Sunday, August 31, 2014

Apolitical blues

It’s a funny thing but every three years in early spring (for overseas readers: election time) my thoughts turn to this Little Feat song and I have it on high-rotate. 

This version is a performance in London in 1977 with Mick Taylor, the former Rolling Stone, guesting. Playing slide guitar on-stage with Lowell George he doesn’t seem in the least intimidated. Respect.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wittgenstein, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

While the rest of the country, at least that part of it that pays attention to politics, has today been tweeting  about Judith Collin’s resignation from Cabinet, Paul Litterick and I have been on Facebook discussing the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Paul linked to this article by his (LW’s, not PL’s) biographer Ray Monk, about Wittgenstein’s views on scientism. Quote unquote: 
Scientism takes many forms. In the humanities, it takes the form of pretending that philosophy, literature, history, music and art can be studied as if they were sciences, with “researchers” compelled to spell out their “methodologies”—a pretence which has led to huge quantities of bad academic writing, characterised by bogus theorising, spurious specialisation and the development of pseudo-technical vocabularies. Wittgenstein would have looked upon these developments and wept.

Quite. And then to cheer himself up he would have gone to the movies. Wittgenstein was a fan of Westerns: 
In the two years whilst living in the Argentinian architectural work which was his family home, it was mainly the American Western movie star Tom Mix who made an impact on him. Once the place of a true craftsman’s discovery, the typical light-hearted American Western offered him enough material to share the wild, wild experiences of real men: the cowboys.

So here is “Cowboy Movie” from David Crosby’s 1971 album If I Could Only Remember My Name. It tells the story of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s implosion. Spoiler alert: it involves a woman. Key line: “They each wanted that Indian girl for their own”. I have been within a metre or so of the woman in question and am not surprised she caused problems for the men.  Decoding the lyrics: Fat Albert is Crosby, Eli is Stills, the Dynamiter is Nash and young Billy is Young.

Crosby performs the song live with the latter-day Allman Brothers Band, along with Graham Nash and  the Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, both of whom played on the original recording. Weird combo, but it works. Three drummers! Warren Haynes is the guitarist channelling Jerry Garcia who played on the original (did I mention it’s a great album? Basically the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Crosby multi-layering his vocals) and Derek Trucks is the kid guitarist who does a brief but brilliant solo.

It is not a stellar video but the performance is. I like the fact that the band don’t really know the song and so Nash has to be band-leader and show them where the stops and starts are. This is real live music without a net.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mark Broatch on culture


The 74th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is by Mark Broatch is his Pop Vox column from the March 1996 issue. The occasion is his appointment as the Listener’s new books and arts editor, replacing Guy Somerset.

“Mark who?” I hear you ask. “Where does he come from? Is he sound?”

Perhaps I can help here. In the 90s when he was an IT journalist he contributed to Quote Unquote as book reviewer and columnist. Later he was at the Sunday Star-Times for five years, as Culture editor among other roles, and has been with the Listener for many years on and off, as chief sub-editor, then deputy editor and more recently, since new owner Bauer downsized it, writing freelance articles. He lives in Auckland.

Apart from journalism: in 2002 he and I co-wrote Get the Net: the Internet and email made easy for New Zealanders (Hodder Moa Beckett); in 2009 he published here and overseas In a Word: the essential tool for finding the perfect word (New Holland), and in 2011 he shared the Buddle Findlay Sargeson fellowship. He is, I think, the first published author to be appointed books editor of the Listener since Vincent O’Sullivan.

So yes, he’s sound. Here he is in 1996 on the perennial vexed question of how we fund our culture.
State of the Art 
As I swanned around Paris over the Christmas break, attending concerts and frequenting as many museums in a week as one might carpark buildings at home, I couldn’t fail to appreciate that, whatever else the French might do badly, they certainly know how to do culture. Sure, they spend fabulous sums on it every day out of suffering taxpayers’ pockets. And, sure, there are artistic faux pas best forgotten. But the successes are spectacular. 
And they are enjoyed by everyone. There seems no firm line between popular and high culture. Anyone who has been to Paris knows that the depth of its culture – from its remarkable monuments and galleries to its parks and cafes – is wow-material. 
As if you hadn’t already noticed, this column is intended to swing round popular culture, those aspects of our social and artistic life in which we, the great unwashed, the people-meter button-pushers, bathe ourselves – as compared to the eau-de-cologne of high culture we dab behind our ears. Isn’t that the difference? 
Well, perhaps vive la difference. But the French might also say, what difference does it make? Because cultural life at the fag-end of the 20th century is such a melange of aesthetic interchange, cross-dressing and lost luggage, parting the waters like that might not, in the end, be very useful. 
Popular culture, like post-modernism and political responsibility, is indefinable. Oh sure, we all have ideas about what it means: the Top 40, Shortland Street, Jackie Collins. . . Some would say, in a John Banks voice, that it’s not even culture at all. The term has certainly been tarnished a little by its political cousin “populist”. All we can really say is that it’s recognisable as cultural or artistic activity aimed at a broad audience. But even that’s not quite right, since pockets of popular culture – say, performance art or jungle rap – are highly esoteric in their aims and pretty narrow in appeal. 
If high culture is art, music, film and performance that is enjoyed by an elite few with the time and wealth to devote to its appreciation, what makes it so different from model-aeroplane racing or body piercing? How did the concept arise? 
Certainly, it has to do with social attitudes and class links; history, development and longevity of the art form; and patterns of associated behaviour. It’s to do with aesthetic values. It’s also to do with money. 
Royal and private patronage of the arts over the centuries was provided for the aristocrats’ own aesthetic appreciation and peer-to-peer exultation, but their results were also performed and exhibited before the masses. Classical music, opera and Shakespeare’s plays were enjoyed in their day by very mixed audiences. Verdi’s and Rossini’s arias were whistled in the streets. 
Modern capitalism saw the rise of a commercial culture which was willing to support the arts for a financial return. A new kind of culture arose in response from which both art and business benefited. The old culture got left behind to fend for itself. 
Today, of course, most people enjoy many types of culture, at different times, for different reasons. Much popular culture is now inextricably linked with commerce through forms of advertising, and is thus usually cheap enough for the masses, while most forms of high culture are funded by state grants, licence fees, corporate sponsorship or high ticket prices. 
We may believe that events like Opera in The Park are reversing the separation of cultures, but perhaps corporate sponsorship has simply replaced the patronage of the aristocracy, allowing 300,000 middle-class Aucklanders to get a dose of culture from companies selling mass-market products. And if not sponsors, then lottery money to replace ever-dwindling government (ie taxpayer or ratepayer) support. 
Perhaps this is genuinely democratic art in that it funds itself and appeals to a broad audience. On the other hand, if an art form, say opera, is slowly regaining its former position as a truly popular art form, couldn’t state support be justified to help it get on its feet? For a while, perhaps, but not indefinitely. 
On a third hand, are some forms of art which are regarded as an essential component of our culture, but can’t support themselves commercially, ever worth keeping alive? 
The question of state funding of art has always been a minefield of criticism, because it involves cultural commissars deciding what constitutes art and who misses out. Everyone becomes an art critic. 
Creative New Zealand (formerly the Arts Council) was criticised in February’s North  and South for handing out money to various projects, ranging from the Royal New Zealand Ballet ($1.63 million) and Auckland Philharmonia ($995,000) to Quote Unquote ($20,000) and Tangata Records ($10,000). 
Culture Minister Doug Graham defended board members by saying they were good people. I’m sure they are, but they are also easy targets. Because New Zealand has such a small population, such niggardly (in comparison to many other countries) state funding of the arts, and the consequent relentless commercial pressures on artistic activity, means that audiences miss out on quality. 
Quantity is not choice. Quality is what should strive for in whatever type of culture we fund through our taxes. 
It doesn’t matter if an opera is soap or seria, as long as it’s good. We shouldn’t fund bad anything, however high or low is on our personal cultural scale. But the good deserves whatever support we can give. Then we might, once again, show the French a thing or two. 

Best line of the 2014 NZ Post Book Awards


It came from Vincent O’Sullivan, of course – winner of the poetry award last night for Us, then.

VUP’s Twitter feed reports that Kim Hill said to him today at the winner’s event, referring to the fact that he is not only a poet but also a dramatist, novelist, short-story writer, biographer, librettist and Mansfield scholar:  “There's no form you don't write.”

He replied, “Well, I don't write cheques very often.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Burning question of the day: Dusty Springfield edition

The Mancunian-Canadian Carole Pope – “an icon of transgressive music” who is a “singer songwriter, agent provocateur pushing the boundaries of sexuality, sexual politics and the status quo” –  asks:
When did it all go wrong?
When did it all go so Francis Bacon?
The fans at Dusty Springfield fansite Let’s Talk Dusty! are puzzled by the Bacon reference in this song, from Pope’s EP Music for Lesbians, which seems to be about Dusty Springfield. Ms Pope was for a time close to Dusty. The EP also features a song called “Vagina Wolf”.

I may be wrong (it happens) but I believe that the Francis Bacon/Dusty Springfield connection was first “referenced” right here at QUQ, which explains the extraordinary number of visitors the blog has had recently from baffled fans at Let’s Talk Dusty!, seeking an answer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

CK and Owen: "their intercourse was literary"

It’s clear that CK was in love with Owen, but — though he was rumoured at the time to have seduced him — the balance of probability is that they were not lovers. Their intercourse was literary. CK admired and championed Owen, and they bonded (really!) with a fierce intensity over their mutual interest in assonance and pararhyme.

Calm down, it’s not CK Stead and Owen Marshall, it’s CK Scott Moncrieff, the translator of Proust, and Wilfred Owen, the World War I poet. Taken from Sam Leith’s Spectator review of Chasing Lost Time: The Life of CK Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy and Translator by Jean Findlay.

Still, in a parallel universe. . .

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lee Child’s Personal: spoiler alert


In Lee Child’s new novel Personal,  due in the shops here on Monday 1 September, there is a passage in Chapter 14 when Jack Reacher goes to Paris (Paris, France that is):
The green door had a small brass plaque next to it which said Pension Pelletier. A pension was a modest hotel, somewhere between a rooming house and a bed and breakfast. [. . .] 
I ordered an extensive breakfast, anchored by a large pot of coffee, accompanied by a croque madame, which was ham and cheese on toast with a fried egg on top, and two pains au chocolat, which were rectangular croissants with sticks of bitter chocolate in them.

Wonderful. I bet Lee Child didn’t include these explanatory details in the manuscript he delivered to the publisher. One of his editors would have requested them. I would love to know how that author-editor conversation went, and how the editor explained that the author could not expect his readers to know about these obscure French things. Like, dude, who has ever heard of pain au chocolat?

Otherwise, I can report from the half-way mark that Personal is a cracker, and another Lee Child masterclass in how to end a chapter. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book review of the week

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton, ₤14.99)
It takes the recent death of novelist Barry Cole – a genuine Age of Aquarius mad-lad who hung out with BS Johnson and was brought in to clear up after the great man committed suicide – to remind us that there was once such a thing as a genuine literary avant-garde. There is still one now, of course, only it long ago lost any kind of connection with the mainstream and rarely gets reported in the newspapers, which means we have to make do with the likes of Mr Dave Eggers here.
The left-field credentials of Mr E’s lamentably-titled new one rest on the fact that it is composed entirely. . .

Continued on p27 of the 8-21 August issue of Private Eye, in all good bookshops now and a snip at $10. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Rachel Glucina edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians and famous sporty types. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course.

Felled by flu, I was unable to attend Friday’s luncheon which featured the NZ Herald’s gossip writer Rachel Glucina, but here is a guest post from Joshua Drummond (regular readers may recall his Horrible Painting of Michael Laws) who did attend and, as a trained and skilled graduate of the course, took notes. He reports:

Steve Braunias kicked things off in customary style with a speech and congratulations to various personages in the room, alluding to several people who’d refused to come to hear Glucina speak, because they might catch her lack of ethics, or something. He did a shout-out to Dave Snell, Dr of Boganology, whom I mention here because he’s a good mate and he has a documentary series on bogans coming up on TV2. Watch it, because it’s about actual New Zealand people, and fuck-all primetime NZ television is these days. End plug.

Glucina’s talk was done as a Q&A with Braunias, which was a useful change in format. Several Press Club speakers, while still instructive, have alternately droned and babbled. She began it, bright and bubbly, with talk of previous guest “Holmsie” [Paul Holmes], an affectation that pissed me off straight away, and how she’d got good and boozed with him and he’d become a mentor and role model with the advice: “You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to break stories.”

Braunias prompted her into an anecdote about her story on Mick Jagger, which was genuinely interesting because it snapped her out of the self-absorbed mode, and had her discussing the way she went about pursuing the story. Braunias asked about the ethics of outing Alison Mau and her same-sex relationship. Well, that was fine, Glucina opined, because everyone knew about it anyway. Everyone? Well, yes, and besides, Mau had sold stories to women’s magazines in the past so she was fair game.

The things that came to mind at this point were: no, the public didn’t know, and what right did she have to out someone? Surely it’s a personal decision to publicly reveal your sexuality? Braunias asked something similar. No, that didn’t matter, because Mau was in the public eye and had sold stories, and blah fucking blah. It was around then I fired off the following tweet:
Well this is fucked. #rachelglucina
Much more of this sort of thing followed. Any talk of whether it was worth wrecking people’s lives was met with the argument that they were in the public eye, so what. Laughing, she spun a yarn about her pursuit of the Ridges, with some ghoulish “friends” who’d sold them out to her. It had me cringing. A person at my table passed me a note. It said “Sociopath = no remorse.”

When she wasn’t playing up her close celebrity relationships, or how important she was because people called her to tell her shit, or how many contacts she had (“literally hundreds!”) Glucina was genuinely sympathetic. People had abused her quite horribly, as well as offering her bribes and (mystifyingly) “taken their clothes off” at her to try and get her not to write things. She spoke of Cameron Slater’s hideous social-media campaign against her – “hate speech”, she said – which nearly forced her to England. A chance meeting with the CEO of APN kept her in New Zealand.

Braunias did ask whether she’d paid much attention to her minor role in noted gossip Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics. No, she hadn’t read it, and she’d never met Hager anyway. What did she think of Hager? “Don’t know, never met him.” She said it with a snap.

One of the best bits was her story of how Judith Collins brokered a friendship between her and Slater. The way she told it, Collins had buttonholed her at a cocktail party and said she’d arranged for Slater to apologise to her. Glucina doubted it would happen, but it did. She seemed uncomfortable with the outcome – which isn’t surprising as it looks like Collins had essentially said, “Children: your bickering is becoming politically inconvenient. How can I advance my career when my dogs are fighting? Make up, now.” And they did.

People were well warmed up for the Q&A. It quite quickly became, in Braunias’ closing words, fractious. Most questions centred on whether what she did was ethically tenable. Justifications varied. Questions about the depths her gossip plumbed were met with “It’s my job.” She swatted away allegations of partisan bias with “I’m just a gossip columnist.”

Comedian Te Radar came up with a question that was more of an impassioned riposte about how she’d portrayed herself as a Breaker of Stories and a Purveyor of the Public Interest, but who actually mostly broke stories about which rugby league player got a taxicab blowjob from whom. Her response amounted to: “If the public read/click on it, then it was obviously in the public interest to release it.” My thoughts are that just because that the public are interested doesn’t mean that it’s in their interest. Cynicism compels me to think that if anything, it’s in the newspaper’s interest.

My question about whether tweeting a picture of Aaron Smith’s schlong was ethically OK got a “Well, everyone had already seen it.” Well, no, not really. Or even slightly, actually. “It was doing the rounds.” But the public hadn’t seen it. “He shouldn’t have taken it.” How is it his fault if he got betrayed by a supposed friend? “We talked to his agent.” I don’t want to see dick pics from the New Zealand Herald in my feed. “You don’t have to follow me.” Well, I don’t, but it was retweeted.

At this point it was turning into an argument and Braunias moved on to the next question, which was fair enough. I’d had too much wine and my reputation for asking obnoxious questions was threatening to get out of hand. A woman sensibly followed up with a question about whether Glucina would have done the same if the subject of the picture had been a woman. Sadly, I can’t remember enough of the response to paraphrase it. Perhaps someone else who was there will.

Some guy asked a stupid question about how Glucina could even be friends with Judith Collins. Braunias didn’t even bother with that one. Metro editor Simon Wilson asked if she was aware that she was being played by people as much as she was playing them. Her answer, paraphrased, was: yes, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because people read and clicked and her job was done. All part of the game.  I got to ask another question: “Rachel, you’re clearly good bros with John Key and Judith Collins. You must know a lot about them. Are you an equal-opportunity gossip? Are we going to find out interesting facts about them?” She said, essentially, “Uh, maybe.” I said, “When?” Laughter. No actual answer, though.

David Slack closed the Q&A amid some vocal run-on questions from others in the crowd. His rich intonation sailed above the quarrelling of the mob as he queried how we could be sure of the veracity of Glucina’s second-hand claims. Her answer, which bordered on tautology, was that we can because they’re true. OK.

It was all very interesting. Kudos to Steve Braunias for bringing in a fascinating guest. It was worthy as a snapshot of the changing face of news and for the genuine questions posed about the nature of what constitutes public interest. It was also an insight into a deeply fucked-up personality: an art historian, a self-identified homebody who turns in early, hates parties and whose day job is spinning vituperation. It was Interview with the Pit Viper.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 election: Keith Holyoake edition


This Internet Party vid with young people chanting “Fuck John Key”. Yes, terrible. Young people today, etc.

In 1969 Keith Holyoake, the then Prime Minister (above), held an election meeting in the Tauranga Town Hall, aka National Party central. It was open to all. Back then, this was normal. The public could come along and listen to politicians, question them and even shout at them. Innocent days, before spin doctors, TV and ruthless party image control.

That night, I sat upstairs with my fellow sixth-former David Withers and his cassette player, and every time Holyoake said something about the Vietnam War that annoyed us, David cranked up the volume of his Country Joe and the Fish tape, the one with the famous obscene version of the Fish cheer:
“Gimme an F, Gimme a U, Gimme a C, Gimme a K. What does that spell?”

David and I chanted along with it. We were thrown out. Holyoake won a fourth term.

I wonder if these young Internet Party supporters chanting “Fuck John Key” have really thought this through.