Regarding The World’s Greatest Question: Have You Heard?

Somewhere in the world, right this very second, in libraries and hotel lounges and those mythical cafes with free Wi-Fi and expensive-but-worth-it coffee, a person is desperately hoping nobody else will find out what they’re listening to through the buds in their ears or the headphones momentarily around their neck.

They’re ok until someone asks. Someone might see you sifting through album covers with the swipe of your thumb or opening up the new playlist you’re working on (because that is a fucking art, and don’t let anybody tell you any different) and it might get them curious. They might think you’re attractive and use it as a conversation-starter. They might think they can hear it and don’t want to anymore. They might spot the few CDs in your bag you took from the overcrowded shelf in your living room with every intention of depositing in your car for the times commercial radio makes you want to swerve into the oncoming lane of traffic and regret nothing. But if I’m the someone who’s asking, think carefully. Your answer’s going to mean more to me than it probably should.

If you’re anything like me, you judge people based on the kind of music they like. I’m not talking your run-of-the-mill, slight grievance. I’m not talking, ‘Holy mother of God. You have Guy Sebastian on here?’

No, I’m talking a full-blown, your-taste-is-immeasurably-awful-and-your-argument-is-invalid, deal-breaker.

Mutual taste in anything is a pretty important feature of any relationship. I’ve been known to have lengthy conversations with total strangers – staff, usually – in bookshops and record stores and never, ever see the person again but still feel as though I’ve gotten to know them, if only a little. I like to romanticise this (see: everything) by considering exchanges like these to be the entire foundation of human connection.

Hello. We’re talking. We’re talking about the CD I’ve picked up, the book I’m holding, the one you’re shelving, the pile you’re trying not to drop. I can see their spines, their covers. I know them, and so do you. We agree on something. We can now talk about that thing, together, with vested interest. And because we agreed on that thing, I wonder if we’ll agree on this other, similar thing. You haven’t heard of this new thing? Allow me to change your life with this new thing. This new thing that in five years time will undoubtedly remind you of me, whether you want it to or not, whether fondly or not. This new thing that might, if we’re lucky, lead to other new things and other new experiences and these will be, inexplicably, all shared from hereon in. It’s brought us together. It might drive us apart. But it’ll still be there, all the time, in either scenario.

I am, especially, a big fan of the “Have you heard?” conversations. Those things can start World War Three quicker than you can say Lana Del Rey.

The problem, I’m learning, in being so darn high-and-mighty when it comes to music (and writing – and, heck, films) is that you leave yourself extremely susceptible to massive fits of hypocritical behaviour.

Sometime while I was in the throes of essay-writing, over-tired and especially susceptible to any and all things that provided comfort – be it food, TV or setting – Fall Out Boy released a new album. And I listened to it. And I didn’t completely hate it.

See, I was, once, young and dumb. I’m still pretty young (and pretty dumb) but my tastes, as I have to remind my father every time Simple Plan put out a new single and he surprises me with that terribly uninteresting news, have changed. Matured, I like to think.

It doesn’t make me half of the cultured audiophile I probably like to think I am, but I now count among my favourite bands in the entire world groups like Death Cab For Cutie, The National, Frightened Rabbit, Vampire Weekend and, a little less importantly, Something For Kate,  Sigur Ros, Counting Crows, The Jungle Giants, The Mountain Goats… My list goes on and on. One day I’ll get around to writing long manifestos on why everyone in the world needs to listen to albums like Narrow Stairs and Everything Is True before they die, but until then, trust me when I say that all the bands I like I almost always like because of their words. I have to love their lyrics. Everything else – everything – is secondary.

But lately, I’ve been regressing ever so slightly into much, much older territory. I think it started when My Chemical Romance broke up.

I’m remembering a time when I thought lyrics like “I could write it better than you ever felt it” was the most insanely poetic thing I had ever heard and would ever hear come out of a singer’s mouth. (Not gonna lie. Googling that song’s lyrcis has led to me listening to it again, right now. SLIPPERY SLOPE, GUYS).

The good news is, I have a solution: listen to bad music, but do it ironically.It’s pretty much the only way you, like me, are ever going to know every freaking word to this freaking awful/criminally underrated song and still be able to sleep at night.

Because at the end of that day in which you’re trying to get to sleep, you’ve been inspired. You’ve listened to music you love and love loving, and music you sort of wished you didn’t but can’t help it, and either way it’s made you think. About yourself, maybe, or the world, or a friend, or that random but in the very least polite record store guy who first said, ‘Have you heard?’ I suppose, in the end, it’s a defence mechanism. If we didn’t learn to like, or at least tolerate, the things that would have once driven us to distraction, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. I’ll try to be less judgemental. I like getting out of bed. I also kind of like the collaboration Fall Out Boy did with Elton John. (Things You Never Thought You’d Say). It means I’m either not as much of a music snob as I thought I was, or I’m never too old to not grow up, in however small a way. I kinda like both possibilities.

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On sharing the creativity of others

Occasionally, my job requires me to use my camera.

I try not to complain. I’d likely be arguing with myself, and that’s not healthy. It’s usually my idea to bring a camera along to whichever gig I’m going to. My editor frequently agrees.

So I take pictures like this:

Not pictured: The reason I have a camera in my hands.

 

Which are almost enough to make me draft a resignation.

Or this:

It always looks so good through the viewfinder.

 

Which I think I could give to my editor when he asks why.

But sometimes, if I’m very lucky, the Gods of Shutter Speed rub their hands together and throw at me something like this:

These are all from a Boy & Bear show from a few months back. (c) me.

 

Or this:

Dave Hosking + Fall At Your Feet = full memory card (c).

 

Which I’d have to be blind and twitchy to screw up even if all I had was my iPhone.

The reason I’m there at all, with my camera, is because I feel it’s important the newspaper I work for is seen to be supporting whatever show is happening in the area. My theory is if we as a regional newspaper – a thing that, in its day, had an impressive amount of sway within its little community –  can’t throw its weight behind an event of any scale, can’t spread the word before the fact and splash a few photos with a review on page 24 once the curtain’s fallen and the auditorium hums with nothing other than the sound of vacuum cleaners, then I’m not doing my job properly. People don’t see it advertised, don’t read about it every Thursday in my little arts section (*cough* plug *cough*), they don’t go. They don’t go, the band plays to no one. The applause of a few hundred theatregoers tries vainly to make up for the few hundred others who leave seats vacant. The gallery is empty but for the artworks and the volunteer in the corner trying not to sneeze for fear of a deafening echo. It’s not because their show is crap. More often than not, their show is perfectly enjoyable, and if what I’ve seen is anything to go by, it’s more than that; it’s pretty bloody brilliant.

But in this scenario, whatever “it” is, it’s more likely to retreat, dejected and unloved, back into the depths of the trailer from whence it came to resume its place in a short convoy on a long highway. It tried. It did. But the risk of venturing off the beaten track – where sure enough, my little city is located – didn’t pay off. The worst part is, now, it might not tell its friends. It won’t suggest its acquaintance spectacles take a detour Down South.

If being an arts reporter for a few years has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t make someone want to go to something. Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of hundred-word briefs, high-resolution publicity images and hours spent Googling before you understand. You can bring it to their attention, but you can’t bring them to it.

Sobering, huh? Aren’t I wasting my time, you ask? Well, no. I quite like what I do. I relish the unbelievable twists of fate that enable me to do it. I’d do it anyway, probably, job or no, within this little URL. I’d spend less time arguing about the placement of a comma, probably. More time listening to the CD I’m trying to review. But it wouldn’t be the same. No, if I’m going to be one of those saps who still believes deep down journalism actually still means something, I’m going to be the kind who chooses to think it means sharing creativity. Not mine – not in this case, and not yet, but maybe one day that. Sharing the creativity of others is what I do, for now. I’m tasked with the often frustrating challenge of convincing my audience – and sometimes, myself – that what these musicians, these artists, these actors, these singers and dancers and magicians and impersonators and playwrights and directors, that what these people have to say is worth hearing. It’s worth seeing. It’s worth paying for, too, but that needn’t always be the case.

The reasons will be varied; the clichés are all there and everyone knows them. You’ll laugh until you cry. Spellbinding. Stellar performances from a strong cast. Raising the roof for a rocking good time. Unmissable. Dancing in the aisles. Something for everyone.

Well the truth is, everyone wouldn’t want to go, and sometimes I’m among them. I’m tired. Life is hard, you guys. It rains a lot here and I’d be happier with one less trip outside some nights. But I know, now, I’ve learnt well enough that it’s some delightful twisting together of strands in the cosmos determining the shows I nearly don’t attend are the ones I most enjoy.

Which is why I like to think that if I can’t make them go, I can make them wish they had. And maybe next time, if we’re lucky and there is one, they will.

An open letter to Sufjan Stevens

Dearest Sufjan,

Firstly – big fan. Really, love your work, keep it up, and if the next album could be a little more like the Illinois album and less like Age of Adz then that would be awesome.

But.

You’ve pissed me off.

See, you’re coming back to our great country – going “Down Under”, as it were – later this year, and I’ve noticed you’ve made a small omission on your touring schedule. You know, since it contains one city out of the several possible concert-holding destinations we have to offer.

I know, I know, being a fairly brilliant musician is hard, right? And though you have an infinite number of managers, publicists and booking agents at your disposal, they can’t possibly be expected to get it right every time, can they? Which is why you get a free pass on this one. I, like the rest of your fans, can wholeheartedly forgive you. The Opera House is a great venue and an iconic piece of Australian architecture; you’d be mad not to perform there. Performing there twice – which you are – I can also understand.

Performing there twice and nowhere else is just plain cruel.

Please don’t feel bad – it’s not just you. Radiohead did it, too. Except where you missed off a good, oh I don’t know, SEVEN possible cities, Thom Yorke and Co. ditched just one. I think you can guess which one. It’s like, “Well HA! The only large venue at your disposal is a ginormous airlock with a non-existent acoustic! And we don’t have to play there if we don’t want to, because we’re stupidly rich!”

Kanye’s now infamous and significantly fanless because of his decision to come, and then change his mind. Except Radelaide missed out, too, so we can’t feel too bad. (Or maybe we can, having been lumped into the same category as possibly the most uninteresting State in the nation).

But I think your betrayal hurts the most. I’ve never met you (I’m sure a meeting can be arranged if you like) but I imagine you’re actually one of the nicest guys in the industry right now. And the internet’s 99 per cent convinced you’re a gay man, which probably means we’re destined to be the best of friends. So I’m sure this whole “Let’s do a half-assed Australian tour” thing is just a big misunderstanding. Granted, Perth’s the most geographically isolated capital city in the world. Half the people who live there don’t want to be there, so why should we expect you to make the journey? Speaking of, it’s at least a four hour flight from everywhere and about the only attraction it has is the Bell Tower (we don’t count that) and the cultural centre (kind of makes up for it).

SAY, there’s a thought. An outdoors gig with a stage sandwiched between the State Theatre Centre and the Library. I bet your fans would love that.

Maybe you could double with Kanye and Radiohead to make up for lost time.

Stay amazing,

Liz