That security guard: Uncle Dennis

Today, a couple of surpassing tracks from Melbourne band Screenings' debut CD, "Phobia of Sharks". The 4 members of Screenings play under artsy alter-egos, but their sound is a refreshingly unpretentious one. Singer/songwriter 'Esteban Castranza' has a self-professed mancrush on Lou Reed. And there are certainly hints of a Velvets' influence in the wandering, lo-fi jam 'The Double Weave'. You know that sound Lou had like he'd been writing songs all his life but only just picked up the electric guitar for the first time last Tuesday? I also hear some Feelies at work, tho they made a career of sounding like Lou Reed. And to my ear, songs like 'Flat Trap' and 'Trouble Comes in Waves' owe a debt more to the modern rock sound of the late 80s, esp. that Athens, GA stuff: early REM (when they started getting a little country), and Guadalcanal Diary (remember them?).

But though it may break Esteban's heart to hear it, there is something elementally Australian about Screenings' sound. Colin Hay, Paul Kelly, Go Betweens. They all have it. Hard to put your finger on exactly what it is; it's definite, yet -- as a prosy shit might describe the outback -- imponderable. It's probably the accent.

The coolest thing about Screenings is that my friend Ed is the bass player. Most people are uncomfortable when it comes to assessing the work of people they know. They really want to like it, but what if they don't? I don't have this problem. I tend to love all things my friends produce. Not because I am forgiving or predisposed, but because my friends are just way more talented than your friends.

Ed is the only friend I have who wears a wig to his day job.

But this is the least extraordinary thing about my friend Ed. If Yahoo Serious is Australia's Woody Allen, which - I'm sorry Australia, he is - then Edward Heerey is Australia's Zelig. Or maybe it's Forrest Gump. In anycase, Ed - and his grandparents and cousins and friends, and friends of friends - rise up on Australia's cultural landscape with an uncanny regularity. Look back on any person or event of significance, and someone connected in someway to Ed is there, standing off to the side. They are like the nation's footnotes. Here are a few quick examples, in no real order of significance. And there are many many more just like this.

Ed's grandfather was Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, the beloved Australian WWII vet, 'The Surgeon of the Railway.' It was Sir Edward who taught Ed how to handle himself on the rugby field. And when a young Ed would tear his trousers in the jasminlive playground, Sir Edward would sew them right back up and send him out the door, back to his mates. Sometimes he would use a patch. Even though his hands were old, the stitching was always flawless and disciplined, almost like sutures.

Ed's wife Melinda was the first person ever to dunk in a Japanese Pro women's basketball game. (Because the match was a 'friendly' and not part of sanctioned contest, however, is was never officially recognized by the WJBL.)

In 1967, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt drowned while swimming off Portsea during a morning dip. His body was never found. He just waded into the surf, and never came out. With typical subtlety, the Australian government elected to honor their former leader by constructing a memorial swimming pool in his honor: 'The Harold Holt Swim Centre' in Stonnington Victoria. It was at this very same pool that 6 year old Ed Heerey got in over his head and swallowed so much water that his heart actually stopped beating for 10 seconds, until lifeguards were able to resuscitate him right there on the deck.

In college Ed and a couple of art school pals created a small sensation with a crude art installation. To protest what they called the "folksy irrelevance of Australian poetry" they collected a copy of every book of Australian verse that contained either of the words "bitumen" or "jacaranda" and buried them in shallow graves under the lawn by the Old Arts building. It was a convincing demonstration; the graves stretched out forever, like the killing fields. Word spread quickly, eventually reaching the country's preeminent poet, Les Murray. The editors of the Sydney Morning Herald invited Murray to react to the protest on the pages of their editorial section. He responded with a single postcard with just 2 words scrawled on the back. "Bloody Dickheads."

You know that movie 'The Falcon and The Snowman'? With Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton? It was partially about the CIA staging to overthrow Australia's left-leaning Whitlam Government. Pretty much a true story. Well Ed has nothing to do with that, but he was called 'The Snowman' in high school because he would sweat so heavily it looked like he was melting.

During the Apollo Mission that put Neil Armstrong on the moon, an obscure tracking station in Parkes, New South Wales provided vital information to NASA as the capsule orbited out of range of American telescopes. Ed's father was a passionate amateur astronomer at the time, and drove some 12 hours up to the Parkes Observatory to witness the historic event. As night fell, the spacecraft was visible to the naked eye, as it arced over head. But standing there alone in the bush, staring into the heavens, Mr Heerey did not feel the triumph he had expected. In fact he felt crushed. He realized that one more star in the sky of life's ungraspable mysteries had been extinguished forever. He decided that Science was a place without mercy, and he turned his back on it forever. He climbed back into his car, and drove home to start a family. Ed was born a year later.

Ed has some old relative, a great Aunt or something, who has a rustic shack out by the beach that has been in the family for generations. In the nearby woods, where Ed would play as a kid, there is an old firepit, that is scattered with a half-dozen cracked iron cooking plates. The family used to call them "Ned Kelly's bones". Everyone thought it was a sweet name. Then about 15 years ago, some historical society contacts the family. Turns out one of the plates may in fact have come from one of Kelly's early suits of armor after all. That the name had deeper, more profound roots than then they had ever suspected. When they approached the great old aunt about removing the plates to examine them, she steadfastly refused. The family pleaded with her, explaining that this maybe something of great importance to Australian culture, but she insisted that Ned Kelly wouldn't have wanted to be in some museum, lying in State. He hated the State. He'd have wanted to be scattered in the bush. Plus, she said, she didn't want to "break up the set".

And finally,

Ed's Uncle Dennis used to work as a security guard in the Australian Institute of Anatomy Collection in the National Museum of Australia. The Anatomy Collection has one claim to fame. On display there is the actual heart of Phar Lap, Australia's most beloved race horse. When he would work the late round, Ed's uncle would be alone in a livejasmin room that was dark, save for a single spotlight upon the enormous heart, floating silently in its yellowing tank. It is one of the country's most attended exhibits. But Australian's don't always fancy their icons suspended in yellow fluid. When Andres Serrano's controversial artwork "Piss Christ" toured Victoria in 1997, it was the subject of repeated acts of vandalism. In one orchestrated attack "it was reported one teenager acted as a decoy, kicking a print on the opposite wall which distracted the guards who rushed to subdue him while the other smashed Piss Christ about 8 times with a hammer. When the guards overpowered the perpetrator the hammer fell and struck a security guard on the knee."

In hindsight, it was inevitable

Punk music and dance music have been swapping spit at least since Suicide, James Chance, and ESG, and while it's tempting to try to chart the braided ramifications of the relationship from there, this is a blog, not a book deal. And I've got deadlines today. So we'll stick to the broadest gestures.

What was inevitable? Dance music shaking-off of indie trappings to snap pale, skinny necks in its undiluted form, that's what. The way I see it, a gradual process really picked up steam in the twenty-first century, breaking down something like this:

1. Indie folk start raiding house and disco to give their verse/chorus/verse efforts a little oomph and cross-genre appeal, the dancepunk explosion explodes, cue The Rapture, Radio 4, Out Hud. Vintage post-punk was no stranger to dance music, and whether this new breed was attempting to forge the synthesis anew or just rehashing the synthesis forged by forerunners remains ambiguous. Regardless, a new cliche enters the critical lexicon alongside "angular guitars" and "dramatic departures", every fifth record that gets ink anywhere is "teaching indie kids / hipsters how to dance".

2. Heads start to catch on that the dance music part of the equation is a lot more exciting than the indie part, hence, instead of taking indie punk and throwing some shuffle beats and robotic basslines behind it, the new vanguard flips the script: Start with the banging beats, flavor with guitars or subtle song-oriented structures to taste. Cue LCD Soundsystem and The Juan Maclean.

3. The transition on is complete, and honest-to-god dance music (of the songier variety, natch) enters the indie landscape almost by accident. Vitalic, Isolee (Nick Sylvester does a number on Isolee here, particularly regarding the subtle distinctions between dance music and indiefied dance music), and Alan Braxe are drawing rave digital ink in Pitchfork. To our perfectionist readers, sorry for the absent accent from Isolee's name. Blogger isn't so fond of accents. You're welcome to get a wet-erase marker and add it to your screen, it belongs above the first "e".

4. Prediction - Indie fans weaned on French house DJs start making their own jams, get tired of dance music, start to pillage indie rock for jangly guitars and slacker hooks. The process reverses, the ratio slowly inverts, and somehow, improbably but inexorably, we wind up back at Pavement.

I know you come here for music!

It won't hurt, promise. Rod Smith reportedly used to play chess with John Cage, there's your music connection. Regardless, everyone should spend a little time with Buber the Toad. Whether this is funny poetry or poetic stand-up comedy is your call; either way, Rod is one the funniest poets I know, with his deadpan monotone and his dope-smoking frog who raises rabbits in a can called "big can" (or "rabbit can"). Last time I saw Rod was a few weeks ago in Baltimore. Me and some other Lucifer Poetics people sat on a roof with him deep into the night, getting drunk and telling jokes. I was too drunk to remember the jokes. I only remember one I told, since obviously, I knew that one already. Before I got drunk. Here it is:

A guy dies and goes to Hell. He greets him at the flaming gates. "You're in luck," He says. "We're having a special, you get to choose how you spend eternity." He takes the guy to a room with three doors. "You have to choose which room you want to spend eternity in."

He opens the first door, revealing a burning room where people were writhing in flames. "I don't like that one at all," says the guy. "Show me the next one."

He opens the second door. Inside, people are jumping and jittering on an electrified floor, screaming with pain and smoldering. "This one doesn't look so good either," says the guy.

He opens the third door. The guy sees a room filled with people buried up to their necks in shit. Each person has one hand free above the shit, and they're sipping tea. Hmmm, thinks the guy. That's not so bad. Shit is unpleasant, but it doesn't hurt. And you get tea. "I choose the third room," says the guy. "As you wish," says He.

In the blink of an eye, the guy's in the room, up to his neck in shit, sipping tea. I can get used to this, he thinks, blowing on his tea. But after a couple minutes, a whistle blows, and a voice comes over Hell's intercom: "All right everyone, break's over - back on your heads!"

I think Rod's jokes were probably much funnier.

In the interest of not blowing Rod's wad, as it were, the track I've posted is also available to download from its label, Narrowhouse Recordings. There's another at Rock Heals.

Probably one of many people's favorite songs

"Down in Splendour" is one of my favorite songs. What's unique about it for me, is that this song carries with it absolutely no baggage. No associations, no pull of personal gravities. It doesn't bring to mind any person, any place, any particular time in my life.

"Down in Splendour" doesn't remind me of carpooling in Rosie Cohen's late model beige Dodge Dart (Doobie Brothers); Garrett Park swim meets (Billy Squire); the best Miami Vice episode ever (Godley & Creme); bad cask reisling (Cold Chisel); that Simone De Beauvoir essay (Public Enemy); my first black friend (Elvis), my first air guitar (Kiss), or a first kiss (Chuck Brown - I'm so sorry baby).

Its earned every single listen purely on merit. Those lush melodies, a lead guitar with just enough backbone, the way things roll and wane, the unbelievably soaring harmonies. Not a wasted note.

Much thanks to Julie Niven over at the only Fits site worth your time, for some of these rarer nuggets. Don't go pestering her for music, but please check out her site.

Reggae for me is the sound of probabilities

...of alternate realities, parallel worlds. Its riddims thumped out by stoned Schroedinger Cats, looping into infinity, it can be here or there, the bassline fat or else a giant gap, to where the snare cracks are present/ absent, the vocalist near or echoing out nor way, a deejay toasting on top or else silent, the ticking of certainty/ uncertainty at reggae's solid/ diffuse foundation.

Each version is as likely to have a melodica or deejay on top as to have decaying spaces, a flanged organ note in its stead. Mikey Dread has Althea and Donna doing new words on top of their top beat and there's a he said/ she said to the Gregory Isaacs/ Christina track, sparse as if each singer is lonely in his/her room in different universes. Yabby You layers b-side worlds, to where Tony Tuff toasts on top of the I from previous times.

Who loves 'Mare-Iguana' more, Linval Thompson or Ranking Dread? And what is that thing that King Tubby has careen around in Dread's dizzying "Bom Dub"? Whatever it is, it's no where near as feral as that thing squawking on Mikey Dread's "Headline News." At least he has some paper down for it.

I know next to nothing about Major Worries save that he was gunned down at age 21, and it's a shame, as he had flows for days, as do the Studio One duo, Michigan & Smiley. Both admit to being big Bee Gees fans, but they also love Alton Ellis, tag-teaming over his "I'm Just a Guy." Both Worries and the duo laid tracks at the inception of dancehall, when the form was not quite settled and their very presence could change everything around them.