Life is a massive balancing act from the molecules inside our cells, to our heart and arteries, to our immune system, our digestive system, our lungs, our kidneys and our brains. This set of balances, as you now well know, is called homeostasis. Give our bodies a bit of a push, then like a punching bag clown, our body bounces back upright, ready for the next punch. Too many punches, the bag starts to lean at an angle, and later it might deflate entirely. The battering has shifted the balance – the homeostasis – and that’s how we lose our youth. Dr Norman Swan ‘So You Want To Live Younger Longer?’

So many things have bounced back now that COVID is magically no longer a thing. However, one thing that remains in my life is the presence of Dr Norman Swan (and Tegan Taylor) via the What’s That Rash podcast. For me, TISM’s ode to Dr Norman Swan sums it up best:

Voice beautiful, despite its gloom
The Scots heard still, the vague
Whose resolute, calm, patient tone
Will guide us through a plague”
Data remains a plural noun”
“Some things, when lost, are gone”
Thus guarded must calm reason be
So we thank you, Doctor Swan
Some – quiet, strong
Spend all their lives waiting until they’re found
When feckless us in panic need
Those recondite but sound
Scream on, you Sky News buffoons who
With toddlers rage assert
Truth’s needlе should deflected bе
Because its sting may hurt
For soft and clear, his voice remains
When yours – futile – declines
He tells us what we need, not want
Truth is beauty… sometimes

Source: TISM – Dr Norman Swan

I remember during the pandemic hearing Swan talk about this life and books as a part of the Conversations podcast. I was therefore intrigued to dive into one of his books, especially as it was read by the author himself. I am always a sucker for a book read by the author. I therefore decided to dive into So You Want To Live Younger Longer?

I wondered if Swan’s passion for the theatre might somehow come through in his reading of the book. Sadly, the reading of the book was sometimes patchy as it tried to combine a series of after edits, which is always challenging with the human voice (speaking from experience.) However, I really enjoyed Swan’s writing style. He has a knack of bouncing between the hip granddad, with all his slang and hashtags, and the serious voice when required. (I am assuming that he might possibly say that the hippocampus can only tolerate so much lecturing?)

The book itself is broken up into ten parts:

  1. Sweat the big stuff
  2. Eating – not fasting – holds the secret
  3. Which pill and why
  4. Outrunning the clock – staying young with exercise
  5. Bugs, bowels and hormones
  6. It’s not so back to change what’s on the outside
  7. While you’re waiting on the magic pill of youth
  8. Does the mind matter?
  9. Here’s what you can do at any age
  10. The air we breathe

Each part is then broken up into further sub-parts, beginning with a short summary and a hashtag. Overall, there is a lot of intentional repetition, used to highlight particular key points. For example, I kept hearing Teagan Taylor’s gong every time Swan mentioned the ‘Mediterranean Diet‘. In some ways, it actually felt like an extended episode of the What’s That Rash? podcast as many of the topics delved into in podcast are covered in the book, such as botox, suduko, red wine and skin care.

For me, the book sometimes felt like a meditation on living a healthy life, as much as an explicit guide, in that there is no clear straightforward solution for how to live younger longer. Yes, Part Nine provides a summary of all the different things that you can do at each particular age and is probably the place to go if you want to get straight to the point, but as Swan continually touches on, this is all something of a continuum. For example, if you never smoked, you are obviously going to have a longer life expectancy than someone who does. However, this is not to say that there are not benefits for anyone at any age to kick the habit.

What I enjoyed about this book is that it tells you all the things that you can do knowing that nobody is going to necessarily enforce them all in one hit as that would be unrealistic.

The goal of this book regardless of your age is to help you get to your 90s and beyond in the body and with the brain of someone much younger. As you’ll discover, it needs a bit of work. So if you’ve picked up this book in the shop looking for an easy answer, don’t buy it. Get one that promises something simple and unbelievable.

Source: So You Want To Live Younger Longer? by Dr Norman Swan

What I found particular intriguing, beyond the endless discussion of the Mediterranean Diet, was the benefit of education on health. Swan explains that those educated often have more money to spend on health and make more informed choices.

So what is it about women’s education that makes the difference? Well, this is what the Taliban do know.

Caldwell and others concluded that a lot of it has to do with the increased autonomy that women get when they can read and write, learn maths and proceed to higher education if it’s available. Family income goes up and demand for basic healthcare does too.

Source: So You Want To Live Younger Longer? by Dr Norman Swan

The other thing that I found helpful was Swan’s reference to different points of measurement. Personally, I always get exhausted by BMI scale, and felt that his reference to ‘Size 34’ pants a more tangible measurement.

Basically, if you’re male, regardless of your race, if you take a size 34 in jeans then you’re significantly more likely to be in better shape and have a longer life than the guy next to you at the rack who’s trying on a size 40.

Source: So You Want To Live Younger Longer? by Dr Norman Swan

Overall, with the final part, the book felt like one of those novels whose closing chapter changes everything that happened before. Swan turns his attention to the seismic impacts on our health that impact our health, such as global warming and the alleviation of poverty.

Most of the solutions require political will more than technological innovation. Fossil fuel burning – the cause of climate change – causes millions of years of lost life each year, equating to 4.2 million people dying prematurely every year – at least. Those are lives which could be saved, disabilities prevented and climate change mitigated all at the same time by rapidly moving to renewable energy sources. We’ll live younger longer on a planet that will see less catastrophic change.

Poverty alleviation, sustainable agriculture, economic development and access to high value primary healthcare will continue to reduce family size, improve health and damage the environment less. If that’s tied to high quality education, then that will even further enhance the reductions in poverty and improvements in health, wellbeing and longevity.

Source: So You Want To Live Younger Longer? by Dr Norman Swan

This touches on a comment Swan made in an interview in 2021 that Coronavirus was largely a ‘political pandemic’.

Interestingly, with all the discussions of medical drugs and the potential, there was no mention of ozempic. I am assuming that this highlights how things that ebb and change in only a few years.

All in all, I think that this is one of those books that will sit in the back of my mind as a reminder that there is always something more I could be doing with regards to my health.


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She had the odd idea that the terrorism question had become a fad, like body piercing or flares; a fashion that had come and would go like this season’s colours. Maybe, thought the Doll, if it was just like fashion, it was simply about a few people building careers, making money, getting power, and it wasn’t really about making the world safer or better at all. Maybe it was like Botox, something to hide the truth. Richard Flanagan ‘The Unknown Terrorist’

The Unknown Terrorist, the fourth novel by the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, tells the story of Gina ‘Doll’ Davies, a stripper who becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot. The various elements of her life, whether it be not having a bank account or the job that she chooses to do, mean that she is made the scapegoat for a terrorist threat.

Gina Davies, also known as the Doll, a 26-year-old exotic dancer in a Sydney, Australia, gentlemen’s club, undergoes this Kafkaesque experience. On the night of Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade, she sleeps with a man she has just met, an attractive Syrian computer programmer with a cocaine habit. A day later, after his sudden disappearance, she has been turned into Australia’s most hunted woman — or, as a newspaper would have it, the “Dancer of Death.” By following the desperate flight of this once normal, now supposedly lethal, woman, Flanagan suggests the accused herself has become the victim of an insidious institutional terrorism.

Source: Unusual Suspect by Uzodinma Iweala

The novel progressively unfurls from there, jumping between various interconnected characters, including her friend Wilder, the current affair host Richard Cody, ASIO spook Siv Harmsen, drugs detective Nick Loukakis, manager of Counter Terrorism Unit Tony Buchanan, and the man with a lot of money, Frank Moretti. Along with bouncing between the different characters the novel bounces between the constant noise of the media, the various vested interests associated with each of the characters, and the truth of the situation as seen by the omnipotent reader.

Through the novel, Flanagan explores ideas around power and terrorism:

I’m important to them, Wilder, because if you can make up a terrorist you’ve given people the Devil. They love the Devil. They need the Devil. That’s my job. You get me?”

Source: The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Identity:

At the club you danced for money, and you danced because you were Krystal or Jodie or Amber. The one thing you never dared dance was yourself.

Source: The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Media, truth and reality:

“It is horrifying,” Siv Harmsen agreed, “and we need stories that remind people of what horrifying things might just happen.”

Source: The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

And perception:

There could be no doubt about it; they were Australia and, looking around Katie Moretti’s grand dining room and its new furniture and its splendid view, it was readily apparent to them all what Australia was, and all of Australia was as splendid as it was obvious—it was them! It was their success and their prosperity; their mansions and apartments! Their Porsches and Bentleys and Beemers! Their getaways in the tropics! Their yachts and motorcruisers! Their influence, their privileges, their certainties! Who could doubt it? Who would question it? Who would wish to change any of it?

Source: The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

I originally read Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist in 2008. I was led back to it after reading Trent Dalton’s Lola in the Mirror and thinking about characters who exist outside of or on the edges of society. It is always intriguing to think about how the worlds differ, in particular living a life without a bank account in our progressively cashless society and the development of social media. Published in 2006, it is very much a reflection of a post-9/11 world before platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, came to the fore.

It was also interesting reading it after the recent stabbing attack at Bondi Junction and the way in which the media misidentified the killer. However, rather than being hunted down, the misidentified killer sued for defamation. In his review of The Unknown Terrorist, David Marr questioned the reality of the situation Flanagan portrays. Marr asks where the defamation lawyers are? Or why Gina Davies does not ring a lawyer?

Where was the defamation lawyer at Channel Six asking “What are our defences?” before Cody’s one-hour mishmash of guesswork and grainy footage – also called The Unknown Terrorist – went to air? And it doesn’t really help if the answer to that question is: stop being picky, this is a thriller. Without a sense that these horrors might happen, there’s not much thrill, either.

Source: The Unknown Terrorist by David Marr

When I originally read The Unknown Terrorist, I had not read any of Flanagan’s other books. However, I was curious coming back to the book after reading Flanagan’s Man Booker winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Although they are different books, what they share is a respect for the complexity of life and character. Flanagan sets the reader up for certain judgments, such as working as a stripper, only to then peel back layers to add details about past upbringing or past relationships that force the reader to reconsider these simplistic points of view. This is something that Peter Conrad touches on in his review.

Despite all this puffery, Flanagan’s homeland is no longer a community, hardly even a society. Its people, like the lap dancer with her craving for designer clothes, are mired in materialism, obsessed with mortgages, superannuation payments and the acquisition of the latest, shiniest gadget. Their venality makes moral cowards of them, and the government terrorises them into brown-tonguing Bush by appealing to their economic anxiety and to their skulking xenophobia.

Source: Days of thunder erupt Down Under by Peter Conrad

The only problem with this is that The Unknown Terrorist often depends upon the same clichés and stereotypes it is trying to critic in order to dig deeper into the truth. As Magdalena Ball captures in her review:

The book is full of clichés and stereotypes as brutal as those Flanagan criticises. The poll dancers who talk about the Doll are all utterly vacuous. The bad guys, Lee Moon, Frank Moretti, the anchorman Richard Cody, or the wealthy people at Katie Moretti’s party are all characters with no depth or dimension to render them realistic. Sydney itself is seen as a kind of game park with grungy areas like Kings Cross, suburbian areas like the West, or wealthy areas like Double Bay all fulfilling their stereotypical functions

Source: A review of The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan – Compulsive Reader by Magdalena Ball

Even with all these flaws, I enjoyed The Unknown Terrorist, I guess I bought into the suspense of Flanagan’s thriller and attempt to capture a world beyond the stereotypes, to explore the haves and have nots, even if that is problematic at times.


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There’s power in being nobody. When you’re nobody, you are free to be anybody. Astronaut. Actress. Archaeologist. Or even a lowdown, dirty, send-her-straight-to-hell, suburban drug-slinger. Because if nobody can see you, then nobody can see your shame. Nobody can see your sorrow. And nobody can catch you crying your heart out. Trent Dalton ‘Lola in the Mirror’

Trent Dalton is the man who wants to tell you who you really are. With Lola in the Mirror he demands people to notice a reality that often does not get portrayed or left invisible. A world masked by a ‘xanthous’ hue, ‘Tyrannosaurus Waltzs’, of the houseless (not homeless), debt to drug and so many names that one is left wondering which one is true.

The novel centers on a 17-year old moving from town to town seemingly on the run from life until we find her and her mother living in cars and showering in gyms. She is held together by her art and the dream of one day going to art school and having her work displayed at The Met. Similar to Boy Swallows Universe, she is embroiled in a world of drugs that drags her back in even when she tries to leave.

As seems to be the way with Dalton’s writing, the narrative is infused with magical realism which glues everything together, whether it be the stranger with the cricket bat at the right time or the character speaking back in the mirror. However, interestingly Dalton flips this magic and uses it to build out the protagonist:

The mirror was never magic,’ Lola says.
‘It wasn’t?’
‘Of course it wasn’t. Magic mirrors don’t exist.’
‘Then how come I can see you now?’
‘Because you are magic,’ Lola says. ‘You’ve always been magic. You’ve never needed a mirror to see who you are.’

Unlike Boy Swallows Universe which is set in the 80’s and All Our Shimmering Skies which is set in the 40’s, Lola in the Mirror is set in the present (2023/2024). However, it does not feel as if time matters as much as place. For example, the pop references are not necessarily of the now, as there are as many references to the eighties (including the quintessential Gray Nicholls double scoop) as there are to Taylor Swift, but the commentary on the ‘houseless’ and the Olympics is very much about Brisbane.

The artist said she worried about what the Olympics would mean for all the people she knew sleeping rough. She was concerned they’d be driven out of the city. She pointed out that the Olympics would start in winter and all the warm and safe spots to sleep in would be off limits.

Some critics have argued that there is a danger of trivialising the complexity of homelessness and domestic abuse:

Aside from reducing human behaviour to unhelpful categories of good and evil, it also implies offenders are easily spotted, when they often are disturbingly innocuous, everyday people. To dress abuse, however abhorrent, in a villainous costume doesn’t aid understanding – it impedes it.

Source: Lola in the Mirror by Trent Dalton review – a misguided bootstraps story drowning in sentimentality by Jack Callil

I can appreciate this concern with the optimistic tendency of rags to riches, but I wonder if there is at least benefit in raising it as a point of conversation? Or maybe I should just be reading more Christos Tsiolkas?

In the end, Dalton explains in his acknowledgements that the river is more than a place, it is a metaphor for “whatever stuff you carry inside that turns and stirs beneath your skin” that we are rescued from. Dalton talks about people pulling him out of the water, but I wonder, even with the triviality, if the strength of the book (or any book to some degree) is to pull us out from what is inside stirring. This is something Damian Cowell captures in his song ‘The Future Sound of Nostalgia‘:

That song will be her friend, what a wonderful thing to be.


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“A bee sting smarts like a bitch until someone clubs you with a cricket bat.” Trent Dalton ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

Boy Swallows Universe is the debut novel from Australian author, Trent Dalton. Set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe in the 1980’s, the story tells the tale of Eli Bell, a child finding his way in an often chaotic world. Throughout, it explores ideas of family, friendship and fate in a fantastical world.

Whether it be the references to sport (“catching us mud crabs with claws that bulge like Viv Richards’ biceps”), music (“He played a cassette tape of Van Halen’s 1984 all the way home”) or television (“‘Which planet has the most moons?’ asks Tony Barber inside our fuzzy television, posing questions to three contestants on the pastel pink and aquamarine set of Sale of the Century.”), this somewhat strange story has a way of feeling normal. However, it is far from normal. This is something Dalton touches on near the end of the novel.

She looks out from the foyer to Mum, Dad and August, now waiting at the edge of King George Square.
‘I thought they’d look different, your mum and dad,’ she says.
I laugh. ‘You did?’
‘They’re so nice,’ she says. ‘They just look like any normal mum and dad.’
‘They’ve been working on normal for quite some time now.’

Source: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Whether it be children taken on drug runs, a father coping with alcoholism after nearly drowning his children, a mute child struggling with trauma, a child breaking into prison to see his mother, a child being pen pals with the head of a motorcycle gang or catching out criminals living double lives on a hunch, this book often feels more akin to ‘cartoon descriptions of a cartoon world‘.

Although Boy Swallows Universe explores a world of drugs and crime, this never feels like a brutal drama such as Animal Kingdom or Underbelly, although it has all the same ingredients. One reason for this is the perceived innocence of the adolescent narrator, something that reminded me of Marcus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. The strangest thing is that many of these other worldly oddities were a part of Trent Daltons life.

It was interesting to read Boy Swallows Universe alongside Andrew Stafford’s book on Brisbane, music and its politics in Pig City. Seen from a child’s perspective, politics is often off the page in Dalton’s world, while also ever present through fraud and donations.

Also, I listened to Stig Wemyss’ reading of the novel. After a few chapters, I managed to stop hearing Wemyss’ reading of Andy Griffith and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series.


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Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable. Christos Tsiolkas

The In-Between by Christos Tsiolkas captures the relationship between two middle age men, Perry and Ivan. Both are seeking love again, but also carry with them their own histories of regret that forever haunts them. Structurally, the novel is divided into a number of days spread over a several years. Through these glimpses into the everyday, we are given an insight into the challenges of balancing life in-between the past and the present.


I remember watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one of the many films that makes up the Marvel universe. At the start of the film, there is a bus scene where the hero is confronted by a group of thugs. One of the things that always seems odd in this supposed ordinary situation is who are the other people in these scenes? For example, what is on the laptop sliced in half by a sword? Did it have a PhD on it in draft format? Was it backed up in the cloud? None of this is ever addressed. Ordinary people do not matter when there are superheroes around. Whereas for Christos Tsoilkas, these other people standing on the edge of the stage are often placed front and centre and given prime place with the narrative. Whether it is an old couple on a train returning from remembering a relative’s passing or a palliative nurse looking out her window after a long shift in which her patient passed away, these moments not only add perspective, but remind us that there are people who exist both in and beyond the book. This is something Michael Williams touches on in his review for the The Saturday Paper:

There’s a trick Christos Tsiolkas does in his eighth novel, The In-Between. At several points in the action, as the central drama plays out in the foreground, the focus drifts away. Tsiolkas brings our attention instead to a passing youth on the street or the gaze of another commuter.

Despite these glances away, The In-Between is an intensely interior book with Tsiolkas’s trademark unflinching intimacy and access to the thoughts, fears, rages and lusts of his characters. It makes these other moments all the more acute when they occur. They offer us an external view of proceedings, giving us the distance to see our protagonists afresh

Source: Christos Tsiolkas – The In-Between by Michael Williams

What I like about Tsiolkas’ writing is his ability to capture the seemingly everyday. In The In-Between, he manages to make reference to everything from responses to Brittany Higgins rape allegation, changes to places like Preston and Frankston, Classic FM playing Talking Heads and Split Enz, the turn away from news and talk back, or capturing a situation on a smartphone. These various choices feel less like polemical statements, than being moments for the reader to ponder. As Tsiolkas stated in an interview with Raphael Epstein:

What I want from fiction is that it sets up questions.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Sean O’Beirne picks up on this in his review for The Monthly, when he talks about the unstable nature of our senses and perceptions.

Though of course plenty of writers can supply the smaller details, what makes Tsiolkas exceptional is his ability to show how excessive and unstable our senses are, how we never just enjoy our perceptions in some benign way, but find them turning continuously into greed, and then shame, and then greed again.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

Although the two central characters, Perry and Ivan, are in-between in so many ways, whether it be language, place, class or age, I feel that when it comes down to it, the book highlights how we are all in-between in some respect. For example, relationships are in-between, whether it be as a friend, a parent, a sibling. We are always in-between regarding the public and private. Conversations exist in-between. Knowing someone through social media, by ghosting them, exists in-between. As an extension of all this, I feel that the author too exists in this in-between, not dead, but not defined. Caught between characters, perspectives and points of view.


In a conversation with Tsiolkas, Rafael Epstein talks about how The In-Between allows readers to walking inside someone else’s shoes and see people more clearly. I am not sure if I all of the sudden know what other people think or feel after reading it, rather for me the novel provides a deeper appreciation of the other. For example, after rain, the grass often looks greener, while the smell of eucalyptus often perfumes the air. I felt the same after reading The In-Between, my world was not magically transformed, rather I was made more conscious of the world around. In response to Epstein’s comment, Tsiolkas suggests that,

Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

I like this point. When you have uncomfortable shoes, how become aware of every step.


I saw The In-Between come up in my new releases in my local library app and decided to unwittingly dive in. I was not disappointed. I think this is one of those books that will linger with me for a long time.


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These are the ways in which the stories of women get told – in music, in art, in literature, in science. I think about the women who are silenced by encounters with disparaging, or predatory, men; the women who think they are working as equal partners only to find their names left off the credits; the women who work to their own rules and are then patronised for not knowing the real ones; and I remember how much sheer bloody determination it takes to keep forcing yourself back into the narrative, back to centre stage. Tracey Thorn ‘My Rock 'n' Roll Friend’

My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend is the story of Lindy Morrison told by Tracey Thorn. It is compiled from a range of sources, including interviews, letters between the two artists, diary entries provided by Morrison herself, as well as existing accounts of The Go-betweens, such as an interview with Andrew Denton and Kriv Stenders’ documentary Right Here.

On the one hand Thorn goes into Morrison’s life in The Go-Betweens as you would expect. However, she goes beyond the tales told by and about Robert Forster and Grant McLennan as ‘the indie Lennon and McCartney’ to provide a different perspective on how things were with an attempt to correct the record.

I have carried with me all the way through the writing of this book this particular line from Rebecca Solnit’s essay [Grandmother Spider] as a template for what I’ve tried to do, the way in which I want to reclaim Lindy’s story, to save it before it’s too late and to add it to all the other lost stories. To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your own fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out. Why does it matter that Lindy has been partly written out of the story of the band? Because it happens all the time. LOCATION 2618

Thorn makes the claim that the band were always really a classic three-piece, with other members coming and going:

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION 485

Appealing to the reality beyond the myth surrounding Forster and McLennan’s friendship, Thorn suggests that denying Morrison’s contribution is the ‘final act of self-sabotage’.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. LOCATION 2481

Thorn, also broadens out to provide a different perspective on Morrison, one that goes beyond the ‘force of nature’:

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’.

Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’

Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’

Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close:

Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room.

An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

Thorn explores Morrison’s life before The Go-Betweens, her discovery of feminism, work with Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, relationships with Denis Walker, activism in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland, participation in the world of theatre, hitching around Europe, and playing in punk group, Xero. However, most importantly, Thorn captures a more more human fragile side to Morrison, especially when exploring Morrison’s letters she used to write to herself when growing up.

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION 1607

As Kitty Empire highlights, “this is a book about more than music.” It captures identity, friendship, culture, Gina Arnold suggests that, “the book is a reminder of the present, with Thorn using Morrison’s story to show the myriad ways that women continue to be underserved in the world of rock, despite being integral to it on every level.”

Listening to The Go-Betweens albums, I have always felt that they all seemed to lead to 16 Lovers Lane. However, after reading Thorn’s account, I have been left thinking that another way of viewing the before and after 16 Lovers Lane is a story of Lindy Morrison and everything that she brought to the ‘three piece’. I was also reminded about Ann Powers’ discussion of ‘band guys‘ wondering what she might add to this conversation.


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Hope is optimism with a broken heart. Nick Cave ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’

I stumbled upon Faith, Hope and Carnage via an interview Nick Cave did with Richard Fidler. There was a part of me that thought I knew Nick Cave. Maybe this was from following his blog, The Red Hand Files, or just the nature of him as an artist. However, there was something about the conversation with Fidler that really caught me. That lead to reading the book.

Faith, Hope and Carnage is a meandering on and off conversation between Nick Cave and journalist, Seán O’Hagan, captured on the page through fourteen chapters. Beginning at the start of the 2020 and carrying on through to the end of 2021, Cave walks through the process of creativity as it happens, as well as reflecting upon the death of his son, grieving, life and music. It is very much a pandemic project brought about by the strange times.

It really did feel like the end times had arrived, and the world had been caught sleeping. It felt as though, whatever we assumed was the story of our lives, this invisible hand had reached down and torn a great big hole in it.

Cave goes into how he wrote Ghosteen, the writing of Carnage, the creation of his ceramic figures and The Red Hand Files. He reflects upon the change to a more disruptive narrative after his son died, “narratives pushed through the meat grinder.” Cave also talks about the various inspirations, such as Stevie Smith, Elvis, Flannery O’Connor, and Rodin.

Built around conversation, the book seemingly goes where it goes. I imagine in another world, it might have been scrubbed of its contradictions, repetition and edges, but I feel that it is this disjointed nature is what makes it special. It provides an extension to Nick Cave the musician, extending the usual approach to his music to the actual text. Just as he explains that the wider “creative process is life and all it brings”, in some ways this all or nothing approach applies to the act of creativity.

Strangely, Faith, Hope and Carnage is a book that would not have worked any other way. The conversational nature allows the book to go to places and explore topics that might have otherwise be cut by the editor. It really feels like sitting in on a personal conversation. I think this is epitomised by the conversations about his mother or Anita Lane who both died midway through the project.

O’Hagan tries to structure the conversation. For example, there are times when he brings up old quotes which demonstrate this. However, as each chapter unfurls the topics stretch beyond any sense of expectation. Capturing this generosity, Richard Fidler describes the book as an ‘act of kindness’ for the reader.

Throughout, there are many themes explored:

Grief

Although grief involves ‘some kind of devastation’, Cave explains that grief often defines who we are and how we see the world. Working through this is usually about getting on top of the small things. On the flipside, grief provides a gift and opportunities, a ‘reckless’ and ‘mutinous’ energy, a sense of ‘acute vulnerability’, defined by the fact that the worst has already happened. In the end, we may not have a choice over life’s circumstances, however we do have a choice as to how we grieve.

A choice, a kind of earned and considered arrangement with the world, to be happy. No one has control over the things that happen to them, but we do have a choice as to how we respond. Page 103

Life

Like the gift of grief, for Cave, ageing is about growing into the ‘fullness of your humanity’, continuing to be engaged and respecting the ‘vast repositories of experience’. One experience that leaves its mark on us are those who die, leaving us like ‘haunted houses’.

I think these absences do something to those of us who remain behind. We are like haunted houses, in a way, and our absences can even transform us so that we feel a quiet but urgent love for those who remain, a tenderness to all of humanity, as well as an earned understanding that our time is finite. Page 148

Alongside the respect for experience, Cave suggests we need to celebrate regret as a sign of self-awareness or embracing uncertainty and the world of possibilities. We also need to be able to make mistakes and with that forgive.

We need to be able to exist beyond disagreement. Friendships have to exist beyond that. We need to be able to talk, to make mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. As far as I can see, forgiveness is an essential component of any good, vibrant friendship – that we extend to each other the great privilege of being allowed to be wrong. One of the clear benefits of conversation is that your position on things can become more nimble and pliant. For me, conversation is also an antidote to dualistic thinking, simply because we are knocking up against another person’s points of view. Something more essential happens between people when they converse. Ultimately, we discover that disagreements frequently aren’t life- threatening, they are just differing perspectives, or, more often than that, colliding virtues. Page 246

However, the greatest challenge is to keep turning up again and again.

if I look back at my past work from the certainty and conviction of the present, it appears as if it was a series of collapsing ideas that brought me to my current position. And what’s more, the actual point I’m looking back from is no more stable than any of the previous ones – in fact, it’s being shed even as we speak. There’s a slightly sickening, vertiginous feeling in all of this. The sense that the ground is constantly moving beneath your feet? Yes, exactly. So how do you deal with that? Well, I have learned over time that the creation itself, the thing, the what, is not the essential component, really, for the artist. The what almost always seems on some level insufficient. When I look back at the work itself it mostly feels wanting, you know; it could have been better. This is not false humility but fact, and common to most artists, I suspect. Indeed, it is probably how it should be. What matters most is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’ of it all, and I am heartened by the knowledge that, at the very least, I turned up for the job, no matter what was going on at the time. Even if I didn’t really understand what the job was. Page 247

This reminds me of Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going.

Religion

For Cave, religion is ‘spirituality with rigour’. With this, faith and God are the search itself, where God is both the ‘impetus and the destination’, and the question is itself the answer. He suggests that religion often serves a utility beyond sense.

Why would I deny myself something that is clearly beneficial because it doesn’t make sense? That in itself would be illogical. Page 78

For example, It provides a language of forgiveness often missing in secularism.

Challenged on his belief, Cave argues that scepticism and doubt are actually a means of strengthening belief. Interestingly, Cave talks about prayer as a form of listening.

Prayer is not so much talking to God, but rather listening for the whispers of His presence – not from outside ourselves, but within. It’s kind of the same with the questions that come in to The Red Hand Files. I think they are singularly and collectively trying to tell me something, which may just be ‘I am here’. I think they reflect my own needs. There is an exchange of a sort of essentialness, wherein we attend to each other through a sharing of our collective need to be listened to. Page 190

Music

For Cave, music is about transcendence, spiritual yearning and the sacred essence. It fills our ‘God-shaped hole’, our desire to ‘feel awed by something.’ It has the ability to ‘improve the condition of the listener’ by uniting people and ‘putting some beauty back into the work.’

Music is one of the last great spiritual gifts we have that can bring solace to the world.Page 204

Reflecting upon his current process of writing music, Cave discusses the way in which he makes music from the disparate parts found through improvising.

The nature of improvisation is the coming together of two people, with love – and a certain dissonance. Page 57

Associated with this, Cave talks about the ‘ruthless relationship’ he has with his initial ideas and his willingness to discard words.

the lyrics lose their concrete value and become things to play with, dismember and reorganise. I’m actually very happy to have arrived at a place where I now have an utterly ruthless relationship to my words. Page 15

He actually suggests that he has a physical relationship with his words and knowing what is right. This all reminds me Jon Hopkins’ process of building something to destroy it.

Surprisingly, writing music for Cave is not continual, but a deliberate time-based process. Something that reminds me of Mark Ronson who I vaguely remember suggesting that it was time to write a new album regarding Uptown Special. With this, the challenge with a new project is getting beyond the easy residual ‘deceiving ideas’, to “write away from the known and familiar”.

I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

All in all though, Cave explains that songs change when played live, it is when the fullness presents itself. A record is only ever one part of that journey.

Creativity

Cave talks about the way different mediums, such as The Red Hand Files or The Devil – A Life series of ceramic figures, allow him to step outside of his expectations.

My best ideas are accidents within a controlled context. You could call them informed accidents. Page 23

He explains that it is important to have an element of risk, such as taking on new and challenging projects or just being naïve, to produce creative terror that helps drive things forward.

I think to be truly vulnerable is to exist adjacent to collapse or obliteration. Page 45

The problem is that ideas often slowly rise and hold hands, with the gap between boredom and epiphany being very close. Astonishing ideas usually require faith and and patience. Sometimes ideas just need air in order to prove their validity. This is why conversation is so important. In the end though, although writing music may start with a ‘date in the diary’, Cave explains that the wider creative process is life and all it brings.

I really don’t think we can not talk about it if we are talking about the creative process. It’s simply part of the whole thing. The creative process is not a part of one’s life but life itself and all that it throws at you. For me, it was like the creative process, if we want to call it that, found its real purpose. Page 104

This reminded me of Damon Albarn’s description of ‘creativity as a condition.’


What I liked about the book is that in itself it felt like a form of conversation with the reader. With Cave seemingly changing stride mid-sentance, the reader is invited in almost as an equal. This had me thinking myself about grief and the importance of being vulnerable.

Additionally, I appreciated seeing a different side to Cave, not a real side, but a different presentation of ideas and thought. I think that this is also captured by the Cave and O’Hagan in the epilogue:

O’Hagan: I thought I kne you

Cave: I didn’t know that either until I opened my mouth.

I had a similar experience with Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love podcast and Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop, Bad Pop.

Written during lockdown, it also provides a reflection on life lockdown during lockdown as it happened, not as some retrospective. The initial positive potential to be able to do nothing, to put aside our issues, but then the growing frustration of such strange times.

We blew it. We squandered it. Early on, many of us felt that a chance was presented to us, as a civilisation, to put aside our vanities, grievances and divisions, our hubris, our callous disregard for each other, and come together around a common enemy. Our shared predicament was a gift that could potentially have transformed the world into something extraordinary. To our shame this didn’t happen. The Right got scarier, the Left got crazier, and our already fractured civilisation atomised into something that resembled a collective lunacy. For many, this has been followed by a weariness, an ebbing away of our strength and resolve and a dwindling belief in the common good. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a consequence. Page 154

I cannot remember the last time I read a book where I wanted to begin again as soon as I had finished it. I wonder if this says as much about me as it does about the book and Nick Cave.


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The actions that define culture are rarely deliberate. Culture is, in many ways, an accumulation of accidents, small gestures and stumbles that somehow end up sticking together like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. Every successful band has the moment when they almost gave up just before their breakthrough; every artistic movement has its rejections, arguments, and fistfights; every book has a graveyard of characters and scenes that were killed to make way for the story. The end result may look neat — libraries of books ordered alphabetically, artworks organized into linear chronologies — but the process of making culture is anything but. - Matt Locke ‘The Hot List: The Rise and Fall of the Singles Chart’

I was recently inspired to read Clinton Walker’s Stranded – The Secret History Of Australian Independent Music by the deaths of Ken West and Chris Bailey. Over the years I have watched various music documentaries exploring Australian music over the years, including Autoluminescent, Something In the Water), Midnight Oil 1984 and The Go-Betweens: Right Here, as well as listened to Damian Cowell’s Only The Shit You Love podcast and Double J’s series on the Big Day Out. However, it occurred to me that although I might have heard many of the names, my understanding of the history of Australian independent music is rather patchy.

My introduction in the 90’s to artists like Tex Perkins, Dave Graney and TISM primarily came via Triple J, Rage and the annual ARIA awards. Although there were programs like The J Files which would provide some of the back stories to artists and their music, for whatever reason, I do not remember these retrospectives addressing the history. For example, it would seem that Perkins giving the bird to Scott Morrison was pretty timid to some of the things he did in the past.

Walker’s book provides something of a ‘thick description‘ of the Australian music scene between 1972 – 1992, the bedrock of much of the music I grew up with.

It took time before my analysis of grunge came together, before I could see what had been under my nose all along—that its roots were Australian as much as anything! That’s perhaps why it never did much for me, because I’d sort of heard it all already. Grunge, the defining Sub Pop/Seattle Sound of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, was basically the sound of Australia’s ’80s underground—the Scientists, the Cosmic Psychos, even the Birthday Party, and bands like Feedtime, Grong Grong, Lubricated Goat and Bloodloss—mixed up with classic early metal, classic early punk and, I’d now add, AC/DC and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

Not only was Walker there for much of it, but he was a part of it as well.

Stranded is, for better or worse, simply my version of a history.

It goes beyond the world of Countdown, Farnsey and Barnsey, Michael Gudinski and the pub rock scene. Instead, it captures the rise of bands such as The Birthday Party, The Saints, The Triffids, The Hard Ons, The Beasts of Bourbon and The Go-Betweens. As well as the many other bands and artists who seemingly came and went.

Some of things that stood out to me were:

  1. How fluid, volatile and connected tge scene seemed to be. Often one band would demise only to have members pop-up in another band, if they were not already in more than one band.
  2. Hearing some of this music was incredibly hard. Whereas these days we might go online to listen or purchase new music, finding some of these pressings would have involved going to a handful of niche record stores.
  3. Place of covers. With so many bands forming on a whim, covers seem to play an important role in filling out a set or helping to define a bands sound. I feel that Walker’s latest book, Suburban Songbook, might have more to say on this.
  4. How many moving parts there were and are. It can be easy to think that success is all just about the music, but there are so many other parts at play. Whether it be the labels, the record stores, the local radio stations, the magazines, the venues, the promoters, the managers, the producers. Each play their own particular part in the rise and fall.

What amazes me about this book is that Walker was able to remember what he did. As he posits:

They say that if you remember the ’60s you can’t have been there. So much about the ’80s I can’t remember either. My journalism brings a lot back; I can’t help wondering if the rest isn’t best forgotten.

I guess the task of remembering is often ruefully aided with snipets from the artists in question that help provide further perspective and fill out some of the gaps.

There is so much more that I would love to know. This was the feeling I had after listening to Damian Cowell too. However, as Walker suggests, maybe sometimes it is best left forgotten.


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I am blood in the streets, the catastrophe you can never forget. I am the tide running under the world that no one sees or feels. I happen in the present but am told only in the future, and then they think they speak of the past, but really they are always speaking about the present. I do not exist and yet I am everything. You know what I am. I am History. Now make me good.

There are some novels where you get to the end and are left thinking more about yourself and the world you live in than the actual plot of the story or the characters. The Ministry for the Future is one of those novels. Kim Stanley Robinson imagines how we might save ourselves and the planet from the perils of global warming. This is not a blueprint with all the answers laid out neatly, but rather a provocation that asks many questions that need to be considered.

The story itself is loosely tied together by Mary Murphy, head of the UN Ministry for the Future, a group set up in accordance with Article 14 of the Paris Agreement.

The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement shall keep under regular review the implementation of this Agreement and shall make, within its mandate, the decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation. It shall perform the functions assigned to it by this Agreement and shall: (a) Establish such subsidiary bodies as deemed necessary for the implementation of this Agreement

It follows her journey in putting in place a number of steps and strategies to turn the tide on climate change. Associated with this is Murphy’s relationship with Frank May, a survivor from the extreme heatwave in Uttar Pradesh, the event which dictates the necessity for change. 

However, The Ministry for the Future is really a bricolage of many different voices captured through various texts, whether it be riddles, meeting notes, interviews and accounts. A kind of docudrama. These all combine to provide different perspectives for how things could get done. The reality confronted throughout is that global warming is bigger than a single person or a particular place. It is everywhere and a problem that never really settles. Something Timothy Morton has described elsewhere as a hyperobject.

Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place.

In an interview on the Marooned! on Mars podcast, Robinson describes The Ministry for the Future as a novella between Frank and Mary with everything else hanging off it. Therefore, as a structure, it challenges the conventions of the realist novel as it can never really be folded into a particular character. Instead it provides a perspective about how things could get done collectively from a number of perspectives and voices.

In the end, The Ministry for the Future is an example of near-future anti-dystopian science fiction, what Robinson has described as a shot ahead of a moving object that is the ever present. It is therefore an urgent book for now. A piece of modal schizophrenia that challenges the reader to consider what is and what ought to be. It raises many questions about topics such as violence, sacrifice, wealth, responsibility and what is actually possible. This challenge not only comes through the content grappled, which even at the end of the novel nearing the year 2050, still seems present, but also through the structure of the writing, whether it be the use of riddles to aid in thinking and reflecting or the fractured nature of the narrative that requires the reader to fill in the gaps as they go. I guess this is why Barack Obama included it in his books for 2020?

For a different and shorter perspective on the novel and the challenge of global warming, Kim Stanley Robinson presented a TED video recounting the story from the year 2071.


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If I can't quite be my own good mother, Ill find one in music. Her name is Enya. Chilly Gonzales ‘Enya: A Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures’

I have long been encapsulated by Chilly Gonzales and his ‘musical genius’. Whether it be his work with various artists, pop music masterclasses and minor christmas album, I have been enamoured with the way in which he manages to break music down to capture what is essential. I was therefore intrigued by a book on Enya.

I purchased the Enya: A Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures in good faith with little idea what to expect. I thought it might be some sort of technical breakdown of Enya’s work. Although I am always interested in what Chilly Gonzales has to say about any sort of music, I was not sure how interesting an extended breakdown of Enya’s music would actually be. What I had not expected was the way in which Gozanales used Enya and her music as a frame for his own memoir on music.

It was almost a joke that rose up from my unconscious. But it was my way in. With Enya as a constraint, I could finally write a musical memoir, the very book the publisher had asked for years ago.

Fine Gonzalas spoke about the Enya’s lullaby quality, the guilt often associated with liking such music, her use of the pizzicato strings on the Roland D-50 synthesiser in lieu of a rhythm track and the way in which she has managed her career by continually say no. However, often these references are merely jumping off points for Gonzales to reflect upon his own memories and experiences with music. Whether it be the relationship between harmony and melody:

Harmony is melody’s bitch, with no life of it’s own.

His desire for music that can be both serious and drop into the background:

This is what my Enya book is about. This idea of music that sounds good while you eat or party or take a bath, versus music that you give your full attention to. And you guys are having the wrong argument. It’s not that all music falls into these two categories. The goal of music should be to function on both levels. It’s like with people.

Disdain for loud voices:

Vibrato is a bit like my formerly beloved jazz fusion: technically very difficult to learn but even more difficult to listen to. But to sign with no vibrato at ll, to let the music itself do the emotional work is the purist’s choice.

And his preference for the music over lyrics:

Wordlessness works for me. I was never a lyrics junkie outside of my affection for listening to rap. Rap lyrics are direct, playful and journalistic, standing in contrast to the impressionistic, poetic style of singer songwriters. With some exceptions I listen to music where the lyrics are in the passenger seat. No one really hears or cares what the Bee Gees are singing about, and I doubt that a single Bee Gee would even dispute that.

In some ways Gonzales’ reflection on Enya reminds me of Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love podcast. Like Gonzalas’ constraint as a guide, Cowell uses his video series as a starting point from which to reflect upon music past and present. They are both musical memoirs of artists engaging in artifice. Maybe the real purpose of such texts is not to uncover the author but to provoke the reader (or listener) into considering their own thoughts and finding their own good mother in music.


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