Cherry Bomb: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ pop

cherry bomb by jenny valentishHa! See what I did there? Doesn’t matter, I’m sure Nina Dall would still roll her eyes at such a naff header (and damn you, unsmart quotes).The fact remains, her ‘autobiography’ makes for a compelling read.

Nina Dall is one half of punk-pop duo The Dolls, the other half held down by her somewhat more brightly clad cousin, Rose. Their rise to fame from suburban Sydney pub band to international touring act is the subject of Cherry Bomb (Allen & Unwin), as told by Jenny Valentish.

Claim to fame: I worked with Jenny when I pulled a stint at J Mag, and she now holds the fort at Time Off in Melbourne. She’s been interviewing musos since she was 16, and has knocked around in front of a few Marshall amps in her time as well. All that experience is put to good use in Cherry Bomb, where the world of the band on the rise is brought to realistic life — ambition, stress, creativity, publicity. Sex. Drugs. Spats.

The story is told in Nina’s first-person point of view, in retrospect, so she can throw in the occasional tease about something that was to happen, or a dollop of background, or an aside. Sometimes those little asides break the flow, especially early on when they pop up in the middle of dialogue and a dinosaur like me has to go back to remember what the conversation was about. But mostly, it works — Nina’s voice is engaging and authentic, her vocab showing she’s not as dumb as everyone thinks.

Sure, she’s got issues. Both the cousins do. Family secrets and questions of self-esteem run thick and acidic through their co-dependency, but maybe that’s what makes them a winning team, even if maybe you don’t want to share a taxi with them.

Circling the pair is their aunt, a faded rock star who offers an in to the industry when they need it, and the producers and love interests and hangers-on all looking for their cut.

I got a chuckle that Jenny was able to take her love of utes and country music muster experiences, as outlined on one of her blogs, and put it to good use here.

Jenny’s got a great turn of phrase and an eye for detail that inform Nina’s observations.

I pictured Kane’s wife as nagging him frequently, in a dithery voice. She’d be wearing one of those satiny dresses that women buy in provincial boutiques, with the pattern of a seventies casino carpet. Thin blonde hair, spindly wrists. You couldn’t even hate her.

The text is broken up with artefacts: a faux review of Nina’s parents’ separation; record reviews; lists. It gives Cherry Bomb almost a scrapbook feel. Each chapter — check the heads for song titles — is introduced by a salient quote from aunty Alannah’s autobiography Pour Me Another. They make you want to read that book.

australian women writers challenge logoIn the back, Jenny provides a soundtrack for each chapter. And yep, Cherry Bomb is in there. It’s no surprise the Runaways are mentioned, either, although now I’m doubting myself for thinking Kristen Stewart did a job in the movie. Damn you, Jenny, and your acerbic ways!

This book — Jenny’s first fiction title — totally rocks. Read it loud!

  • Jenny is appearing at Bendigo Writers Festival August 8-10.
     

  • More reviews linked to the Australian Women Writers Challenge
     

  • Snapshot 2012: Talie Helene

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoTALIE HELENE is a musician and writer, from Melbourne. She has poetry published in journals including Voiceworks, Avant and Inkshed, and Mary Manning’s About Poetry (Oxford University Press), and a co-authored short story (with Martin Livings) ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’ in More Scary Kisses (edited by Liz Grzyb). Talie is horror editor for the anthology The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (Ticonderoga Publications), and was news editor for the Australian Horror Writers’ Association for four years (2006-2010), for which she received a Ditmar nomination. She is a member of the SuperNova writers’ group. Talie has a background in music journalism – especially extreme genres – and has performed with many artists including The Tenth Stage, Wendy Rule, Sean Bowley, Saba Persian Orchestra, Maroondah Symphony, and Eden. She is currently developing a new audio arts anthology titled The Unquiet Grave. You can find out more at www.taliehelene.com.

    What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?
    One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!

    Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.

    The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?

    I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.

    I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.

    Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!

    While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.

    Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.

    There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.

    As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.

    A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.

    The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova is for?)

    You’ve got a Ditmar-nominated short ghost story co-written with Martin Livings: is this a sign that we might be seeing more Talie Helene stories out in the wild soon, and is the supernatural likely to play a role in new material?
    If by soon you mean ever, then the answer is ‘eventually’. It’s a sign! The stories I have in progress have supernatural elements, although that wasn’t a conscious choice. You can’t really marinate your brain in horror fiction without soaking up the supernatural – and it kind of crunches down to writing emotion. I was already into it, but how tumultuous and marginalised my life has been in the past few years has probably pushed me deeper into it. You can write emotion through the supernatural that might not translate if you tried to deliver it Capital L Literary style. I don’t want to jinx the writing by turning this into a publicity blurb for unpublished work. I need to submit an ‘unavailable form’ to my retail job for SuperNova Sundays, and be humble or shameless with bringing drafts to the table.


    You’re known for being a musician and a writer, and ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’ combines the two: in what ways do those two creative pursuits influence each other in your practice?
    Your question makes it sound nice, Jason. My stock answer is ‘they are the two halves of my heart’ – but right now, fox-holed in a robotic random day job, wearing a plastic smile and folding knickers in a department store – music and writing feel like combatants! They both fight for time and energy I barely have, and one is always stealing time from the other, so of course the other claws in as an influence. Anything beyond writing, that a writer spends time immersed in – history, physics, maths, or philosophy – that is going to influence them. That goes both for social engagement – dialogue colour and character – and for soaking up information that ignites ideas. Whatever boards you tread – the squeaky boards there are your story. Especially if the dark stuff sings to you.

    So that kind of influence… I’d like to think my diction and structural sense of drama are influenced by music. I’m definitely influenced by the more personal ways people use music, and that is always a place of story – to grieve, to love, to evoke memory, to escape, to heal, to endure, to mark time, to hide from or find themselves, as a mask, as a drug, as an excuse, as redemption, as Dutch courage, a mating cry, a war cry, a goodbye…

    There is something really spooky about singing a Dorian mode with a bunch of other music students. It is intended as an aural drill, but sometimes it hits you that you are inside an ancient structure – and it gives you shivers.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I’ll tell you about some things I didn’t anthologise. I had post-it notes plastered all over them – one saying ‘HELLYEAH!’ and one with a sad face and ‘NOT HORROR’.

    Two stories from Cat Sparks – ‘The Alabaster Child‘ and ‘Beautiful‘ – were both completely immersive science fiction with a distinct visual style. Cat is one of the best visual stylists in Australia, which is not surprising given her involvement in design and photography. She studies colour and light all the time. Thoraiya Dyer‘s ‘Fruit Of The Peepal Tree‘ was the most delicately painted and subtly paced story I read from 2011, and I’m so glad it won the Aurealis in the Fantasy Short Story category, because I was shattered I couldn’t use it for Year’s Best. Even touching on dark themes of loss, environmental degradation, and female infanticide – it didn’t riff the emotion of a horror story, but it was an exquisite story.

    The Rage Against The Night anthology Shane Jiraiya Cummings edited as a fundraiser – while under-the-radar locally, that was an impressive collection. The excerpts I’ve seen from Rocky Wood and Greg Chapman’s Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times (with Lisa Morton) look kickarse.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Given that I have an Atheling nomination for a 2010 Year in Review essay (co-authored with Liz Grzyb), and I’m gap-filling the 2011 review essay right now – it is absurd, but I don’t feel that qualified to answer this question, because I only really follow the horror. I’m kind of new as a writer and an outsider in the Australian speculative fiction enclave – and I’m tremendously self-involved. The PR Bitch answer would be to say Ticonderoga Publications launched a Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror series, right? The size of the two boxes of Year’s Best reading – 2010 and 2011 – 2010 weighs in as a year of bigger output, but the marketing impetus of a Worldcon makes that almost a given.

    Australian spec fic had an international profile boost with all those international practitioners visiting Melbourne. While I’d never dream of suggesting it was the reason Alisa Krasnostein and Twelfth Planet Press scored a World Fantasy Award, I think the wave of Aussiecon4 helped an already deserving and enterprising nominee – and this is a good and natural development, and I’m cheering that success on.

    The bowing out of Brimstone Press certainly changed the playing field for local horror writers. Bummer. The AHWA seems to have lost cohesion, but I can see a rallying point emerging with Marty Young executive editing Midnight Echo.

    The unfortunate melee that Robin Pen hilariously sketched as ‘Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar‘ seemed to cause a lot of hurt – factions seem delineated, which I think is a pity because in a scene this small we all move forward together. (Who knew I was such a hippy?)

    I think the true biggest change – to paraphrase the words of Bren MacDibble – there is a Paul Haines shaped hole in the world. For the broad generation of Paul’s contemporaries, the wave of writers around him, that loss is going to be felt for a long time. Art doesn’t evolve in a slow creep, it leaps forward with bold thinkers and original voices, and then other practitioners play catch-up. I’m not saying he is the only trailblazer in Australia, but that ego Paul always talked about having – to my mind was just that awareness. He was a leap forward kind of artist. He was special. He knew it. The curtailing of that brave talent is the biggest change I’ve seen, and the saddest.

    * * *

    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

    JKL and sounds for summer: Jezabels, Kidneythieves and Ladytron

    The stereo is cranked up for summer, and here’s three bands firmly ensconced on the stacker (in alphabetical order!):

    The Jezabels

    One of the things I like about the Jezabels is that I can tell it’s them when I hear them. Their identity is in the drumming — man, Nick Kaloper works hard! — and the unmistakable vocals of Hayley Mary, the ebb and flow structure of their tunes that makes the most of her range. The Aussie band landed their debut album, Prisoner, this year, after wowing with three EPs and a considerable reputation for live performance. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with their next album, but for now, I’m enjoying the here and now, in particular the album’s strong openers ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Endless Summer’, those bars of sultry summer guitar that pop up all over this smooth road trip of an album with its sign posts harking back to the ’80s.

    Kidneythieves

    The video for ‘Taxicab Messiah’ inspired a bit of a binge on this US duo’s music, and the albums sampled so far — 2004’s Trickstereprocess, Trypt0fanatic from 2010 and the most recent, this year’s EP The Invisible Plan (free track available for download) — are remarkably consistent.

    Probably the hot fave at the moment is Trickstereprocess, a revamped issue of the band’s 1998 album, Trickster, with a few bonus tracks. It opens with the aforementioned attention grabber and unfolds like the best of sonic rollercoasters, melding trip hop, rock and synths on a solid foundation of compelling bass grooves. At the fore is the rather fetching vocal style of Free Dominguez, hitting buttons ranging from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons to Collide’s kaRIN to Berlin’s Terri Nunn. (Speaking of Berlin: a new album is in the works — wunderbar!) The album exhibits plenty of light and shade: thumping drums on ‘Pretty’, for instance, standing out from the favoured fuzz guitar attack — there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heartbeat under the synths, for sure.

    Slinkier, but no less intense, is Trypt0fanatic, with an array of strong tunes: the grab bag of ‘Beg’, the full speed ‘Size of Always’, the sexiness of ‘Lick You Clean’ and catchy ‘Dead Girl Walking’ are highlights.

    The Invisible Plan ups the electro quotient yet further, heading into sultry terrain.

    Any of these Kidneythieves outings would provide an ideal soundtrack for building up a party sweat under Chrissy lights.

    Ladytron

    UK-based Ladytron released their fifth studio album, Gravity the Seducer, this year, following up from a greatest hits collection. It’s so very smooth, gliding along with synthesisers and twin vocal melodies from lead voice box Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo (whose accented delivery adds flavour when she steps up front). The album doesn’t have such immediately fetching tunes as previous singles ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ (Witching Hour) or ‘Runaway’ (Velocifero), but there are some beautiful arrangements: on ‘White Gold’ and ‘Altitude Blues’, for instance, and the comparatively up-tempo instrumental ‘Ritual’ (one of three on the album); ‘Ambulances’ has a cinematic quality, a tinge of dread absent elsewhere. A suitable album with its steady, almost carousel, rhythms for setting the mood to ‘chill out’.

    Global compilation aids Queensland flood victims

    Surge & Subside fundraising album

    Musicians from around the world have banded together to produce a massive compilation of music, with all proceeds going to the Queensland flood appeal. Called Surge & Subside, the album features musicians with an electronic and industrial bent, including Android Lust, Assemblage 23, Angelspit, Collide and Psyche. More than 40 tracks for the ridiculously reasonable price of $20 for the double cd (including shipping) or $10 for the download. It’s another case of a community rallying to aid their own, and more besides, in a time of strife. Great stuff.

    Anne Rice, Muslim-based super heroes, and pigeons as music critics

    A quick pass of the Guardian UK reveals these juicy morsels:

    SEEING THE LIGHT: Anne Rice on why she left the Church (again) and still thinks angels are cool

    This is crazy. There is no basis in scripture for any anointed hierarchy, let alone a male hierarchy. It’s just not there. And how in the world did this man-god die, preaching against the temple, and then we wind up with St Peter’s in Rome? How did that happen? There were so many issues where I thought the church was flat-out immoral. I had to leave.

    CRITICS TAKE FLIGHT: Pigeons, famous for crapping on the Kings of Leon and ending their concert, take aim at recent music in a laugh-out-loud funny review (okay, it’s from July and I’m still catching up, but how can you go past gems such as this?)

    Now we’re usually drawn to cheesy music – reggae buskers, organ grinders, Kevin even exploded by flying too close to the speakers at a Ted Nugent gig once – but this is too much even for us. The jaunty upstrokes! The overpowering odour of 1996! The fact that this song insists you think of that droopy-faced streak of piss Neil Hannon having sex! Crap in its mouth! CRAP IN ITS MOUTH!

    FIGHTING FOR RIGHT: And this rather timely piece about a bunch of Muslim-inspired superheroes forging an alliance with DC’s heroes. Here’s a taste of the border-breaking article, courtesy of The 99 creator Dr Naif al-Mutawa:

    “In Kuwait, it’s so sad, it’s funny. When I was growing up, Animal Farm was banned. At least in the Soviet Union they understood the problem was that it’s about anti-totalitarianism, whereas in Kuwait it was banned because it had a pig on the cover.”

    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.