CD: a moody, stunning and rewarding release.
Funeral – The Arcade Fire [Spunk/Inertia]
Inspired by death but bursting with life and creative flair, Funeral was the debut album from Canadian band The Arcade Fire. Art-rock without the pretension that usually haunts that genre, it was a complex, dense and richly textured album, and utterly engaging.
I Am A Bird Now – Antony and the Johnsons [Spunk]
The second album from this exquisite New York artist, who possesses a voice that encompasses both the falsetto of Jimmy Sommerville and the throaty heartbreak of Billie Holiday, was a heart-breaking collection of torch-songs that captivated, moved and engaged in equal measure.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Then there was the Christmas I was given a jumbo-sized package of Smarties, ate them all in one sitting, and vomitted rainbow-colours shortly afterwards.
Wherever you are, I hope it's a stress-free day. Currently lounging about at home in Fitzroy, and calling a taxi to take us out to Epping in half an hour...
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Back in the late 1980's and early 90's I actually boycotted it for quite a while, for a number of reasons, ranging from my then-idealistic stance towards religion and capitalism, to an unfortunate reaction by my Mum soon after I came out, years ago. She told me that my grandfather would be unhappy with me bringing a partner home for Christmas (which I read as her being uncomfortable with the idea). Fine, I said, then I just won't come home for Christmas at all; and I didn't, for at least five or six years.
During this phase of my life I also refused to give Christmas presents. No I wasn't being cheap; it was a stance - admitedly a slightly pretentious one! - in reaction to the consumer frenzy which Christmas has become; and wherever possible I tried to give back any presents I received (an act which one year greatly upset my late paternal grandmother), while actively encouraging friends not to give me any presents at all.
To explain my position a little more: it frustrated me that everyone seemed so accepting of a social custom that demanded we show our love by giving presents on the one state-and-church sanctioned day of the year. If we really love someone, why not give them a present on some other day, a day that has special significance for your shared relationship for example, instead of on the obligatory Chri$tma$ Day?
These days I do Christmas every couple of years. Traditionally my Mum and my older sister Megan take turns in hosting a family Christmas at their homes in Numurkah (north of Shepparton, in VIC) and in Canberra respectively. I'll usually go to my mum's when it's her turn to host the event, although not every year; and to my sister's slightly less often (due to a combination of factors that include distance, the expense of flying, and a general dislike for being trapped in Canberra's sterile suburbs - if you're reading this, big sister, it's nothing personal, I assure you!).
Other years I'll spend the day ignoring Christmas as much as I can; perhaps doing a radio shift at RRR, or DJ'ing the night before and sleeping through most of the day before going out in the evening to some suitably Bachanalian festivity ie a club or band or party.
This year, I'm actually starting to get nervous about the whole bloody day, to be totally honest.
Because my sister and her family have headed overseas for the first time (they get a white Christmas, in Switzerland I believe) Mum was feeling at a loose end, and consequently asked if she could spent Christmas with me.
"Sure," I said, "but bear in mind that because I largely ignore the event, it won't be very flash: no tree, tinsel, cards, wreaths etc. I will cheerfully drink and consume lots, though."
As an aside, a Watts family Christmas traditionally begins with champagne, strawberrys and croissants for breakfast, and gets more decadent from there. It's one part of the festival which I have no problem with, and if that makes me hypocritical, so be it. It also amuses me greatly that you'd be called a lush if you offered someone a glass of bubby at 9am on almost any other day of the year, so maybe Christmas has its good points after all...
Back to the point of this post now: and time to cut to chase.
Because I'd said that a Christmas day at my flat could be a bit spartan, Mum had the idea of two of us should perhaps have Christmas lunch with my Uncle Trevor and his family out in Epping. I was supposed to wrangle us an invite but procrastinated; eventually Mum did it herself, and so that's where we're going now.
Uncle Trevor is my late father's youngest brother, and an ex-army careerist (he drove tanks in the armoured corp, and I believe was responsible for writing off at least one, although that my just be a family myth).
A couple of years ago he and I had what narrowly avoided being a major argument over the whole 'children overboard' affair during my first ever Christmas day at his place (it was during my Collingwood renaissance, and I'd hoped we would bond).
Trev was firmly convinced that the 'illegal immigrants and queue jumpers' about the SIEV IV literally threw their children into the ocean in an effort to help stop their ship from sinking, and was siding with Howard's 'We don't want those kind of people in our country' argument.
I took the view that the event never happened, that Howard had seized on a fiction in order to help push his racist line about border protection, and had blatantly lied to the Australian people about the event in order to help influence the 2001 federal election, held just one month after the alleged children overboard affair. By December 2001 the truth had already began to circulate, with senior navy officers stating that no children were ever thrown overboard. Trevor didn't believe this, which given his military background, now strikes me as incredibly ironic.
After things got heated, I changed the topic to the fortunes of the Collingwood football club, essentially a neutral discussion, and things cooled down a little.
This year, in fact only last week, Trevor forwarded an e-mail to me applauding the actions of the Sydney thugs who rioted at Cronulla, the original author of which took an 'it's our country and if you won't assimilate fuck off" line - as well as encouraging those people reading the e-mail to forward it on until it reached the "PC bigrade" and woke them up as to what most Australians "really think."
I read the e-mail, shook my head, and deleted it, knowing that Trevor had probably sent it to me deliberately.
So anyway, I'm actually starting to get really uncomfortable about spending Christmas Day at my uncle's place. Essentially, I think he's a bit of a redneck, although he can be a nice guy at times, too; and his wife Brenda is really lovely; as are their kids, my cousins Nicholas and Julia.
Part of the reason I'm uncomfortable about spending the day with my uncle is that I know that, sooner or later, the issue of the Sydney riots, immigration and multiculturalism will arise, with Uncle Trev and myself taking radically different positions.
Essentially I can either bite my tongue when the topic is raised (Mum has suggested that I politely say 'I disagree with your position, but let's not argue about it - an eminently sensible decision but after a boozy Christmas lunch I have no idea if I'll be capable of such an action); or I can help create an uncomfortable, even antagonistic situation on Christmas Day by having an argument with Trevor when everybody else is trying to have fun.
Either way, I'm really not looking forward to going out to Epping any more.
Damn it, why didn't I just tell Mum that she was welcome to have Christmas here so that the two of us could just have some drunken quality time together?
Ho bloody ho, anyway. Have a safe and happy one, my dears!
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is the most important gay film in decades, argues Richard Watts
Despite being a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and a paid-up member of the Australian Film Critics Association, I can’t remember the last time – indeed any time – that a love story about a 20-year relationship between two men has generated as much buzz as Ang Lee’s forthcoming Brokeback Mountain. That’s because it’s never happened before.
The hype around this so-called ‘gay cowboy movie’ was immediate once its stars were announced: Australian actor Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko). With the Oscars now only a few months away, the buzz is becoming deafening.
Already the film has won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and been awarded Best Picture, Actor and Director by the New York Film Critics Circle. It is widely tipped for similar success in the upcoming Golden Globes, perceived by many in the film industry as an indicator of which way the votes will fall come the Academy Awards.
Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two young men, the taciturn ranch-hand Ennis del Mar (Ledger) and the extroverted rodeo rider Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal), who meet while herding sheep in the mountains of Wyoming in the early 1960’s; long before the Stonewall Riots had helped usher in the comfortable gay lifestyle that so many of us take for granted today. Despite a winter spent making rough and passionate love, the two men part, marry, and are forced to live out their grand passion in discrete moments across the following two decades.
Like many of Ang Lee’s films, which have included The Wedding Banquet and Sense and Sensibility, the movie is driven by its central character’s star-crossed relationship. As the director put it, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last month, "Repression is a main element of my movies. It's easier to work against something than along with something."
By focusing on the tortuous emotional relationship between his two main characters, Lee encourages audiences to view the film as a classic love story in the vein of Romeo and Juliet rather than as a strictly gay film. While this tactic could anger some elements of the queer community, who might argue that Lee is denying the story’s gay elements, it ensures that Brokeback Mountain will be widely viewed outside the gay ghetto, thus guaranteeing its financial success, and perhaps in turn ensuring that Hollywood green-lights future gay-themed projects.
Compared to the insipid Philadelphia (1993), which was too scared to show its lovers actually loving one another; and more recently Oliver Stone’s awkward Alexander, which neutered the relationship between the all-conquering Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) and his lover Hephaistion (the sultry Jared Leto), Lee has ensured that his film is unequivocally about two men who are physically and emotionally in love. Although not especially explicit, its sex scenes will undoubtedly please gay audiences hungry to see the realities of their lives echoed in a major motion picture.
Conversely, independent films such as My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Swoon (1992) and Sugar (2004) have been bolder in their portrayal of gay love, but have lacked the mainstream appeal of Ang Lee’s latest and most moving film.
By pairing a hot young cast with an internationally renowned director, Brokeback Mountain has the potential to touch – and perhaps even change – a mainstream audience’s hearts and minds. It is also a flawlessly executed testimony to the price anyone, gay or straight, can pay for not being true to his or her own nature.
Brokeback Mountain opens nationally on Thursday January 26.
This article originally appeared in MCV #259 Friday 16 December.
Friday, December 16, 2005
The Japanese ships are hunting fin and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, in direct breach of international law (these two whale species are protected under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Flora); and our government, and countless others, are turning a blind eye.
As well as violating the Sanctuary, the Japanese ships are violating the International Whaling Commission moritorium on commercial whaling.
Consequently, the Sea Shepherd flagship Farley Mowat will do their best to draw international attention to, and disrupt where possible, the whaling ships, in conjunction with two Greenpeace vessels, the Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise.
For information and updates about the campaign go to www.seashepherd.org - and while you're at it, try writing a letter to a couple of our politicians to ask why they're so quick to send the Royal Australian Navy to arrest Indonesian fisherman in our waters, but not Japanese whalers who are so clearly and flagrently breaking international law!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
After a late night at Q + A, I was up early in order to be at my friend Glen's place in Northcote by midday. He wanted us all there by 11am, so we could get away by 12, but I didn't understand the fuss for leaving so early, and stalled a little (for which I now apologise profusely - next year I want to get away as early as possible in order to get a good campsite!). Eventually we met, we prevaricated, we packed, and eventually we got underway in the 12-seater Budget minivan that Glen had hired. Talk about organised!
After much music and laughter (and a couple of beers on the road, or ciders in my case) we stopped for a late lunch in Ballan, and then at about 4.30pm we turned onto the dusty road which led to the Merdith Music Festival site, a farm about 2 & 1/2 hours outside Melbourne. We also hit a queue of traffic that was banked up a fair way, but it wasn't long before we were inside, and setting up our campsite, nicknamed 'the Northcote Social Plaza'. By ringing our tents together, with the entrances all facing inwards, and a shadecloth in the centre backing onto the van, we created our own little village of nine people, as you can see in the photo below.
One of the beauty's of Meredith is that there's only one stage, and a very friendly atmosphere, although now that it's grown to 10,000 people, some of the intimacy of its earlier years (this year was the 15th annual Meredith) has apparently been lost. Still, it struck me as a very friendly crowd; much more community-oriented than say, the Big Day Out crowd.
The stage, set in the 'supernatural ampitheatre' is surrounded by trees that provide some much-needed shade during the day. The joy of having a single stage is that you don't have to miss any of the bands except through choice: perhaps you want to wander back to your tent for a break, or decide to go sit in the Pink Flamingo Bar for a while, or the outdoor cinema.
Friday night's highlights included a great set by Melbourne band City City City, who are kind of post-rock, but not really; their decidedly non-rock stylings, which included keyboards harmonising with a trumpet, definitely seemed to confuse some of the crowd (who were probably there to see some of the more hyped rock acts the following night, I suspect). Check out their debut album The Perimeter Motor Show if you get the chance.
Next was Okkervil River, a US indie band with a hint of folk to their cerebral tunes. While I liked them, about halfway through their set I got a little restless, and so went for a drink at the bar, but I made sure I was back for the Bollywood Spectacular, which was decidely left-of-centre, cheesy and silly, but wonderful fun! Yes, camp hi-NRG Bollywood tunes and live synchronised dancing from a troupe in traditional costume. A breath of fresh air after the seriousness of Okkervil River.
Glen loved guitar-and-drums duo The Mess Hall, but while I enjoyed them, I wasn't blown away. By the time they finished it was after midnight, I was buzzing nicely, and had consumed quite a few cans. A midnight ride on the ferris wheel followed (obviously the pic below was taken on the Saturday night), as we wanted to see just how far the twinkling lights of the tents stretched; then, after a few more beers, it was time for the 2am headlining act, You Am I.
Tim Rogers was sober, and didn't fall off the stage once (unlike a Tasmanian show earlier this year), which to my mind, would have made for a better gig. I've never really liked You Am I - I think they're perfectly competent, but also totally unexciting.
I had a good reason for hanging around and watching their gig though, as I was sort-of-trying to crack onto one of the guys who'd come up with us, Rob, who was at his fourth Meredith, and who was a big You Am I fan. I'd been told by a couple of our group that he was 'uncertain' about his sexuality, and since he was damn cute, and since I've always been attracted by the grey area of sexuality that lies between gay and straight, or bi and straight, I decided to make a move. I didn't succeed, cos he is actually straight, but we still hung out anyway; he's a cool guy, and it's always good to make a new friend.
Saturday began with a hangover, so it wasn't until 12 that I wandered back down to the stage to check out The Grates. Unfortuntely I was still too fragile to enjoy them, so I went off and grabbed a massage and a miso soup, after which I was feeling much more wholesome.
I actually spent most of Saturday afternoon just hanging out with friends, bumping into more friends, and drinking and taking speed, rather than watching the bands, although I caught some of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (a little too self-indulgent for me) and Cut Copy (good fun, but rather New Orderish).
Next on the lineup was Airbourne, a bunch of kids from Warnambool around who much hype has developed, and who have apparently already signed a massive record deal. I thought they were third-rate AC/DC clones whose attempts at irony fell flat ("This next song's for all you heartbreakers out there. It's called 'Heartbreaker!'). Far too many of the crowd seemed to be lapping up their standard rock poses so I stalked off to the Pink Flamingo Bar in disgust, returning to the stage in order to get down the front in time for sublime Scottish band Sons and Daughters, who put on a fantastic show, and were my personal highlight of the weekend.
To save me trying to describe them, here's their blurb from the Meredith website:
"SONS AND DAUGHTERS From Glasgow, Scotland. Impeccable pedigree. First time visitors to our shores. Who can be bothered describing what they do? Check any of the world's best music press if you want descriptions. 'Think Nick Cave throwing knives at Johnny Cash' say the NME. Throw in a teaspoon of The Cramps' harnessed hotness, and a suggestion of the Violent Femmes' better gothic leanings, but female. And silkier and poppier. With mandolin. I knew I shouldn't have tried to describe it. Album of the Year according to one national Australian broadsheet. Feted in certain circles the world over, and rightly so. Classy, glossy, sexy, punky, traditional, accomplished, exciting in every sense. And good live."
They were too. The gig was given that touch of joy because I ran into the irrepressible Mary-Jane Fenech down the front, a girlfriend from RRR, who it's always a delight to see.
Next was Wolfmother. Yawn. More unoriginal regurgitated rock from a band who need a couple of years to properly develop and stop wearing their Led Zep influences on their sleeves.
After Wolfmother, things got interesting. The Avalanches DJ show kicked in, as did people's drugs. And verily, there was much drinking, dancing, hugging, talking of gibberish and watching 'The Adventures of Plastic Man' until the early hours of the morning. I got to bed just before dawn, myself, and plenty of people were still going in the morning. Sadly I missed the morning Tai Chi class. Oh well, there's always next year.
Sunday was a laid-back musical affair. I really dug the African rythyms of King Marong and Safara, although Claire Bowditch didn't really do it for me. It was around this time that the tree-woman did her thing: hanging upside down by one leg in a tree while licking its bark, humping the trunk, and generally being off her dial on verrrrrrrry powerful drugs. Don't take the brown acid!
Blackalicious converted a lot of people I think, with the best hip-hop I heard all weekend, and not even the heat and the hangovers/coming down could stope the crowd from grinning and gyrating.
Next up, and for me the real highlight of the final day of Meredith, was the running of the annual Meredith Gift, a notorious short and naked footrace. Yes, a nude race. I of course, participated, having discovered the pleasure of public nudity a couple of years ago, when I took part in the infamous dawn Spencer Tunick photoshoot, which saw 5000 naked people draped across Melbourne's Princess Bridge.
Together with new friend Anna, who was nervous but ultimately glad she took part, and my girlfriend Sam and another of her girlfriend's whose name I've unfortunately forgotten, we lined up at the very end of the race. No competitive naked running for us; no. With dignity and decorum, we held hands and skipped along behind the race-runners, to much appreciation from the crowd. Sure wish I had a few pictures. It hardly need be pointed out, of course, that I am a very manly skipper. ;-)
Then, having already packed up our tents, we packed the van, stopped for a final, communal photo, and drove home via Bacchus Marsh's fine fish and chip shop for dinner. Glen dropped me home at about 8pm, and having only had an average of four hours sleep a night for the past three nights, and because I had to be up at 4am for my first stint at presenting Summer Breakfasters on RRR, I was in bed by 10pm.
Huge thanks and hugs to Glen, for organising our posse, and hugs to all the gang. I miss Meredith already, and I can't WAIT until next year. Oh, and Darren, thanks heaps for the photos!
Monday, December 12, 2005
In brief, the Friday night Bollywood Extravaganza, the Saturday night set from Sons and Daughters (Scotland) and Sunday's Meredith Gift (the best nudie-run in the world!) were among the highlights.
Huge thanks and hugs to my lovely mate Glen for organising our transport: the homo-bus of love (well, there were two straight people and seven gay guys, but the straights were honorary queers for the weekend anyway). Great to spend more time with guys like Cam and Andrew and Darren, and much fun meeting and becoming friends with Anna and Rob.
Despite the weekend's debauchery I was up at 4am today, after about 5 hours sleep, preparing for my first Summer Breakfasters fill on RRR from 6-9am. Worked at the station til 12, came home, had lunch, caught up with Damien at Melbourne Fringe, then back home and crashed out for three hours much needed sleep.
Tonight I've eaten dinner, watched the news in horror (and despite the bullshit in Sydney on Sunday, Howard is STILL playing dog-whistle politics!!!!) listened to new CD's and written my MCV music review column, and then caught up with my Canberra-based sister Megan for a chat, as she and her husband Doug and their kids are flying off to Europe (for a white Christmas!) at the end of the week. Have fun guys!
Bed now. Blog more soon. Love to all. Respect.
Monday, December 05, 2005
In other news, I'm off to the Meredith Music Festival this weekend (although I still have to chase up a tent, and find somewhere that sells cider in cans, as glass is not allowed), and then on Monday I start presenting Breakfasters on RRR over the summer, through til the end of January. The early morning starts are going to be a challenge, but I'm really looking forward to presenting the show. I'll be taking a break from Smartarts during this time, but hopefully I'll be able to squeeze a few arts-related interviews into Breakfast!
Today (Monday) I'm trying to catch up on a few things that I've been putting off for the last two weeks, like doing my laundry, washing a sink full of dishes, and going to the gym. Then tonight I'm considering seeing the new Harry Potter film, as well as sorting through 80-plus media releases, and lining up some Summer Breakfasters-co-hosts.
I've also got to find the time to write a 600-word article on the ACMI Stanley Kubrick exhibition for the gay and lesbian newspaper MCV between now and tomorrow, which will involve grabbing a few quotes from leading queer cineastes as well.
Does anyone else ever wish that they had a couple of clones to help them share the responsibilities of life around sometimes? I certainly do, although said clones would also need a means of downloading and uploading memories, so that we all knew what each other had been up to.
I don't suppose there are any mad scientists reading this blog who could help me out on that front, are there?