A Friday Morning Coffee with Keef

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Today’s imaginary interviewee: Keith Richards

I’m never quite sure who’s going to show up for my peripatetic (and completely invented) brain-picking sessions with people I admire. After my last foray into imaginary interviewing — when I intended to focus on Virginia Woolf and ended up rambling on about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius instead — I sat down one day not much later and made a list of people I thought I might like to “meet”.

I made two lists, actually, divided simply along the lines of life or death.

And armed with those lists, I quickly realised that it is much simpler to write about a person who is no longer gracing the Earth with their presence, particularly if they have been dead for quite some time.  In the era of #metoo (fundamentally important as that movement is), it is far more challenging to delve into the thoughts of a living person, particularly when they may or may not end up being outed as a sex pest.

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True. But you also see my sex pest problem…

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turned up in my little patch of cyberspace this morning and discovered Keith Richards waiting for me.

Not really, obviously.

But after spending an evening this week watching Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, the Rolling Stones’ documentary about their 2016 tour which culminated in their historic Cuban concert, there he was.

Keef.

With plenty, as always, to say. And, one can only assume, probably not all that bothered about whatever acusation anyone would level at him — the man, as he freely admits, has lived long and hard, and outlived many it was readily assumed he would predecease.

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Good question. How do you play with your time?

I’m not what you’d call a diehard Rolling Stones fan. I don’t have a standout favourite Stones song, but harbour soft spots for several (depending mainly on my mood). I know better than to put myself in the middle of any pointless Beatles vs Stones battles, because there’s actually no contest: the world is a better place for having both bands (I stand firmly with the girl from the taco ad on that one…“¿Porque No Los Dos?” ). And I can’t say I prefer any one of the Rolling Stones over another: I tend to appreciate them collectively more than I do indivdiually.

And yet, I have to admit there is something undeniably intriguing about Keith Richards.

Unlike the 2015 film Under the Influence, which focussed solely on Keith himself, the Olé Olé Olé! doco is about the whole band, though it does shift (seamlessly, I might add) from ensemble pieces to individual portraits of the band members. The juxtaposition of these different points of view enhances both: the concert footage of stadiums seething with fans is made all the more massive, while the one-on-one sequences achieve greater intimacy and poignancy. As the band wends its way (via private jet and with police escourts) through South America, we glean insights from each member into the various countries they are visiting and how they have changed during the fifty (yes, fifty) years that they have been performing there, into life on the road, and into life itself.

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Richards in Lima, 2016.

There is a beautiful moment in the film when Richards can be seen, initially from a distance, sitting poolside at a clifftop hotel in Lima, playing an acoustic guitar. The pool is turquoise, his shirt scarlet, the sounds flamenco. There is no doubting his musical ability: this is a man who, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase, has done his 10,000 hours, playing everywhere from small pubs to gigantic arenas, or simply noodling away with an instrument and an endless succession of cigarettes, whiling away the time. Richards’ observation of Lima is that it has changed, markedly, since he first visited it in 1968: cities spring up “like tombstones” he says, as the camera pans out to reveal a skyline full of skyscrapers, resembling a cemetary more than one would like to admit.

Richards is a man who, quite clearly, knows how lucky he is — he seems, genuinely, to appreciate the trappings of fame he gets to enjoy, but he also appears to be acutely aware how fortunate he is to be doing what he loves (sorry, make that absolutely loves) for a living, and to be doing it with a bunch of blokes he has been hanging out with for five decades.

There is something that sticks us together. It’s nothing you’d ever catch us talking about. I feel I’m awfully blessed, really.

KEITH RICHARDS

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There’s a glimmer of it in here….

There is an occasional glint in his eye or a throaty chuckle that betrays the fact that he doesn’t half mind his own notoriety, either, but it’s nothing malicious — if anything, now that Richards is aged 75, these small glimpses remind me in some way of my own globetrotting gypsy grandmother who, at a similar point in her life, may well have had the same sense of mischievous glee in behaving in ways that were not generally considered to be age appropriate.

And finally, beneath all of this is a strong, unspoken sense that Richards knows just how lucky he is to be alive.

And that, for my money, is something worth remembering.

 

2018: The Year in Music

It’s the final day of the year, and here is my final countdown, too.

Music is practically as essential to me as oxygen, an ever-present part of my life that I am grateful for each and every day. For me, the ability to create and appreciate music is one of the most significant aspects of being human that separates us from all other species on the planet. We are the luckiest of creatures.

So here they are, in no particular order, Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs of 2018:

1. Superstar by IV League (AUS)

This is the kind of song that makes me feel alive every time I listen to it. There’s something about the guitar-driven sound of this Melbourne-based four piece that makes you want to move (dance on top of a bar even), to sing along at the top of your lungs (though props to you if you can match Bella Venutti’s vocals). Unearthed on Triple J a couple of years ago, these guys know garage rock and they do it damn well.

 

2. The Comedown was Real by Drapht (AUS)

Perth hip hop artist Drapht comes through with this sweet number that gets stuck in your head as much as it gets your toes tapping. There’s a lot to love about this track, not least the lyrics, which are pretty funny and reference everything from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping episode on Oprah. This song never fails to bring a smile to my face.

 

3. All The Time by The Kooks (UK)

I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve listened to this song this year. Somehow it brings together disco with an eighties glam feel and makes something shiny and bright and as close to over the top as you can get without going over the edge. The Kooks have at least three fans in our household of four, and this song from their latest album “Let’s Go Sunshine” gets our vote.

 

4. Bubblin’ by Anderson .Paak (USA)

The story goes that when Anderson .Paak heard the hook that inspired this track it brought his mind straight to James Bond.  In an interview he described Bubblin’ as “some black 007 action adventure high speed chase type of music”, and believe me he delivers just that. I haven’t included the video to this one as it’s not entirely kid friendly, but I can assure you it’s so OTT that it does the song justice. Even the zebra. Especially the zebra.

5. Fool’s Gold by Jack River

This is another song that’s been on high rotation at ours this year, along with a bunch of other tracks from Jack River’s debut album “Sugar Mountain”. I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a person who couldn’t find one song on that album to like, but I have a soft spot for several of them. This is Aus Pop at it’s best, delivered by the woman who also had the chutzpah to curate the Electric Lady Festival and then turn it into an entire world, “a platform to amplify the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport and beyond.” We need more Jack River!

 

Honourable Mentions this year are perhaps too numerous to mention.  Lana Del Ray’s Mariners Apartment Complex (USA) very nearly made the final cut, but five is five and Jack River snuck in instead.

I have to say that I loved a whole pile of homegrown Australian music in 2018, like Hatchie’s Bad Guy, Gretta Ray’s Radio Silence and Kira Puru’s Molotov, and I’m looking forward to delving deeper into Matt Corby’s, Tash Sultana’s and RÜFÜS DU SOL’s new albums over the summer. I suspect Ziggy Alberts, City Calm Down, Mallrat, Phantastic Ferniture and Baker Boy wil be getting a spin, too.

I’ve also enjoyed songs from elsewhere, like Jungle’s Heavy, California (UK), Grouplove’s Welcome to Your Life (USA), Aurora’s Queendom (Norway), Bill Ryder-Jones’ And Then There’s You, and Poppy Ackroyd’s beautiful instrumental piece Paper (both UK).

And just for fun here a my Top Five Throwbacks for 2018 — oldies but goodies I’ve been getting into again:

  1. Machu Picchu by The Strokes
  2. Country Grammar by Nelly
  3. She’s a Mystery to Me by Roy Orbison
  4. Bad Decisions by Two Door Cinema Club
  5. Revival by Deerhunter

So that’s a wrap for 2018, folks! Hit me with your top tunes…I’m sure to find something I love in the mix.

And all the best for a 2019 full of all the best that can be found in books, on screen and in music.

BJx

 

Cover Versions

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Adelaide street art — this is a fairly recent piece, and I love the incorporation of the windows in to the reimagining of this wall space.

So those of you who follow my side hustle at Blue Jai Creative will know that my word of the month for March is REIMAGINE.

I’ve selected the word reimagine quite deliberately — as writers are prone to doing — particularly after last month’s focus on connection, when I delved into the rich pickings that can be gleaned from connecting with people, with your inner voice, and with what inspires you, and then from connecting the dots between all those things to create something whole and meaningful. Hopefully, having spent some time making such connections, you have a stronger sense of what you want to achieve in your work or life.

The first thing that prompted me to select reimagine as the word of the month was a recent trip I took to Adelaide, South Australia. I’d never been there before, but was keen to check out the food and wine and, being a lover of street art, wanted to see some of the amazing work that has popped up all over the inner city in recent years — and I was not disappointed. Seeing the way that hidden nooks and crannies all around Adelaide had been transformed from grotty out of the way spots to beautiful, unexpected spaces was truly inspiring.

So this month, the word reimagine is designed to kickstart an examination of those things in your work or life that need reviewing. We all have pieces that don’t quite fit — procedures that don’t flow quite as smoothly as we’d like them to, systems that have pinch points or regular breakdowns, products that could do with a tweak, ideas that seem to resist attempts to realise them, all manner of things we know could be improved. Because let’s face it: we’re all human, which means none of us is perfect.

Reim hawking

Without wondering and reimagining, would Stephen Hawking’s work would have been impossible.

But the fact that we are human also means that we possess the greatest and most mind-blowing of gifts: we have the power to imagine and to reimagine — over and over again. For as long as we are capable of thinking, we can keep re-envisaging and reinvestigating.  The possibilities and permuations are limitless, endless, for as long as we are consciously able to imagine and reimagine them.

And that brings me to the second thing — or, more accurately, person — who inspired the reimagine theme for March: the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose passing earlier this month reminded the world not only of his amazing work, but also of some of his more poignant words of advice to his fellow humans: that we need to retain our curiosity and keep wondering — or reimagining — our worlds, and that we don’t ever stop doing so.  In his own words, it matters that you don’t just give up.

I think it’s important, at this point, to draw a distinction between reimagining and reinventing, because I think part of what makes human beings tend to give up on things is that we become caught up in thinking we have to create something completely and entirely new in order to be successful — and it simply isn’t true. As far as I’m concerned, the old adage about not needing to reinvent the wheel is right on the money: the wheel is just fine, thank you, but hats off to the person who can imagine a way to make it faster, stronger, or perhaps even prettier.

So this month, I encourage you to reimagine the things in your work or life that you think could do with some renewal. What would it look like, if you did something differently? How would that feel? Does it really matter that something is not brand new, or is it more important that you’re willing to try doing something in a new way? Sure – it might be a bit scary, but what if it actually worked?

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Some of the many reimaginings of Cillian Murphy…

Which brings me to my third and final inspriation for my March reimagine theme, which was a fantastic bunch of cover versions actor Cillian Murphy played during a recent broadcast on BBC Radio 6. I have a sneaking suspicion that, like me, Cillian Murphy thinks music is about as necessary to human life as oxygen, and as well as being one of my favourite actors (a job which, quite obviously, requires you to reimagine yourself all the time) his recent forays into broadcasting have cemented him in my mind as being one of the most awesome human beings on the planet. (It’s OK…relax, I’ve stopped fangirling now).

Returning to cover versions, though — which are, of course, one artist’s reimaginings of another artist’s work. Some cover versions are pretty much straightforward reproductions of the original song…and to my mind such works are more like tributes than anything else. Other times, however, cover versions take original songs to a whole other level.  They make you aware of a fresh layer of meaning in the original lyrics, or evoke an entirely different mood from the melody, or strip a song back to its essential elements and make you fall in love with it all over again, in a new and exciting way. I’d cite Neil Finn’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being one such a track, and Nirvana’s version of David Bowie’s “Man Who Stole the World”, or even Northeast Party House’s recent rendition of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as others.

But there was one particular song Cillian Murphy played during his hour of favourite cover versions that he ventured to say was even better than the original — and even though it’s a big call, I’m inclined to agree with him. So I’m going to leave you with it, as a final piece of inspiration to look, and look hard, at what needs reimagining in your life and work.

Here is Stevie Wonder, playing a cover version of The Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” — at the White House, in front of President Obama and his family, who are sitting right next to Paul McCartney…who wrote and performed the original song. Boom.

If you think you’re scared of reimagining something new, let wheelchair-bound scientist and a blind man show you the way. You might just work it out, too.

 

The Kiwi Edit

Kiwi NZ landscape

I can feel a road trip coming on…

I’ve never been to New Zealand.

I know.  It’s completely tragic, and more than a little embarrassing — particularly given the teensy tiny three hour flight time from Sydneytown to most places in the Land of the Long White Cloud. (I mean, it takes only slightly longer to fly from here to Cairns, and that’s just in the next state, not the next country).

Kiwi Broods

Georgia & Caleb Nott: Broods

New Zealand has been on my mind a lot lately — not just because everyone else in the office where I work decamped to Queenstown for all of last week, but also because I’ve been listening to some great Kiwi music lately. In addition to enjoying Matthew Young’s song Collect (like just about everyone else I know), and Lorde’s latest stuff, I’ve been loving listening to brother-sister duo Broods for most of the past year, especially their Conscious album.

And while many of my countryfolk occasionally disparage our Kiwi cousins, indulging in quips about Australia being the mainland, snickering at their unusual way of pronouncing their vowel sounds, debating who really invented Pavlova, claiming any New Zealander with an ounce of talent for just about anything is actually an Aussie, or simply making rude remarks about sheep, I’m going to resist the urge to do any of those things.

(I will admit, however, that I failed to resist mentioning all of those things, and for that I sincerely apologise.)

No, I am of the opinion that New Zealand is a place I would really, truly love to visit — so I’ve decided to put together my top five (wildly generalised) reasons why:

  1. The People.  This is a cliché, of course, but I’ve never met a New Zealander I didn’t like. My first memories of Kiwis were the ones who (inevitably) lived in the street where I grew up — the quiet but wickedly funny father of the family next door, and the former wicket-keeper of the Black Caps up the road for whom I used to babysit. Nice blokes. Lovely people. And I can’t think of a single Kiwi I’ve met since whose company I didn’t enjoy. In my experience, they’re far more Footrot Flats than Once Were Warriors.
  2. Their sense of humour. I suspect a large part of the reason that I tend to get on with
    Kiwi Footrot

    Dog from Footrot Flats

    Kiwis is that I enjoy their sense of humour. As I said earlier, I am — quite obviously — generalising wildly while making this list. But I’ve found that New Zealanders are a funny bunch, and in a good way. The aforementioned Footrot Flats is one example. The Almighty Johnsons is another, though perhaps a little quirkier. Or Flight of the Conchords, who used to refer to themselves as  “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”. And if you need any further proof, just check out Sam Neill’s Twitter feed — and do watch the videos of him with his pigs. Really.

  3. Kiwi Taika

    Taika Waititi: Legend

    Taika Waititi.  If you were to combine points one and two above (not that I’ve actually met the man in person), I’m reasonably certain you’d end up with Taika Waititi. Not only has he recently directed Thor: Ragnarok (aka Loki III), which as some of my previous posts reveal, automatically endears him to me. But in addition to that, the guy has some serious talent, a very well-honed funny bone, and he’s New Zealander of the Year to boot. Oh — and he also recently fronted a brilliant ad campaign about racism that is worth a look, no matter where you live.

  4. The All Blacks.  I’m tempted just to leave it at that: The All Blacks. I realise I’m probably running the risk of having my citizenship revoked, but you only need to look at the All Blacks record during the any of their Bledisloe Cup campaigns since 2002 to see what I mean. Respect where it’s due.

    Kiwi Haka

    The All Blacks doing their Haka. (I dare you to make a joke about men in PINK footy boots after that performance).

  5. The Landscape.  Where do I even start with this one?  I mean, seriously — it’s not just New Zealand, this is Middle Earth, people!  Magnificent doesn’t even begin to describe it.  When my kids got a postcard from the Hobbiton movie set recently, it was all I could do to stop them from grabbing my phone, ordering the nearest Uber to take them to the airport, and jumping on the first plane heading straight across the ditch. And now that I’ve reached the end of this list, I’m beginning to wonder why I stopped them…

So there you have it: Blue Jai’s top 5 reasons to love New Zealand. If, like me, you haven’t been there already, getting your holiday plans happening.

Otherwise, hug a Kiwi. (With permission, of course).

They’re quite lovely.

Kiwi Hobbiton

Hobbiton…my children’s dream home…

 

 

 

 

Night Moves

NIGHT -Cahill_expressway_loop

Upwards to the The Bridge…

Saturday, 10:08pm

I’m driving home through the city at night.  One of my dearest friends is riding in the car beside me, and we’re basking in the afterglow of an evening of revellery: good food, even better wine, a classical music concert with a brilliant soloist.  Crossing over Circular Quay, we get the giggles, cracking each other up with increasingly ridiculous remarks about the man we’ve just seen perform.

He’s a violin virtuoso, he sings like an veritable angel, he has such shiny hair he should be in a L’Oreal commercial…no doubt he is the world’s greatest lover, too…

We make the long loop up onto the Harbour Bridge, our laughter sprialling skywards through the arching steel and up into the night.

Monday, 5:45pm

There’s a dance off happening in the kitchen.

In this house we celebrate good news by busting out moves, and today we’ve had plenty. Ugg-booted and stocking-footed we rollick around the room, each of us attempting to outdo the others with displays of increasingly questionable choreography, while outside in the gathering darkness the real stars appear.

Tuesday, 6:13pm

Tonight I’m dealing with Arsenic hour — the fraught and fractious time of day when you’re wondering whether you might poison your kids or yourself — when mid-meltdown from Miss Malaprop I get a text from The Bloke asking whether he can catch up with the Other Blokes for a beer or three.  I flick back a quick, “If you want”, resisting the urge to scream obscentities or engage in a vicious game of compare and contrast.

There is no point in declaring marital war over the differences between our Tuesday evenings.

Wednesday, 3:36am

The Bloke and I are at the top of a ruined high rise, and he is about to be hauled through a dilapidated door behind him to face a firing squad.  I can hear bullets spraying, drilling into the the other side of the wall, and he’s pleading with me to leave, telling me everything will be OK (which it clearly won’t be) as I get progressively more agitated and distraught.

In desperation I wake up, wrenching myself from the drama of the dream into the quiet of the night, and draw enormous comfort from the sound of the The Bloke’s breathing, deep and even, beside me in the dark.

Thursday, 5:40am

The flying foxes are at it again.

Those manic marsupials were squawking and carrying on as I drifted off to sleep, and now their raucous predawn party in the top of the tree next door has me wide awake.

I get up and stalk down the long hallway of my house, surefooted and keeneyed as a cat. They say the darkest part of night is just before the dawn, but this is my territory and I have no need for light in the place I call home.

A large part of me is nocturnal, too.

Six Stack of Sunshine

Car ENVY

So The Bloke has new wheels…

So as I said in my last post, I started a new job not so long ago — and that has meant I have been spending more time in my car than I have in recent years. My car is silver, but is by no means flash. It’s safe and serviceable. It definitely has a lot more bells and whistles than other cars I’ve owned, though if you’d seen any of those, you’d know that wouldn’t be too hard.

The Bloke, on the other hand, acquired a new car late last year, a great white BEAST of a car. (Not quite a Beluga on wheels, but close enough.)

I can say, with certainty, that it’s the first brand new vehicle either of us has ever owned.  And I can also say that since he acquired it, my position on his Totem Pole of Great Loves may have slipped slightly…not to say that I’m out of the top spot, but…well, I’m watching this space.

I’m not jealous.  Not a bit.

Well…that may not be entirely true: I am a tiny bit green-eyed, but it’s not over the car itself.

Car STEREO

The Bloke’s old car stereo looked a bit like this…

What I will admit being ever-so-slightly covetous of is the sound system, with its touch-screen technology, its Bluetooth connectivity, its up to the minute compatibility with just about any other device that’s been invented already.

Now, I am well aware that I should not begrudge The Bloke his newfound sonic bliss — his last chariot (it wasn’t quite horse-drawn, but I’ll let you extrapolate from there) was so woefully ill-equipped in the musical department that when we headed off on holidays I resorted to taking our BOSE Bluetooth speaker, plonking it on the dashboard, and playing Spotify via my iPhone for as long as we were in range, then switching to whatever I had downloaded from iTunes. We may have had decent music for as long as the battery lasted, but clearly, the setup wasn’t ideal.

Even so, it was not without a twinge of envy that I slid behind the wheel of my own car the other day.  I may even have looked a little folornly at the stereo, before recalling that just about every self-help guru that ever was suggests that in such cirumstances, a little gratitude does not go astray. Even Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was on the old gratitude bandwagon (though given the fact that he has been dead for nearly 227 years he might even have been the bandwagon’s original driver):

We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Thank you, Mr Franklin. Ever so ta.

My car stereo was already starting to look better.  In fact, I decided to have a good — and far more grateful — look at what I actually had: a fully functioning car stereo with six presets for radio stations, and capacity for not one, not two, but six CDs.

Bloody marvellous, really — though given I generally listen to indie rock-type radio stations most of the time I couldn’t remember for the life of me what half of the CDs I currently had in the car stereo were, despite strongly suspecting they were a rather, ummm….shall we say, eclectic mix? So I decided, on what turned into quite a slow commute work that morning, to find out exactly what I had on board.

Spolier alert…even I was surprised…

Car BONEY M

Boney M

CD 1, as it turned out, was none other than The Best of Boney M.

I kid you not.

But just in case your eyebrows have just shot skyhigh and you’re seriously concerned about whatever else I might have lurking in my car stereo, there is method to such madness — as this post I wrote about the Healing Power of Disco will reveal. Trust me: if you have a tendency to get a little cranky while in traffic, this might be just what you didn’t even know you needed.

Car SPEM IN ALIUM

Thomas Tallis

CD 2 was equally surprising: a compilation of medieval choral music that began with a sublime rendition of Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium, a 40 part Renaissance motet composed around 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each.

Some critics consider it to be the greatest piece of early English music. I just know it’s a piece of music that had a massively calming influence on my children (and, if I’m being totally honest, on me as well). Check it out on YouTube…you might be pleasantly surprised.

Car JAY KAY 2

Jay Kay of Jamiroquai

Not unexpectedly, having discovered music from the 1970s and the 1570s currently occupying two of the six slots in my car stereo, I appoached CD3 with some trepidation — and was relieved to find a bunch of funky tunes from Jamiroquai.

Hearing Jay Kay singing (not to mention imagining him dancing) immediately transports me to a happy, summery place in my head, full of golden light and good times. It’s great music to have in your car — particuarly given the unusual amount of grey skies and general downpour we’ve had in Sydneytown lately.

Car AWESOME MIX

Yeeha…mix tape!

Less perturbed now, I made my way to CD4 and discovered a mix tape (well, that should probably read mix disc?) of dance tracks I had thrown together at some point. Now, as everyone knows, the best bit about a mix tape is that you know — if you put it together — that you’re going to love ever last track on it.

This CD was about as far away from Thomas Tallis as you can get (it has songs from Sia, Robin Schulz, Watermät, The Weeknd, and all sorts of other stuff), but it was equally uplifting — and full of fun too.

Car SIGUR ROS 2

Jonsi of Sigur Rós

CD5 began quietly enough and built into the unmistakable wall of sound produced by Iceland’s Sigur Rós on their incredible Takk album.

I once read about how, while preparing for the final scenes in the 2007 movie Sunshine, Danny Boyle had Cillian Murphy listen to Sigur Rós at maximum volume, trying to create some sort of (obviously earthbound) impression of what it would be like to be in complete communion with the sun Murphy’s character was attempting to reignite.

I can readily understand the choice — the euphoria is clearly present in Sigur Rós’ music, along with positivity and a very real sense of power.

Car OK COMPUTER

Radiohead: OK Computer

And that brought me, finally, to CD6, which proved to be a rather battered and slightly skippy ripped copy of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Because it is a truth intergalactially acknowledged that no vehicle is roadworthy without a bit of Radiohead hanging around — I mean the first track is Airbag, so clearly no car is safe without a copy?

I’m not quite sure where I would be without songs like Let Down or No Surprises. And for me it is a strangely (OK, perhaps downright weirdly) comforting thought that cosmic forces aligned themselves in such a way that they not only produced life on this planet, but also contrived to bring the likes of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood into existence in the same place at the same time, to form a once-in-a-generation band with such a distinctive sonic presence…but that, I suspect, is a whole other blogpost…

So anyway — that’s what was in my car stereo. A few surprises, even to myself, along with a few old faves. And while the sound system in The Bloke’s new car is very nice, I am quite content (for the moment) with my old school CDs and my six stack of sunshine.

Without a Word

nijinsky-faun

Nijinsky as the Faun

I have been forever fascinated by how humans can convey the depth and width of their emotions without uttering a single sound. You may think it odd that someone like me, who relishes and cherishes the written word, would value such expression so highly – but, quite simply, I do.

I love watching people dance. I’ve written before about how my children do, too. And while I don’t mind a bit of a boogie myself from time to time, there are some things — ballet, for example — that I believe are best left to the experts. To those rare individuals who are disciplined enough to dedicate their lives to honing their skills and their selves to the point that they bare their very souls on stage.

On Saturday night I was fortunate enough to witness one such individual dance, when Alexandre Riabko took to the stage as a guest artist with the Australian Ballet in the title role of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky.  It was a powerful, masterful performance, vividly depicting Vaslav Nijinsky’s life inside and outside of dance via a series of memories and hallucinations as he descended, finally, into madness.

riabko-nijinsky

Descent into madness…Alexandre Riabko as Nijinksy.

Watching Riabko inhabit Nijinsky’s interior world, as other dancers recreated his recollections — of being the Golden Slave in Scheherazade, or of the Faun in L’apres midi d’un faune, or of Petrouchka, or of learning his ballet steps with his brother and sister  — was mesmerising. But as other dancers began to give form to Nijinksy’s delusions and as his complex relationships with his lover and employer at the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and with his wife, Romola, visibly unravelled, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of tragedy.

nijinsky-sheherazade

The Golden Slave…

The image of Nijinsky returning again and again to something like second position, arms outstretched, as though trying to find his centre and a sense of safety in the midst of his increasing confusion was heartbreaking, particularly when juxtaposed with the transformation of his memories of Diaghilev — performed with all his usual elegant line and length by Andrew Killian — from sensual lover and suave mentor to sinister impresario.

No footage of Nijinksy dancing is believed to have survived — Diaghilev, apparently, would not allow him to be filmed — but during the two and half hours he was on stage, Alexandre Riabko had me completely and utterly convinced that he was channelling the spirit of the man whom many regard as being one of the greatest interpreters of the artform to ever set foot on a stage.

I left the Sydney Opera House deeply saddened by the tragedy of Nijinsky’s tale — he never again danced publicly from the time of his final performance in 1919 until his death, after spending years in and out of asylums, in 1950 — but I was also, ultimately, uplifted by the sheer intensity, beauty and bravery of the performance I had just witnessed.

And I suspect that feeling — one of great admiration tinged with sorrow — would have stayed with me for the remainder of the weekend, had I not had the pleasure of attending a Greek Orthodox wedding with my family the following day.  My daughters had never been to a wedding before, and they were entranced by everything about the experience from the singing at the wedding ceremony to the table settings at the reception. But what really captivated them — and me — was the dancing.

Watching the wedding guests encircling the dance floor, every one of them tracing the intricate steps of a Syrtos, was every bit as mesmerising as the ballet had been the night before.  Here were women — some in sensible sandals, most in spectacular stilletos — and men following in the footsteps of those who had come before them. Here was a sure-footed groom, leading his radiant bride. Without uttering a single word, the dance spoke of tradition, of continuity, of community, of family.

And as the long line of dancers wound their way around the room, I found myself thinking of each of their bodies as a living link to the past, stretching all the way to the present and then onwards, ever onwards, as they danced into the night, celebrating with the newlyweds and wishing them a lifetime of happiness in the future.

syrtos

A long line of tradition and celebration…