August 27, 2006

Crossing Cleveland Street

"No bands in the inner-city should have ever crossed Cleveland Street. " — Roger Grierson in an old interview at

I was always physically on the wrong side of Cleveland Street from Roger during those times, but I think Roger's really making the point that there was quite a divide between the "rednecks" out there in the suburbs and we blessed punks and post-punks forging ahead in the inner city, and a lot of our attempts at evangelism or bringing the kulcha to the masses (or vice versa) were generally pointless, wrong-headed, and actually fairly painful for some of us. And he's right, sort of, at least for the Punk (rather than the post-Punk) era: Punk's now such a tourist phenomenon, so tinged with misty reminiscences and twee nostalgia, so generally harmless, that I don't think people remember just how much we were absolutely hated by the vast majority of the rock audience at the time, especially almost anywhere outside the inner city.

I remember the tension in the air as one of the early bands I was in got up on stage to play in front of a nicely beered-up audience in the Sydney suburbs Out West somewhere the other side of Bankstown or Paramatta. Most of the audience were (reasonably) expecting highly-polished covers of Boston or Yes or the Stones, with lead breaks, huge drum kits, smooth singing, etc. Instead, they got some home-grown enthusiasm, simple (sometimes just simplistic) songs, badly-played and often unoriginal, played with an evangelical fervour that seemed to condescend to — or outright insult — the audiences. I once had a chair broken over my head by an angry punter who objected to our playing "that English punk shit" (the chair incident probably explains a lot about my later behaviour — never mind that the chair was already broken and seemed to be made of balsa… ). I can remember the sick feeling I sometimes felt when we watched the band before us play with practiced professionalism, or (as Roger alludes to as well) realising the audience was only interested in the slick rock of the headliner, at total musical (and cultural) cross-purposes to our own music and intentions.

The flip side of this for Australian punk was the often claustrophobic and deeply reactionary posturing that almost entirely missed the point of why the punters were there in the first place: entertainment, dammit. Who wanted to go to the pub to be hit over the head by a bunch of spotty bastards trying to convert you to some of the worst music you ever heard? Sure, the band was having fun, and sure the band believed anyone could and should just get up and make music, but not everyone wanted to make music, and — as was often just too painfully obvious — the results rarely justified anything more than mocking sneers or worse. Much worse.

And so much Sydney Punk, being something of a cargo cult, badly missed a lot of the context of punk in places like London (never mind the black clothes in Sydney's hot summers…) — it was an import, an attempt to graft a certain style, music, and (sometimes) politics onto a different set of problems and culture, a grafting that often (especially in retrospect) seemed ludicrous rather than constructive or refreshing (but that didn't make it any different from any other form of popular music in Oz at the time, did it?). Punk didn't so much travel (or even immigrate) to Sydney, as it toured Sydney; sure, it didn't wear loud American mid-west clothing, but it was still a tourist (it even sometimes wore tartan pants).

But there was also a sometimes less-than-subtle and much smaller-scale divide across Cleveland Street between the whole Darlinghurst / Surry Hills axis and the Redfern / Chippo / Newtown axis I always belonged to, at least in the early years. It wasn't quite the Cleveland Street Divide (even though Cleveland Street almost exactly defines and bridges the border between the two axes), but in the early days for me Punk always seemed to come from up there in Darlinghurst rather down here in Darlington, and I can remember a bit of the condescending hipster attitude towards us rubes on the wrong side of the street. Yes, I'm exaggerating a bit, but it's significant that the poet John Forbes, a guy I vaguely knew at the time through neighbours (and later through the Gig Ryan connection), sometimes talked portentously of "Moving To Darlinghurst" (it begs to be capitalised) as though that were moving to the centre of an authentic new cultural universe (he probably wrote a poem about it; I used to use the phrase "slouching to Redfern" as a riposte to him). I often wonder if this little inferiority complex didn't mirror the larger one between London and Sydney; it certainly left its mark in some of the punkier-than-thou Punk events around Sydney University in the late 1970's.

(Part of Punk (and Later)).

August 24, 2006

A Man On A Mission

"But Bush said he agreed with Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, that if 'we leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here."' A failed Iraq would provide a safe haven for terrorists and extremists and give them revenue from oil sales, Bush said." -- W., quoted in an AP article a few days ago.

Jeez, W., the terrorists have already followed you there. Iraq is already "failed". Iraq already provides a safe haven for terrorists and extremists. Just how did that happen?

August 22, 2006

Harder Than The Rest

Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, and now Joseph Hill, three very different voices from my past, three voices I still hear in my mind when I think of the Redfern or Chippo of the early 1980's, three voices heavily implicated (whether we knew it or not) in some of the best music that crept out of that time and place…

August 19, 2006


At the Milano the guy behind the counter tells me they're out of bagels; a Russian guy bought them all earlier. "Mafia" the guy behind the counter says, grinning and cocking his hand into a gun pointed at me. On Telegraph again, Mars's reliably-oracular wall commands me to HOPE AND FEAR THE FUTURE, a phrase I have to parse a dozen different ways down to Moe's. I buy two books, "Apollinaire on Art" (artWorks / MFA) and Aperture's "Art Photography Now". It's hard to imagine two more different books in the same vein: Apollinaire's sardonic, ironic, insightful, amused and deliberately amusing takes on art and Art (there's a great deadpan description of a Futurist gallery opening in Naples), vs. the earnest, self-consciously styled and unintentionally funny ponderousness of the Aperture book; in some sort of reversal, Appolinaire's book is art, while the Aperture book merely talks about Art.

August 18, 2006

Signs Of Suffocation

In a recent Grauniad Edward Hammond gives the usual fluffy romantic graffiti-as-Art view of graffiti artists as "young men desperate to impose themselves on a world they regard as suffocating with conformity." As someone who lives in a neighbourhood where everything — cars, buildings, road signs, pavement, even the local trees — is tagged on a nightly basis, and where the average graffiti artist does it because everyone else they know is doing it (and that's all they know), all I can say is, Edward old boy, get out of the Art Ghetto and live a while in the real ghetto.

For those of us who have to live with it all around us (and have to try to get the paint off our windows in the morning), it's rarely rebellion or Art, it's mostly just an extended and deeply-teritorrial pissing match between a bunch of guys competing as best they can in their own rat race of signs… the ultimate in conforming.

August 13, 2006

Poem Of The Month

"Source model ship, wooden puzzle, one-piece toilet, RC hovercraft, photo album, prom dress, pocket bike, Vaginal Speculum, Samurai Sword, String Panty and PVC Pipe." Word-for-word from a sidebar ad on a news item on China Daily's web site.

August 10, 2006

Nevada Dreaming

Las Vegas is the California Dream for Los Angelenos.

August 06, 2006

Guns and Crystals

Guns and Crystals: Sonoma County, that odd mix of rednecks and new agers along the Gravenstein Highway, aura centers, pickups with gun racks, priuses, Anthroposophic healing centres, rib joints, chi-chi wineries and vineyards, apple orchards, Red's Recovery Room, organic mocachinos, Burger Kings, "Support Our Troops", “Sebastopol, leading the US out of undeclared wars; Honk if you want Bush Behind Bars”, truck parts stores, solar power vendors, stripped cars on blocks in front yards. I pull off the highway and have my first Burger King for the year.

The Mendonoma coast: Scotland or Cornwall, but with sun, heat, and light…

August 03, 2006

Mi Barrio

Fruitvale District, Oakland, California

Fruitvale Farmers Market, Fruitvale BART, 6.30pm today. Just the Usual...

August 01, 2006

Targeting Montgomery

Target's got Montgomery BART for the month, and the effect's oddly cheery: bright good-natured slyly cartoonish posters in red and white, the usual targets insinuated behind or splayed around hip retro local landmarks and cultural touchstones, instantly recognisable in every way and not a word in sight. I actually saw several people smile at some of the posters along the station walls this morning.

www Tight Sainthood