Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sean Hughes changed comedy for my generation and he can't be dead, it's beyond stupid

A friend posted a link on the "Very Long thread" on Monday. This is a Facebook thread on my wall that has been going since September 20, 2013 and has generated more than 230,000 comments since, hence its name.

Friends comment on it about all sorts of things, with the sole aim to increase the comment count so we can eventually win some sort of prize. I mean, surely someone out there offers prizes for this kind of thing.

This link was a news article whose headline said Irish comic Sean Hughes had died, aged 51.

It is rare a headline that genuinely causes me to double take, then stare in shock. I am the fucking international editor of Green Left Weekly and we specialise in presenting the worst, most depressing news to the world, which, surprisingly, is largely indifferent.

I didn't even open the link. I did obvious thing and checked Twitter. Sure enough, people were tweeting that Sean Hughes was dead at just 51. Complications due to cirrhosis of the liver. I thought Hughes had quit drinking, but it seems he did for a bit, but went back on it.

Jesus, I looked hard at my beer reading that. Hell, I looking at the beer I'm drinking right now, thinking: "You bastard... your kind killed Sean Hughes!" (Still drinking it, though, I mean it is already open and booze aint cheap.)

These are my two favourite Sean Hughes' jokes:
"I read that they've just arrested six Muslim men in Birmingham under the terror laws. Is this ringing ANY bells? I don't want to alarm anyone, but if you're Muslim and live in Guildford, don't hang out in fours."
"I had very liberal parents, they insisted I call them Bob and Marge. I don't know why, it wasn't their names or anything."
The first joke is paraphrased from when I saw Hughes' in Sydney in about 2006, and refers to the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four — Irish people tortured, then framed up and jailed for years for bombings they had nothing to do with, of which the current treatment of  Muslims bears more than a passing resemblance. The second was part of his stand up in the early 90s and features in an episode on Sean's Show.

They represent the two extremes of Hughes' comedy, combining his capacity for biting social commentary with silliness —a stupid joke made funny by the cheeky, almost innocent way he'd deliver it.

It is difficult to describe what Sean Hughes meant to a certain section of people, people who were young in the early 90s and whose introduction to comedy that was raised almost to an art form came through the likes of Sean's Show, Hughes' groundbreaking anti-sitcom whose two series in 1992/93 was almost hypnotically hilarious. (A kind sound has just uploaded season 1 on youtube and Hughes himself uploaded season 2.

Australia was blessed to have it shown latish at night on ABC TV. In my house, we somehow managed to record on VHS the final episode of season one, which to this day I rate as among the funniest half hours of comedy I've ever seen. Me and my sister watched it endlessly, over and over. I can still recall many lines.

(Sadly, one I remember is his repeated declarations, in the face of things going wrong: "I'm only 26!" In hindsight, that was already past the halfway mark of his life.)

For season 2, we were better prepared, and more was captured. His running joke every time the phone rang, of quickly putting jazz on his stereo, then picking up the (toy) phone and waving it in front on the speakers before saying into it "Sorry, I'll just turn down the jazz!" is unforgettable. As is his follow up in episode two of "What, God? I told you to stop calling!"

And there was his way of ending a phone call, seen in season one: "Bye-bye, bye-bye" offered cheerfully into his plastic toy phone.

Sean Hughes holds a slightly odd place in comedy. He exploded onto the British scene as a young Irishman, winning the much-vaunted Perrier award for his debut stand up show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1990 — at 24, he is the youngest comic ever to win it. He broke ground for Irish comics. This predates Father Ted, much less Black Books and Dylan Moran, among others who followed.

His show was different to most stand up of his day -- more conversational, with an arc. That approach is common, even the norm, these days.

Also, he made a point of bringing things outside the mainstream into his TV show, at a time that wasn't normal.  It doesn't seem unusual now that his TV show talked a lot about The Smiths (including the immortal line "Everyone gets over their Morrissey phase... well, except Morrissey") , or that he wore a Nick Cave t-shirt in one episode, or had on The Cure or had Pulp play in the background in a different show (in 1993, a full two years before "Common People" made them huge).

This's why it can be hard to evaluate genuine trailblazers years after the fact -- looking back, what they did seems unexceptional and, without knowing the history, an observer thinks "well, that's not bad, but what is so special about it?"

Hughes was a transitional comic -- his impact was tied to a transition in comedy and he marks a sort of part-way point. He also played that role for me personally, and no doubt many others, opening the door to a different way of understanding and appreciating comedy. (He also, for better or worse, really introduced me to The Smiths.)

Although it wasn't the first to do it, Sean's Show broke the rules of sitcoms, tore down the fourth wall and turned the fact that it was a sitcom into a joke itself. Playing a version of himself, Hughes would acknowledge the audience directly -- in the first episode, he is shocked to discover a crowd of more than 400 people in his living room.

But what made it work was the sheer joy of it, the way Hughes revelled in the silliness of the show,  interspersing his stand up with running gags (in the first series, a sock never dried, in the second, he waged a constant war against scrabbled eggs stuck to a saucepan) and his wry, self-deprecating commentary on life.

The books he put out in the 90s of his writings, 1993's Sean's Book and 1995's The Grey Area, stand alone as distinct works. There is the cheeky, lovable character from Sean's Show and his stand up in there, but he includes serious poems and heartfelt commentary, too.

Reading them at the time, you could feel Hughes' attempts to break out of attempts to pigeonhole him within the persona he played on TV. I remember it often felt a little too self-conscious, almost forced.  But it was hard not admire his determined refusal to be turned into a commercialised "easy-to-sell" product. It also revealed a dark side to his character, and a sensitivity that has been widely commented on (most comments in the media after his death refer to him as "gentle" and "kind").

He deliberately chose to express all aspects of his creativity and humanity -- no doubt against publishers and agents advice to stick to the grinning, floppy haired, cardigan wearing lovable loser as-seen-on-telly.

This dual nature, being in the public eye, but refusing the constraints of celebrity, marked his subsequent career.  He was a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks from 1996 -2002, but walked away from what was no doubt a lucrative gig because he was bored with its formulaic format. Around that time, he also quit stand up. He wrote well-received novels and took acting gigs, like his criminally underrated role as "Mod" in The Last Detective series with Peter Davison. Yes, he played another lovable loser, but an even gentler one, marked by developing middle-age.

He returned to stand up again, on his own terms. He didn't earn the commercial success or operate in the public eye like in the 90s, but he did what he wanted. And he never wanted to be Michael McIntyre or tour stadiums.

A great moment from Hughes' later career that I'd never seen until now was an appearance he made on Celebrity Come Dine With Me -- in which he chose to serve stew to the judges for all three courses. With, as Hughes defiantly insisted when criticised, actual variations! But still, as the judges kept noting, nonetheless the same stew.

A stung Hughes defended his culinary creations by declaring: "With Da Vinci did they go, ‘I really like that painting, but it’s really like the other one you did with Jesus in it'? Jesus is in them all! It’s just disrespectful to a craftsman like myself."

A clip from the show can be seen here, featuring the judge's reactions, with a highlight being Hughes' contribution to "Christmas cheer" (for it was a Christmas special) being getting in a Smiths cover band to perform "Meat is Murder" and the ever OTT-sad "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out".

It is a cliche to say "we'll never see the likes of him again", but fucking honestly.

I saw Sean Hughes in Australia three times -- from my rather loose memory, in Perth twice in 1996 and 98 and in Sydney in about 2006. I was too young to have seen him when he came out in the early 90s, but short of that, I took all the opportunities to see him live I've had and there is no other comic I can say that about. If he'd toured again, I'd have seen him again. Now I won't.

In recent years, I have only thought sporadically about Sean Hughes, occasionally checking out what he was up to and enjoying what meagre offerings the Internet threw my way.

Since 2011, I've been performing stand up, to varying degrees of constancy. Thinking about it, I realise now that in my performances, there are some distinct mannerisms or ways of delivering a joke that are... well, let's be polite and say "inspired" by Sean Hughes. That were clearly borrowed from him. It's never been conscious, but it's real.

The simple fact is I wouldn't be doing stand up comedy if not for Sean Hughes. I love sketch comedy and that love has obvious sources -- Monty Python, Fry and Laurie, even Australia's Full Frontal, among others. But stand up, and that style of gag telling... Sean Hughes made me think it was worth doing. Whether that's to his credit or not... others can be the judge. Feel free to go to his funeral and heckle over this point.

Here are some lovely offerings from comics who knew and loved Sean Hughes:

Mark Steel and Rhona Cameron remember a friend who was a 'gentle soul, a proper comic'

Richard Herring's blog pays a wonderful tribute.

Matt Lucas interrupting an interview to pay respects to 'an icon of my generation'

And my personal favourite, this beautiful, heartwarming tweet from his Never Mind the Bollocks co-star Phil Jupitus about finding Hughes' Grey Area in a bookstore and the teller refusing to charge him for it.... I'm not crying, you're crying and somehow your tears have projected themselves onto my eyes, you fucking bastard!

(That story was actually quite appropriate, seeing as the introduction to Sean's Book includes a detailed guide on "How to steal this book", or otherwise get away with reading it for free -- and Jupitus came up with the ultimate trick, have the him die unexpectedly.)

There are many more, from fellow comics and others, that can be read from Twitter or just googling. They all combine shock with respect and awe for a man who blazed a path so many others followed, and whose influence was far greater than he probably ever know. The only way to end this is with Sean Hughes himself:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Poem! (three poems)

Here are three poems that form part of a... well a "trilogy", as I believe the kids call it. They are very important and I present them to you for your intellectual gratification and, most importantly, development.

A Poem!

This is a poem!
May it give you strength!
Although some say it is not very good!
Because it uses exclamation marks too often!
And awkwardly!
But exclamation marks!

A Poem! (II)

A poem! 
With marks of exclamation! 
For they indicate great points!
Are being made! 
In this great poem!


A Poem! (III)

A poem but
This time 
Without explanation marks 
The point 
Speaks for itself 
Without Them 
Ah fuck it
 I love exclamation marks!
A lot!!!
BUY ME A BEER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


(Copyright Carlo Sands 2017 like seriously do not even THINK of trying to steal these poems for your own commercial gain coz I I will fucking hunt you down.)

There they are! All three! About a topic very close to my heart! The exclamation mark! I know right? The Nobel Prize for LIterature is fucking rigged

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's not all bad, well OK a lot of it is, but still here is audio of me ranting on a stage

Well, a lot sure seems to be happening in the world.

I am sure like me, when you saw Donald Trump in Puerto Rico cheerfully lobbing paper towels at a crowd of people in that devastated Caribbean island, your first thought was: "Holy fuck, I'm also out of paper towels, what kinda natural disaster worsened into an extreme humanitarian crisis by a combination of climate change and extreme ongoing colonial exploitation do I have to organise to get the US commander in chief to chuck a few of them my way?"

Looking into the matter, it turns out the answer is "a pretty fucking bad one". Like we are talking a Category Five Hurricane so bad it caused Trump to stop golfing and actually visit after just two weeks, which is the highest level of severity meteorologists recognise.

Of course, Trump did more than that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He also wagged his finger at the Puerto Ricans, largely without electricity, clean drinking water ad with a gutted health care system already weakened by the savage austerity forced on the island by their US colonial masters that is unable to deal with potential disease outbreaks, and declared, as only Trump could:
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack ..."
This is a bit like if you've been stabbed by some random bloke, and your mate, who is driving you to the emergency department before the last of your life leaks out into the growing bloody pool on the passenger's seat, points out that the cost of the petrol for this trip is really stretching his fortnightly pay check, despite you knowing for a fact he has more than half-trillion worth of high-tech weaponry in his backyard.

Say what you will about Trump, but he has a brutal honesty that is almost refreshing. No hypocritical tears for the dead or pretence that the US state and or its corporate masters give a flying fuck for the half-drowned, already-screwed people of the US's "I Can't Believe It's Not a Colony" colony of Puerto Rico, which has been a "not-colony" colony since the US won control over the Caribbean island from the Spanish in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

In all-too-predictable news, almost two weeks after Puerto Rico was hit by the super-storm, the US was hit by another mass shooting, one of the deadliest in recent decades (though not in US history, as the Lakota could point out).

Such a tragedy has many repercussions, one of which is Australians enter a new round of smug self-congratulation about how, unlike those nutty Yanks, we solved our gun problem after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre when automatic and semiautomatic weapons were banned and we've not see a repeat of that horrific event.

No doubt this is to Australia's credit, so perhaps while we are on a roll having successfully managed one single positive  reform of note since 1996 about we may take some pride, perhaps we might, I don't know, consider not torturing innocent people in isolated prison camps, then abandoning them to their fate in impoverished Third World countries that cannot deal with them?

I know sometimes change is slow, and we're all a bit exhausted from spending the past 21 years patting ourselves on the back for the unprecedented (if you exclude large chunks of the world) wisdom in not letting nutcases have access to major weapons of death except when they serve in the SAS in Afghanistan,

But in the act of congratulating ourselves, we by-and-large missed yet another Black Death in Custody. Tan Chatfield, a 22-year-old Aboriginal man, died in custody at the Tamworth Correctional Centre on September 20 under what may politely be called "suspicious circumstances". This is only one of hundreds since the 1991 Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody laid down more than 300 recommendations to stop more Black Deaths in Custody — which have gone ignored and unimplemented.  In 2013, a review of deaths in custody by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody had increased over the previous five years.

Still, how wacky are hose Yanks with their automatic rifles and paper-towel throwing presidents eh?

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott, the ex-and-wannabe prime minister of the nation one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world,  gave an absurd speech in Britain, questioning whether climate change was real before suggesting that possibly it might be a good thing regardless, because more people die in cold than heatwaves (yes he fucking said that).

Abbott clearly sees himself as "Australia's Trump", so it is just as well he's not, I dunno, heading a government in Queensland greenlighting and providing taxpayer funds for a large corporation's planned mega-coal mine that will condemn the great Barrier Reef to death and drastically worsen the global warming crisis, which, just to prove I know how to shoe in a callback, contributed to the strength of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico.

No, that would be Queensland's Labor government, a government of a party that actually accepts global warming, but presumably just figures this planet is screwed so let Adani hasten our fate.

But it is not all bad! Not only is their push back on protests on these things (such as the growing campaign against Adani), no, even better! Here is some dodgy audio of me ranting on a stage, recorded on the first night of my solo show Inspired? at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival! (Warning: it starts abruptly, as I had forgotten to turn it on, so just begins with me yelling about something...)

I am very kindly providing this to you all for free, coz that is the kinda guy I am. Just a decent guy and not at all desperate to get my angry voice out there for some sort of deeply disturbed personal reasons I have never investigated for fear of what might surface. However, the show was a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so if you wish you can make a donation to the publication, which relies entirely on supporter donations to survive.

Friday, October 06, 2017

If there is anything more beautifully moving than Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing Guy Clark, I don't think I want to know

I'd rather sleep in a box like a bum on the street
Than a fine feather bed without your little ol' cold feet
I'd rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine

I'd rather die young than to live without you
I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew
It's once in a lifetime and it won't come again
It's here and it's gone on a magnolia wind

I'd rather not walk through the garden again
If I can't catch your scent on a magnolia wind

If it ever comes time that it comes time to go
Sis just pack up your fiddle Sis pack up your bow
If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all
I'll just sit this one out with my back to the wall

I'd rather not hear pretty music again
If I can't hear your fiddle on a magnolia wind

There is a lot wrong with this world, but there are some compensations, at least, for the seemingly never-ending horror show. Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing this beautiful song by Guy Clark is one of the best.

Clark's original is great, but this version —from a Guy Clark tribute album — raises it to new heights. The song works brilliantly as a duet, with the melodic voice of Harris contrasting with Prine's soft gruff-yet-breaking voice, which is close in its effect to Clark's original vocal.  This contrast draws out the interplay between the sweet romance and melancholy at the song's heart — where the beauty of a genuine love is contrasted with the prospect of its inevitable end.

Country music can get a bad wrap, but it is a serious form and, like all genres of popular music, it can be  done well, badly and everything in between. The likes of Clark (who died last year aged 74), Harris and Prine are, without question, among its finest exponents.

From the same generation (Harris and Prine are both 70), all three were leading figures in the serious and artistic wing of country music, operating in the grey area between general "folk" music and country, committed to the craft of storytelling.

And if any of the three were to start their careers now, they would no doubt be labelled, not as "country", but "alt-country" or the ever-vague "americana". And maybe that doesn't really matter — labels are just words and can never capture any artists contribution, and does more the box them in than anything,.

But still... I cannot help feel sad that so much unspeakable shit gets to take the label of "country" these days, when the stuff that comes from the heart, from the roots, gets shunted off to some other, sidelined genre or subgenre.

BONUS TRACK: Clark's friend and talented country singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell, on the same tribute album, sings Clark's extraordinarily poetic song "Old time Feeling".

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.

And that old time feelin' draws circles around the block,
Like old women with no children, holdin' hands with the clock.
And that old time feelin' fall on it's face in the park,
Like and old wino prayin' he can make it 'till it's dark.

And that old time feelin' comes and goes in the rain,
Like an old man with his checkers, dyin' to find a game.
And that old time feelin' plays for beer in bars,
Like and old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are.

And that old time feelin' limps through the night on a crutch,
Like an old soldier wonderin' if he's paid too much.
And that old time feelin' rocks and spits and cries,
Like and old lover rememberin' the girl with the clear blue eyes.

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sexuality is complicated, but homophobia is very simple

(content warning: homophobic violence, suicide)

I try not to talk too seriously on this blog -- except on the life-and-death matters of country music or Tom Waits, because some things are just profound spiritual matters about which no joking can be allowed.

But I’ll admit I’ve been taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the homophobic attacks reported as part of the "non-binding postal survey" we are having in Australia on whether to allow marriage equality. Much as been heard of Tony Abbott not being hurt by a headbut unrelated to marriage equality, far less is reported about a trans teen being bashed in the same area of Hobart

I probably shouldn’t be so shocked. It is clearly there, but as a heterosexual man, I guess I have the privilege not to see it. (I sometimes find privilege a strange concept, there is little privilege for most people in this society, just a series of different fucked up shit people are subjected to that gets worse the more intersecting oppressions you are hit with, but if not fearing violence because of who you are is a privilege, I definitely have it).

It has made me think about something I don’t really make a point of talking about -- which I think is in itself a privilege. I simply don't have to and so, as it is very personal and I don't generally talk about personal things, I simply don't.

I don't doubt my sexuality, I know I am straight. I know this clearly not despite, but because, my first ever romantic and (some forgettable fumbling notwithstanding) sexual relationship was with another man.

The first person I ever feel in love with, at about 18 or so, was another young man. And it was an intense relationship, romantically and physically. And I was very physically attracted to him.

And so you can imagine that for an 18 or 19 year old to go through this, it poses some big questions about sexuality that had never really been posed to me until then. I was pretty sure I was attracted to women. And yet I was also in love with a guy.

This young man then proceeded, the fucking prick, to break my heart by breaking up with me after an intense six month or so period. He was right to do so, of course. He was about 17 at that point and really didn't need to be weighed down by the sort of ultra-intense relationship I was determined to offer.

We remained best friends, and our physical relationship continued on and off for years — essentially, as long as neither of us were in serious relationships, it was "on" whenever we saw each other, which became less frequent once we started living in different cities.

This experience obviously caused me to ask serious questions about my sexuality. If I was attracted to this guy, then obviously, why not others?

But it didn’t take too many further experiences to figure out it didn’t translate in general. Other experiences with men just didn’t really leave me feeling anything at all. I just didn’t particularly enjoy them.

The conclusion for me was clear: I am heterosexual with the capacity for exceptions. My subsequent relationships have all been hetersexual. While there is no rule to say this will always be the case, I imagine it is pretty likely to remain so and I say this as result of experiences that make me confident on the question of my own personal “preferences”.

The young man I feel in love with and had such a romantic and physical attraction too, however, was gay.

Like me in reverse, he also had some sexual and even romantic experiences with the opposite sex, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t any more bisexual than I am. He was a gay man who had some experiences with the opposite sex that didn’t really stick.

That young man is also dead. He committed suicide in 2005.

It would be reductionist and wrong to suggest his suicide could be directly connected to his sexuality. It is very hard to prove what role any of the various aspects of his life ultimately led him to his grave at just 24.

What is known is the far higher suicide rate among LGBTI people. LGBTI people, especially youth, are killing themselves at unacceptable levels because of the sort of homophobia this campaign has encouraged to express itself publicly and often violently.

He was my best friend and, whatever role his sexuality directly played in his death, it is true that he was subjected to pressures I have been able to avoid by the pure chance of me being heterosexual and him not. 

So it is hard to take the homophobia rampant right now and not be reminded of him and his fate.

I honestly feel that most people with violently homophobic feelings are either hiding something (from themselves as much as anyone) in regard to their feelings towards the opposite sex or to gender in general, even the simple fact of being capable of finding romantic or physical pleasure in the same sex. I am not even saying they are necessarily gay or bisexual. Just that sexuality is not straightforward and sexual preference means just that -- preference. Not a 100% iron clad rule.

And the sooner our society comes to view sexuality as nothing more than a personal preference, with none more valid than any other -- and therefore all relationships being entirely equal -- the sooner we can end the violence and its consequences on the human psyche.

I hereby promise, and this is a promise you can absolutely trust, I will never, ever refer to my sex life on this blog ever again.

To ensure I keep this promise... for fuck's sake, vote yes and fight to end homophobia.

'So you say it's not ok to be gay, well I think you're just evil...'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

'This world's been shaved by a drunken barber's hand' -- a playlist for my stand up show 'Inspired?'

Slaid Cleaves.
Now, I've been pretty quiet about it, I know, but I actually do have a solo stand up show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival next week, in fact on Wednesday and Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 6pm. Just in case if you are interested at all.

I don't care. I don't care if you attend any of the shows at are at the Container room at The Factory theatre, to which you can book tickets here for the cheap, affordable price of $15/$10, which frankly is a fucking bargin. 

It is also a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so I guess it depends, like, if you want the planet to survive or not. I mean I'm not saying it literally hinges on this show, I'm just saying you'd have to be some sort of Donald Trump-loving prick to consciously not come. That's all. The choice is yours. Fascism or humanity. Choose wisely. I mean, I don't care myself...

The point is, faced with a show next week, some performers might try to focus on last minute building, or even working on refining the material by going to various comedy rooms to test things or just agonising in front of their laptop over exact wording, pacing and structure.

That is because they are hacks. The key question is to spend your time developing a musical playlist to accompany the show.

And by "accompany", I don't mean literally. I don't mean the songs have any role in the show. Don't worry, you can turn up to the show without country music ruining your night. Or the Hobart-originated Nation Blue screaming about corporate destruction of a small town in rural Australia with lines like "THESE STREETS ARE SCREAMING HELP ME!!!"

They are just songs that I like and happen to relate loosely to the theme. The type of songs I think about when I think about the shit I talk about in my show.

They describe the sort of topics that get discussed, but as is self-evident, they don't as a rule contain jokes and let me tell you... that's one thing my show has! Jokes! Oh yeah! It is sort of the point!

(Of course, the Hayes Carll and John Prine tracks have a couple of witty lines, as they are witty chaps, but still not the same as trying to come up with a 50-minute stand-up show.)

So, my show is called "Inspired?" and it is about the hilarious topic, which is the fact it is fucking hard to be inspired about the world and the prospects for positive change when everything is SO FUCKING SHIT and seemingly getting worse.

This is dealt with by these songs in various ways. It runs through the shit we deal with, the fact life is hard, the fact our politicians are pricks, the fact climate change is terrifying, the fact this is hard to deal with, and then runs through to the crucial question of hope in the face of darkness.

To be honest, with that in mind, the two key songs are the first, Texas folk/country/Americana singer songwriter Slaid Cleaves' "Drunken Barber's Hand", and the last, South Carolina folk/country/Americana husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope's glorious rendition of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

I feel those two tracks form a great start and end point, and the rest fills the gaps, from Celtic punk band Flogging Molly's self-explanatory "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's "Hope The High Road" about combatting despair with hope.

The list includes incredible acts like Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Jason Isbell ... and more! Some aren't even country/folk/Americana!

Well you can hear it below and my show will be like this, only with jokes. So like if you like these songs... come along! And if you hate them... then fear not, they play no role in my show at all, and forget this post ever existed!

Just... come along if you are in Sydney. You will not regret it. Here's the fucking playlist:


I don't need to read the papers
Or the tea leaves to understand
This world's been shaved
By a drunken barber's hand

Well, I know, I miss more than hit
With a face that was launched to sink
And I seldom feel, the bright relief
It's been the worst day since yesterday

Everybody knows it's a hard time
Livin' on the minimum wage
Ah, some people just gonna sneak on through
Others gotta rattle that cage
One of these days, I'm gonna find my way
Or else just disappear
I'm out here in the filth and squalor
And all I wanna do is stomp and holler

Well over the sea, and far away,
Our kids die in deserts, they been sent that way...

Well Hell doesn't want you
And Heaven is full...

Some humans ain't human
Though they walk like we do
They live and they breathe
Just to turn the old screw
They screw you when you're sleeping
They try to screw you blind
Some humans ain't human
Some people ain't kind

From the cradle to the grave
You will always be a slave
To the quiet darkness of your memories
And that's the truth, my friend
The ugly truth, my friend
I've got proof, my friend
And that's the truth

These streets are screaming help me
Burn the town down
Burn the fucking thing down!!!

There can't be more of them than us
There can't be more

I know you're tired
And you ain't sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I want to know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

'Go on back to Greenville': Lucinda Williams and the art of a 'fuck you' song

Songs telling people who deserved to be told to get fucked to "get fucked" has a long and proud tradition in popular music, from Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" (dripping in venom, with its sneered opening line "You gotta lot of nerve to say you are my friend", before really laying into the unnamed backbiter), Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", as devastating a sustained put down as it is an insanely catchy song, to English pop singer Lily Allen's entire 2006 debut album Alright, Still.

One with more than a few songs on arseholes is US bluesy country singer Lucinda Williams, and like with Simon and Allen's savaging of fuckboys who had it coming, she clearly speaks from experience of having known her share.

One of her finest examples is "Greenville", off her 1998 classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which contains more great songs than any album has a natural right to include.

The song lacks the bombast of many other examples of the genre. It feels understated  — but the impression is superficial. It is quiet, stripped back and builds slowly, but in its poetic simplicity, it finds its mark just as surely. Each verse further strips away the layers of the man in question's pretensions, revealing an intolerable arrogance that spreads pain in its wake. 

By the end, without any sneering just a strong sense of how sadly pathetic he is, Williams offers up the observation "Looking for someone to save you. Looking for someone to rave about you. To rave about you oh to rave about you..."

The man, and there is no doubt it is a man any more than it is a real man Williams had the misfortune to become entangled with, is told repeatedly to go back to Greenville. This is the name of towns in several US states, and it could be any of them, but it is one of them. 

Bellow is the album version, with Emmy Lou Harris providing backing vocals, followed by Williams singing the song on the BBC TV music show Later... With Jools back in 1999.

Don't want to see you again or hold your hand
Cause you don't really love me you're not my man
You're not my man oh you're not my man
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

You scream and shout and you make a scene
When you open your mouth you never say what you mean
Say what you mean oh say what you mean
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
You drink hard liquor you come on strong

You lose your temper someone looks at you wrong
Looks at you wrong oh looks at you wrong
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Out all night playin in a band

Looking for a fight with a guitar in your hand
A guitar in your hand oh a guitar in your hand
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Empty bottles and broken glass

Busted down doors and borrowed cash
Borrowed cash oh the borrowed cash
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Looking for someone to save you
Looking for someone to rave about you
To rave about you oh to rave about you
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

Now, I know what you are thinking. After everything in this post so far and with no obvious segue, can I still force in a plug for my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1?

The answer is no. Obviously I cannot actually elbow in a reference to my show, which attempts to grapple with how to stay inspired in a world so horrific while also telling amusing jokes and is a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly and at which you can book tickets here

It would ridiculous! Worse, to even try might be seen as an example of the sort of arrogant men that Lucinda and others slay in their songs!

Sorry, but I just won't do it. However, if you are desperate for details, I guess you could click on the ad on the right hand side of this blog. If you want to.