Salvage: words in the seawrack

salvage by jason nahrung

As part of the Wednesday Writers guest post series over at Ebon Shores, I’ve offered some background to the inspiration and development of the novella Salvage that Twelfth Planet Press is publishing this year. The story took four years to appear on the page — that’s about 10,000 words a year — and arrived in response to three years of rather bruising disappointment. Bottom line: keep swimming.

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Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 2

johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent, night 3

Johnette Napolitano on the third night of her Melbourne Spiegeltent run. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

After breaking the ice last night, Johnette Napolitano presented a more relaxed figure at her Spiegeltent gig in Melbourne tonight. Still humbled by the full house, but a little stumble-fingers too, stalling two songs — ‘how do you fuck up ‘Joey’?, she asked at one stage with an endearing chuckle — and tumbling her wine glass.

Thing is, when you’re personable and natural, you can get away with the odd fumble. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone has to be polished and Photoshopped to the sheen of ceramic in order to entertain. Cracks are allowed. Crack-ups are divine; Napolitano’s humour won through. ‘I’m a mess,’ she said; ‘thanks for your patience’. Pshaw. When you can bring tears to the eyes with a rendition of ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same (Since You’ve Been Gone)’, you get all the patience you need.

The set list was tweaked from the previous, again opening with ‘Rosalie’, and finishing early with the a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’ before an encore of ‘Roses Grow’ to the accompaniment of audience percussion, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ and the finale, ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’.

Napolitano, in hat and ankle-length sleeveless black dress, was in good spirits, wisecracking, rendering slightly different takes on some songs, making each one fresh within its moment. The set list also included ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ with a snatch of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ on the piano and ‘the wedding theme from Candy‘.

There were anecdotes of Wall of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland and Melbourne (the inspiration for the hit ‘Joey’), of overflowing bath tubs and nanna naps, references to being old belied by a voice that took us far, far away from the canvas and mirrors of the elegant Spiegeltent. Great sound, too.

Napolitano is donating all proceeds of merch sales to the Lost Dogs Home, with one more night to run in her three-night appearance.

  • Night 3 review
  • Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 1

    johnette napolitano at the melbourne spiegeltent

    Night 3 performance. Pic: Kirstyn McDermott

    Please, memory gods, don’t let this one fade: Johnette Napolitano, bathed in blue lights, bare arms showing muscle and tattoos, sleeveless red-and-black gothic dress over black trousers, black hair curling freely around her face, funky top hat with shiny pins; there’s rain on the canvas roof of the Spiegeltent and the leadlight windows are aglow from without; she’s singing to the accompaniment of only her guitar, strumming a low stalking beat, her voice infused with a blues note — ‘going all Louis Armstrong on your arse’, as she says in a breathy undertone with a hint of chuckle — and the song is ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’, and it encapsulates everything, absolutely everything I’ve come here for.

    Oh yes, I’m a fan, and last night — the first of a three-gig run — was a demonstration of why. That face, lined and shadowed with a life at the lower end of the rock biz, an uncompromising life, that voice that carries so much emotion; and then that cheeky peek from under the hat’s brim, the eyes alight and round with amusement and wonder, and she could be 20, or 12.

    I love her shyness, her humility, her quirkiness, her freedom to make mistakes and to interrupt her songs to interject a comment or a laugh. I love the way she plays her way into a song and then — oh — she’s in it, and it’s real, rasping low notes that make you shiver, those highs that make you tremble. She looks, sounds and acts real — ‘I like … my stories true,’ she says at one stage, quoting a passage from her Rough Mix chap book, a smattering of autobiography and lyrics and behind-the-scenes that’s only crime is being too short.


    Last night’s gig opened with the recent Concrete Blonde release ‘Rosalie’, thrilled with ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, then sent a frisson with a spectacular version of ‘Mexican Moon’ — some flamenco notes, some Spanish, all heartfelt.

    She sang a song about a frog on a log that she wrote when she was 12 — pretty good little ditty, that — and the wedding song from the Aussie movie Candy, the first time she’d performed it, she said (‘I was shitting myself up here; I’m still shitting myself’).

    It was a freestyle playlist, snippets of tunes here and there including a grab of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ , anecdotes, requests, stretching back across her bands (primarily Concrete Blonde, her most successful venture) and solo work.

    The Pretty & Twisted tune ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ was stunning on the piano. There was a strong showing from the Bloodletting album, in addition to the titular song: ‘Joey’, Concrete Blonde’s big hit, and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, the Marc Moreland song that Johnette virtually owns due to her stirring renditions over the years, and a strident ‘I Don’t Need A Hero’. Her wonderful solo album Scarred was represented by ‘Just Like Time’. The gig ended with an a cappella rendition of ‘Mercedes Benz’, completing an earlier impression of a Joplin-like presence.

    Lord knows what I’ve missed. An hour was too short but deliciously long. She has two other gigs at the elegant, intimate Spiegeltent, an ideal venue for an acoustic performance from a genuine, and genuinely talented, performer.


  • Night 2 review
  • Night 3 review
  • Note: I’ve replaced an old PR shot of Johnette used in the original post with one taken on the third night after the audience was given permission to take photos for a period.

    Ditmar Award nominations open

    The Aussie spec fic fan-voted Ditmar Awards are now open for nominations, using a handy online form, post or email — see the rules page for details about who and how. There’s also a massive list of eligible works that is admittedly not totally comprehensive but is a fine place to start for memory jogging! The awards will be presented at Continuum in Melbourne in June. Electronic nominations close on April 15.

    Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at Northcote: a grand finale

    amanda palmer and grand theft orchestra posterThe Northcote Social Club was packed on Monday night for the last of five gigs by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, and what a sweaty little box that venue is. But the sound was on the money and if elbows in the chest and a stage seen past bobbing heads counts as intimate, then this was it.

    The purpose of the band’s string of low-brow gigs was to road test material for an album, which begins recording in Melbourne this week. Today, in fact. And it promises to be a most enjoyable record indeed.

    Palmer has assembled three multi-instrumentalists (Jherek Bischoff – mostly bass, Michael McQuilken – mostly drums, Chad Raines – mostly guitars and synthesiser, and trumpet and vox too), who share a joyous rapport on stage. It’s great to see a collective of musos enjoying themselves, playing for the fun, interacting, teasing and laughing. A Palmer gig is often a rambunctious affair, and this was no exception. There was even birthday cake for the mostly drummer, and a ukulele present that was broken in immediately. Kudos!

    The new material, mostly upbeat and groovy, shows an expansion of style leaning on an ’80s sensibility — and synthesiser — in addition to more typical staccato Palmer delivery. There was some gorgeous phrasing, excellent harmony work, exquisite changes of mood and tempo. There was a ‘My Sharona’ lift, traces of Siouxsie Sioux and Martha Davis and, if the crowd is to be believed, The Cars, though I wasn’t quite convinced on that score. Happy beats and sombre ballads. And a big blast of brass.

    Monday night’s finale — sadly, the train timetable meant we had to eschew the encore — included an appearance by near-nekkid performance artists, an opening slot filled with so much aplomb by Die Roten Punkte (so versatile, this duo, playing punk, pop, silly ditties and Krautrock — catch them at the Spiegeltent!) and a superb vocal guest spot by Bauhaus’s David J (who DJs at Cabaret Nocturne on Friday).


    Tales from the Bell Club opens it electronic doors

    tales from the bell club anthology

    Tales from the Bell Club, an anthology of ghastly and gloomy fiction set around the turn of the 20th century and edited by Paul Mannering, is now available as an Amazon download. A print version is to follow. I’ve mentioned the table of contents and the process behind my story ‘The Kiss’ previously. If you’re curious, the yarn is actually readable in its entirety as part of the Amazon book sample. Please enjoy.

    UPDATE: Print edition is now available right here right now, and will be available from Amazon (US$14.99).

    Observations from Adelaide Writers Week

    adelaide writers week

    The Adelaide Writers Week, parcelled within the Adelaide Festival (and how the city’s hotels must have been gleeful), last week was much fun, mainly because it provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with good friends from four states.

    The festival set-up promoted conviviality. It was centred on two marquees in a park in a relatively quiet area of the city: jet flypasts for the Clipsal street race added some aerial interest and background noise occasionally during the opening weekend, and presumably the Fringe festival’s open-air gigs up the hill were the source of occasional summer beats laying down a groove in the background, but generally speaking, sirens notwithstanding, quiet.

    With only two streams of programming, skiving off to see people didn’t require a great sacrifice of panels, and a book store tent close at hand and plenty of shady trees outside the (somewhat expensive — kranski sausage in a slice of bread, $8) refreshments tent made chilling out with those people quite easy. Plus the city’s cafes were only a short walk up the hill, so finding affordable lunches and snacks and after-festival dinners was very easy indeed.

    Social pictures by Cat Sparks

    The weather was kind, overcast and relatively cool in the main, only on the last two days really beaming down some sunshine to give a hint of how languorous and sweaty it might’ve been. With the greenery and the marquees and the heat, it reminded me a lot of early Brisbane Writers Festivals down on the river at South Bank, before it went corporate.

    The panels at Adelaide were diverse but weighted towards the literary. US noir writer Megan Abbott was a find. Boori Monty Pryor was engaging and fun with a very real message. Garry Disher was sharp. Jenny Erpenbeck gave an East Berliner’s view of life in reunited Germany, as told through the medium of a summer house from her childhood. A chance meeting with Favel Parrett at the airport revealed she was also a Sisters of Mercy fan. Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were delightful, flying the fantasy flag. There was also a touch of SF with Ian Mond and Rob Shearman providing a commentary to Rob’s episode of Dr Who, one of the few paid events at AWW and quite fun; we missed Garth Nix’s appearance on the last day, but an earlier encounter revealed a forthcoming (Australia: next month!) YA space opera title, A Confusion of Princes, that sounds truly awesome.

    adelaide writers week megan abbott interview

    Megan Abbot (centre) discussion with Susanna Moore, with Auslan interpreter in background.

    One of the things that struck me was the impact to be had of reading out a section of one’s work. This isn’t something that necessarily fits well in the format of genre conventions, where panels address topics with the authors treated as learned sources. But at Adelaide, where the focus was very much on the authors and their latest work, reading a small passage to illuminate a point did fit, and more than once hearing the authors’ words from the page cast their work in a totally different, and more alluring, light. Case in point was the personable Michael Crummey, whose Galore hadn’t been given much of a talking up, really, until he read the opening pars, in which a man is pulled from the belly of a whale on a Newfoundland beach. We now have a copy sitting on the to-be-read pile.

    Listening to Lanagan and Crummey talk to each other, without a moderator, was a highlight of the festival: two interested and interesting authors, who had read each other’s work, who had established a rapport before the panel, exploring the themes and methods each employed.

    The welcome party on the Sunday night also revealed the emphasis carried by social media, with festival director Laura Kroetsch commenting that the event had been ‘trending’ on Twitter, and the hashtag being part of the housekeeping before every panel.

    The panels ensured time for audience questions, but the use of a single, central microphone hampered accessibility for those unwilling to scramble across their fellow audience members.

    AWW was largely free, totally relaxed and extremely welcoming, with a little bit of most things to cater to all tastes. With the right couple of drawcards on the guest list and the promise of good friends on the ground, AWW will be an attractive addition to our annual event list.