Tag: 30for30

30 for 30: Star Trek

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 cast of the original series of Star Trek

I watched and loved a lot of Star Trek. It’s not my favourite show ever, but has been with me for over half my life.

I’m a nerd! And not even the cool type of nerd that’s become hip. Fuck those pussies. I’m an actual nerd. And with that, comes Star Trek.

But the world conspired against me. It used to be on 4 nights a week when I was a teenager, and I usually slept in front of the TV anyway. It was, for several years, Star Trek followed by Letterman. This was how I grew up.

From age 12 or so, up until now. There’s simply no other show that has lasted this long. There are 725 episodes (across 29 seasons) and 11 films. So one and half times the Simpsons, and Star Trek were hour long episodes. Once I got in, how could I not be affected? It’s almost 800 hours of television!

I bring up Star Trek to stop people who I am bored with talking to me.

It’s pretty awful for anyone involved in the making of Star Trek, but I have often, very often, used Star Trek as a conversation killer. And sometimes a date killer.

OK, not so much a date killer. But sometimes you are talking to someone to see where they are at. And sometimes I come across cooler than I am – blame the job and the love of jokes. And when I realise I’ve wasted a drink or two talking to some girl I have no interest in, I bring up Star Trek.

It is pretty amazing how quickly the conversation stops. To most women, you’ve just turned into a slug or something.

It is even quite easy to do.

ALL you have to do is, when you’ve already started talking about stuff, say “Hey, you don’t watch Star Trek do you?”

It’s a beautiful line.

Because it looks like I am interested in furthering this connection. And the way I want to get to know you better is through Star Trek.

There are, as far as I’ve been able to determine, 3 reactions.

1) A quick dismissal. Maybe 3 or 4 more minutes of chatting, then next toilet, smoke or weak excuse break, our seats will be gone and we wont talk again.

2) A feigned (or genuine) interest. Basically the girl tries to engage in this conversation. This is a BOLD move on her part. She is going where no women drinking at this bar has gone before.

Oh, what do I like about it, you ask?

Well, I like the PREMISE. How it’s just a blank page for good writers to hang strong Sci-Fi IDEAS. (That goes down a treat with the ladies).

Oh you know Spock is Vulcan?

Actually, he’s a HALF Vulcan. (His mum was a human). (Girls love that line).

I’m not trying to be obnoxious really. This is just how I speak about nerdy stuff, that includes Trek.

Anyway, that soon ends.

3) The woman I am talking to is actually a Star Trek fan and we talk about Star Trek.


I have used this tactic over 100 times. Yes, part of it was when I discovered it, I tried it out a lot. But god, there are a lot of annoying women out there, and sometimes I just want to talk to my friends.

And never, ever once, have I met a female Star Trek fan in the wild.

I haven’t seen every second of Star Trek. But I’ve seen a lot of it.

The original 60s stuff with William Shatner? Check. Seen them all.

The Jean Luc Picard/Patrick Stewart stuff with the robot? Yup.

Deep Space Nine, the lesser known one with the black guy that everyone compared Obama to, in the comics and sci-fi world anyway? Yup.

Voyager, the one with the woman captain? Say maybe half of that.

Enterprise, the one with the guy from Quantum Leap (and the god awful Diane Warren song). Again about half.

I read some of the original novels. One of my favourite comic book writer – Peter David – wrote some great stories.

I’ve seen all the movies, although I only just saw the 10th one, after the 11th one came out.

But my interests waned. In school, when I watched anything and everything, I caught every episode. When Deep Space Nine was cancelled in 1999, my active interest died there too. Like comics, I took a break, and music took over my life completely.

I don’t know a terrible amount of people who like Star Trek at all.

James likes it because we both grew up with it. Casey likes it, I think for the same reason as me – it was on and we watched a lot of TV as teens. Nigel. Really, I am running out here. You either like it, or you don’t. And then there’s that 3rd level where you loved it.

A girl I liked had a housemate who was really into Trek – she was a girl too. She had Trek stuff in the house – a big stand up cut out of a character from memory. I didn’t know her very well, but I told her I liked Star Trek.

Funny though because she got defensive. A bit dismissive. Oh, that old thing. I wasn’t being patronising – I’m a fan – but I guess for her, she’s had to put up with a lot being a Trek fan. People make fun, patronise and flat out misunderstand.

Not that it really matters, but she was a very attractive girl as well. She would be by no means a social outcast. But she was in the fanclub or something, and hung out with a group where she can express her interest. I just wish that she would have talked to me – not so we could have talked, but that the world has made her hide.

In the UK, I’m not sure I’ve met one Star Trek fan. I know quite a few Americans though – it’s where the show was created, and it’s natural, cultural home. It is a bit of an American view of the future.

Which is all very odd, because so much of Star Trek is in popular culture. Phrases like “where no man has gone before” appear everywhere (like in the end of Almost Famous). “Live long and prosper.” 50% of Futurama is pretty much Trek. Like chess – I don’t understand how you can see this world without knowing the basics of Star Trek. What do you think when someone mentions Warp Speed or something? Do you walk through life like it’s one big joke you don’t get?

I was very excited when the new Star Trek movie came out. I saw Star Trek: First Contact in the cinema, and was pretty excited to revisit this world in a darkened cinema and a big screen.

Above I stated that there are over 750 hours of Star Trek. Well, that new movie would be in the top 20 hours of that 750.

Not a terrible amount happens, but it’s a fun action film with some cool ideas. But what really got me is the tone of the film. I really hated Dark Knight, and that dramatic, emo bullshit. I’m an optimist and the future is bright. And Star Trek, that new movie, was bright.

It is the main reason I love Star Trek. It is so optimistic. There is no drama within the crew. They work on each week’s threat together. People of all races and genders (even the odd robot or hologram) working together. As an immigrant in the country I grew up in, I was drawn to this.

I love the idea that maybe one day we will all get along and live these exciting lives. How can you not be?

So if for some reason you want to wade into this whole mess of Star Trek, the 2009 movie is the perfect place to start.

The single greatest question facing mankind is clearly this:

Which is better – Star Trek or Star Wars?

In the late 90s, Star Trek got very bloated. Movies, two TV series, books, comics, blah and blah. It was too much.

Star Wars however was still 3 perfect movies (and a number of really good books actually).

So Star Trek was easy to bash in the 90s, where Star Wars was a lot like James Dean – it left a pretty corpse, and it didn’t age.

Then Star Trek went away, and Star Wars got bloated. Those prequels are awful. Some of the worse films I’ve ever seen. Now there’s a cartoon and an upcoming live action comedy(?) series. Almost all of it is shit. And it really shows how limited the Star Wars idea was. It really had no more to give.

Star Trek however, came back with a very good movie. The memory of past fiascos are fading. What made Star Trek great in the first place still stands.

But Star Trek has never been great in movies. It’s a great premise (Stage Coach in space) and the perfect set up for a monster-of-the-week. Whereas Star Wars was one epic story, start to finish. We are comparing apples and oranges.

In the end though, I like Star Trek. All those amazing stories. 40 years of great ideas, swash-buckling adventure and cool gadgets. It just can’t be beat.

And Luke Skywalker is a whiny sook and the dude kissed his sister. What the fuck?

(Alex Zane did a poll once on XFM asking this very question. Almost every caller said Star Wars. Zane responded to several callers with “How about that bit in Wrath Of Khan where Kirk screams KHAAAAAAAAN?” and none of the callers had actually seen it. So if you’ve not seen it, your opinion is pretty worthless)

So, I have mainly avoided talking about the actual content of Star Trek. The intricacies of which characters I like, what season was best, etc. I think there is enough of that on the internet.

If for some reason, you are a Star Trek fan, and you came across this, here are my top 20 stories (movies and 2-parters count as one) of Star Trek.

1. Best of Both Worlds (TNG, 1990)
2. The Visitor (DS9, 1995)
3. Past Tense (DS9, 1995)
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
5. All Good Things (TNG, 1994)
6. Far Beyond the Star (DS9, 1998)
7. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
8. The City On the Edge Of Forever (TOS, 1967)
9. Star Trek (2009)
10. Shattered Mirror (DS9, 1996)
11. The Doomsday Machine (TOS, 1967)
12. Crossover (DS9, 1994)
13. Mirror, Mirror (TOS, 1967)
14. Space Seed (TOS, 1967)
15. Descent (TNG, 1993)
16. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
17. I, Borg (TNG, 1992)
18. Q Who (TNG, 1989)
19. Explorers (DS9, 1995)
20. Endgame (VOY, 2001)

Looking at this list really makes it hit home – I do love this show. So many great stories! So many ideas! Every week was something different. A time bending character study, or an all out action packed dog fight in space. All tied together with this wish of living better lives, working together, and leaving our predjudice and hate behind.

30 for 30: Notting Hill

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.


Portobello Markets, Notting Hill
Portobello Markets, Notting Hill

I lived around Notting Hill for 3 years. I was going to write a piece about London herself, but it’s West London and the Notting Hill surrounds that I will always remember.

I am currently not living there. After 3 years, I decided to move on. Most of friends have gone, and I wanted to try something different. I don’t regret it, but it’s not the best decision I’ve ever made. I miss it a lot.

Notting Hill is held together by Portobello Road – a long and winding road that goes from south to north. On the weekends it’s one of the best, busiest markets in the world. At nights it’s full of great pubs, restaurants and cinemas. At other times, it’s just a collection of flats, supermarkets and cafes. It’s a different thing at different times.

By luck, my job is in West London, so I tried to find a place to live near work. I found it in Ladbroke Grove, the next suburb up from Notting Hill, at the end of Portobello Road. From here, most mornings I would walk past the markets, and if it was a weekend I would soak in the shops and the atmosphere.

The place, even when packed with thousands of people, feels like home to me.

Portobello markets is the highlight. A million Saturday mornings spent going through it’s shops, and eating it’s paella. There were great record shops – the indie/famous Rough Trade, the 60s old school vinyl fanatics Minus Zero, and the soul/reggae shop Honest Jon (part owned by Damon Albarn).

For food, there are plenty of market stalls. Fantastic paella (with a slightly scary loud lady), excellent falafel rolls, nasty but sometimes necessary spicy German sausage to a little alleyway where some woman roasts a pig on a spit every Saturday. There’s always new ones too – I saw a Ghanan place the other day.

There’s plenty of sit down places too – the Electric, expensive and posh Italian at Osteria Basilico or Essenza, the best Thai in London at Market Thai. The Sausage And Mash Café is great for a hangover a50s chic décor, or the hidden away courtyard at Lazy Daisy. I have eaten myself mad on this street.

The shame is, there is no good coffee. London coffee is dodgy at best, so for a while I tried to support Progresso, a fair trade barista. But the coffee was so bad I had to spit it out, and I started going to Starbucks.

There are, however, a lot of pubs. From north to south – The Fat Badger, right in the Caribbean end of Portobello with a big open front room and comfy sofas. The Market Bar – always too crowded but a couple of great front-facing seats for people watching. The Castle – small but lovely, bar staff are wankers but we met a great group of people dressed up once. First Floor – my favourite bar that’s in the markets, right next to Rough Trade, people spilling out everywhere, clunky revolving doors, a million great memories. The Duke Of Wellington – the old man bar where I ran once after a heartbreaking night, to head into a conversation about continents. The Portobello Star – chic, charming, small bar that’s recently been prettied up. The Earl Of Lonsdale – cheap and with a big beer garden, many nights were spent in here, meeting lots of people. But if I had to choose one, it’s the Sun In Splendour –first shop south on Portobello. Quirky, great beer garden, best food – and it’s where Monty Python would drink and write the Flying Circus.

And that to the stalls that sells comics, CDs, vintage suits, old paperbacks, antiques, Hugh Grant’s Travel Bookshop, Jesse’s Western for old cowboy shirts –  and more. Before I bore you with more details, just make a plan and visit it yourself.

Londoners are always fighting about what part of London is best. North vs South. East vs West. It gets kind of old. So I’m not going to go into why the West (where Notting Hill resides) is better than any other part of London. Except for one very important point.

Notting Hill is beautiful. Rows and rows of lovely terrace houses. Side street mews, and the wonderful All Saints Church just hidden away but over looking it all. It LOOKS like London from Paddington Bear cartoons. And, as with everything in my life, I usually go for the pretty.

As exciting as I find the place, people tell me I missed the golden days. The 50s brought with it an influx of Caribbean people – an influence that pervades the laid back, somewhat hippie culture of the area (and is best manifested in the yearly Notting Hill Carnival).

In the 60s, it was the home of Psychedelic rock. Pink Floyd, Cream and Hendrix all hung around there. Hendrix himself died in Notting Hill, in a hotel that is now a terrace building. The Electric, right in the middle of Portobello Road, was a famous avant garde cinema at the time.

Part of the reason for this was Notting Hill fell into disrepair. Large houses turned into artist slums. Leading well into the 70s, it was considered one of the worse areas of London. Clashes with police and the feeling of injustice led to Saint Joe Strummer, a local boy who created the Clash. In Strummer, I see all the great things about Portobello Rd and Notting Hill. An artistic life lived with passion. A mix of intellect and gut. World rhythms and white hot guitars. Politics and love intertwined. God, I love the Clash.

The 80s came Thatcher, and the slums and the bums were cleared out. Most of them were posers anyway, but the heart of the area stayed. Slowly it became neater, and the shops popped up. It became a buzzing part of new Britannia by the 90s – and was the home of Blur and Pulp. Jarvis Cocker wrote Common People about the influx of tourists and upper class types into the area.

Then came the Richard Curtis movie Notting Hill, which changed everything again. Now a worldwide postcard, Portobello was taken over by chain sneaker shops and expensive clothes. The danger has gone. It’s now one of the biggest tourist attractions in London.

But that Joe Strummer spirit is still there. The Portobello Film Festival isn anarchic and awesome. The street works together as a community. All peoples come together here, to dance, to kiss, to argue and to live.

A million memories flood my mind when I think of Portobello. Above and beyond the pubs – are the clubs. All of them mainly cool, and drinking spirits and dancing like a mad man to 70s funk. Be it Trailer Happiness or Notting Hill Arts Club. And walks home, buying more smokes, a bottle of water and sometimes instant noodles as well from the all night shops.

There were Sunday nights at the Coronet Cinema, mostly on my own, watching whatever indie film was on. The Hillgate, where Jay, Dan Ryan, Hampton and I ruled for months. The weird school where I took French lessons. I still get my haircuts from the South Americans on Golbourne Rd.

Many life changing scenes, both good and bad, occurred in Notting Hill. But that could be the amount of time I spent there. Many times I found myself walking down Portobello in the dead of night, and I have it all to myself. Friends made, girls kissed, girls lost, fights had, cans thrown, piss pissed, records bought, jokes told.

It’s where I think of when I think London. If any part of me is a Londoner, then I’m a West Londoner. Even if the whole place changes again, it will still be my London.

30 for 30: Woody Allen

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.


Woody Allen as Isaac in Manhattan (1979)

I have loved the works of Woody Allen for many years. His personal life also makes me question how we treat our celebrities. But in the end, I see the world though Woody Allen’s movies.

Here’s something you should never do. Ask me to recite jokes from Woody Allen’s album Stand Up Comic. It’s a “best of” his vinyl only records of live stand up from his early nightclub years. It’s fantastic.

Most people know “the Moose”, but jokes like the Vodka Ad, Eggs Benedict and Bullet In My Breast Pocket are just as great. Woody Allen at his purest form – and early his career. Almost ten years before Annie Hall. But the persona was already there.

I have lots of good memories of listening to this album in my teenage bedroom in the dark. I had no idea about many of the references – Noel Coward, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lily Pons – but loved the jokes.

(I actually owned it twice, accidentally. It was called Stand Up Comic and on Rhino in the US, but called Nightclub Years in the UK, on EMI. Thinking they were different, I bought both. Oh Internet, where were you then?)

1964 – the start of Woody Allen’s career, under his own name. It’s brilliant stuff.

I also found and loved Complete Prose, a collection of Allen’s short books in the 60s. Surreal, pun filled anecdotes – something he still does occasionally in publications like the New Yorker.

This long ramble is basically a setup so I can say one thing: Woody Allen is more than a filmmaker.

He’s made some amazing films, of course. But he’s a funny man. A writer. And actor. A musician! He’s Heywood Allen.

What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie?

It’s a common pub question amongst friends.

For me it’s Annie Hall (1977). It’s a common answer, followed by Manhattan (1979). Both are amazing films.

Annie Hall’ wins out for me. And it helped that when I saw it, I already had my heart broken once. It’s the greatest break up movie ever made. It’s still laugh out loud funny. Touching, sophisticated and made with absolute confidence… the story of Annie and Alvy touched millions, beating Star Wars for the Academy Award for movie of the year. Even thinking about them now as I write brings on a rush of bittersweet feelings – as if I’m reliving a past love of my own.

It’s had more influence on my life than any other movie. From the insightful comments of how we love – the “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me” stuff. To wishing you could pull the director of a film when you get into useless arguments. Or trying not to sneeze when cocaine is around. A million memories and feelings fill this remarkable film.

Manhattan’ is just as good. Again full of iconic moments, but a love letter to the island as well. The kiss at the Rose Center to the carriage ride in Central Park, all leading to the final scene of Isaac running down Fifth Avenue. Whenever I run, or see running on film, I think of this scene. It has all the intelligence and heartache of Allen’s best work – but it’s by far his prettiest film to look at. There’s also a tremendous score.

Those are the big two that everyone should see. They have dated remarkably well. They created a new genre of film – the sophisticated talkie. And it defined a generation too.

But those are 2 films in career of over 40 films. I have seen almost all of them.

The public perception of Allen’s films are that they are variations of Annie Hall and Manhattan. He does have a house style (he’s used the same fonts and credit style since the beginning. He never pays anyone more that $10K for a film. Every major character has equal billing. Etc) but he’s made a wide array of films, many of which are great.

Before Annie Hall, Allen made these formless, almost Monty Python-esque screwball comedies. Like his stand up, they are clever and witty. And funny of course. Of these, ‘Love And Death’ (1975, a parody on Russian tragedies) and ‘Sleeper’ (1973, a sci fi comedy) are my favourites. Allen is always the star, playing a Charlie Chaplin like character, trying to not fall over in the worlds he’s created.

These straight comedies made Allen’s name. And every film comedian wanting to go serious cites Allen’s move from this stuff to the late 70s Annie Hall era.

The late 70s leading into the 80s is considered his golden period. Beyond the Big Two, there’s similar dramas like ‘Hannah And Her Sisters’ (1986, the tale of a large family over two years) and ‘Crimes And Misdemeanours’ (1989, exploring morality and justice). There were more comedies in this time too – ‘Broadway Danny Rose’, ‘Zelig’ and others. But it’s ‘Hannah…’ and ‘Crimes…’ that really standout in his career.

(There’s also an amazing movie, called ‘New York Stories’ (1989), that is three stories directed by Scorsese, Coppola and Allen – which you should see.)

Allen’s popularity waned in the 90s – but it was when I was coming of age. Many of these films were new and exciting. The early 90s were particularly strong – ‘Husband And Wives’ (1992, a telling rumination on marriage) and ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ (1993, where Allen pays tribute to Hitchcock) are considered some of his best work. Mira Sorvino won Best Supporting Actress in the overall fantastic ‘Mighty Aphrodite’ (1995), and the all star musical of ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ (1996) has bad singing but the film is sweet.

It was the late 90s when the controversy about Allen’s private life began to show. On film, he reacted with two of his nastiest films ever – ‘Deconstructing Harry’ (1997, a long damnation on trial by friends and media), and ‘Celebrity’ (1998, one of the biggest, bitterest fuck yous ever in cinema).

(Allen also appeared in the lead role of ‘Antz’ (1998), which gained him quite a bit of popularity).

The 00s were up and down, but Allen maintained his one-if-not-two movies a year schedule. It started off well, with a new deal with Dreamworks and a return to screwball comedy in ‘Small Time Crooks’ (2000, of a couple stumbling into a life of crime). Dreamworks pumped a lot of publicity power behind it, and it’s follow up ‘Curse Of the Jade Scorpion’ (2001, a fun detective caper).

Some truly daft comedies followed, but then came the magnificent ‘Match Point’ (2005, the start of his London films). It recalled his best 80s work, and the nihilism and unhappy endings, betrayal and lust. London was followed by Spain, the best is the recent ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ (2008). I’ve yet to catch up on the three films he’s made since.

That is quite a track record. Who else has made twenty films I’ve loved, even if 20 of the others are average? Over 5 decades of filmmaking. It’s an amazing career.

So here, for my money, are the ten best Woody Allen films

1. Annie Hall
2. Manhattan
3. Crimes And Misdemeanors
4. Love And Death
5. Celebrity
6. Manhattan Murder Mystery
7. Hannah And Her Sisters
8. Husbands And Wives
9. Match Point
10. Small Time Crooks

Woody Allen’s life is surrounded by controversy. And it makes me question our relationship with art and reality.

Is Woody Allen just Alvy Singer, Isaac Davis and any number of his main characters? That nervous, neurotic, New York Jew – obsessed with women, death and god? So much of what appears on screen reflects Allen’s private life. Broken marriages, large age differences, fame and morality – all hallmarks of Allen’s private life.

If you ask Allen, as Terry Gross did on NPR last year – Allen denies his life in onscreen. He is a renown sports fan and has never been a loner – unlike the neurotics he portrays. He’s a musician, and a talented one. He has no problems getting up in front of a world audience at the 2002 Academy Awards and salute New York. Not things he’s characters can do – let alone shepherd almost 50 films.

So who is Woody Allen?

And can we ever know?

A person has to be more than their public persona. We’ve had hundreds of songs by Bob Dylan – but can you really say you know him because of that? Can we know any creator through art?

My opinion has changed over the years but right now I think it’s a no. I think every persona is a lie. And as many movies, songs, books, TV shows etc that I like – I know nothing of the people behind them.

From that – the question of authenticity is out the window. I don’t care that Sylvia Plath and Ian Curtis were ‘tragic’ figures, or that John Fogerty was not from the South. It’s all about the work – for me anyway.

But is there NOTHING we can learn of Woody Allen, the man, from Woody Allen’s films? I think there are glimpses. I think people give themselves away. But people change every second, and you can never hold anyone to it. Annie Hall, I would assume, was written and made in a period of heartbreak and vulnerability. But is it Allen’s, or his co-writer Marshall Brickman’s feelings on show? And we can freeze our minds and think of Allen as Alvy – but that’s like how James Dean will never overcome his persona.

There is more to people, which is my point.

How do I feel about Allen’s private life? I don’t understand it. I would not lead such a life. But it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of his work. I feel that way about almost all artists.

Woody Allen has always been around, but I know the exact thing that made me investigate his movies – in particular Annie Hall. It was Blur’s ‘Look Inside America’ and the wonderful lyric

Annie Hall leaves New York in the end
But press rewind and Woody gets her back again.

I loved this line, and so I got Annie Hall out on video and loved it. And I made my way through any film of his I could find at the local video shop.

Allen, in most video stores, falls under ‘art house’. And at Civic Video Belfield, art house was at the back, behind the curtain, with the ‘adult’ stuff. I actually had to get a guardian to go with me to pick out a film. My older brother’s girlfriend would be kind enough to take me, and she would marvel at porn titles at the other side of the room as I dug around non English movies to see if they had ‘Radio Days’.

I bought the books, the albums, and saw what I could at the movies. I read all I could online, in magazines and biographies – although most biographies are mean spirited hack jobs, highlighting the more tabloid side of his life. It took me ages to find the story of Annie Hall – how that was a 3rd of the intended film and how it was originally named Anhedonia.

Nowadays, most of his films don’t get a cinema release outside the US, or at least not for years. It’s getting a little harder to be a fan.

I think about art and creativity a lot. I have hundreds of theories about things, and one of them involves Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick.

Woody Allen has made over 40 films, and 20 are great.

Stanley Kubrick made around 10 films, of which 10 are great.

Who is the better artist?

I think of artists like Neil Young who still pumps out an album a year. Not all are great, but there is a lot of great stuff throughout his career. Whereas Tom Waits takes his sweet time about it.

Bob Dylan wrote Like A Rolling Stone in 20 minutes. Leonard Cohen wrote Hallelujah over 12 years.

So there’s the Allen school, and the Kubrick school. And you can see it everywhere.

Allen is, of course, closely tied to New York. And when I am there, I always see the city from Allen’s eyes. It’s beautiful. I have sat at the 59th Street Bridge, on the bench on the poster for Manhattan – a poster I own a great print of.

I see Allen’s influence everywhere. Ricky Gervais apes his early career well, and Wes Anderson I guess knows his 80s stuff back to front. He captured the New York elite living – of Sondheim musicals, jazz, dinner parties and brownstone buildings.

But the biggest thing I carry around with me, that Woody Allen gave me, is to think about life. Is there a point to this? Do we enjoy what we can? Life is so fleeting, and people come and go. But the ground we are standing on is beautiful and don’t miss it. Women and love needs to be cherished and enjoyed while it lasts. And maybe it’s all a farce, and whatever works to get you through life is the best way to live it.

30 for 30: Glasses

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.


Glasses, those hideous glasses...

I wear glasses.

Actually that’s a lie.

I mostly don’t wear glasses. My eye sight is not THAT bad, but I can’t pass your average eye test to get a license. Over the years I have learnt to live without glasses.

I find them uncomfortable. And maybe it’s because I don’t wear them enough, but I’ve never gotten used to it. They steam up, they feel weird when I smoke and are useless in the rain.

I also like looking people in the (fuzzy) eye. Something about wearing glasses makes me feel like I’m in fancy dress. I’m pretending to be the me that wears glasses. I take my glasses off when I meet people. I just feel like I’m lying to people otherwise.

But the real reason I don’t wear glasses is because usually I’ve lost them. Or broke them. I’ve gone through over a dozen pairs, some barely survive a month.

My latest pair, I got them two weeks ago. And over the weekend I left them in Cardiff, but managed to drive back and get them – 4 days later. And they are expensive, so once broken or lost, it could be years before I replace them. The ones I recently replaced, well those were lost in Berlin 8 months ago.

It’s a tempestuous relationship. They seem to always be trying to run away, or commit suicide. And I don’t like them that much anyway.

So many people I know have glasses. Many might not wear them all the time, but I don’t think it’s a minority thing.

Has years of monitor use destroyed a generation of eyeballs? I think maybe. Monitors have gotten better, but in the 90s, I spent almost all my spare time in front of a shitty little monitor. My whole age group did.

Even now, when I spend too much time in front of a computer, my eyes hurt. And the ones who carried that daily computer-staring over into office jobs? Well, we are a Glasses Army.

My Mum, Dad and my brother all wear glasses. Not all the time but we all have them. Our kitchen table are sometimes covered with them, along with wallets, keys and other pocket paraphernalia. So maybe it’s genetic? Does my family have weak eyes? Or maybe it’s racial – many Asian kids have glasses. Who knows.

But it’s funny to think, in school, being someone with glasses was not the majority. And of course, it left you open to hopeless jives of “four eyes” and whatever. But it’s been many years since I’ve heard someone being made fun of because they wear glasses. Even on TV or movies. It’s just over.

Why are glasses designs so shit? It’s another reason that my heart is against glasses. What people make, and what seems to be popular, doesn’t click with me.

There are these mad looking designs out there. Huge patterns and logos scarring what would be nice glasses. On my last hunt, I barely found anything I liked.

For many years, in school, I had very thin, almost invisible frames. I lost them immediately. $100 or so of my folks money – bam! Gone.

Later in my teens I got a spare pair – black rimmed ones. They stayed with me for almost a decade, when the more expensive, thinner ones came and went.

When I went back packing, I decided to take these spare, black rimmed things with me. I lost them. But I like the style now. Black frames – that’s me.

Of course, proper black frames are classic, aren’t they? It’s like a thin black suit. All across popular culture. Clark Kent. Buddy Holly. Elvis Costello. And personal heroes like Rivers Cuomo and the members of the band Sloan.

In culture, glasses have been historically a sign of weakness, I guess. But it’s also been a sign of smartness. I do sometimes wear my specs to feel smart (it doesn’t work).

There was a time, aged 17, in the heart of my obsession with the band Blur, wear I wore my glasses when playing in a band (I also wore a lot of adidas). They broke. And I hate wearing glasses when I play. Sweat always steams them up, and I sometimes hit my the microphone, scratching them. So I stopped that madness.

Which is a little bit of a shame. Look at people like Buddy Holly. And Costello. Those glasses are their icons. A Buddy Holly best of just needs to have the glasses on the cover. It could have been some defining thing. Now they live in a box on the shelf, taken out mainly when I go to the cinema.

No wonder they kind of hate me.

Someone asked Bruno once if they could try on his glasses once.

He replied, “Can I try on your bra?”

It’s a line I’ve stolen.

Glasses are not a toy. I don’t like passing them around. Don’t ask. Only if you’re a friend. And you have a similar or smaller head size to me. Thank you.

I like girls with glasses. I always have. Nerdy/smart girls. Although two people kissing with glasses on is weird. Even just the hello peck. I’m afraid I’ll hit something, and an airbag will explode over my eyes.

I did, because I was asked to, had sex once with my glasses on. So, here I am, a guy who finds glasses uncomfortable, makes him self concious and weird. Have a guess how that went.

So what about contacts? Or laser eye surgery? I don’t think my vision is that bad. And I’m used to it now. I don’t really work with my eyes anyway.

They are a pain. Whenever I move, I pick up my glasses and think – you! I have to pack you too! Bastards. They just sort hang about no matter what.

But it’s like a bad marriage I intend to stick with it. Whenever I go on trips, I have things that I know I need. Like toothbrush, keys, wallets and ipods etc. These dozen or so things I will always bring. And the glasses case is a part of that. It has been something I’ve been doing all my life. I can’t quit her now.

My new specs

30 for 30: Mojo Magazine

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.


Mojo Magazine - I won all these ones

Mojo Magazine (The Music Magazine) celebrates it’s 200th issue this month (Tom Waits cover). It is the only magazine that I collect. That is, I buy them AND I keep them. I’ve been buying them for almost 13 years now.

I am not going to write about music in this 30 for 30 column specifically. But I am going to touch on some related issues, like this one. It’s more about collecting a magazine for years on end.

I still see, all the time, people with the National Geographic in their living rooms. Dozens if not hundreds of them, with that yellow spine. What is with that magazine? Were subscriptions super cheap? And people keep them – how often do they re-read them?

I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read one article in National Geographic in my entire life.

But there is something I really love about seeing magazines on a shelf. Metres of shelf space. The matching spines. The OCD part of me goes wild about it.

I think it’s a dying culture – the magazine you keep. The National Geographic. The New Yorker. Mojo. Major, timeless journalism vs contemporary events. I really think that people of my age will be the last generation to do this.

First Mojo I ever bought was issue 46. Funnily enough, Radiohead were on the cover. It was Campsie Centre, and in Australia we get Mojo Magazine about two months later than the UK, so it would have been November 1997.

I was buying anything and everything to do with music. And I remember seeing this magazine with Achtung Baby written across it, and a photo of four weird looking guys. Now, I know Achtung Baby is a U2 album, but those guys on the cover were not U2. What the hell? What is this Mojo?

So that cover stuck with me (it was issue 41). Years later I discovered it was Kraftwerk. The next month the newsagent had another weird one. John Lennon – looking uncool and almost dead. It was so different from Rolling Stone, Juice, Recovery Magazine and all that.

So finally by 46, I caved and bought the issue. Everyone was talking about Radiohead. It was a way into this magazine. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand half of it. I knew  very little of the bands discussed. But as usual, I saw it as a challenge.

I bought the occasional Mojo from then on, but didn’t get it month to month until around 65. By then I was all across the Nick Drakes and the Zombies of the world.

You can see the covers discussed here

Doug Thomas was the first person I ever met with a complete collection of Mojo Magazines. Doug is a legend in the Australian indie records scene, having worked behind the counter at some of the best record shops Adelaide and Perth had to offer.

I was friends with his daughter, the talented Stina Thomas (now a solo artist in Perth). Anyway, that first trip to Perth, visiting friends, was great and not relevant to this other than seeing Doug’s complete set of Mojos. I don’t know what about me sees stuff like that and decides I want it too. Something about conspicuous consumption speaks to my heart. I can still see it now – the bottom row of this shelf in the Thomas household.

So that’s always been the aim. The complete set. I have managed to find old Mojo magazines in various thrift stores, second book shops, Oxfams and dusty record shops. I am still a fair way off a complete set.

The oldest Mojo I have is 9. The Clash are on the cover.

Is it odd that I hunt down old magazines? Maybe. I do have a problem with stuff like this. Collecting weird stuff.  I do read them though. And hey, people collect stamps. So I can do this.

Why Mojo? Why not National Geographic?

The obvious answer is music. Mojo was the music magazine and nothing else. But there is something timeless about it. Or maybe more accurately – the consistently dated quality.

It just set the scene for me, regardless of what trends were going on. Take for example, issue 75. The lead article (really, like the LEAD ARTICLE and COVER) was a profile on four bands.

1) The Velvet Underground in their least popular period

2) The then-unknown Big Star

3) Fred Neil. I mean do you, even today, know who Fred Neil is?

4) The La’s. Yes, the weird one hit wonders that were the La’s.

Before the internet, Wikipedia, Allmusic and all that, this was my education into weird, old music.

That issue was over ten years ago and I still know what I learnt from that issue. If that gives you an indication of how good the writing is.

I guess it was around this time Michael Lock, a great music journalist, introduced me to Lester Bangs and other great rock writers. I started to appreciate Rock Journalism as a thing of it’s own. Michael never wrote album reviews, but he wrote profiles on bands. I know writers who do the reverse. The art of music writing was studied here, by me.

But everyone cool I know bought Mojo. Musicians. Record shop people. Scenesters. It was our bible. I remember Michael telling me about a t-shirt that Evan Dando had, that Gram Parsons wore once. And he just went to my shelf, picked out the right Mojo issue (56, Massive Attack) and showed it to me.

So Mojo was my ticket into that old man rock world. In my life, I’ve never had a problem meeting older men who can tell me about unreleased David Bowie tracks.

I buy Mojo anywhere and everywhere. Mostly I bought them for an extra $5 in record shops, to get them around the same time as the UK. For many years, the ritual was to buy it at Egg Records in Newtown, then walk over to café for a big breakfast, or dinner at Happy Chef.

Pretty much every Mojo I have has a few oil splatters, or tomato sauce specks. My memories of reading Mojo Magazine is tied to food, and eating out and by myself.

With this week’s, 200th issue, I did what I normally do. Instead of heading home, I deliberately stopped for food (a cheap and excellent laksa from Tuk Tuk, Baywater). Just on my own, read the magazine as I ate.

In fact, I clearly remember eating at the Happy Chef for the 100th issue. It was one of the few issues where the cover wrapped around, so I was being extra careful. But usually my copies are a bit battered around.

The second hand old ones I buy almost always has a blank crossword. Who is leaving these blank? I always do the crosswords and usually underline and write all over other bits as well.

I buy Mojo anywhere I am. I’ve bought one in Copenhagen (157). And recently in Oxford (199). I have never missed an issue this decade, no matter where I am and what I’m doing.

I have 70 or so issues here in London, and 100 or so in Australia. I can’t wait to unite the collection.

Other magazines have come and gone. No Depression ceased publication in 2008, calling an end to a 7 year relationship. I loved Chunklet magazine, but they put out an issue every two years – if you’re lucky.

Magazines like Q, Empire and Rolling Stone got too bogged down in current trends for me. I liked them for years, but they are more for current news than to keep for the ages. I’ve flirted with Record Collector. Dated Classic Rock. Performing Songwriter. Word. But I keep coming back to Mojo. I don’t even question the quality of it anymore. It’s become part of my life.

I would LOVE to find a film magazine that has the quality of journalism like Mojo.

So the aim in life now is to be a writer. And that could well mean writing about music.

I wrote about music in a Sydney street press column for years. I produced radio. I love talking about music. And Mojo definitely fueled that fire. It would be amazing to write for Mojo. It’s like when I played in a band and hosting Rage was the goal. Or maybe just have a letter published.

But that will probably never happen and it doesn’t matter. I will still be reading it. Hopefully the decline of magazines will be kind to Mojo, and I will be having a laksa, sitting down with the 300th issue in September 2018.

30 for 30: Podcasts

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.


Fresh Air's Terry Gross, hosting the show in 1987. Still the greatest interviewer we've ever had.

Something different for this entry.

Podcasts are awesome. They have been a big part of my life for the last 5 years. Every week, I spend hours listening to podcasts – which is more time than I spend on eating probably.

So it’s odd how little we talk about podcasts.

I’ve learnt so much about the world from them. They are such a rich source of interviews, entertainment, education, comedy – everything. All the things I loved about community radio and talk radio has now become podcasts. By subscribing to dozens of them, I have my own custom radio station, with just shows I like.

And it still seems like a secret world. It seems like most people I know don’t follow podcasts.

There’s also no discussion on great podcasts. Ones that help define the medium. I guess because it comes from all places – slick professional radio stations to one guy rambling into a macbook. Still, there is no critical council for podcasts – no reviews, no Oscars, etc.

It’s also hard to say what is best as there are just so many podcasts. It’s an utterly fragmented world.

So with that said, here are some podcasts I love. And some reasons why.

(Namesource/topics covered/format/frequency)

Fresh Airpublic radio/general interest/interviews/daily

This the place to start with podcasts.

Running since 1975, it’s one of the most highly regarded shows in public broadcasting in the US. Hosted by Terry Gross, it covers the gamut of life – from presidential candidates to obscure singer songwriters. Soldiers, actors, scientists, historians – they are all here, completely engaging. Gross is probably the best interviewer in the world – she has a casual air that draws in the listening and disarms her guests.

I have lived with Fresh Air for about 5 years and it’s the perfect daily podcast. Mainly because I can skip past the repeat shows and the topics that don’t interest me. But In any given week, there are 3 if not more shows I want to hear.

Sometimes I think Gross knows everything in the world ever. She can quote Vic Chesnutt lyrics in front of Michael Stipe and she can explain the global financial situation.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Mepublic radio/news/game show/weekly

The best produced podcasts on the web. It’s a game show about the week’s news, with a panel of always funny contestants, hosted by Peter Sagal (and sidekick Carl Kasell).

There’s no shortage of superstars walking through either – from ZZ Top to George Stephanopoulos to Leonard Nimoy. Once you get to know the format and the hosts, the show is hugely rewarding.

This is the first podcast I listen to on a Monday. It starts the week in a good way – informed and amused. Who else does one deal with life?

Sunday Night Safranpublic radio/religon, ethnicity/talk/weekly

There is no one else like John Safran. Shameless, fearless and tactless, he tackles the toughest subjects in modern life – religion and race. And he tears it apart, laughing the whole time.

Safran is joined by Father Bob, the 75 year old Priest who is a personality all of his own. Together they tackle the spiritial and racial threads in a variety of topics. Be it an art exhibition about a minority in Australia to interviewing Richard Dawkins.

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. It does make you think though, as Safran and Bob take things apart very cleverly (if they aren’t fighting).

It’s one of the few podcasts I follow from Australia, as most of the ones I loved has now stopped (top of the pile was Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope).

The Onion News Networkoriginal content/humour/news parody/daily
websiteiTunes (audio)iTunes (video)

The Onion has been lampooning news since 1988. Their service offers two podcasts – audio news and video news.

Audio news sounds like a radio station news break. Short and sharp – the stories are usually under a minute (and always hosted by the awesome Doyle Redman). Some headlines include ‘God Cites Mysterious Ways As Motive For Killing’. It’s definitely out there.

The real treasure though, is the video stuff. Made like a 24 hour news network would look, with it’s own branded shows, the Onion News Network is some of the funniest things you’ll ever see.

Some of my all time faves

‘Iron Man 2’ Buzz Heats Up Over Rumors Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Punched In Face

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Those are a few of many, many excellent videos. The Onion Sports Network is a spot on parody of ESPN, to the point where it’s been comissioned for a weekly TV show. I also love Today Now!, the morning magazine program. But really I love it all.

So the point is this. Some of the best comedy virals from the last decade have come from a podcast! Why aren’t we talking about it?

Popdoseoriginal content/pop music and culture/talk/monthly

One of my favourite blogs is popdose.com. A few months ago they started a podcast – three of the writers sit around and discuss music, life, and make terrible jokes.

This could be the best and worse of what podcasts have to offer. The three guys – Jason Hare, Dave Lifton, Jeff Giles – are pretty average pop music nerds. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s like talking to people who share your interests. I have never, ever, had a conversation about how much I think John Mayer or Daryl Hall are assholes. But I feel like I have with these guys.

It’s amateurish, but charming. Great stings. This is what homemade podcasting can be. I have big plans to ape this format.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo Film Reviewsradio/film/talk/weekly

This is the opposite of popdose. This is a proper BBC radio show – probably THE BBC film show. Simon Mayo is the best interviewer Britain has to offer. Mark Kermode is a fantastic film head too. Together they make quite a team.

The show goes out on a Friday afternoon. But I don’t have to worry about that. For the last year or so, it’s been my Saturday morning listening. I don’t even have to get up at the same time each week to catch it. It’s just there. I don’t miss a second of it.

Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must download this.

Coffee Break Frenchoriginal content/language/educational/monthly

I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my French up to a conversational level. I take classes here, read books and of course, any excuse to visit France itslf is taken.

But part of it is Coffee Break French, the best of several French podcasts out there.

The advantage of the podcast is I can follow the lessons at my own pace. I can relisten at my leisure. There’s 80 lessons up there now, and I just make my way through them. It has helped me a lot. Just don’t ask me any questions in French.

Sound Opinionspublic radio/music/talk/weekly

“The world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show.”

That’s how they bill themselves and I have to agree. Made out of Chicago, and hosted by esteemed music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Sound Opinions is the one must-have music show in the podcast world.

It skewers to the critics world – new indie, and old Mojo mag stuff – but they will dig out big names, modern heroes and underground treasures – often in the same show. Mixed with music news, desert island discs, live performances, new album reviews, classic album dissections – there is nothing else like it for music buffs.

There are dozens, if not hundreds more. This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Comic book ones. Doctor Who ones. The famous Ricky Gervais one. The almost as famous Stephen Fry one. The legendary BBC Desert Island Discs. And dozens of other music ones. Lots of great cooking ones.

Anything and everything under the sun.

So – let’s start a conversation about podcasts. What do you listen to? What do you like about them? What doesn’t work?

I’d love to know. Because I think podcasts are cool. And it’s time I started telling people.

30 for 30: JD Salinger

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.


One of the very few photos of JD Salinger

I love the works of JD Salinger. He is best known for writing The Catcher In the Rye, but also a series of short stories, many of which used the same characters. He died earlier this year, prompting me to revisit his work. It hasn’t lost any of it’s power on me.

I can’t remember her name.

But I can remember what happened. Clearly, like it was yesterday.

It was in the last years of high school, and I attended an all-boy’s school. But, thanks to lack of funding in the public school system, the music class for our school was merged with the music class from the local all-girl’s school.

It was cancelled entirely in my year (I mean, schools cancelling music. No wonder I’m such a left winger)…but the year below me was the first to take this new merged class. And Tristan, the bass player in our first band, was in that class. So thanks to rock ‘n’ roll, we got to visit the girl’s school.

O, that weird place known as the girl’s school! Such wonders. Such promise. Such mystery. We would exit those gates, watched by other jealous boys. And be greeted by suspicious looks of other girls, wondering what we were doing there.

Girls with guitars are so sexy, and there was one really excellent band from the girl’s school. They played late 90s radio rock – Hole, Blur etc. They’d play at, you know, school fetes and stuff. As would our band. But, we never really hung out with them. Thanks to Trist, there was another bunch of girls we hung out with. But those girls – they were the BAND.

Being in a band in a school in Nowhere, Sydney wasn’t actually very cool. And it didn’t help break down the gender boundary. Seeing a girl from the BAND at the train platform – they would be surrounded by their friends anyway. Even though we shared this bond of both playing in bands, I was not making it easier to go up to them and chat.

So one afternoon, I was visiting mum at her work, which was close to school. I got distracted and so it was about 5pm that I finally got to that train platform, to head home. The platform that is usually full of teenagers in uniforms mucking about – that exact thing that I can’t stand now.

Of course at 5pm, there was no one there. Regular life had set it, and those trains that are full of students had well and truly passed. In fact, the platform was pretty much abandoned, except for one girl.

The singer from the BAND.

It was the one and only time we ever spoke, alone. She was cute as a button and, of course, I had a massive crush on her. She was the singer and guitar player – just like me. I always figured we’d get along. In my mind, there was no one cooler than us two. Maybe if we got together, we’d be like the Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann of our schools. That was the thought anyway.

She was reading a book when I got there – The Catcher In the Rye.

I’m not sure if we have ever been properly introduced but we knew who eachother were. And we talked; we talked about mutual friends. Some guitar stuff (like reaching those troublesome 14th and over frets). And we talked about Catcher In the Rye.

My clearest memory is saying how I thought it was such a boy’s book. It’s about a teenage boy, and all those silly boy-feelings of being a teenager. I asked her what she got out of it, and she said it was good to see how boys think.

By all this, our train had come and we reached my stop. I said goodbye, and saw eachother around, but we never really spoke again. I have no idea what happened to that girl. She was smart, confident, musical and cute. I still remember her, and I remember what she said about The Catcher In the Rye.

And I can’t even remember her name.

The Catcher In the Rye was given to us to read in high school. It takes the honour of being the only book I ever finished in high school. And English was my best subject.

So how did I get through school without finishing a book? It was easy. And once I figured out the trick, I never looked back.

You see, they don’t TEST you on the ending. They test you on the themes, the characters, etc. And any book worth studying, well the characters make themselves known at the start and the middle. As for what happens at the end – the teacher will always tell you about it in class. Or someone else will.

Take Great Expectations. I still don’t like that book, and I’ve never finished it. But I know about the rich vs. poor thing, how Ms Haversham’s wedding dress is a symbol, blah blah blah. Pull out a few quotes, that were probably discussed in class anyway, and you are off.

And Great Expectations sux in the exact way that The Catcher In the Rye doesn’t. It isn’t obvious. The author isn’t trying to say “look at how smart I am”.

I was pretty hooked from the beginning and finished the thing easily. So it was kind of crap that the mark for my Catcher essay was worse than my Great Expectations one.

Guess you can’t explain love.

One last story about Catcher from my teenage years. There was another girl – a girl I deliberately wont name. I knew her from around.

It was a different sort of crush. And she was a very different sort of girl. She was my age but she wasn’t in school. Problems in her family meant she was living with some guy. But she slept around, did drugs, and got through life a day at a time.

She loved music though. She loved Oasis. She loved Supergrass. And like all girls that age, she loved Ash. She dreamt of moving to London, as most music fans did in 1997. And I was that music guy in her life. I would make her tapes, lend her NMEs and Q mags, and we would listen to records and smoke. Sometimes, we would kiss, but it was mainly me trying, and her forgetting to not let me.

It occurred to me, even then, that her dreams were so unrealistic. I wanted to probably draw comic books or play in a band – and I had plans on how to do both. Impossible plans, but plans none the less. But her – she just sat there, in this guy’s apartment, occasionally having sex with him, smoking her years away.

I thought she was beautiful. I can still see her face. I can still see it as it was sad, and then I’d tell her something like I have the new Blur single in my bag, and her whole face would smile. Not just her mouth, but her face – eyes lit up, eyebrows stretched high. Maybe those smile muscles had been waiting for a reason to come to life for a while.

My copy of The Catcher In the Rye at this time was stolen from the local library. It was a nice old, almost pocket sized hardcover. Battered to bits. Light blue cover with only writing on the spine. It looked so cool I had to have it.

She had never read a proper fiction book, and I guess I was raving about it. I figured it was the perfect book for a beautiful, broken teenager. So that copy of Catcher I had, I lent it to her. I’d ask her if she’d read it every time we saw eachother, but she never did.

She disappeared sometimes for weeks on end, but she vanished altogether shortly after that. What mutual friends we had never saw her again either. I was too scared to go to her place on my own, and by the time I thought I should, months had passed. I figured she’d moved on to a new life, and to leave her too it.

She took that copy of The Catcher In the Rye with her, and I wonder where it is. Is it in a police lock up somewhere? Or a bin? Or did she finally meet some guy, one who took her to London?

Maybe she read it on the plane there, and loved every word.

So I haven’t even talked about Salinger yet – but girls is one of the many things I love about JD Salinger. He wrote some of the best female characters.

There is kind of a stock female character that Salinger writes about, and it’s the pollyanna. The bright, sunshiney, curious gal. And so many of his stories are about what happens when someone who hates life meets someone who loves it.

In ‘For Esme, In Love And Squalor’, it’s a young soldier who meets a girl, before he goes into war. He promises to write to her. Then, in the second part, he writes to her, after having been through the most terrible experience in his life. The contrast between the two shows us what war has done to this young man.

But there is also women as a destructive force. It’s most powerful in the “The Laughing Man”. The Laughing Man is a fictional some superhero type, and his story is being told to some kids by Chief, the head of this boy scouts kind of thing. The boys love the story, and they love Chief. Chief meets a woman and the stories get more exciting. Chief’s girl comes and meets the boys – but one day she isn’t there. Laughing Man’s adventures dwindle, and Chief…Chief is never the same again.

That’s just two of many stories he wrote. And these amazing stories and characters I still know by heart.

I wish they would finally publish all his short stories properly.

The reason they don’t is because Salinger – the man – was a recluse. Most biographies conjecture that he was also a racist, a health freak, a Mormon and god knows what else. We don’t know what’s true and what’s lies – but we do know that shortly after The Catcher In the Rye came out, his first and only novel, he moved his family out of New York and was barely seen or heard from again.

He did make himself known in the control over his work. He had strict rules for everything – from book jackets to people wanting write books about him. A lot of the work he had done for journals like New Yorker, have never been collected.

I found all this out and did some hunting around. I discovered the wonderful Bananafish website. And all those unreleased or under-published works were all online anyway. I printed out several hundred pages on A4 and started to make my way through this hidden stuff. I got a nice folder for it and I still have these print outs.

It’s a bit like hearing a band’s demos actually.

He’s probably the most famous recluse in the world – up to his death earlier this year. There is something about recluses that fascinates me, and adds to my Salinger fandom. There are almost no photos of him. In this world of over information, a mystery is so seductive.

But now that he’s dead, I figure the flood will come. All the stuff that was around but trapped from before Catcher, to almost 50 years of writing since. I’m excited but scared at the same time. I hope it’s good.

So what does The Catcher In the Rye mean to me?

If I ever fell in love with language, it was here. Holden’s voice was so engaging – “all that David Copperfield crap”, “phonies”, “swear to god” etc. It wasn’t a story being told AT you. It was a kid telling you his story, and sounding like he doesn’t want to be there at all.

It’s the doom and gloom too. Holden feels trapped. He sees the worse in everything, but people around him are actually awful. The teacher who tells him he has to conform. The prostitutes, the phoney jazz musician, and people clapping at all the wrong times.

It helped define how I saw the world. How I treated people. Made me realise that adults can be idiots and to look out for that. And if people can be idiots, then maybe I’m not wrong about the world, and screw everyone else. I’ll be me then, not them.

But the most important lesson for me is the one that Mr Antolini tells Holden. To write things down. Because someday someone might find it, and it might help them. Part of the reason this bit of writing exists is because of that advice.

Although my fandom has died down, it still simmers lightly all the time. I bought yet another copy of Nine Stories when in France (because “For Esme” is set in France). I am always delighted to meet someone named Zooey because it’s likely from Franny And Zooey. My first stop in New York was Central Park – I wanted to see where the ducks go.

I made Karen see Finding Forrester, a kind of terrible film but was a homage to Salinger. She hated it. (Next time, on her choice, we saw Jurassic Park 3). Karen’s favourite Old 97’s song was Roller-Skate Skinny – a term that comes from Catcher.

I finally found a nice edition – a hardcover reprint with a replica of the original dust jacket – a few years back. When I saw it, I knew it was the way I wanted to own that book. Problem solved.

I’m still excited to meet people who love his work. And I still meet people who I think could be helped by reading Catcher. I haven’t read it in years but maybe it’s time again.

If you’ve never read one of those ‘classic’ novels, this is the place to start. If you have and don’t know anything else, I recommend Nine Stories. You’ll love it. I swear to god.

30 for 30: Chess

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 men at the giant chess board in Sydney's Hyde Park

I play chess.

I learnt chess in year 6, from my teacher Mr Creek. He was very good, and could play 6 of us kids at the same time. Sure we were amateurs, but that’s still pretty cool.

After that, I found some books from the library and read further. I picked up some strategies and learnt to read notation. For a while, I was hooked. Yes, I was that Chinese kid who played chess at lunch times. I blame school for encouraging this. And Nirvana were still a year away from kicking everyone’s ass.

I don’t really play anymore – only the occasional game with a friend. In my early 20s I flirted with online chess. Macs come with chess so sometimes I play chess as I’m watching some movie that I’m forcing myself to sit through.

I’m also nowhere near as good as I used to be. It’s that thinking-5-steps-ahead thing. It’s hard to think about one thing over and over in this era of information overload.

You see, here’s the thing I like about chess.

1) There are rules. Pieces can only move a certain way. There is a finite number of possibilities of what the next move can be. There may be many possibilities, but they are finite.

2) Next, each move leads to MORE possibilities.

3) For me, good chess is about limiting your opponents possibilities. Create places they can’t move. Pin pieces down. My moves should limit your moves.

So it’s almost like a video game. This wave of possibilities coming at you, and getting rid of them, almost like some first person shooter. That’s how I visualise it anyway.

Maybe that’s why I find chess so much more exciting than most people. It’s like a shoot-em-up video game in my mind.

I have a style. I have certain moves and a certain way I like to play.

A find this akin to playing guitar. I can hear some guitar players and think – hey, they play like me. Not that I watch many chess games, but I have a style and I could spot another player’s style as being different to mine.

For example – I will always go for a Queen’s sacrifice. I will take your Queen if it means losing my Queen. Because, I hate the Queen. Too many possibilities – it’s too powerful.

The rest you will find out when you play me.

I love the big chess set in Sydney’s Hyde Park. If you’ve never been, it’s a big public chess board near the fountain in the north end of the park. The pieces are maybe a metre high, and it’s always old men challenging eachother. (There are smaller chess boards nearby)

It’s so close to everything, and you could just sit there with some takeaway after a day of wandering around town. I’ve been to other public chess places – Union Square in NY is one of the more famous. Another cool one in Amsterdam near the start of Vondelpark. I like the vibe of these places. There is something old fashioned about it.

(Who goes to Amsterdam and finds the chess? I do. Loser.)

Nigel used to work for the city council, and was responsible for bringing the giant pieces to the Sydney chessboard every morning, and picking them up at 4:30 in the afternoon. I imagine this dude, with a ute full of chess pieces, driving around the busiest part of Sydney. What happens when the pieces get damaged or stolen? I need ask Nigel that one day.

I wonder if these places are dying out. You don’t see many young people in these places. Mostly old men. And, quite cool, mostly strangers. All they have in common in the game.

Like in most places I guess, Sydney had a bunch of regulars. And they were hilarious. There is one guy – a tall, Dutch looking guy – who was obviously the Cartman of the group. The Regulars would heckle him, and laugh at his bad moves. In a joking way – it was friendly heckling. But taking the piss out of your mates in public – that will never die out.

I tend to think of chess as a thing done in cold countries. I guess most of them, back when I was learning, were Russian with names like Karpov and Kasparov. I guess that’s why Bobby Fischer caused such a storm, being American and becoming world champion.

I played in a band that even had a song about Bobby Fischer. It was one of the most successful songs we had. I read a book about him once – he was a crazy bitter racist.

But chess is everywhere, right? Just in the last couple of years, I’ve seen it played in Lost, West Wing, Frasier, Flashforward etc. There’s Seventh Seal – where the Knight plays chess with Death. And then Bill and Ted ripped it off. There’s that scene in Charlie Wilson’s War where the weapon’s expert plays chess against several people. Or History of the World Part 1, where the King uses real people.

There are many famous chess players as well. Stanley Kubrick. Woody Allen. Bob Dylan. Schwarzenegger. It’s not just dorky young kids with thick glasses. Madonna does it too.

It’s everywhere. Catcher In the Rye. Harry Potter. I see one of those Twilight books has a chess piece on the cover. I know a lot of people who don’t play chess. I wonder why they never learnt? It’s fun – more fun than I’m making it out to be.

I don’t have any desire to see the musical Chess though. That looks shit.

The large Dymocks book store on George St has a basement full of games. Amongst them were chess boards. Some really nice, really expensive ones. I’ve always wanted to buy a proper one. I would walk past them all the time, see the price, then move on!

I have a little magnetic travel chess set. It does the job. Also, most computers come with chess these days, and I’ve even bought a decent chess game for my phone.

I’d like to get a proper one though. One day. And keep it out, all set up. Always in the middle of a game with someone from the other side of the world. Like I’m some sort of James Bond villain.

I just need someone to play with. I guess it’s something to bank when I’m old. I have many good friends who play. Maybe I’ll be writing about chess again when I’m 60.

30 for 30: Comics

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 fold out cover to X-Men #1 - the highest selling comic book of all time

I went through two intense period of buying comics. One was from ages 10 til 17. The second was around age 25, just before I left Australia, up til now.

Fun fact: a week after I quit collecting comics the first time I started going out wth my first girlfriend.

That first period was mainly about superheroes. (Did you know that ‘superhero’ is actually a trademark co-owned by Marvel and DC? Such a joke – no wonder those two companies are still running the comic book industry.)

The second period has been more mixed. Some alternative stuff, lots of older stuff, still the occasional superhero thing. But the big defining theme of my second tenure in comics is the trade paperback.

I have no idea what my first comic was. It would have been borrowed off a friend at school. But comics taught me, at barely 10 years old, that I wanted to OWN something rather than borrow it. If I read a comic I liked, I went out and bought it. It’s something I’ve carried over into music, books, DVDs and more.

This was around 1991, so I was there to buy X-Men #1. At over 8 million copies, it is still the highest selling comic book of all time. Along with all the X-Men and Spiderman books, I had pretty much all the big guns – Daredevil, Fanstastic Four, Batman, Superman, the Flash, etc.

My teachers hated comics. And I was an argumentative little shit, and would ask why. Comics get a bad wrap, but even that highly commercial, glossy, 90s era of comics brought some real goods. Acclaimed books like Marvels, Kingdom Come etc are rightly considered in great BOOK lists.

(I was, of course, too young to have been there for the 80s revolution that has truly broken through to the mainstream. Watchmen. V for Vendetta. The Batman from the current movies is very much Frank Miller’s dark take on Batman)

I gave up around 17. It was a slow petering out rather than a big decision. I was buying up all sorts of music. I was seeing movies more. Hanging out after school with friends in the city. Meeting girls. All age gigs. And of course, end of high school studies.

And the comics got really shit anyway. Overblown, crass and saturated with holographic covers, trading cards, all sorts of stupid shit. It was all big events where you had to buy 30 comics a month just to keep up with the story…or maybe I just grew out of it.

The comic book industry as whole crashed in the mid 90s anyway. I was part of the reason. I had enough, and I left it to rot.

I went on and fell in love with Bob Dylan

I learnt a lot from those 90’s superhero comics. A hell of a lot. And I will go to my grave defending comics.

First and foremost, I learnt how to read. I make absolutely zero bones about this. English is my second language and I was reading English for maybe five years up until comics, and still spoke broken-ish English with a strong accent.

So every day, several times a day, I would read comics. And why it was different from reading books was because my English was not good enough to read Friedrich Nietzsche, but every issue of the 1991 mini series the Infinity Gauntlet started with a Nietzsche quote.

So I’m ten years old and I’m reading amazing stuff like “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

And lets face it, I was not really going to come across this stuff in school.

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

That was used in the Incredible Hulk #425. Bet you didn’t know that shit at age 12. I did!

It wasn’t just random literary quotes. Words like ‘intergalatic’, ‘radioactive’ etc. Not only were they hard – they fired my imagination. I learnt words like ‘hybrid’ from comics.

Just run your eye through your average list of characters to find so much more. Morlocks. Nova. Doomsday. Even Daredevil. I didn’t know what a daredevil was when I was ten. I looked it up.

The point I’m trying to make is I was buried in thoughts, words and ideas.

There was great sophistication in the writing too. Great science fiction ideas. The Hulk meeting an evil future version of himself. The wonderful Marvels series, which we are told classic stories from the point of view of an average person on the street. My mind exploded every week from all the cliffhangers, plot twists and mysteries.

As I got older, I cared less about the big graphics and more about the stories. It led me into my next phase of comics. More ‘adult’, thoughtful, character driven books like Starman, Bone, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Zot!, Astro City and more. I’d also read books ABOUT comics like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It’s this era that I really, really loved comics. This stuff is so great, I can’t even describe them to you.

A lot of that stuff was independently published. Or if it was published by Marvel or DC, it was on an imprint. (The most famous work of this era, of this style, is probably Neil Gaiman’s Sandman)

I learnt a million things from these comics. I mean – Oscar Wilde was a recurring character in Starman! It’s the same neat trick that stuff like Doctor Who pulls off – it’s entertaining and educational. What a great head-fake.

I would buy comics from everywhere. A lot of those places depress me now.

Comic Kingdom on Liverpool Street. God that place just depresses the hell out of me. It still looks like the 80s, and I’m pretty sure the staff is still the same people. They just never got the memo that the 90s and 00s happened. They were too busy reading old issues of the Phantom.

Comic Kingdom’s main competitor is Kings Comics on Pitt Street. The staff are young and hip. There are plenty of girls on both sides of the counter. They have lots of movie merchandise, toys, posters and stuff. The store looks great too.

The thing that depresses me about Kings Comics is the same thing that depresses me about indie record shops. Every time I’m in there and I want something and they don’t have it, it just destroys them. And it’s so much more expensive than Amazon.

Not that Amazon is any good. They never have anything in stock. They don’t sell single issues. There is a massive gap in the internet for a comic book online shop – deals with the distributors directly, digital comics, single issues, rarities and old collectables, etc.

I wonder how the iPad and such devices are going to affect comics. I like physical artifacts – but I love the promise of a good story and with great artwork a lot more. It will b like music I guess – some digital, some physical.

Funny how people talk of in-demand entertainment, I think of comics. This is what I had for years. I would buy a stack of them. But once I had them I could read them any time, at my own pace, and re-read them at my leisure. I didn’t wait for a TV show or make sure I’m home at the perfect time. Or wait for a repeat. I’ve been doing in-demand for 20 years.

I still probably have 10K+ comics at my parents house. They are mostly protected in bags, and they are in nice boxes. Although they haven’t been taken care off and I lug them everywhere I moved when in Sydney.

These days I buy Trade Paperbacks. If you don’t know the term, it’s basically a bunch of comics grouped altogether in a book. Most bigger bookstores carry them now.

I don’t know how I got back into it – but I blame the internet. It was just so easy to come across news. And slowly, I peeked back to see what my old friends in tights were up to. I never went back to X-men, but I’m amazed to see that X-Men #1 is now up to 236. But my tastes have changed, and I walk right past the kiddie stuff. Although, I don’t look down on it one bit. I wonder who all these new superheroes are…

So I’ve re-bought a few of those comics I loved as trade paperbacks (or even some fancy hardcover versions). I will probably get rid of a lot of them when I get home. There are lots of valuable ones in there. It might take some time to sort it all out.

I read all the comic book news because some of the websites are really good (Comic Book Resources and Newsarama in particular). I think the music industry could learn a hell of a lot from how the comic book business works. A lot of what I read and see on those sites informs a lot of the ideas I bring to my own work.

The best example of that is this Saturday. Free Comic Book Day was a daring initiative to bring both new and lapsed readers into comic shops, with exclusive products on the day, and creators doing instore events and working behind the counter. It is basically the model for Record Store Day. So if you’re around on Saturday, go visit your local comic shop. Cool things will be going on and pick up a free comic while you’re there. There will be something for everyone.

Finally, for me now, I still buy comics. I get the eventual trade paperbacks, collecting six months or so worth of stories. So I dip in and out – I don’t hang out at my comic shop several times a week anymore. I am going to back and reading old stuff, and trying to keep on top of all the great new work that is being created every month, if not every day.

30 for 30: Smoking

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.


I had my first cigarette in school, like most people do. But it wasn’t until I was around 20 that I really, really took to it.

Now, I know there’s no way to justify smoking. There just isn’t. It’s utterly indefensible. I don’t really support people taking up smoking – although if you are a smoker already, then chances are I love having a cigarette with you. The best way to avoid it is t0 never start.

Tara once told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she just went for that whole ‘Just Say No’ campaign of the 80s.

So, with that said, none of the following justifies smoking. I’m going to say stuff like how much “I like Zippo lighters”, for instance. And an adoration for Zippo lighters in no way justifies the slow destruction of my body.

These days I am down to a pack every 3 or 4 days. A couple during work and a couple at night. Packs in London are only 20s, whereas in Sydney for many years I was half a (25) pack a day.

The real numbers come up when drinking. I can probably go through 2 cigarettes a pint, and I’m consciously pacing myself. If I’m drinking at a beer garden and sure no one will notice, I will chain smoke when I drink.

Smoking suits my restlessness. As Jo said to me once, it’s really unfair how she, as a non smoker, doesn’t get to just go out of a building and have a few minutes to herself, several times a day.

I especially loved this when I was seeing gigs and going to pubs and clubs. 2am, sober, surrounded by drunken hipsters and loud music – the excuse to get out of there for a few minutes is heaven. I don’t know how people stand being in those places for hours upon hours. Grabbing your drink, a fellow smoker, and getting a break from all that – it’s brilliant.

Constantly heading out for a cigarette – a few times a day for ten years – I wonder how it’s affected me. Has it turned me further into an introvert? In any given situation, I can get up, go, and just be in my own thoughts almost straight away. Just stop, and think.

The other thing is I’ve perfected is the five minute conversation. Heading out for a cigarette is an open invitation. Basically, anyone in your little party is allowed to join you. And you have five minutes to find that common ground, roll around in it, then head back inside. It doesn’t matter if you’re a friend of a friend of a friend, etc who just turned up for a little bit.

I have gotten to know a lot of people this way. Not many friends I know are smokers – but most of my best friends are. We just spend more quality time together. I think of my friend Piero, who I worked with for a few months. But our cigarette breaks were where I really got to know him. People I’ve worked closer with for 4 times that length – I know nothing about them.

My Dad smokes. And I don’t remember anyone else in my family smoking, growing up. I think my brother must have when we were younger. Mum hated the things and still does. Even aunties and uncles were pretty much non-smokers.

Not that Dad ever gave me a cigarette. It did his health no good in the end. He shouldn’t be smoking, but it’s hard. He’s old, and he’s been doing it all his life. Think about how easy it would be for YOU to give up something you’ve been doing several times a day for decades on end.

Don’t give me that “It’s killing you” bullshit. If I said to you that you had to give up ice cream, or chocolate, or coffee, etc. After you’ve had it for DECADES. It’s not easy. And it’s not like it’s a sudden, allergic reaction. One bit of ice cream is not going to kill you. But it will make you sicker, as your whole body is getting sicker anyway. So get off that high horse.

But I bring that up because that is justification for my Dad. I still have the odd cigarette after dinner with Dad in our backyard when I’m home. It’s our time together. We both wait all day for that moment. Who wants to live longer if I can’t have those moments.

I can’t roll cigarettes. If I could, I think I would have saved thousands of dollars over the years. In a way, it’s the coolest way to smoke. And so often, I feel like a few puffs but not a whole cigarette. Rollies would be the way.

Learning now kind of feels like giving in. Learning a new skill to help improve my smoking, and to save me money in doing it, seems like a big commitment. And every smoker is trying to cut down or quit. That just seems a step in the wrong direction.

Also, learning seems embarrassing. I know in theory how to do it, I just need to buy the filters and the tobacco and practise. Just sit around one weekend and smoke and practise.

But buying tobacco and filters at the same time, makes me feel like I’m a kid smoking for the first time. You know when you skipped school and you could smoke, but of course you didn’t even own a lighter? And you would buy smokes AND a lighter and it would give you away? I’m turning 30 and I still feel that way. I feel like if I buy filters and tobacco at the same time, the guy behind the counter will declare me an amateur and take away my smoking rights.

My brand is Marlboro Lights. On the odd chance there isn’t Marlboro Lights I would smoke Camels. This has happened maybe 4 times in the last decade. In France I smoke Gauloises because I am a try-hard Frenchie and I would do anything to pretend I lived there.

Why Marlboro lights? Mainly because the musicians that I liked who smoked, they smoked Marlboro lights. Before you declare me superficial, this is the reason why music sponsorships are a multi million dollar industry. Also, I’m not alone in this. Marlboro Lights are what the Strokes smoke. I know nothing else about the Strokes. But In know THAT. Because someone told me. Also, I know what my friends smoke. It’s just something I notice.

I try to get soft packs if I can but they are harder to find in London. There is a very specific way of ripping part of the foil at the top (on just one side of the sticker on the top face) so they dispense easily but the pack still keeps it’s shape. The advantage of the soft pack is they don’t destroy every pair of jeans you own with sharp cardboard corners. They also look a million times cooler.

My first lighter was a proper sized Bic lighter. I still have it, I know where it is. I prefer the smaller Bic lighters, the ones that are like 5cm tall and run out in barely a week. I went through so many of these. They are also light and small and slip easily into a soft pack once you’re had three or four.

In London, I use clipper lighters. This is because one of my first jobs in London, the company I worked for created boxes of promotional lighters. Then they worked out they couldn’t send lighters with flammable liquid in the mail. So I took a few boxes. 4 years later I still use them.

I have been given some great smoking presents. My favourites are the Zippo with the Fender logo on it (Casey), a cool 1930s looking robot ashtray (Marianne) and a flip top ball thing that was also an ashtray, that I adore (Johanna).

When am I going to quit? I really don’t know. Honestly, I probably never will completely.

There’s that age old image of the old man having a cigar after dinner. Maybe with a bit of whiskey. Knowing my friends, that cigar will be a joint. A small indulgence. And smoking will be mine. If I ever do quit for a while, and I start again, then that’s just the way it is. I don’t really take the idea of quitting seriously.