Fear and loathing in the US Army. Savannah, Georgia, USA. 1980

“Ah, yes, mere infantry — poor beggars”
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE)

I’ve probably hitch hiked over 50,000 miles and there is one thing I can tell you for sure, it sucks to be hitching in the rain at night. It’s bad enough hitchhiking at night because people are frightened (rightly so) to pick up someone that they can’t see very well, but the situation is made even more unattractive by the fact that a sodden hitcher will mess up their car.

Back in the early 80s I was hitchhiking across Georgia (it’s so long ago I can’t even remember why) on a cold overcast day that turned into a very miserable wet night.  I ended up sitting on my backpack by the side of the road, miles from nowhere, in my cheap plastic poncho in the pouring rain. I sat for hours, bored out of my skull and freezing my butt off.

Car after car passed me.

After midnight, I was not only cold, but I was getting very tired as it’s impossible to sleep out in the open when it is raining.  Trust me I’ve tried it. Every time a tiny little splash of a rain drop hits the you in the face you’ll be jolted wide awake.

It must have been about one or two in the morning when a beat up and rusted out little Japanese pickup truck stopped and the door was flung open for me to get in out of the rain.

Finally my misery was to come to an end!

I tossed my backpack in the tray in the back and climbed into the cab to be greeted by a pimply faced skinny little pencil necked geek with a smiling crowded mouth of deeply stained and twisted teeth. He flung his right hand forward to shake my hand and introduced himself with a, ” Howdy, get yourself in here in out of the rain”. Sure, he looked like the guy out of the movie Deliverance who played the banjo, but I just didn’t care and I was so grateful that I’d been picked up. As soon as I sat down I looked where to place my feet and I noticed that the whole floor of the cab was deeply littered with what must have been about a hundred Soldier of Fortune magazines. 

I could almost hear the guy from the movie deliverance playing his opening notes on the banjo.

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The thing about hitchhiking is that one can’t really be too fussy about who picks you up; particularly at night time and that goes triple for when it’s raining. Sure he was a rancid looking little hillbilly but at least he had a kind enough heart to take pity on me and give me a ride. I began to feel a bit disappointed with myself that I’d been so taken aback by his appearance. As is generally the way how it goes when you’re hitchhiking, we quickly struck up a conversation. He asked me where I was going and I soon found out that he was a soldier on leave returning back to his base in Savannah.

Back in the early 1980s there had been a big recruitment push in the United States Army.  I can remember seeing the television commercials at the time, promising to educate the young volunteers and the glossy brochures were showing them the up-dated accommodation that was on offer. No more drab army barracks for the new professional volunteer army. The brochure I saw, showed what looked like quite nice town houses in landscaped grounds and I’m sure to a lot of poor inner-city kids it would have looked like Shangri-La.

It was obvious to me that the guy who had given me my ride was one of those people who came from a background that made the army look like a good opportunity to get ahead. As we drove along he told me about his life in the army and when he saw that I was looking down every now and again at all the Soldier of Fortune magazines on the floor he told me that he was interested in becoming a mercenary after he had received his training in the army.  The way he saw it, it was the only way for somebody like him to make some good money and travel the world.

During our conversation he reached underneath his seat and pulled out a rifle and showed it to me.  This wasn’t done in a threatening way, but more in a, ” hey, check out my neat gun!” sort of way. When I was in high school I’d been in the army cadets and I’d fired rifles and machine guns so I was able to engage him in some conversation about guns. My ride (let’s, for convenience, sake call him Floyd) was obviously having a great time talking to this foreigner about the army, guns and his hopes and aspirations for the future.

I guess he was starting to feel quite comfortable with me after about an hour or so of driving when he confessed that he was tripping on LSD.

Join the army were the real party is at

Now, I’d done acid before and I found it quite amazing that he was able to drive, let alone drive at night in the pouring rain.

There I was, with a hillbilly soldier high on LSD armed with a rifle in a beat up old pickup truck full of magazines aimed at people willing to go overseas and kill strangers for money.

Strangely enough I wasn’t worried. I should’ve been, but I wasn’t. 

At least he had put the gun back underneath his seat and wasn’t pointing it at me, plus there was the added benefit that I was out of the rain and we were making good time. Considering the fact that Floyd was high on acid, his driving and conversation seemed fine, so when he offered me a hit of acid I said, “sure why not?” And swallowed it without hesitation. When I think back about this situation I can’t believe that I was so stupid, but then again that’s what this blog is all about, all the dumb things, that I’ve done.

LSD is quite an interesting drug and I’ve always felt that the perception that we normally sense as reality has been toned down by our survival instincts and filtered so we can cope with normal everyday life. I don’t think it would benefit us from an evolutionary point of view, to be boggling on intense colours and deep thoughts instead of looking for a mate, shelter, food and protecting ourselves from predators and enemies. My experiences with LSD and magic mushrooms have led me to believe that what we see on a normal daily basis is akin to looking through a keyhole.  Basically we only see a tiny bit of what is actually there and when we take hallucinogenics it’s like the keyhole has been removed, the door has been opened and the volume to every single sense we have, has been turned up. It’s no wonder that Aldous Huxley named his book about drug experiences, “The doors of perception”.

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As I sat in the truck with Floyd with the LSD working on my brain I found myself contemplating the social economic realities of living in America.  If you come from a disadvantaged background and the shallow end of the gene pool it’s pretty hard to get ahead in the States. Sure, if you’ve got some brains and some drive you have a chance at the American dream, but if you’re poor, black or not very bright it becomes your fate to become the servant of those who’ve made it.

It was still dark as we neared Savannah and Floyd asked me where I’d be staying for the rest of the night. I replied that, “I’ll just be sticking my thumb out and hitching on”. Floyd then said to me, “that’s crazy you’ll never get a ride. Why don’t you come and stay in the army barracks with me?”

“What? You must be kidding, how on earth can I get through the security and onto the base?”

“Aw, don’t worry about that, it’s okay.”

“But what about the sergeant?” I had some sort of mental image that they lived in barracks where there would be about 40 or 60 beds and a sergeant would be sleeping in some room at the end; a bit like the old TV show, “Sgt Bilko” or perhaps Gomer Pyle.

“Aw, we won’t see him until Monday, so don’t worry about it?”

Floyd then tried to put me at ease with, ” just relax, you watch, it will be fine.”

At that time in my life I had long bright red hair and a beard. In short I would’ve stuck out like dog’s balls on an army base full of clean shaven and crew cut soldiers. 

Never let it be said that commonsense would get in the way of me having character building experiences.

So we rolled up a few hours before dawn in the pouring rain at the army base check point, both high as kites tripping our arses off and with me very obviously not a soldier. Floyd just wound down his window, smiled at the guard who was bending down looking at me and we were waved through.  I just couldn’t believe that there was such a lack of security.  

I bet you couldn’t do that nowadays.

On we drove through the muddy parade ground to what looked like a row of beautiful new town houses.  It was just like in the brochures, except that obviously it was all so new, that the landscaping hadn’t been done.  I was starting to think to myself, “wow this is incredible!” Soldiers high on hallucinogens, taking strangers into their barracks and no security check! 

Land of the free?

You bet!

I started thinking to myself that the US was going all out to make people feel comfortable here! Maybe the army wasn’t such a bad place after all.

It was all so appropriately surreal…… for an acid trip that is.

Up a short flights of stairs, we walked into the bright new shiny row of townhouses. As soon as I got through the front doors the change of scenery hit me like an icy wind.  The outside was a facade bricks arranged in such a way as to make the building look like it was a row of townhouses but on the inside it was basically a great big long hall that was an old-fashioned barracks just like in Sgt Bilko. The only difference was the beds weren’t arranged in a line down the barracks. The beds had been grouped into threes in “U” shapes and between each of the “U”s was a row of lockers so that the effect was to almost give a sense of there being rooms; when in actual fact there weren’t any.  Each of the “rooms” was actually a three sided affair made up of lockers with one open side that was open down the whole length of the barracks like one long hallway.

Another thing that struck me as we walked through the doors was the amount of vandalism that was apparent.  There was graffiti scribbled all over the place with marker pen and there were also numerous holes that had been knocked through the walls.  It looked like a slum and I couldn’t help but think to myself , “where’s the discipline here?” “What kind of people are running a place like this?”

It was all very weird.

Floyd with his duffel bag over his shoulder led me down the hallway, past the various bunks, slapping high fives as he went past his fellow soldiers.

Hang on a minute! 

It was about four o’clock in the morning; why were all the lights on and what were all these guys doing wide awake?

Floyd led me to his bunk and tossed his duffel bag in his locker saying to me, “here, you can take this bunk, nobody is sleeping there at the moment”. So I sat down and we continued our conversation as various other an inebriated soldiers wobbled by, pausing occasionally to ask us if we had any weed or alcohol.

There, as I sat and Floyd prattled on to me about this, that and the other, I found myself contemplating the contents of the American infantry.

There was something that seemed a bit odd about them all, and at the same time, it seemed to also unite them into one group.  At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then the more I thought about it, and after chatting to a few of Floyd’s buddies, I began to think about the backgrounds that these guys came from and what being in the infantry actually means.

It would be a safe guess to say that all the sexy jobs in the army, air force and navy are held by the smartest people, and at the opposite end of the scale are the people who are in the infantry.  I started seeing Floyd and all his comrades as the disposable people of his society.  Who would you put at risk to do a very low skill and dangerous job? A potential brain surgeon or the bus boy?  As I sat in that army barracks, I realised, in my drug induced heightened state of awareness, that in societies that make no effort to uplift the disadvantaged; the poor and the dull can be lured into risking their lives to kill strangers for reasons they don’t really understand.

The infantry is for the people that only their parents care about.

I can hear the howls of protest now.

But let’s be honest people, if we cared about such people we wouldn’t send them to fight in wars in the first place. It’s only because there are so many young men in the world that can be revved up for whatever slight reason that we even need armies in the first place.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

One man’s army is another man’s oppressor.

I think the whole world would be better served if all the young underachievers were trained and given skills to make a decent and honest living for themselves instead of training them up to kill foreigners, or in the case of the Third World countries, oppress their own people, for spurious reasons.

Surely it’s much cheaper in the long run, to educate the world’s poor people than to have a large well equipped army?

Yep LSD should be banned…….

because it makes you think too much!

As a post script, after reading an article by grasswire I was reminded of one of my favourite songs that I thought would be so appropriate to add to this post. Because you’ve been so good to visit, here’s a video of Iggy Pop’s, “Passenger”.

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Some of my favourite music from my early childhood

My mother was very young when she had me and as a result popular music was a big part of my childhood back in the early 1960s.

My last couple of posts got me thinking about how I would characterise my musical tastes. I usually tell people that I don’t like country and western, rap, disco and that I’m a bit tired of rock. The more accurate truth is that I like all kinds of music, it’s just that some types, to my mind, have more crap in them than others.

Here’s some of my favourite music from my early childhood. Much of this music was in my mother’s vast record collection and I used to love listening to it on the weekends when my mother put it on while she cleaned the house.

This first song is “I remember you” by Frank Ifield

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What a voice!

Talking about voices, Della Reese is someone I still listen to. Here she is singing “Don’t you know”.

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The platters also caught my attention. Here they are singing “Twilight Time”.

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No mention of the Platters can go by without a nod to the eternal classic, “Only you”

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Doo Wop was a particular favourite when I was growing up and I still like Dion and the Belmonts. Here’s the classic, “The Wander”.

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I guess that being a kid that liked Doo Wop, left me being open to enjoying “novelty songs like “Mr. Bassman” by Jonny Cymbal.

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In my childish mind at the time, “Working for the man” was almost as good as Mr Bassman. Of course, nowadays I realise that “Working for the man” is way better. Here’s a video of the song with some guys clowning around to the music.

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Along the same lines, I also loved “16 tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I’m starting to see a pattern emerge here; heavy on the bass, simple rythm and folk-country influenced. Here’s a little video of “16 tons” with some Warcraft animation in it.

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Then of course was the great Ray Charles and “Hit the Road Jack”.

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After hearing “Hit the Road Jack” I’d be humming it all day. 

In a class of his own was Screamin Jay Hawkins with “I put a Spell On You”

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Can you imagine someone getting up in such a get up nowadays? It’s hard to belive that he still performed the same way until his death in 2000.

Mum was a great fan of Elvis and had just about everything the guy ever did. My mother once told me that I was nearly named Elvis by my father, after him. I would’ve hated that as a kid, but as an adult I think it would’ve been pretty cool. “Hi, my name’s Elvis”.

Here’s the king singing “Jail House Rock”.

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Then of course was the wild man himself, Jerry Lee Lewis. My mum had seen him in concert as a kid and she’d told told me how he’d pushed his piano off the stage at the end of his performance. I thought that was sooo cool! Here is a video of him singing “Great Balls of Fire”.

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Although I liked Jerry Lee’s music  my mother didn’t and this is what she had to say about him.

“I absolutley loathed Jerry Lee Lewis, I couldn’t stand his screaming/singing or piano playing, antics, and I thought he was just plain ugly! Years later when I was working in Sydney airport when it first opened, he and his entouage came into my lounge bar , yahooing and cursing and swearing , a real bunch of crackers, they were. He also had his wife with him, she was his cousin and only a young teenager,  and when he snapped his fingers and yelled at me to “get your ass over there and get me a drink”, I told him to “be quiet and hold your language down, or I will have you ejected”………….he didn’t listen, told me to “go and screw myself”, so I had security remove him and his clan”.

Of course Australia had it’s own, “Wild One”, Johnny O’Keefe, and here he is doing a cover of the Isley brother’s “Shout”

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Mum also had very little time for Johnny O’Keefe and this is what she had to say about him.

And then there is Johnny O’Keefe, what a jerk too! He reminded me of an ugly blond version of your father and I couldn’t stand his ‘singing antics’ either!

I met him at an event I went to once, (can’t think of where.) He was strutting around , like a little bantam rooster, and he said to me “Do you know who I am?” And I replied “No, who are you?” he walked off in a huff, ha, ha, ha! Girls were following him everywhere……why I’ll never know!

Some people with style at “All Tomorrow’s Parties” on Cockatoo Island. Sydney, NSW, Australia

I read a very trite and irritating review of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by Bernard Zuel in the Sydney morning Herald today. Zuel made the event sound like it was for constipated geriatrics. Hey Zuel! Get your head out of you arse and look around!

Sure there were heaps of aging punks and rockers in attendance,

A very nice and laid back kinda guy

but there were also plenty of bright shiny things strutting their stuff on Cockatoo Island on Saturday as well.

So classically cool

It’s so typical of the shallow mainstream media to focus on the superficial and to try and create some kind of division where there isn’t one.

The acts at “All Tomorrows Parties” attracted a very wide spectrum of people and I’d even go so far as to say that the crowd on Cockatoo Island were a pretty good indication of how an interest in non-mainstream music transcends age groups.

the crowd watching Psaradonis

Now that I’ve had my little rant, here’s some more pictures of some of the stylish people that I met on Saturday.

This woman has great facial structure

When I asked the woman above if I could take her picture, she asked me, “what’s it for?” I replied, “I’m taking pictures of people I think look fabulous”. To which she replied, “I don’t feel fabulous, I was up until 2 this morning playing a gig in Newcastle”. Unfortunately I didn’t pick up on the cue to ask her what band she was in. Yep, I’m about as sharp as a bowling ball. When I photograph strangers (particularly women) I try not to talk to them too much as I don’t want to freak them out and make them feel uncomfortable.

This next fellow wouldn’t have looked out of place in a longboat 1000 years ago.

This guys face just lit up when I asked if I could photograph him

These next two women were very extroverted good sports.

These two were such good sports

 Very nice people and when they adopted this next pose I thought of Pommeroy’s post.

These two were so naturally fun

Not everyone was dressed for the weather and for some, style was everything. When you think about it, guys in suits at alternative music events are the real rebellious iconoclasts.

Too bad it was such a hot day for such an interesting and different look

These two were a lovely couple with a very intersting mix of styles. Sort of gothic meets western.

I don't think that this guy would have looked out of place in the wild west      I don't think that this woman would have looked out of place in a vampire movie set in the wild west

Then there were other people who were into colour.

A great choice of clothing for such a changeable day

And last but not least, the man with the nicest smile and sweetest T-shirt. 

A very nice guy with a great attitude

 

 

The acts I saw at “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. The Sydney Festival, Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia

Here’s a few photos, videos of and thoughts about the acts I saw yesterday on Cockatoo Island at All Tomorrow’s Parties which is a part of the Sydney Festival.

All Tomorrow’s Parties (according to their website) is an organization based in London that has been promoting festivals and concerts throughout the UK and worldwide for almost ten years. The line-ups are chosen by significant bands or artists, which combine performances by legendary and influential acts with appearances by the latest crop of experimental artists from any (and every) musical genre.

The All Tomorrow’s Parties here in Sydney was curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The day started off cloudy, windy and cold and the first act we saw was Hunter Dienna at the “Barracks” which is an old ruined army barracks from the early 1800s.

Hunter Diennna

It was a perfect venue and the weather seemed as though it was made to order for their moody bass driven music. I would’ve loved to have put up a video link to one of their performances but there aren’t any, but here’s a link to a page where you can listen to some of their music

Hunter Dienna

 Hunter Dienna was very good act to start with, even if did start at 11:15 in the morning. 

Just after noon we went and checked out the Stabs. They were OK but nothing great; the same old same old. Their voices were flat and they just stood there. 

Mark Nelson of the Stabs

From some of the press about them and their video, one could be forgiven for thinking they were a bunch of hard arses.

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From what I saw on stage they looked like some limp dicked wanabees. I guess that’s the problem with live performances, you can’t hide the difference between the hype and reality. We didn’t stick around for long.

At about 12:30 went and watched Bridezilla.

Millie Hall on saxophone and Daisy Tulley on violin

Now they were good!

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They played an entertaining set and the cherry on the top was when Jack Thompson came on and played harmonica with them.

The great Jack Thompson takes a bow

When Bridezilla finished we drifted over to the Beaches and caught the last of their set.

Beaches

The Beaches music is a faster driving type of rock that sounds like it’s been influenced by late punk-pop music. I would’ve thought that the music they played was fine if it wasn’t for the fact that it sounded like so much of what one already hears on the commercial radio stations. A pity really, because they were pretty good. If you want to hear some of their music click here.

The next act we caught was Conway Savage who is a member of Nick Cave’s band, The Bad Seeds. Conway is a very confident, laid back and funny man.

Conway Savage

Conway started off the set asking the crowd to give him some drugs (he wasn’t kidding) and strangely enough the were none forth coming. What is with the youth of today? There was a time when such a request would’ve showered the performer with a veritable pharmacy.

He played the electric piano and sang mostly slower jazzy lounge type music. If you’d like hear some of his music click here. 

In the middle of Conway’s set some of the audience started to leave (in fairness, there was so many acts to see), so he called out to them, “hey you cunts, where the fuck do you think you’re going? This is a good one!” Then he and the audience cracked up. It might sound harsh but it came across as good natured and I don’t think many people minded. All very rock and roll. Both my wife and I watched all of Conway’s set and enjoyed every moment of it.

After Conway Savage we had a quick look at Dead Meadow which didn’t hold our attention and then we checked out the last of the much hyped Afrirampo, a Japanese female duo from Osaka. There were a lot of people in the audience making a big show of how into the band they were but I thought they were just plain old cacophonous most of the time and derivative the rest.

The emperor has no clothes!

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The clouds and wind went away and summer returned in it’s full fury, so after Afrirampo, we chilled out in the shade and waited for Harmonia to come on.

Harmonia are a German supergroup made up of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius from the seminal electronic and ambient music band Cluster, with Michael Rother from Neu!  The band sound like a mix of Kraftwerk and dance rhythms. 

    

Dieter Moebius

 

Harmonia aren’t much to watch but I found the music to be like cool drink on a hot day. So beautiful and clear.

It’s a real pity there aren’t many Harmonia videos on Youtube and this is the closest I could find to what I saw, but it has voice in it, of which there was none yesterday.

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Harmonia was my favourite group of the day and I’d love to see them again and own some of their music.

Both Engogirl and I were so chilled out after Harmonia that we just didn’t feel like listening to anymore rock music for a while so we went and checked out the very venerable Psaradonis.

Psarandonis the great

All I can say is wow!

He was amazing and it’s a credit to the curators (people so heavily influenced by rock & roll and punk) to see such a performer at such a concert.

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His music was so completely different to anyone else’s on the island and the audience who had come to see much more modern and raucous music, loved him.

I love this city!

The next act we checked out was James Blood Ulmer.

The one and only James Blood Ulmer

What can I say? Other than, he was fantastic! Old style blues that is almost impossible to hear live anymore, here in Sydney.

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The only down side to his performance was that there was a very loud and inconsiderate group who were talking at the top of their lungs all the way through. What a bunch of jerks! I can’t understand why such turds go to live performances.

By the time that Mr Ulmer had finished his set it was getting dark, so we went over to the main stage and watched the influential legends of the Aussie proto-punk scene, The Saints.

Since they are such a hugely well known and popular band I didn’t even try to get near the stage to take photos, so all I have to offer is this video from 1978.

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They are still a great band.

Actually, they rock!

Then finally Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds came on. Nick and his band have a huge following of hard core fans and his concert was packed so of course I hung back and just enjoyed the show.

This is how he was about 15 years ago.

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This is how he is nowadays

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Here’s the words to the song in the video above.

What we once thought we had we didn’t, and what we have now will never be that way again
So we call upon the author to explain

Our myxomatoid kids spraddle the streets, they shunned us from the greasy-grind
The poor little things, they look so sad and old as they fuck us from behind
Wel I ask them to desist and to refrain
And then we call upon the author to explain

My friend died with tubes up his nose
And a cabal of angels with finger cymbals chanted his name in code
We shook our fists at the pumping rain
And we call upon the author to explain

Everything is messed up around here, everything is banal and jejune
There is a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me in this idiot constituency of the moon
I know exactly who to blame
And we call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!
Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!

I go guruing down the street, young people gather round my feet
They ask me things, ah baby I don’t know where to start
They ignite some kind of power-trail straight to my father’s heart
And once again we call upon the author to explain

Who is this great burdensome slavering dog-thing that mediocres my every thought?
I feel like a fucking vacuum cleaner, a complete sucker, it’s fucked up and is a fucker
But what an enormous and encyclopaedic brain
I call upon the author to explain

I said Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!

Bukowski was a jerk off!
Berryman was best off!
He wrote like wet papier mache, went the Heming-way, weirdly on wings and with maximum pain

I call upon the author to explain
Ah yeh I call upon the author to explain
Hey baby I call upon the author to explain
I call upon the author to explain
We call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix! There’s nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix! 

It was an excellent set and great way to end up the night.

We left Cockatoo Island just after 10pm. 11 solid hours of live music with most of it in the blazing sun. It was a great day but by the end of it, I was shattered.

 

All tomorrow’s parties. The Sydney Festival, Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia

I’ve just come home from  11 hours solid of live music at All tomorrow’s parties which was a multi band concert curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the Sydney festival.  

I’m shattered!

Must sleep.

I’ll be posting more about the concert tomorrow but for now I’ll  leave you with one of the last images I took tonight of the crowd at Nick Cave’s performance.

Nick Caves audience

 

Peter helps me feel normal. Wingello, NSW, Australia

When I was in my early 20s I read the book, “On the Road”by Jack Kerouac and when I finished it I thought to myself, “what was all the fuss about?” So the guy did a bit of hitchhiking and hung out with a few other young guys.  It didn’t sound like a big deal to me and by the time I had read the book, I’d already travelled extensively; hitch hiked tens of thousands of kilometres; come under mortar fire in a war zone and worked in the carnival as a laser light show operator. 

“On the road” just seemed very tame to me. 

I had a similar feeling when I saw the much hyped movie “The Motorcycle Diaries”about Che Guevara travelling around South America with his friend by motorcycle. Some of my friends had raved about the movie and I can remember when I watched it, thinking to myself, “hrumph! So what! A couple of guys from well-off families go on a motorcycle trip, big deal!” To top it all off, nothing really happened.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected with most of the people that I share society with by the differences in our life experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior, just different. It always amazes me when I talk to people and they tell me about how they lived in the one place, went to the same school and have only had a few jobs all their lives.  I almost envy people who can say that they have a hometown or they refer to, “my” high school.

Every time I see a TV show with that old trope about the high school reunion it’s like I’m watching some strange ritual being performed by an exotic tribe from a strange faraway land. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to still have friends from high school. I went to six primary schools (I was expelled from one), three high schools, two colleges and one university.  Because I’ve moved around so much as a kid, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to just walk away from friendships that I have made and begin new ones very easily.

In short, I’m what my wife (Engogirl) describes as an over stimulated jaded piece of meat.

The whole idea of having a career is such an alien concept to me that it’s almost unimaginable.  The reason why I find it so hard to get my brain around the concept of a career is that I find it difficult to understand how somebody’s attention can be held for so many years doing the same thing.  I usually do things (with the exception of photography) for about five years before I move on to something else.  Most jobs I’ve had, with one exception, have only lasted about a year or two.

I suppose, “recalcitrant dilettantism” would be a suitable description of my chosen career path.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs I’ve done, starting with part-time jobs I had at night in high school.

Newspaper boy.  Bus boy.  Waiter.  Kitchen hand.  Door-to-door salesman. English (as a second language) teacher in Cambodia and Japan.  Worker in a tractor factory (only did that for about two months because it just sucked so badly).  Pizza maker.  Ceramics slip caster. Mouse racer (a carnival job). Laser light show operator. Set builder in the theatre. Camera salesman. Photographic assistant in a large studio. Photographic lab manager. Outdoor equipment store manager.  I now fake it as a designer (sets, websites, graphics) in my own little business. 

Now that I’m married, live in the suburbs and own a house, my life is so totally different to what it used to be.  If you were to ask some of my older friends what I was like before I met Engogirl 13 years ago you would hear adjectives like, party animal, lunatic, dangerous, trouble. I’ve even had some friends tell me that they thought I was going to be the first person in our social circle to die because I was so reckless. All my friends feel that Engogirl has civilised and calmed me down.

Before I met my wife I used to rock climb quite a bit and most of my friends were people like myself. Rootless drifters living on the fringes of decent society working only because they were saving enough money to go on their next trip.

Two weeks ago Engogirl and I went to her parent’s holiday home down in Tallong and when we were down in that area (the Southern Highlands) we dropped in on an old friend of mine, Peter, and his wife Simona.

Simona and Peter

In the picture above of Peter and his wife you will notice that there is a framed advertisement (for Bonds clothing) behind them that has a red shirted young man sitting on a chopper. The young blond haired dude is Peter in his early 20s. He was quite the chick magnet in his day and when I used to work with him I noticed that quite a few women still found him attractive.

I first met Peter about 15 years ago when I was the manager of an outdoor equipment store and he was a customer. At that time Peter used to live in a tent for about 4 or 5 months of the year down in the snow country so he could spend his time with his girlfriend (at the time) skiing.  When Peter wasn’t skiing he used to install television cable systems in hotels and live aboard other people’s boats minding them for them.  After spending a couple of seasons skiing, Peter moved back up into Sydney and started to work in the store I managed.  It was during this time that we worked together that I heard about Peter’s life.  He had travelled extensively and he used to have a yacht charter company in Sydney Harbour with several yachts and he owned a block of apartments until he lost it all in a divorce.  Although Peter wasn’t too keen about the idea of losing so many assets, he was quite philosophical about it all, telling me that he felt that his life was getting far too complicated and stressful and that it was all probably for the best. Every now and again Peter would supplement his income by delivering yachts up the coast to Queensland.

Peter stayed on in the outdoor equipment industry for another couple of years and in his spare time he built a catamaran and lived on it in Sydney Harbour. About five years ago Peter met Simona and they were married within about a year.  It was always really obvious to me that life in the city working in a normal job never really suited Peter. A couple of years ago Peter and Simona moved down to the Southern Highlands to a town called Wingello.

Friends of mine had told me that Peter had moved into a yurt and because I had known Peter so long I assumed that he built himself a large round circular tent in the style of the Mongols, like what I’d seen at the Kyrgystan pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Aichi Japan.

Yurt at 2005 Expo in Japan

It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me.

I didn’t have an address for Peter but I knew that if I asked the people in the only store in Wingello where he lived they would know because he is such a sociable character they would be bound to know him. Sure enough they did and they gave us directions to his place, finally saying, “he lives in the yurt and you can’t miss it”.

I have to be honest and admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that Peter was actually living in a solid house. Aparently, such octagonal houses are known locally as yurts.

Peter and Simonas yurt

Peter now makes a living as a local handyman and Simona owns and runs a little junk shop.

Peter and Simona bought the “yurt” in an unfinished state and when we arrived they were in the middle of laying beautiful travertine marble tiles on the floor. The bottom floor has all the shared living areas and there is a circular staircase in the centre that goes up to their bedroom. I was told that they wanted their house to be like the inside of a lighthouse and that they were also seeking permission to add another story on top of their bedroom to make their house look even more like a lighthouse.  I knew it was pointless to point out the fact that they lived 100 km from the coast.

Who cares anyway?

Nothing about Peter is ordinary and he has absolutely no time for conventions of any kind. Having said that, Peter is a lesson in conviviality and capability. He is always surrounded by a tribe of friends and he seems to be capable of manifesting anything. 

One of the main reasons why I like Peter is that he makes me feel normal. Nothing that I have done in my life seems different or extraordinary when I am with Peter.

Our first week of the new year

I hope you all had a nice Christmas and an excellent new year!

As is usual, the time between Christmas and New Year’s day is packed with feasting and socialising. That’s my excuse for being slack with posting and I’m sticking to it.

Here in Sydney Australia it’s stinking hot right now and for reasons I don’t understand, I always get highly motivated to do major projects around the house at this time of the year. The smart time to do most of these laborious jobs would be in the cooler weather, but no, that would make too much sense. I never really feel like doing such things until it gets uncomfortably hot and humid.

Further proof that I’m a complete idiot. 

Last year at about this time I landscaped the front yard in the blazing sun. This year I’ll be toiling in the backyard making a pond and replacing two toilet sets in the house. 

The photo below is of Engogirl on the first day of this year, helping me with the construction of some bench seating that will surround the pond we are constructing.

Engogirl likes using the drill press

After sweating our butts off for a day, we decided that instead of getting stuck into our backyard work and knocking it over quickly, we would rather get into an air-conditioned car and take couple of days off to visit Engogirl’s parents at their holiday home in Tallong (2 hours south of Sydney).

There are a few orchards in Tallong and stone fruits are in season. Engogirl’s father loves jam and makes his own.

This man is powered by jam

Here’s Engogirl’s father’s recipe for apricot jam

Ingredients

Equal quantity of firm (slightly unripe) apricots and sugar. For the jam that was being prepared in the photo above, 1kg of apricots and 1kg of sugar were used.
Pectin (use only half the amount that is recommended on the packet or the jam will be too firm).
Water.
Glass jars. 

Method

Place freshly washed jars with lids and sugar into an oven and heat up to 100 degrees C (which is boiling point at sea level or about 212 degrees F). The sugar is preheated so that it dissolves quickly and completely when it is added to the fruit. Wash, pit and halve the apricots. Place prepared apricots into a saucepan with a cup of water, then heat for about 15 minutes, until the fruit begins to soften, over medium heat.

When the fruit is soft add the sugar and pectin stir until dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for about another 5 minutes, whilst continually stirring. You will know when the jam is ready to fill the jars when the jam mixture sticks to the side of the saucepan in thick blobs. When the mixture is ready, take the jars and lids out of the oven (don’t forget that they will be hot, so use oven mitts) and fill with the hot jam mixture and screw on the lids straight away. It’s probably best to perform this operation in your sink in case there are any spills or accidents.