Tag: 30for30

30 for 30: Blogs

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.



Kraftwerk live - you just know one of them is blogging

I have spent half my life making websites on the web.

I love what has come to be called “blogs”. I’ve been with them ever since they started – GeoCities, blogspots, tumblrs, wordpress, livejournals and all.

I know a lot of people are on the fence when it comes to this brave new world. At worse, it’s narcissistic indulgence. But I like it. And either way – it’s a big part of our culture now. Our stories are now on public record.

I started ‘blogging’ in 1996, with a GeoCities website. It mainly focussed on my obsession with comics. I became a part of the online community for the Legion Of Super-Heroes, my favourite comic at the time. I looked after a chronological timeline of these fictional heroes. I also did a complete annotation on the Batman mini-series The Long Halloween. Basically, I was a comic nerd who expressed his interest. And I met a few nice people too.

My interests changed to music, and so did my website. I started simply listing bands and posting photos of various things. It was so crude it’s ridiculous. Eventually, I decided the Australian band You Am I were my favourite band. My website became a shrine to both them and me – and renamed “You Am I And Me”. It started me on another journey completely.

The internet was very exciting at this time, especially if you had very particular interests. I jumped straight into the music online scene – webrings, fansites, newsgroups and more. Someone would decide to devote themselves to a band and create a page. Lyrics, photos, tabs and more.

You Am I were a big band and there were several other fan sites at the time – I thought I’d just be one of them. I did work hard on mine, in the way a teenage kid might customise their car. Pretty soon I was transcribing articles and scanning in CD single artwork. I think I did a pretty good job.

And the other You Am I websites fell away. It’s a continuing theme – dead sites. And I just kept at it. Newer You Am I sites started and fell away as well. Eventually, I decided to make it more seriously. Paul Stipack, who ran the fantastic Oz Music Central, and I made a deal. I would take some of his You Am I work and create the new You Am I Central.

My story with You Am I is for another time. But the You Am I site led me to meet the band, and the band officially endorsed me. It was something I became known for in the Australian music scene. I was also the common person for a whole country’s worth of You Am I fans.

It’s an amazing thing, in retrospect, that my little blog – of a lonely nerdy kid in suburban nowhere, Sydney – became somebody to some people. Just by putting myself out there with what I loved. And I got to meet people with the same interests. That You Am I website launched me out of being a nobody into the world of the Australian music scene.

Websites were very basic back then. I started with various wysiwyg editors – culminating in the long forgotten HotDog 4. But I also learnt how to do it all the HTML stuff from scratch. In my prime, I could make amazing websites with just a text program.

I also taught myself some javascript. I became very efficient at photoshop. No one taught me, I just spent hours in front of a computer. And instead of playing games, I made stuff. I made websites.

I developed a style and a sense of what I liked and what I didn’t like. For example – I still hate flash. Flash sites are all looks and no content. It’s graphic designers taking over – not people with something to say. Maybe it’s the Scott McLoud learning – just because it’s visual doesn’t mean it has to be just graphics.

I also read a lot of design blogs – the best being Jeffrey Zeldman. The man is a true internet pioneer, but I guess he might be considered old-school now. But there was a real movement there – the world of web standards and cross compatibility. Was a time you had to create a site for Netscape and other browser users would be damned.

I’ve not kept up my skills. I don’t have the time. I would come home from school and type code for 6 hours. I don’t have time to do that anymore. I can still make a decent website. But I lost it with php and mysql – database tables essentially. It’s the new backbone of the web, and I’ve lost the touch.

I maintained a personal page throughout this time (called Pop-aghanda), hidden away in the You Am I site somewhere. The internet was big news, and my work as getting recognition. I appeared on Triple J, age 17, talking about You Am I and then being the guest on a webchat with ‘fans’. The Australian Sound and Film Archive got in contact and asked for my permission to archive the site for historical importance.

People started to ask me about doing work for them. The only people I wanted to work for was Ivy League Records – my favourite Sydney label at the time. I volunteered to do their website and did so for a couple of years. It led to more contacts and more involvement in the music world. Along with working at a record shop and a radio station, websites became my way of contributing to music.

I would help other sites all the time. I would review and scan in rare CDs I had for other sites. I was more than happy to answer people’s html questions if I could.

I think of that generation of web creators and think – we were just obsessed kids. Instead of drawing guitars in our schoolbooks, the web let us make something that could be seen by others. With no recourse too. I could put anything I wanted online, and the only people who would find them are people with similar interests.

That era, the turn of the century, rise of the fanpage. Someone needs to write that story down. Maybe it’s too recent, but it’s a hell of a story.

You Am I and Ivy League fell away for me as well. I handed the reins over to others. Popaghanda died a slow death (although I have it archived somewhere – and it has my top ten albums of 1999 as an article). I had started my own band, and my web publishing and graphics skills concentrated on that.

I’m not sure if anyone is really monitoring trends for the web. For me, it seems there was an era where the web tried to be serious. After years of flashing graphics, clip art and fluoro colours – it seems like the web was starting to be a serious thing. Every small business got websites, and they couldn’t look like a 17 year old’s blog. Domain name costs plummeted, and a generation of web designers graduated and got to work.

Then there was MySpace, who took over a lot of what GeoCities and the like stood for. Free, easily formatted and easily linked – MySpace gave people an easy online identity. But MySpace was limited, even though it had a blog feature – some people want more than an identity.

Which was me. Having always written online, made lists and just basically being a self centred modern man – I needed something more than MySpace. So I started Gluing Tinsel To Your Crown, a random writing blog.

The design aspect of blogging has taken a backseat – at least for me. It’s to easy to use templates, and most of them are quite pretty. I know I can pay a bit more – get a domain name, take charge of the designs. But then I would be a ‘blogger’, and I have nothing against that – I just have a lot of other things to be first.

What has changed is what I write about – and how I approach it. I read a lot of blogs, and surf them randomly too. I know a lot about what I don’t like about blogs. Reactionary pieces. Repeating links and nothing else.

So, I approach blog writing with a philosophy. Yet another McLoud-ism comes into play – write like everyone you know is dead. I’m starting to get these long, loosely connected essays down. Writing in columns – like this 30 for 30 thing – also works, I think. Personally, I don’t like graphics to get in the way, and I like my text big and readable.

So ends 30 for 30. It’s back-to-basics blogging for me. Putting myself out there. Starting conversations. Keeping a record. Friends who have read an entry or two have taken time to talk to me about it, if it suits their interests.

I often ask people about what they write on their blogs too. It’s a give and take. All the links on the right are friend’s pages – and well worth checking out. Blogging isn’t for everyone, but I would love to see more people I know expressing themselves. If you have a blog and I’ve not included you, please let me know.

The annual top 10 albums of the year will follow in December, and a new writing project starts next year.

Leaps And Bounds started in 2005, ostensibly a travel blog, named after the Paul Kelly song. After what I learnt from Douglas Adams, I became a fan of blogging for bloggin’s sake. After mucking about with blogspot and then tumblr, before finally settling into wordpress.

I flirted with other things. An online version of my old paper zine (Strum) or my technology blog (Great Leap Forwards). But I realise I don’t have an agenda to push anymore – I’m not making websites for single bands. I’m writing to write.

Blogging technology has became pretty great as well. It was really easy to merge in previous blogs, even from other services. Now Leaps And Bounds is a happy little log of the last five years.

It’s not the last five years that’s interesting. It’s the next 30. It’s the fact that I’ve lost my very first few blogs, but I don’t think that’s possible now. This record will exist for all time.

30 for 30: God

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

29. GOD

God - as shown in Monty Python's Holy Grail

I agree with William when he said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

This column is about trivial things. This one, God, is the most trivial of all. I want to make that clear from the start – and I think it’s the great downfall of God and religion. How important people place it in the lives.

God, beliefs, morality, religion – these are the last things I use to form an opinion about a person. I have so many friends with so many varied beliefs. And it matters not one iota what they believe in. Just as what I believe in isn’t really anyone’s business.

But I thought I’d get a few words down about it – this trivial, trivial thing.

When I was very young, I was given a book. Not the bible, but rather This I Believe, an anthology of writers talking about their varied faiths, edited and compiled by John Marsden (doesn’t look like it’s in print anymore). Amongst other things, it inspired me to write down my own thoughts on faith, God and religion.

I do it every few years. Just write down what I believe. It’s very therapeutic.

Before that book, I had gone to church with my parents occasionally. I was so bored and inattentive at the time that I’m pretty sure those visits had no affect on me as a person. My parents stopped taking me very quickly in favour of Chinese language classes.

And since then I have had zero contact with formal religion. It just doesn’t affect my life. If it wasn’t for This I Believe, and it’s unwritten challenge of – hey kid, get your philosophy in order – I probably would never have thought about God again.

That’s probably not true actually. Because my life journey through my beliefs is a river, not a line. And what has shaped it has been a million influences.

At 17, writing my first ever This I Believe essay, I would say I was a half hearted atheist. Around this time, I discovered the word ‘agnostic’. I can’t remember who said it (it might have been in the book) but agnostics are just the WORST.

Believe in something. Don’t choose “can’t decide”.

In the last 13 years, I have moved away from atheism. On one hand, I discovered certain pros for the competition, which I will get into. But more importantly, I have some very worrying cons against atheism.

To start with the last one, there was a Global Atheism Conference in 2010, held in Melbourne. Global Atheism Conference? Come on. What kind of bullshit cult is this? In the last decade, Atheism has become a religion of it’s own – or at least it’s edging that way very quickly.

The only, and I mean ONLY, people who have ever tried to push their beliefs on me have been Atheists. They take out ads on buses in London promoting their wares. They ridicule and make fun of those who have not read their books and see things differently. And now, they have closed off little conferences that do nothing but preach to the converted.

Atheists, like all religious nuts, believe they are right. And yes, they use science and so their beliefs are not, you know, like fairies in a pretty garden. But it is turning into a bullshit mass movement. And my idea that belief should be trivial is being left behind by this Atheist movement.

Can you really tell me that all atheists know everything about their beliefs? Or have they just read two Richard Dawkins books and are now smug assholes?

Now, I’m not talking about ALL atheists. I’m talking about the ones that organise conferences. The ones who buy ads on buses. The ones that ruin holidays with their politics and beliefs. Where is Pete Townshend to hit them with a guitar.

Atheism used to be easy. You don’t believe in fairy tales. Nowadays, when you say you’re an Atheist, people ask you when you last read The God Delusion.

So, nothing against those who don’t believe there’s a God. In fact, good on you for thinking about it and deciding on something. And fuck those bastards who have turned it into a religion in and of itself.

Not that I’m an atheist anymore. In the years, my view has changed to include a God. Here is a quick headline rundown of how I went from a to b.

From not believing there is a God, means there is no meaning to life.

If there is no meaning of life, then I quote Joss Whedon – “If what we do doesn’t matter, then all that matters is what we do”. Basically if you want meaning, you create your own.

From there – there’s the Oscar Wilde idea of “My life is my life’s work”. If we create meaning to our own lives – wouldn’t we want it to be the very best meaning? Which means we’ve now reintroduced the idea of living a ‘good’ life.

So what are the criteria of a ‘good’ life? Is living by the code set up by the bible? Or something that is personal? Personal is of course the best. But no man is an island, and you have to take moral codes and lessons from what is around you.

I decided to become an artist. Write music. Be a writer. So my personal definition of a good life became to live an artistic life. And to live it fully. Essentially, to leave behind a good biography for someone to write. Taking cues from my idols and heroes, from Keith Richards to Stanley Kubrik, or whoever. Live an interesting, artistic life.

But interesting by who’s account? From here we find Bob Ellis, who wrote in his “The Nostradamus Kid“, the idea of the future camera. That one day, someone will invent a camera that can look back in time and see everything we have done. And we need to perform for that camera, and that future audience.

(It’s not far off from Willie’s “all the world’s a stage” thing)

Who is this imaginary future audience, who’s audience-ness is shaping my life and my actions? It’s no one. They don’t exist. They are just a focus of an idea. Like a meditation mantra. Something un-nameable to hang something on.

And if you’ve come that far, you might as well just name that imaginary thing “God”.

Because for me – if life is a story – then God is not it’s writer. It’s not even it’s editor. It’s the reader we are trying to impress.

So, God is not a person. Certainly not one that looks like Alanis Morrisette.

But it is a belief in something that doesn’t exist, outside myself, is judging me. When I lie in my bed at nights and wonder if I’ve been good to God, it’s me wondering if I have had a “good” day, and if that audience will look at what I’ve done and think of me well.

Which excludes me from being an atheist.

The popular question is – does God exist?

The popular answer is – it doesn’t matter.

For years, that answer seemed like hocus pocus bullshit. But now I agree. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons the church would give. But here are my reasons.

Religion and God are, most thinkers will agree, a necessary invention at a certain stage of civilisation. People generally create moral codes, and tend to do it by committee. Religion – big and small, good and bad – spawn from this idea.

The fact – and it is a fact, really – that God doesn’t exist should null and void the lessons learnt in religion.

BUT – a big capital BUT – where have I learnt my moral code?

I’ll tell you. There’s one person who taught me more about good and evil, right and wrong than anyone else.


And that fucking do-gooder doesn’t exist either.

I’ll give you another. Captain Kirk. Or Spiderman. Or any character ever played by Steve McQueen. I am the product of learning from thousands of people who don’t “exist”. Does it null and void the lessons I’ve learnt?

Did the boy who cried wolf actually exist? Why don’t atheists attack that story?

So, there is some value in fictional people.

Now, lets take that further.

Dee Dee Ramone is a hero of mine (especially during high school). The guy is dead. I’m never going to meet him. The Ramones were personas at best. They are almost cartoons. How much does “Dee Dee Ramone” exist? That’s not even a real name.

What about Keith Richards then? If that guy was a fictional character, he’d be an unrealistic one. Again, I’ve never met him. What I learnt reading Rolling Stones biographies – is there more value to that than Catcher In the Rye? I don’t believe there is. Both are stories and I’ve taken what I chose to take from them.

Someone I have met then. Michael Stipe for example. I shook his hand once, and had a small chat. Those 3 minutes of confirming his physical presence had little affect on how I feel about the guy, and what I learn from him.

Real, not real. Fiction or fact. Alive or dead. It’s all the same. What gives something value is me, and where I choose to find inspiration.

So whether God exists really doesn’t matter. I’m not dealing with truths when I think of beliefs. I don’t know if there was a Jesus, anymore than I don’t know if Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play guitar. But I know which one I’d rather believe in, in both cases.

The problem is religion. It’s usually a pretty bad thing. But as the years go by, even I’m softening to that.

I have an addictive personality. It’s probably lucky that Paul McCartney got to me before God. But I look at KISS conventions, or the Joni Mitchell message board, and I think – a lot of what religion does for people is here. Community. Self validation. A feeling of being unique and special within a group.

Beth, for years now, has been someone I go to when I want to talk about these things. I once asked her about religious nutters. In particular, a guy I saw on the street with a Jesus sandwich board, ranting and raving.

She said, and I paraphrase, that guy is just a lunatic. Pure and simple. And he uses religion as something to be insane about. It’s the same lesson as anti-racism 101. That group of black kids that broke into the local shop aren’t black kids. They are just kids – and dickheads at that. Skin colour, belief, age, gender – any combination of those can produce a dickhead.

Religion is so big, there’s bound to be some real dickheads there. If you took religion away, they’d probably be a dickhead about something else.

(I mean, the Nazi’s were Darwinists gone mad. It’s not hard to see the religious parallels there. Dickheads are everywhere.)

So that is a brief overview of why I decide to not Not-Believe in God.

But then there are the reasons I do.

And I just have to look at La Sagrada Familia. God, that is a fucking humbling experience. Looking up at those spires, and the work – since 1882 and not scheduled to finish for another 15 years – and you think, man, Gaudi really loved God. I mean he really, really loved Him.

That sort of outpouring of inspiration is – well – inspiring.

I want to live like that. I want to express myself with such thunder.

And God can take me there. I’ve chosen my own unique God to be my guide, but a God nonetheless.

Also, a lot of my heroes believe in God (although mostly troubled and turbulent relations at best). Stuart Murdoch. Neil Finn. Craig Finn. Jeff Tweedy. Tim Rogers. That’s just the music guys.

There’s no shortage of inspiring works in the name of God. So many churches. A million songs, movies, poems and books. It makes me think if you let yourself go to something bigger than yourself, then amazing things can happen.

This was a tough piece to write. I hope that you take it in spirit it was intended – a discussion rather than, ironically, a sermon. I usually don’t talk about this stuff, but I do think about it a lot.

In those very rare times I do talk about God, I have come up with a perfect nugget-sized analogy to sum it up.

The school of painting I’ve always been drawn to have been the impressionists. Those murky colours and shapes that suggest reality but don’t reflect it. Like the awesome “The Fighting Temeraire” by Turner or “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte” by Seurat. And so – I take an impressionistic view of life.

I’d rather blur reality for the sake of beauty.

This I believe.



(Small post script. The name ‘Danny’ means ‘The Lord is my judge’)

30 for 30: Douglas Adams

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Douglas Adams

I adore the works of Douglas Adams, and the man himself.

This 30 for 30 thing would not exist if not for Douglas Adams.

It was a thoroughly Douglas Adams moment in my life too. I was at my parents house, ready to leave for Paris for the first time. I was thinking, I need to buy The Salmon of Doubt, the posthumous collection of Adams’ writings found on his computer.

I had yet to read it, even though I was a huge fan (it was, after all, promoted as an unfinished novel. Who wants that?). So I decided I would rummage another book out of the boxes I had in my parents garage.

And there it was – a copy of The Salmon Of Doubt.

A perfect, unread, 1st edition paperback.


I’m not the kind of person who buys something and doesn’t know it. No price tag marks of any sort to suggest it’s origin. No one else in my family would have bought it. It wasn’t even amongst the other books in “A”. It was in a completely random box – the first one I looked at. And I was just thinking about it.

The only Adams-esque explanation is this – The Salmon of Doubt has become a very important book in my life. It started on that day. And some time in the future, I will come across a pristine paperback 1st edition. And a wormhole. And I will know to throw the book into the wormhole, leading back to my parents garage circa 1996, ready for my 25 year old self to discover.

(Slightly odder still is I have no idea where the book is. I’m even less inclined to lose things)

As far as I’m concerned with things related to Douglas Adams, the most extraordinary explanation must be the one.

The Salmon of Doubt is not usually considered the most inspiring work by Adams. But, along with half a novel, there are a series of random writings. Wonderfully written, long rambling essays about certain subjects.

I remember reading these articles and thinking – this is exactly what blogs should be. Long, meaty, well written, point driven pieces. Adams jumps around and goes on tangents, always circling the same points. He usually write about technology too – something I love.

So since that time, I have been trying to write blog posts like Adams’ writings in The Salmon Of Doubt. If you are interested in reading a really great essay (Hooray! Essays!) you can find some on his site, and I would start with Frank the Vandal (http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-00-a.html)

I discovered Adams through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, much like everybody else. I’m guessing this was around age 11, and I was already discovering Monty Python, Red Dwarf and various absurd British comedies. I found it at Campsie Library, when I was devouring so many books. Then I found all it’s sequels – and loved them too.

Those books were, of course, and marvellously, surrounded by Adams’ other works. First was the Dirk Gently books, which I also loved – and the BBC have just announced they will finally make TV adaptations of the two novels. The Meaning Of Liff and the Deeper Meaning Of Liff – a dictionary for things that needed names.

Then there’s the one non-fiction book – Last Chance To See.

I absorbed it all. And I am not the only one. Every time I see the phrase ‘Don’t Panic’, I think of Adams. And ‘42’, yet another Adamsism that has broken through to the mainstream. The glorious Babel Fish. His popularity has never waned.

Hitchhiker’s is, of course, awesome. It is such a deep reflection on the interests of Douglas Adams as well.

I read and re-read the first four books many times. I waited patiently on the library waiting list to read the fifth book – Mostly Harmless. I bought a collection of the first four books, and I eventually found first edition paperback copies of all of them – going for almost £40 each now.

Around that time, the ABC screened the 1981 BBC TV version. Even better was the South Bank show special – a very absurdist take on Adams’ life story, intercut with recreated scenes from his novel. It’s the only time I’m aware that Dirk Gently has been portrayed onscreen.

It was easy to keep track of Adams’ works, because he was almost always first in the sci-fi books section. New stuff stood out. The ridiculous Illustrated Version to the weird and underwhelming Starship Titanic.

I kind of lost track of Adams’ by the time he died in 2001. Although I was really sad – I guess I was at an emotional age about my heroes.

One of the last things Adams worked on was to make the Hitchhiker’s movie. After mulling over a film version for decades, it finally happened in 2005.

I remember seeing it at the cinemas, and loving it. Even with the 1981 TV version, it felt like they mostly got what I imagined the book would look like.

The movie had some major flaws – it’s rambling plotline is just almost impossible to shoehorn into a movie. The wit in Adams’ narrative is missing. It seems they spent all the special effects money went to the last 30 minutes of the film.

But there were lots to love. The cast was mostly perfect. Martin Freeman – the man was made to play this role. Zooey Deschanel is great as usual. Sam Rockwell made a great Zaphod, except no-one’s managed to get the two heads thing right.

And it looked great. The Vogons were perfect. The showroom of planets is honestly breathtaking. In the end, they just nailed the strange humour, and lost none of the heart in the characters. And just that big screen feel. After 15 years and seeing that – it was amazing.

No one’s discussed a sequel, even though the movie made plenty of money. I would love to see it. A hundred scenes I would love to see. Milliways. The krikkitmen at Lords. And most importantly, Arthur and Fenchurch flying over London.

Maybe someone will reboot them again one day. It seems to be the trend. Special effects just get cheaper, and maybe we can get something that looks like the Harry Potter films, and a commitment to make all of them.

More than his work, I love Douglas Adams the person. It’s a side I first got to see when I read Last Chance To See. It’s a non fiction book, an account of Adams’ adventures with zoologist Mark Carwardine, searching for the planets most endangered and rare species. I didn’t finish it the first time, but years later returned to it and loved it.

Adams’ fell in love with these bizarre animals. In fact, they didn’t seem that far from Babel Fish and other weird creatures that came out of Adams’ imagination. In the book, he describes them like he would a Vogon. And he never loss his passion for protecting life on the planet.

In 2009, his good friend Stephen Fry recreated his journey with Carwardine for BBC2. The sequel, also called Last Chance To See, finally showed me a moving Kakapo. And great that this side of Adams’ legacy is getting it’s day in the sun. If he had lived, maybe he could have been a animal lover version of Michael Palin.

For me, it showed me that the amazing things I found in books were equal if not less than the amazing things you can see in life.

Adams had many other passions too. He was a big Beatles fanatic. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Gilmour and was one of the few outsiders in the Monty Python inner circle. He was an outspoken atheist before it became fashionable. He made a short but significant impact on Doctor Who.

He was also a Mac enthusiast, and a technology nut. He understood programming language, energy technology and computer science. According to Stephen Fry, Adams was the first person in the UK to own an Apple computer.

Adams loved technology. He loved the internet. He dabbled in video games in the mid 80s, and supported the advancement for technology. And for technology’s sake. He didn’t just love typing, or games, or graphics. He loved that these devices and how they can fit into our lives.

Imagine what Adams would make of the world today. He loved the internet, and prophesised we would live our lives on there. A comment that mirrors a line in the 2010 movie the Social Network. Imagine what Adams would make of Facebook.

Best still is the iPad. Let’s face it. It’s essentially the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life.

Adams has a theory about progress, that works in three parts.

1) Everything that exists before you’re born is “normal”.

2) Anything created between ages 0-30 is very exciting, and hopefully you can make a living out of it.

3) Anything created after 30 is abnormal, abhorrent and against nature.

So it’s only an age thing that makes us scared of progress of technology (or movies, or music etc). And when new things occur in technology, I think of Adams, always pushing ahead to the front of the line to see what was happening. I hope I can be there too.

May 25th of every year is now Towel Day. It’s a celebration of Adams, of Hitchhiker’s and his other works. It takes his name and inspiration from, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy world, the single most useful device ever – a towel. I’m aware of it every year, but I’ve not been brave enough to carry a towel with me in public.

But its’ something that is growing. A UK thing that is spreading out slowly to dozens of countries around the world, according to towelday.org. It’s yet another sign of how important and ahead of his time Adams was.

If you only know Adams for his sci fi humour, here is a great introduction to his activism.

30 for 30: France

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


The view from the Sacre Coeur
The view from the Sacre Coeur

I love France and French culture. I am essentially a Francophile.

Paris. Just the word evokes images of style, fashion and romance. It occupied a lot of my thoughts before I ever went there. It is still one of my favourite cities in the world – if not the favourite.

The place reeks of cliché. Walking around a beautiful courtyard, it’s easy to see a man in a stripey shirt busking with a piano accordion. It makes me want to scream “For God’s sake turn down the French!” But why would they? French is brilliant.

The government actually actively turns up the French. No matter how rich your company is, you can’t fuck with large parts of France. Apple wanted to build a store on the Seine and was told to fuck off. It took Apple years to build their first proper flagship store in Paris. The French still hate the new modern entrance in the Louvrethe Pyramide du Louvre.

The list of marquee landmarks are as long as any city and more than most. The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Seine. Hotel De Ville. Notre Dame. Père Lachaise. Pompidou Centre. Arc De Triomphe. Sacre Coeur. But it’s the small things. The merry-go-round near Abesses. The street signs and lamp-posts. Even the most insignificant bridge is amazing.

And the people. The most beautiful women, just walking along the street, smoking. Old American couples on holidays along the river. Trendy French kids dressed in the latest crazy fashions.

There’s not a corner of Paris that I find boring. There’s just something in the water.

Before I got there, Paris was already the main place I wanted to visit. In my naivety I thought this was true for everyone. Paris! I mean, come on!

Yet I know people who’s heart – even far away Australian hearts – belong to different places they’ve never been. Some it’s New York (Amy), Italy (Kathleen), London (Liam) or Egypt (Jeanette). This only makes me love Paris more. I studied maps of Paris before I even earned enough money in my life to afford a flight.

I don’t know why I was drawn to it, but I was.

But this is not a post about Paris. My courting with France began in, as with most things, the music. Being a huge music guy. Being a huge music guy, it’s easy to com across plenty of non English music. For me, something caught my ear with French music. It also began my interest in the language.

It’s small things at first. Nada Surf singing a French song. The original “My Way”. Que Sera Sera. The Grapes song Je M’appelle. Francoise Hardy dated Nick Drake.

Eventually you get yourself some Serge Gainsbourg. Then the chanteuses. Hardy of course. Brigit Bardot. Jane Birkin. Each more beautiful and swoonworthy as the next. Then you get some Edith Piaf. Some Telephone. Some Sebastian Tellier. And you’re stuck.

Then there’s cinema. I discovered Jean-Luc Godard when SBS showed a film of his every week for months. A bout de soufflé, Pierre le fou, Weekend, Masculine Feminine – all great (Sympathy For the Devil is also pretty good, but super weird). Amelie and the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jacque Tatu, etc. To this day, I am happy to see almost any French film at the cinema, be it arty like Diving Bell And the Butterfly, romance like Priceless or even teen dramas like LOL. If it’s on and I can make it, I do.

I love French cinema more than French music. But there’s also the films set in France. Charade is one of my favourite movies – the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. Before Sunset, little more than two people walking and talking in Paris – so many great moments. Everybody Says I Love You. Even French Kiss. Even the Da Vinci Code. Perhaps my favourite film version of Paris is Ratatouille. It really glistens bright like that cartoon.

I really loved the food in Ratatouille as well. I’ve tried all the delicacies and liked them. Escargot. Steak Tartare. Raclette. If it’s French I’ll try it. I have thought about getting that Julia Child book. And then there’s the wine. Even the crappiest 2 euro bottle from a shop is pretty good. And my favourite beer is Kronenbourg.

Then there’s everything else. Architecture. Painting. Cabaret. Even mime. It’s the same culture that brought us A Remembrance of Times Past and A Void. There is something about the French. They approach everything with a touch of flair. A je ne sais quoi. They lead artistic lives. If you’re going to do something, do it with class.

Man On Wire was a 2008 documentary on Phillipe Petit, a French tight rope walker and stunt artist. Amazingly, he walked across the New York Twin Towers in 1974. When the American press got to him, they wanted to know one thing – why he did it.


Petit did not know the answer. He barely understood the question. He was expecting “how”. He just did something amazing, that brightened people’s day and fuelled imagination and possibilities. Do you really have to ask ‘why’?

Such a French way to look at life.

I studied some French in high school, and did more years of it in London. I can get by in France. On a good day I can get by without using English at all. I even managed to buy drugs in French once. They should put that in a test.

I have a few French language podcasts and plenty of French apps on my phone. I even tried to read Le Monde every morning for a while but I thought that was taking Francophilia into Wankery. I bought the first Harry Potter book in French and I’m working my way through it – and getting better at not reaching for the dictionary. What I really want is the Roald Dahl books in French.

I will get back to lessons as soon as I can. I started to write a story in French once. I’ve translated some of my own songs into French (badly). I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to the language, but I love it. Studying something has never been so easy.

Last time I was in Paris, I had a strange feeling. In my first couple of years in London, I went to Paris almost every month. I’ve been to many other French cities too. I really got to know the place.

I have my regular things. Train into Gare Du Nord, and walk through Abesses to Tim Hotel. Breakfast pastry from that little boulangerie around the corner that make awesome chocolate croissants. I have the places I like for dinner, for drinks and all around Monmartre. It also all ends at the steps of the Sacre Coeur, looking over all of Paris. I know my spot, the backstreets, how to get anywhere from my spot.

I’m not a tourist, but I’m still a stranger.

It’s like I dated this city for long enough. Time to step up or get out. I wouldn’t have left London if it wasn’t for this. Next time I go to Paris, I have to spend some real time there. Like live there.

So, I’m going to get the language up. I’m going to save. And then I’m going to go back. And live an artistic life.

30 for 30: Record Shops

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Bruce from Minus Zero Records, his now defunct shop

I love going into a record shop. I’ve hung out in them all my life.

I worked in a record shop in high school. I pretty much wrangled my way into the shop. It was called Countdown Music, and it was next to the supermarket where I worked. Every break I had I spent it at the record store.

It was run by Vicki, a lovely woman, who owned a series of stores with her husband. The Campsie store was Vicki’s baby. She was there every day, usually on her own. And she was a music fan but not a huge music nut by any means. It was chart shop in a mall.

It was a very small store too. So I’d be there, browsing the shelves and I could hear someone ask Vicki a question. And if she didn’t know it, I would just interrupt and answer them myself. I did this for a while until Vicki trusted me enough to mind the store when she went for short errands. Christmas came around and Vicki finally hired me. I had left school by then and started working there full time.

I have many stories about working at that shop. Almost all of them fond, although that might be dreaded nostalgia kicking in. But those stories are for another time.

(Best record I got here was with my first pay check I bought the Beatles Box Set, the one that came in a black bread box, which is long out of print.)

Before that awesome job, the record stores in my life were either chains, or the CD department of a bigger shop. Years of shopping with mum would have me running off to look at CDs while she did actual shopping.

As for chains – Brashes and HMV in the city were the main ones. Brashes in Pitt Street is where I used to go every day after school. There was a whole week where I would listen to You Am I’s Hourly, Daily on a listening post until I saved up enough to buy it.

Funny thing is, that was around the time I discovered indie record shops. The chains were great behemoths, but there was this little shop by the cinema that actually had an Hourly, Daily display in the window. It was the old, small Utopia Records. And although I listen to the album at HMV, I bought it at Utopia.

(And I’m glad I did because I got the “Beat Party” bonus disc. It’s also still my favourite album in the world.)

Utopia Records was primarily a metal shop. Dark, gothy and full of tattooed people all the time. I was a small kid in my school uniform. But Utopia had records I never saw in the chains. A Japanese version of Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish? Huge crazy box sets? Second hand but rare CD singles. Obscure bands no chain would stock. And – of course – vinyl.

It was love. And even though I wasn’t a metal head, there was plenty of records for me to buy. I think it was the point. Because a lot of smart music fans went to Utopia, so they stocked stuff like Nick Drake and Big Star – even though they are wussbags compared to Metallica. So I pretty much bought all the non metal albums I could find in that shop.

(Best thing I ever got there was the then-rare first Modern Lovers album, with the members of the band on the cover)

From there it was a small descent into the Indie Record Shops of Sydney. I had started to read street press and all those ads for all these amazing shops drew me in. Red Eye and Waterfront were the main ones – and I’m not sure I’ve ever been out in Sydney without at least dropping by one of those shops.

And I learnt so much. Both Red Eye and Waterfront would sticker their CDs with helpful information. “Rare Demo Recordings” or “Awesome album for fans of sunshine pop” or something. And it’s not like they ever stocked bad albums anyway. I remember asking for a Neil Finn CD single (his charity cover of I Can See Clearly Now) and a snobby person behind the counter said they didn’t stock that kind of stuff.

I did a lot of asking anyway. Ray from Utopia, Frank from Waterfront and various people at Red Eye, but mainly Michael. These were my teachers. Frank was one of the funnier ones – I would bring up an Uncle Tupelo CD to the counter and he would tell me to go buy Gilded Palace Of Sin instead.

There’s a lot of talk about the death of the record store – and the death of counter culture. Back in the mid to late 90s, the internet was nascent to say the least. You still had to ask, read and learn the secret corners of music history. Now we have Wikipedia.

Waterfront, which became my favourite, was bought out in the early 00s in a failed bid to start an online retailer. It closed altogether shortly after. Red Eye moved to a bigger location in a great part of town, still fighting the good fight. Utopia – well, it moved several times and started branching out into merchandise and memorabilia. It still has a lot of cool records, but has loss it’s underground vibe.

In the early 00s I was working as the Indent Manager for Warners – not worth explaining what that is but it did lead me to travel, and I had to look after all the indie record stores in Australia with obscure records.

Melbourne was probably the best music store city in Australia. Great Record stores akimbo. First time I went into Gaslight Records I had a nerdgasm. Add AuGoGo, Polyester, Greville and this little chain store JB Hi-Fi and you can spend many days doing nothing but shop go to record shops.

Again, it was a learning experience. Chuck from Gaslight turned me onto Charlie Rich, as Mel would point out big expensive box sets that I would no doubt buy. AuGoGo was more punk and had heaps of great Australian unsigned bands. Polyester was all about pop, in the indie vein, a music food staple. I loved going to these shops.

But the one I spent the most time in was Greville Records – mainly cos of Warwick. Oh Warwick. A great man, and funny as hell. Always enjoyed holding court with his customers, talking about how great specific words are in Bob Dylan songs, or going on and on about the Grateful Dead. He was pretty good with bootlegs and weird stuff too. I love that store – it may still be my favourite one in the world.

The Warner job and touring took me all over though. 78s and Dada in Perth. Big Star in Adelaide. Rockinghorse in Brisbane. Stores in Byron Bay, Canberra and even Ballarat Music and Tapes.

But that little JB Hi-Fi store in Melbourne opened in Sydney. Then every other city in Australia. By the time they got to Canberra, they literally bought out the competition. Gaslight and AuGoGo are gone. Australia was mainly JB Hi-Fi when I left. My life was back in the chains.

I went more obscure anyway. Frank from Waterfront started working for Mojo Music, a jazz specialist that branched into 60s and 70s underground stuff. I would live there – and have diet cokes with Frank, and talk about the Monks. Then over to Red Eye to talk to Michael for a while and pick up some new stuff.

JB opened several stores in Sydney, including another big one in the CBD. It’s amazing how quickly it grew and destroyed the competition, and now the music business is at it’s mercy.

I soon left the country anyway.

Wherever I go, I would always check out the stores. In Montmartre there was a little store like Mojo Music. And there’s the big chain FNAC. Barcelona was heaven – lots of small vinyl shops, with an eye for indie and underground. Pet Sounds in Stockholm. Heaps in Glasgow. Newbury Comics in Boston.

But sadly, they are dying too. Many times my dated Lonely Planet guide would lead me to a shop that had just closed. Legendary shops are dying all the time.

But there’s still the chains. The big HMV in Hong Kong. Virgin and Best Buy in the US. Virgin is even in Dubai. And yes, of course, I duck my head in every time.

London has the best record shops in the world. Even in a dying industry. Even though the island of Manhattan itself is about to have no record stores left, London booms. Sure, it had hard times and businesses go under. But it’s still remarkable.

HMV are the biggest chain left. But then there are the big indie stores. (Rough Trade, Sister Ray, etc). Then there’s the specialist stores – be your poison Jazz, Soul or whatever. Honest Jon’s in Ladbroke Grove was a reggae specialist. Then the collector scene – the second-hand world – is the greatest I’ve ever seen.

I really loved Minus Zero Records. And it was scary how quickly I fell into conversation with the people there, and how I still have so much to learn from these wiseolds.

Record shops are in trouble. Along with the entire industry. They have been hit hardest by the digital revolution. They are bleeding. Such a shame because I love them so. I love the knowledgeable staff. I loved working in one too.

I don’t use Amazon for CDs. They have limited vinyl anyway. I also don’t trust the shipping. So I will probably always need a shop to go into.

I hope there will always be some.

30 for 30: Pub Quiz

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Newtown Town Hall - venue of many Pub Quizes
I love being part of a pub quiz

What isnit about Pub Quizzes that attracts a certain type of person?

When you look at it, coldly and from a distance, it is a strange thing. A man* asks you questions about obscure stuff. What is it supposed to be a test of?

Yet, you see all sorts there. To take a little step towards sexism, it is usually men (yes, I’ve been to pub quizzes with women, but it is predominantly men, and men get most excited about it). Trivia, I think, is a particularly male pursuit – and I’ve yet to read anyone discuss why.

For reasons best left alone, I used to have a subscription to Zoo magazine. The last page was always a Fact Page. Did-you-knows?, facts and figures, etc. One I learnt that I still remember is:

If a daughter is taller than her father, it’s actually considered a physical deformity.

(I’m not sure how accurate the Zoo magazine Fact Page is, but I’ve yet to meet a girl that is taller than her father.)

Men love facts. Yet – I don’t go to pub quizes to learn. I go to test what I’ve learnt.

Do I learn just to be tested? That’s the question. Do I plough throw my music reading, absorbing all I can, just so I can be tested? The only time that stuff really comes into use is at a pub quiz.

But I don’t read those articles thinking, BAM, locking it away for a future music pub quiz.

Maybe the bigger angle is the test. I naturally love trivia – and here’s my chance to see how much.

Lond ones were hard. We had a great team for a while. Jay covered sport and all things dude. Dan Ryan also helped with sport but was great with news and current events. Me – I had music, TV and film. Daniel Hampton backed me up on those topics and was a great all-rounder.

Best of all though was our approach. We were all on the same page.

What British city had a mechanical spider walk through it’s streets?

We talked it through and decided the best guess as Liverpool, that year’s British city of culture. But it was the way we worked it – with cold logic. And we were right. We were ego-less as well. No one argued an answer just because it was their’s.

The problem then? We needed a token British. “Apparently” easy questions like:

In 2005, what was voted on the BBC as Britain’s favourite children’s animal?

Highlight for the answer (Bagpuss. What the hell is a Bagpuss?)

What city with the postcode SY is in Shropshire?

(Shewsbury. What the hell is Shewsbury?)

We had a series of ring-ins – thank you Feds, Stewey, etc – but we never did find that magic guy. We came 2nd or 3rd consistently, often just one or two questions behind. It was frustrating.

That is the other part of it – the deduction.

What band name is the anagram of Acre Fay Forty?

(Fear Factory)

What comes next in this list?


(MS – Matt Smith, the initials of the the Doctors in Doctor Who in order)

Another defeat for the ‘test of knowledge’ theory. This is deduction. We are pocket Sherlock Holmes’s. And I hated tests in school. Yet I happily put myself through this stuff.


Sydney was great for Pub Quiz. So many places, so many pubs. Beating the members of Gomez at the Annandale at age 20. The Quizmaster – BT – mockingly derided us with a barbed “must have written too many young people questions.” Then there were mammoth nights at the town Hall hotel, including one where Barry and I drunk our winnings in one night.

Industrys quizes are quite something too. I was once at a quiz team with Billy Brimingham, the Twelth Man himself.

I am – let’s face it – pretty good. Not only do I love facts, I love the drama and the rigmarole. At a new quiz, I love finding out the tyoes of rounds. A lyrics round, anyone?

It’s almost hilarious then when Jay and I were in France (with Dutchie and Nat in tow) doing a pub quiz – a really easy one. It was a tourist crowd, so it had to be. But God, we barely got a question wrong. We almost doubled the next team. We were hopelessly drunk and arrogant too. People must have hated those loud, obnoxious drunks at that table. The fact we won must have ruined some nights.

I got my own back in Boston though, playing against a Harvard crowd. Aftar an almost flawless first round (including identifying the band Red Rider – Tom “Life is A Highway” Cochrane’s band), we died quickly and the night got less fun. There was a maths round. And the name-the-author round was mostly non English books.

Let’s go do a pub quiz one day. I love them. I don’t see that stopping. And lately I have been looking at the theatre of it.

What is it about us, as men in particular, that are drawn to it? Maybe by the time I get to 40 for 40, I can propose some findings.

* I have never, ever, had a female Quizmaster.

30 for 30: Scott McCloud

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics, discussing 'visual closure'

I have been a fan of Scott McCloud since high school. Writer? Artist? Technology guru? Genius? All of the above.

Of all these articles I’m writing for this 30 for 30 series, McCloud will be, by far, the most obscure.

But his influence on me is possibly the biggest of all my personal idols. Every day, I approach work, thinking and life in ways influenced, if not out right mimicking, Scott McCloud.

Let me tell you about him.

McCloud’s most groundbreaking work is Understanding Comics. Published in 1993, it was the first really serious study on the artform of comics. And it reflected the all possibilities of words and pictures combined, not just men in capes and tights.

This is the first wonderful thing I learnt.

Comics don’t equal superheroes. Don’t equal kids entertainment. That little flying in theseat pocket of a plane, with instructions to put on a life vest – that’s a comic.

Although he started in the world of comics, he went on to talk about digital distribution, micropayments and how to distribute comics online. The things he discusses can be applied to any discipline.

McCloud is, in short, the smartest person I’ve ever read discuss the sweet point of Art, Commerce and Computing.

Revelations abound for those who LOVE to take things apart.

Q) Ever wonder why people don’t use photographs to illustrate comics? Or maybe a better question is, why do people avoid doing that, or when they do, why does it seem so jarring?

A) A picture in a comic is not an instant. It can’t be. A picture in a comic suggests movement and time – especially when there is speech. Imagine a panel when two people are talking to each other.

If you think about it, the left side of the panel is not set at the same time as the right side – the two people aren’t talking at the same time.

Q) Why don’t people draw comics more realistically?

A) Because the more realistic you get, the less you relate to a character.

This is an AWESOME fact.

We see ourselves in everything.

Look at a power point.

Doesn’t it make you think of a face?

Look at a car.

Doesn’t it make you think of a face?

Draw a circle. Add two dots.

Doesn’t it look like a face?

Yet, compared to the Mona Lisa, it looks nothing like a face.

Which is the great point of all this. Mona Lisa looks like…Mona Lisa. A smiley face looks like…us.

Look at the greatest cartoon characters of all time. Homer. Mickey. You can put yourself in their shoes. Dick Tracy however, was larger than life.

The lesson; the more you abstract something, the more you relate to it.

And then there is a further abstraction – the word FACE.

Look at it.


Something in your mind tells you to think of the concept of a face. Just like a circle with two dots does. Words and letters are the ultimate abstraction of an idea.

There is a lot more stuff like that in his books. Lots more.

McCloud’s is an art theorist and takes things apart. In understanding comics, he defines several styles of panel jumps, then graphs the number that occur in popular American comics and popular Japanese comics. Here, we see some scientific data on the difference between Manga and Superheroes.

Here are two things I love that McCloud has said about art.

1) Art can be split into 4 groups.

Classicist – those who admire form and beauty.

In music I would say artists like Cole Porter, James Taylor and Crowded House.

Animist – real gutteral, expressive, uncensored

In music I would say punk rock, but also people like Neil Young.

Formalist – exploration of the form and launguage of the art

I would say the Beatles and the Beach Boys, their exploration of sound and song structure. Later, people like Sonic Youth, Beck and people who played around with form.

Iconoclast – where the message and the personal experience is king. Very much the look-at-me kind of art.

I would lop in Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and expecially Joni Mitchell in here.

(Of course, not every fits neatly into a square).

You find this in comics. Films. Books. Everything.

More of this in the video below.

2) What the fuck is art anyway.

Get me drunk and ask me to define art, and I will give you the Scott McCloud definition of art.

Firstly though – there is a lot of pop psychology on what art is. Some say as long as you call it Art, then it is. Others look at Jackson Pollack or Norman Rockwell and decide it’s not Art.

McCloud puts his definition back at the reasons of creation rather than the result.

I’ll try and sum up this complicated notion as best I can.

We all act, and those actions have reasons – most boil down eventually to our survival instincts.

Maybe I’m trying to impress someone. There are lots of ways I can do it. I can buy them a present. I can make a speech in their honor. And at the end of the day I could be trying to impress them to get money, get a promotion, or simply sex (or companionship). Boil it down to food and reproduction – our most basic instincts.

But what if I decided to paint a picture to impress this person? Well, all those other reasons to impress still exists. But there’s a new reason – I like to paint. I like the form and I like that way of expression. In that new space, that spurs creation, is Art.

McCloud in the late 90s onwards became the poster-boy(/man) for the Digital Revolution. One that never quite came, but he was an investor in micropayment companies (that are once again getting traction), defined the possibilities of an infinite canvas and most importantly, removed expression from form.

In short, he’s a very forward thinker.

When the rest of the comic industry panics about the death of print, McCloud stuck his neck out there and said – hey, it’s about the stories, not the paper.

Just as with music. A song is not about the CD it comes on (although, that stuff can be fun). The CD was always about the promise of some great music.

In his 2000 book Reinventing Comics, when iTunes was but an idea, McCloud clearly laid out the steps that we have followed. The elimination of the supply chain. Direct-to-fan relationships.

But he also pointed out some of the reason bigger companies are needed. Production budgets is the big one. In music, the record companies have access to expensive studios and film clip budgets that a MySpace hobbyist cannot touch. There are others in the book.

McCloud was an early Mac adopter (like another person I will write about in a couple of weeks) and discusses technology a lot. I learnt ideas like Moore’s Law from him.

But McCloud has great things to say about technology and it’s predictable future.

Computers will get more powerful.

Computers will get smaller.

Resolution (monitors, speakers) will get better.

You can tell Apple knows all these sorts of rules. McCloud also spends a lot of time discussing the web and using it as a form of expression.

But if there’s one piece of thought I use every day that McCloud gave me, it’s this:

Look for patterns.

There is so much more. I always devour the latest McCloud book. Even more amazing is none of these books are written in words. They are written as comics. There’s no fight scenes, or curvey babes. It’s a science/art book written as a comic, using icons, text, graphics to tell te story in a more powerful way.

But McCloud’s next book is a return to fiction. He’s keeping it close to his chest, but it’s set in New York.

Which I am excited about. Because as much as I’ve learnt from him, he is also the writer of possibly my favourite comic ever – Zot!. I wrote about Zot! previously.

If you are a comics fan, especially with an alternative bent, you must read this.

So, that’s a brief intro to the world of Scott McCloud. An amazing writer and illustrator. And an amazing futurist and thinker. He continues to be ahead of his time, and I think his influence is only growing.

At any given time in my head, it’s swirling with ideas – for songs, stories sometimes. But sometimes about technology, web and interaction. And sometimes about business, how we work and where the world is leading.

Art. Technology. Commerce.

And the place where the three of them meet.

And sitting there is Scott McCloud.

Below is a talk McCloud did for TED, which touches quite nicely on some of his big ideas.

And his website is here – http://scottmccloud.com/

30 for 30: Doctor Who

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, the current stars of Doctor Who

My favourite show at the moment is Doctor Who

I am a big nerd. And I like being one. I love falling in love with stuff. And the great thing about science fiction (or this terrible word “genre”), is that it provides someone a lot to get into. Star Wars novels, Lost encyclopedias, etc.

(It’s why I love REM as well. So many albums. So many singles to collect. So many special editions. Hooray!)

But there are huge gaps in my nerd-om. Tolkien. For years I thought Tolkien was the name of a character in Lord of the Rings. Battlestar Galactica. By all accounts an amazing show. Just looks cheap and shit to me. Heroes. God what an awful show.

4 years ago, I could say the same thing about Doctor Who. Now, I am obsessed.

What the hell happened?

My pre-season three knowledge of Doctor Who could be summed up thus:

– The Doctorin’ The Tardis song, by KLF, that samples Gary Glitter’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

– The episode of Press Gang (written by future Who showrunner Steven Moffat) called UnXpected – about a  Doctor Who-ish character called Colonel X.

– A skit from the Late Show where a bouncer throws some Daleks out of a night club.

– The show had recently seen something of a rebirth, and Billie Piper was now an actor.

– Tim was a big fan. Paul was a fan as well.

And that’s about it.

I know even less about Tolkien.

The home for comics and sci-fi in London is the world famous Forbidden Planet store – and I would wander in around once a week.

Doctor Who is the biggest thing in the UK sci fi world, and it makes sense that almost half their top floor is devoted to Doctor Who. What is this stuff? People seem to love it.

Toys. Posters. Bubble bath. Costumes. Lunch boxes. It’s over whelming. And I knew nothing about Doctor Who. I have to say – I was a little jealous. Someone who loves this show is going to have so much fun.

I felt the same way as a kid, wandering into Utopia Records, Sydney’s biggest and best heavy metal music store. They would have, say, Japanese Blur records, that I would buy. But they had this whole other section of the store – merchandise. Kiss mugs, Megadeth wrist bands, Manowar posters. My little indie bands didn’t make this sort of stuff. It must be so fun to be a metal fan.

When series three started – with Martha Jones replacing Rose Tyler as the companion – it was all over the news. It was front page of every paper. It really just got to the point where they were going to take away my nerd credentials. When science fiction hits the front page of all the papers and I knew nothing about it, something was wrong.

So it’s really simple actually, the story of how I came to Doctor Who. I sat myself on the sofa one Saturday night and watched the episode 42 on BBC1. It was pretty exciting. I liked it.

So the next week rolled along, then the next. This next run of episodes – Human Nature, The Family of Blood and Blink are probably still the best run of episodes the show has ever had. These episodes won a million awards, and my heart. Blink, especially, is regarded as the greatest Doctor Who story of all time. I’m certain a whole generation of English kids will never forget it.

I’ve been watching it ever since.

I love the message of Doctor Who. The positivity. It’s the opposite of Dark Night, and in general dark sci-fi. It’s so damn positive.

And exciting. Boiling the premise and the point of Doctor Who, it’s this – stay curious and love life.

At it’s very best, it makes the everyday come to life. Statues can be amazing monsters. Your shadows could eat you alive. The crack in your wall could lead to another world. Looking up at the night sky, it’s not just pretty stars. It’s possibilities.

It’s what I love best about sci-fi. It fires the imagination. For me, this show that’s new to me, is about the purest form of all that’s good about sci fi.

That halloween I bought an excellent raincoat and went to a party as the Tenth Doctor. The raincoat is so great.

Doctor Who was also my road into British actors. Because it is one of those rare occurences when something that is hugely popular is also critically acclaimed.

I have a Brit Awards drinking game – a drink for every presenter you don’t know. And there are lots. People from old radio breakfast shows or soaps I’ve never seen. But Doctor Who opened me up a lot.

The list is amazing. David Morrisey and John Simm’s work led me back to the excellent State Of Play mini-series. Catherine Tate, who I heard about but never saw her show, was new to me. Peter Capaldi led me to The Thick Of It. Currently I am enjoying Mark Gatiss’s history of horror movies –  a man I first heard about on Who.

I guess that touches on the educational aspect of Doctor Who. But it goes beyond the silly dropping of “happy prime numbers” into a plot.

Then there’s Doctor Who Confidential – the hour long behind the scenes of Doctor Who that airs after the episode on BBC3. I’ve been chewing over a career in TV or film, and part of it comes from watching DVD extras, and some from watching Doctor Who Confidential. Every week is a lesson on lighting, or scriptwriting, or stunts, or location scouting.

There was also a kids game show based around Doctor Who called Totally Doctor Who. Primary school kids would get into the science of the show, play games and meet the stars. How amazing – shame they cancelled it.

All this happens because of what I said above – the sweet spot of being popular and critically acclaimed. Doctor Who holds such an unique place in British culture. It can do almost no wrong, and a hell of a lot of good.

And hey, it delights me that cockheads like James Murdoch hates Doctor Who, because the brand is so big, it keeps the BBC alive. In a recent rant, he claimed how unfair it was the BBC use Doctor Who to launch games and services like the iPlayer because it gives them a competitive advantage. Another win.

As of this year, Steven Moffat took over as showrunner for Doctor Who. He was another reason I was drawn to the show. He’s one of those writers I have loved all my life – from Press Gang to Coupling.

I am a Moffat fanatic. And although he’d written some of the most acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who, he was still only getting out an hour of TV a year. Jekyll did ok, but a planned second series never happened. Adam and Eve never got off the ground. His script for the Tintin movie was rewritten and is still nowhere near completion. The worse was the dismal US version of Coupling.

I also discovered along the way that Moffat was a life long Doctor Who fan. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling, but when this man who brought me so many good times, who I never met, got his dream job, I was so happy for him. I went out and got really drunk on his behalf. I didn’t care about the people leaving the show. Just that this guy I never met had something good going for him.

I’ve avoided saying what is great about Doctor Who episodes here – there’s plenty of that online. But the Moffat series, starring Matt Smith, was perfect – the best yet. If you want to start somewhere, start with the first episode of that series – the Eleventh Hour.

It also means I’ll be following this show for a while longer, as I pretty much think I will watch anything Moffat is involved in until one of us dies.

As for the Doctor – who knows. Maybe the next team will be awful. And maybe the team after that will be great. Its impossible to tell. But that’s what I love about it. Anything is possible.

30 for 30: Birthdays

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Happy birthday

I was born on October 11th, 1980.

I have a pretty good memory, a collector’s bent, many on-and-off diaries and a list of all the shows I ever attended til around 2003 – which is how this little column can even exist.

Yet I have no recollection of birthdays until I was 18. It was just never celebrated. I never had a party – we just weren’t that kind of family. It was never a big deal.

I remember other kids birthdays. In particular I remember Josh’s bar mitzvah at Randwick Racecourse where in an inspired moment for one so young, he showed Star Wars on all the betting screens.

I don’t even remember being punched at school for it, or anything. And to this day, I don’t treat my birthday like a big deal.

October 11 is a day when very little happened/happens. Compared to friends of mine who share birthdays with Woody Allen, Alex Chilton or Bob Dylan, I have Luke Perry. And Marcus Graham from E Street.

The number one song when I was born in the US was The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me. The Police are one of those bands I just think I will never get into. If it hasn’t happened by now. It’s not going to.

In the UK, it was Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. I love Queen, but this song is pretty average. When compared to the pop delights of You’re My Best Friend or Don’t Stop Me Now, it seems very second rate.

In Australia it was Upside Down by Diana Ross. Ok. I give this song a pass. It’s a pretty good pop song. And an important song for many people. It was disco though.

In the end, 1980 was a pretty shit year for music.

(The Goldie Hawn vehicle Private Benjamin was the US number one movie when I was born)

The first birthday I can remember doing something specific and interesting was my 18th. It was the end of high school and everyone was studying (I perhaps should have been). So with no one around, my brother’s girlfriend took me to see The Truman Show at Auburn cinemas.

Life became music after that – and that’s what I think of. I would see bands on my birthday. I spent my 19th birthday onstage with my favourite band – You Am I – and support band Shihad, in a small NSW town called Tumbi Umbi. I was serenaded on stage for a little bit, got embarrassed, walked off, tripping over Davey’s guitar lead, unplugging him. Great night.

I’m not sure how the Thai restaurant Doytao came into my life. Maybe cos it was close to my first flat out of home and it was recommended. I had a birthday dinner there with my parents the first year I moved out of home, and that tradition continued. Ross told me recently that the place has changed – I hope not.

Mainly though, I took my birthday off work and would just wander into Sydney city and do whatever the hell I wanted. Spend hours in record shops, talking to friends who work in the city, walking by the harbour. Not drinking meant not having a party was expected. Some simple drinks sometimes. It was never a big deal.

My best birthday was 24, because that was the day the very first album by my band – Last Impressions by The Reservations – was released. Nick, the guy who owned our label, did this. Even though we moved it back a week, it is still an amazing gesture. So it took me 24 years exactly to make that first album.

Even without people knowing it’s my birthday, people were calling all day about seeing our album in this shop or that shop. MySpace and digital was still quite new in Australia (our album only just got on iTunes) so you had to get it from a shop. Anyway – it was old school and it meant more. Before digital tore up the rule book, I’m so happy to have made an album that was released the old way.

And that was my 24th birthday. When I look back at all the amazing things that happened to me on my birthdays, I’m not sure how this one could be beat.

Second favourite was my 26th, where an amazing woman cooked me a steak.

In the last few years I’ve had some big birthdays. Maybe cos it always feels a little like a holiday here. A big night at the Westborne. A big night at North Nineteen. I even spent one at Berlin, after Popkomm. Thomas and various friends helped me to live it up. I’m also not very used to getting presents – that’s something new.

This year will be quiet, once again. I am so disorganised. And the next few weeks will be a lot of farewells. As interesting as they are, they are just a day. And it’s more important to get these farewells right.

I was pretty obsessed with Beth Orton’s Central Reservation album, from 1999. I still am.

Since it’s come out, there’s a song – the title track – that I listen to every birthday. It’s my only real birthday indulgence. It’s like a little prayer. If you have the album with various mixes, it’s the “Then Again Version”. Those bubbly William Orbit keyboards kill me. But it’s got that escapist spirit of Thunder Road. It fills me heart with life. But the line, the chorus, is why it’s great.

Today is whatever I want it to be.

(A different remix but still pretty great)

30 for 30: Calvin & Hobbes

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Calvin & Hobbes

I love the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, and the work/life of it’s creator, Bill Watterson.

The very first track on the very first album I ever released was a song called Calvin & Hobbes.

I’m a person who thinks about things from a million angles before doing anything. So choosing a song to come first on the first album I ever released was something I spent a long time thinking about. I am keenly aware of all the great opening tracks on all the great debut records.

And I’m happy to tie my flag to Bill Watterson’s greatest creations. I find the strip hugely inspiring, and a comment on the magic of life and the power of imagination.

Calvin & Hobbes started in 1985, and ended in 1995. Reading them 20 years after their context, it seems solid but unremarkable. But Watterson was a pioneer – subtly in print and more so outside of it.

Watterson, like JD Salinger, is one of the world’s more famous recluses. He also wanted to make comic strips for the sake of comic strips – not as a lead in to cartoons or films. He was fiercely independent and controlling. It led to a long hard battle throughout the years of Calvin & Hobbes.

It’s much like the music industry today. Comics Syndicates are what runs the business of comic strips. Watterson and his new Calvin & Hobbes strip became a success, and the Syndicate wanted to do more – sell C&H merch was one. Watterson said no.

I remember in the 90s, the worse thing you could ever do was sell your song to a TV ad. Nowadays, it’s a sign of credibility. I’m not sure how I feel about that to be honest. But it’s the end of the 80s, and Watterson’s company could not understand why this guy was “leaving money on the table”.

He did a lot more to get on the nerves of his paymasters – all boiling down to him not making more money, and by default his syndicate not making more money.

He even pushed the boundaries of the strip itself. Playing outside the normal box sizes, it made it impossible for newspapers to cut and crop a C&H strip to fill their needs. Newspapers happily got together and sued Watterson.

Throughout all this, Watterson fought his corner, yet never gave an interview. After all the court cases and battles were over (which he won, as there is still no C&H merch and artistic freedom is more common in strips), he quietly put his characters to rest, barely doing anything ever again.

So the parallels are abound. Artistic integrity vs. Commercial Imperative.

Comic strips were still the product of a troubled marriage with newspapers. They were the “funny pages” and of little value. But Watterson didn’t see it that way. Far more than Charles Schulz and his generation. And maybe that’s why. The Beatles excelled because they grew up with (disposable) rock ‘n’ roll. 70s cinema excelled because those filmmakers grew up with the (disposable) movies of the 50s and 60s. Watterson was the second generation of comic strip creator. The idea that he wasn’t 100% an artist probably never occurred to him.

Which could be why he fought so hard against the power imbalance levelled against comic strip creators. Again, mirroring the Hollywood Studio system, or early record companies – the young artists usually got screwed. And could barely fight for themselves.

So along comes Watterson. Who just wants to make comic strips. Who wants to grow and experiment with his art form. Who didn’t want to see his creations watered down to images on a mug or a calendar.

(Of course, with many making a stand, Watterson was rich enough to make a stand. C&H is still one of the most successful strips ever)

On the page, the strip was remarkable. If you don’t know it, it’s the story of two friends and one central conceit. Six year old Calvin and his fluffy toy tiger Hobbes. Except when no one else is around, Hobbes comes to life.

Or does he?

Or is the live Hobbes just how Calvin, a boy with a huge imagination, sees him? It could be, as Calvin’s world is full of fancy. Dinosaurs, spaceships, clones and all manner of madness fill the strips. It’s how Calvin fills his mind to get through a mundane childhood that powers the strip. And the wonderful way that Watterson draws it all.

So all that stuff about Watterson’s court fights and legal wrangling are better told elsewhere (I suggest the Tenth Anniversary collection, with a great introduction and as close to a best-of collection there is). Even the story of his reclusiveness – and the odd interview he did earlier this year – can be found elsewhere.

What’s important about C&H for me was another story of holding the line about the things you believe in. And when it comes to art and being creative, thinking about your personal rights and wrongs about it.

Sure, there are artists in the world who just do their thing and then let people do whatever they want with it. Then there are those who are fiercely protective. And I’m always drawn to the protective types. When I read articles about sampling laws, I always support the sampled artist side over the sampler. Why? I just think that the person who created it should have final say.

Watterson got the final say in more ways than one. He has yet to follow up his greatest creation with anything. Fifteen years later and I’ve stopped waiting.

From the stories, I learnt a very different lesson. Which is to give in completely to imagination. It’s best summed up by the very last Calvin & Hobbes strip.

Final Calvin & Hobbes strip. Click to embiggen.

Some say there is nothing scarier than a blank page. I’m worried about the blank pages running out.

This stuff touches ever so slightly on my belief system – which is another reason I love it so much. That you make your own truths. I can’t fault anyone for believing in God, for example, because I got my moral code from Superman, and he’s not real either. But I learnt right and wrong and that’s more important than what got me there.

The names ‘Calvin’ and ‘Hobbes’ come from two philosophers anyway. It’s a big subtext in the story. When as a kid, you believe in things, and how sad it is when your grow out of them. I read Calvin & Hobbes to remind myself to not grow out of them, if I can.

There’s lots in the strip to get into if you want to. Growing up. Authority. Morality. The things we learn. An amazing series of strips that dealt with a burglary. It’s this extra facet that makes this strip so beloved and so acclaimed. There’s plenty of critical analysis elsewhere if you want to discover more.

For me, looking at this six year old kid and his imaginary tiger, I think of one thing;

You make your own happiness.

I have an iGoogle C&H comic strip set up. Every morning I am greeted by an old strip.

I have a couple of collections. The ones to get are the landscape ones. The books in portrait have cut the squares around to fit the page – an unforgivable sin. It’s like watching the pan-and-scan of Pulp Fiction. You miss out of half the action.

I have read a lot of the strips, and have for ten years. I’m not sure if I’ve read every one though.

In 2005, they put out a Complete Collection. Two gorgeous hardcover books (in landscape!) in a hard slipcase for stupid money. I had my money already to buy one at Dymocks in Sydney when the shop clerk brought it out and asked me how I was going to get it home. It doesn’t fit in a bag. It’s going to be tough to carry on a train. I didn’t have a car or anything. I put my money away and said I’d come back after I worked it out. I never did.

(Why can’t they do them in lovely volumes like the Peanuts Collection?)

I wrote about Calvin & Hobbes in my first zine. I still try to hunt down the odd collection when I can. I made myself a Calvin & Hobbes badge with a friend’s badge machine. I just love it.

Every so often I see someone in a Calvin & Hobbes t-shirt. It has to be a fake. None have every been officially produced. I am kind of jealous. Who is making these C&H bootleg t-shirts? But am I buying into the thing Watterson rallied against?

So, I still love this strip. It’s mixed in the soup that swirls in my head when I think of terms like “artistic integrity” and “creative control”. And it’s endlessly inspiring.

It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy… let’s go exploring.