Out and about

the darkness withinmadigan mine by kirstyn mcdermott

A couple of bookish outings coming up, with options for the signing of books and drinking of wine for those so inclined:

  • Kirstyn is lining up at the Wheeler Centre’s debut night on Monday, Oct 25: good fun to hear debut novellists read from their work and maybe grab a copy and have a chat over a drink afterwards;
  • We are both joining Bruce Kaplan, Alan Baxter, and Bob Franklin at a Halloween signing at Dymocks at Southland noon-1pm on Oct 31: grab a copy and/or get one signed, stay for a chat
  • Also, there’s a bit of pre-Halloween fun to be had at a trivia night in support of the excellent Continuum convention (next year, June 10-13).
    When: Saturday 30th October, 8pm
    Where: Brian Boru Function Room @ The Celtic Club
    316-320 Queen Street, Melbourne
    Cost of Entry: $5
    For more information or to RSVP send an email with the subject line
    ‘trick or trivia’ to events AT continuum.org.au
    Costumes optional but a prize for the best one will be awarded by the
    Headless Chair.
    Prizes also given out for arriving in a lucky manner!
    Many awesome raffle prizes!

    Heart back on track with Red Velvet Car

    THE new album from Heart — fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson — grabs the ear immediately with a blues-soaked There You Go: there you go indeed, because from that the opener it’s a drive through some scenic territory.

    Heart have a wonderfully varied catalogue, from Zeppelin-style Middle Eastern influenced soft metal to crunching hard rock to 80s torch songs to folk and blues.

    This album harks mostly back to the earlier years of folk rock and blues — they debuted with Dreamboat Annie in 1976 — with the sisters showing a joy and verve that didn’t come across in their previous studio LP, Jupiters Darling (in 2004, breaking a decade’s hiatus).

    Check out the railroad rhythm of Wheels, the acoustic strum and drive of Safronia’s Mark, the urgency of WTF, the slow yearn of the title track, complete with strings, the nostalgia of Queen City.

    The sisters make a powerful combination, between Nancy’s guitar work and Ann’s impressive vocals that can smoulder down low or skyrocket (she does both thrillingly on Death Valley, adding verve to the second half of Red Velvet Car).

    This, Heart’s 13th studio album, doesn’t explore new territory and makes the occasional rest stop, but even with one eye on the rearvision mirror, it changes gear often enough to provide an engaging journey.

    Graveyard Train to support Concrete Blonde

    Huzzah! The support for Concrete Blonde’s 20th anniversary tour of Bloodletting has been announced: Melbourne’s Graveyard Train. Get your rockin’ darkly tinted blues n country gumbo here (apparently). Net snippets suggest they’ll be a superb match. Only a week before the curtain goes up!

    That would be Tuesday, rather than, um, Someday:

    SPEAKING of Melbourne bands, it was sad to read that The Vagrants played their last gig in September. I’d only just stumbled across their bluesy Aussie rock — innocuous but mighty fetching, and I had a hankering to catch them live to see if they’d go all firecracker like they sound as if they might on their album Be True. A shame. Here’s a taste of what we new chums missed out on:

    Tim Burton’s nightmare

    johnny depp in edward scissorhands

    Note to self: do not — DO NOT — leave it until the last minute to visit a best-selling exhibition.

    I was mightily impressed by the Tim Burton exhibition at Melbourne’s ACMI, even if I could only see maybe half of it through the barely moving wall of heads and shoulders. There were LOTS of the gothically inclined directors drawings, both artistic and conceptual, dating back to his childhood, a stint with Disney, and of course, his famous work — Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, a touch of Sweeney Todd, to name some of my favourites.

    In fact the exhibition was heavy on the artwork, showing his preoccupation with distorted perspective, particularly with the human form, body modification, zany critters, the lonely and the outsider, a touch of disfunctional family and the opposites that attract. Particularly eye-catching was a display of costumes featuring The Mad Hatter’s exquisite outfit from Alice in Wonderland, Catwoman’s slinky bodysuit from Batman (the Batmobile was parked in the foyer!) and, of course, Edward’s striking leather and scissor gloves. Add some puppets and sculptures and audio-visuals and you have a comprehensive round-up of the man’s career.

    The audio tour (a mere $5, taking the price of admission to only a very reasonable $24) definitely value-added, with commentary from curators and Burton himself about the themes of his work.

    And how great was it to see and hear Vincent Price in short early films being screened as part of the exhibit: a bizarre Hansel and Gretel with edible architecture and the touching stop-motion Vincent.

    I’m sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to see the exhibit at a more relaxed time, but I’m glad I went, if only to appreciate the sheer magnitude of Burton’s creativity and imagination.

    Pat Benatar, then and now

    live from earth by pat benatar

    Music is a moment. I have a clear memory of my mate Andrew telling me, so excited, about a Pat Benatar release he’d recently acquired: “That’s all it’s got on the cover, just the word Benatar,” he said, or words close to that. He was referring to Live from Earth, a live album — I had it already, on tape (yes, it was a long time ago), along with the rest of the catalogue, but wasn’t overly hooked on the stadium sound. While Benatar was a chart-topping powerhouse in the ’80s, it wasn’t always her hits that kept me coming back for more.

    Benatar was one of the first rock acts, certainly one of the first female rock acts, I discovered and engaged with, as opposed to those acts I fell into via teenage osmosis through school friends. Music didn’t play a big part in my family’s life — for many years our only source of music outside the limited range of rural radio was a reel-to-reel tape player with an even more limited range of recordings. I think I remember a Johnny Cash doing the rounds from spool to spool. And when we did step up to a cassette player, it was country, and country, and Elvis Presley.

    Music is an ongoing discovery for me. It’s an important part of life, a passion, one that’s best and easily shared, one that adds depth to any friendship and breaks down all barriers. It can be a common love.

    Those who are into music can trace the changes in their lives — in their growth, if you like; maybe evolution is a more accurate word — through their collection. Some of these milestones are simply that — moments in time, attitudes of the day, interests of the day — but others endure, managing to not just be a point in the rear vision mirror but a companion along the way. Not necessarily a fulltime companion — it recognises the need for change and exploration and novelty — but a loyal one, always there when it’s needed. Sometimes, it comes with ghosts: the best ones make us smile. Where were you when you first heard…? Who were you with?

    Benatar’s Seven the Hard Way remains one of the albums I listen to most. I find it one of the most consistent in her canon. It speaks to me of defiance from within a dystopia, particularly once the opening track, Sex as a Weapon, is past. The other big single off the album was Invincible, with the remainder being more meditative, sublime offerings, tinged with melancholy and loss. The album ends with The Art of Letting Go, to me a treatise in acceptance of the things we cannot change, of life enduring after the mourning for that which has been lost.

    Which is why I’m shelling out, thanks to a sweet deal this weekend, to see Benatar strut her stuff at the Palais. Benatar has made only one album in the past decade, so I’m expecting a lot of hits, which will suit me fine. This isn’t a step forward in the journey but a look behind. In a way, it’s another small exercise in the art of letting go. Sadly, we are not invincible, but the music goes on.

    Stephen King on vampires with bite

    american vampire by stephen king

    It’s old news, but it’s worth another bite: Stephen King, the man who brought us Salem’s Lot, is at it again, this time with a comic — American Vampire (note the rather tantalising hardover collection being plugged on his site — how long till Xmas?). King’s contributed a story to the opening gambit of the series, helmed by writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque, aimed at putting the red back into the red, white and blue, he tells the Guardian, a kind of ‘so there’ to the fangheads with issues rather than appetites. Bless!

    Salem’s Lot is an ace book, and I can’t help but wonder how it would go today, given the gorgeous slow burn as he lays the whole town out on the table before ripping it to bloody tatters. Not much teen angst and/or suppressed sexual tension going on in the vampire world, there; just a good old-fashioned homage to Stoker’s Dracula, beautifully done.

    The link to top vampire books is worth a look, too.

    Catching up with Real Life, Ladytron and Sarah McLachlan

    In preparation for a quiet run to the end of the year, I’ve been stockpiling albums — some are yet to arrive, including a hot-of-the-press album by I:Scintilla (gotta love that high dollar!) — but a few have lobbed and I’ve had a chance to wrap my ears around them.

    In fact, the wonderful Ladytron albums Velocifero and Witching Hour supplied a delightful soundtrack to a cyberpunk short story I was working up — just the right combination of synths, guitars and wicked vocals to do the trick!

    And I finally got around to tracking down Sarah McLachlan’s best-selling album Surfacing, featuring the stunning Building a Mystery. She was a charming performer when I saw her a bunch of years ago — she’s touring again with a Taste of Lilith Fair concert.

    And now I’ve cracked the seal on another breakout album, Real Life’s Heart Land, and oh the memories evoked by Send Me An Angel! I’m sure that was on a mix-tape (remember them?) I put together on an after-school visit to my mate’s to soak up his vinyl collection on ’80s hot hits. There’s no mistaking David Sterry’s voice — it’s heartening they’re still out there, doing the job — as the album unfolds, such a strong outing it pains me that it’s taken this long for me to grab the CD.

    Good company, this lot; I can’t wait for the rest to arrive to so we can get the party started.