2020 in Music: Blue Jai’s Top 5

Most years I am pretty clear about which songs constitute my Top 5 for the year – this is, after all, the only list I produce with any regularity in which the proviso is that any song included on my list has to have been released in the current year.

My problem with my Top 5 for 2020 is that when the world turned upside down (and particularly when it then turned in on itself during the first lockdown), what I listened to ended up being firmly and unashamedly rooted in nostalgia. In the face of such enormous unknowns, I sought refuge in the songs from my teenage years and before. I found myself listening to plenty of songs with fuzzy guitar riffs like Ratcat’s “That Ain’t Bad”, cruisy tunes like The Badloves’ “Green Limousine”, heading back to the inimitable groove of Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” or going back even further in time to songs like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”.

It wasn’t accidental, and my trips down memory lane definitely helped me navigate this most troublesome of years.

But there came a point when I had to venture back onto the airwaves and Spotify Playlists I know and love, to connect with the myriad of new releases that artists, also in lockdown, have created in 2020. And from those rich pickings, I present Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs for 2020.

“Low” by Chet Faker

Just because I feel low, right now

It doesn’t mean all that I’ve got has run out…

I suspect from the moment I heard the opening lines of this song for the first time I knew it would be my favourite of the year. Chet Faker (also known as Nick Murphy) is back, and this song could not have come at a better time. The production on this track is sublime and the lyrics somehow sum up everything about 2020 – I love everything about “Low”. More please, Chet Faker.

“Je disparais dans tes bras” by Christine and the Queens

The entire La Vita Nuova EP from Christine and the Queens is brilliant, right from the plaintive opening song “People I’ve been Sad”, as is the accompanying short film (which I’ve included above, since looking at individual songs on their own doesn’t make as much sense as seeing the entire artistic vision). I probably could have picked any of the songs from this latest offering from multi-lingual Héloïse Letissier and her crew, but I ended up picking “Je disparais dans tes bras” over the title track, “La Vita Nuova” (featuring Caroline Polachek) upon discovering it was one of the songs I listened to most on Spotify this year. If you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes – no, scratch that – find yourself fifteen minutes to watch this film, shot in the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, and immerse yourself in epic choreography and wonderful music.

“Dribble” by SYCCO

SYCCO (which is, of course, pronounced “Psycho”, a moniker apparently inspired by all things psychedelic rather than psychotic) is a Brisbane teenager who, judging from this release, is one to watch. “Dribble” came about when SYCCO was trying to make sense of someone sleep talking, attempting to derive meaning from words that were probably entirely random. The end result is great: catchy melody, driving beat, great song. This one got plenty of airplay at our house and in the car.

“Gold Dust Woman” by Julia Holter

OK, OK…so Julia Holter actually recorded this in 2012, but she released it in 2020, so I’m going to count it in this year’s Top 5. Besides, it’s such a great cover of Fleetwood Mac’s original song that I can’t not let this one through (you can thank me later — the link will take you to audio, not video, but it’s totally worth it). Holter takes Stevie Nicks’ lyrics to an otherworldly place and I honestly couldn’t love this more. Fingers and toes crossed we get from some new music from Julia Holter in the near future; she’s a class act.

“Are You Even Real?” by James Blake

There’s a lot to like about this track from James Blake, who I think is one of the most interesting recording artists on the planet right now. At its core “Are You Even Real?” is a love song, but as with many of Blake’s songs it’s not always easy to tell upon first listen exactly what headspace he’s in: the music and lyrics don’t always line up precisely with the feel of the song. Blake’s “Don’t Miss It” (from 2019) is another great example of this – Cillian Murphy described the lyrics to that song as being “either profoundly sad or profoundly hopeful – perhaps both at the same time”, and that sums up the way I feel about much of James Blake’s music. Ultimately, however, for me one line in “Are You Even Real?” stands out, and is incredibly beautiful:

She runs her hands through my imagination…

I suspect that’s exactly what all great artists do to us when they sing and play, don’t they? And that’s as real as it gets.

So that’s my Top 5 for the year…but here’s some of the best of my nostalgic listening from years gone by to keep your toes tapping and your mood upbeat as we navigate the 2020 Season Finale.

Top 5 Throwbacks for 2020

  • “Red Dress” by the Sugababes (2005)
  • “Dancing Barefoot” by Patti Smith (1979)
  • “She Has to Be Loved” by Jenny Morris (1989)
  • “Peace Frog” by The Doors (1970)
  • “Close But Not Quite” by Everything is Recorded, featuring Sampha

(That last track is brilliant by the way…interweaving Sampha’s ethereal voice with the Curtis Mayfield sample takes it to another level).

So there we have it folks! Blue Jai’s Top 5 in Music for 2020.

Stay tuned for my Top 5 in Books and on Screen, coming soon…

2020: Wrapping Up a Year of Delight?!

I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole lives not to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.

And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.

It’s not an unexpected discovery.

But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.

I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.

And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…

Fillipé Fridge

Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.

It’s my new refrigerator.

His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on.  Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.

Being Alcohol Free

At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year.  I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.

Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020.  I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.

I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.

Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result

Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.

I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.

Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition

It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music.  Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.

The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more.  Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.

Sunshine Over Sea

I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.

One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!

On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:

‘Cause not everything means something, honey
So say the unsayable
Say the most human of things
And if everything is temporary
I will bear the unbearable
Terrible triteness of being…

It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.

Thank you to @frank_see_fotos for use of this beautiful image.

We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.

Mind yourselves,

BJx

Delights Universally Acknowledged

delight 6It’s been a while since I put fingers to keys, and I’m a little overwhelmed by how different a place the world has become in the past six weeks. These here are crazy times, to quote an old Boom Crash Opera song — which no doubt shows my age (but also proves I’m not old enough to be included in a high risk category based on the number of years I’ve been kicking around the planet).

My own life has had a series of challenges lately, which explains my absense from my little patch of cyberspace, but that does not mean I have taken a hiatus from pursuing the delightful in my world and life. In fact, I’ve become so much more attuned to things that bring delight that I have had to start differentiating between delights and things that make me happy (like hearing my kids laughing together) and occasions of pure, unadulterated joy (such as the moment my beautiful little blue car was driven down the ramp at the Smash Repairers after being fixed, looking and smelling like it had come straight from the sales showroom).

Dark days demand delights, I say!

So rather than limiting myself to a top five or something, here (in no particular order) is a list of truly delightful things I have encountered in the past six weeks or so — many of which you are welcome to avail yoruselves of even if you are in quarantine.

Listening to Whole Albums Uninterrupted

delight 5We all have favourite songs and tunes we could listen to on repeat for days. But every now and then, it is an absolute delight to listen to a whole album in its entirety: just as the artist wanted you to hear it. In the age of the playlist the album is easily forgotten — but you can bet your last roll of toilet paper the artist who recorded it thought long and hard about which songs made the final cut and what their sequence should be on a record. Here are some albums I think benefit from listening to uninterrupted:

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
  • Max Richter — Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  • Thom Yorke — Anima
  • Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
  • Anything at all by Christine and the Queens

There are so many more…and they can transform doing the ironing or anything else uninspiring into something delightful if you let them.

Snippets of Song Lyrics

delight 3On the flip side (SUCH a bad pun it’s almost delightful), snippets of song lyrics sometimes stop me in my tracks and produce a moment of sheer delight.  Here’s one I rediscovered lately when listening to the Foo Fighters’ song “Times Like These”…

I, I’m a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight

What an image! Love, love, love it. Delighful.

Head Massages

Anyone with hair will tell you that the best thing about having a cut and colour is having your head massaged when they wash your hair at the salon. It’s deeply relaxing, a true act service, and an unmitigated delight. Enough said.

Book Deliveries

delight 4I used to joke my kids know the only two things I have regularly delivered to our house are books and wine, but since I’ve ditched the drink the only things likely to turn up on our doorstep are boxes from Booktopia.  Book deliveries are, to my mind, full of the promise of good times to come — particularly becase they are also likely to involve my favourite armchair and a cup of tea.

The last delivery I received included the tome that inspired my journey of delight, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Not surprisingly, the volume itself is delightful — it is small enough to hold comfortably in your hands, but not so tiny as to be twee. It’s also beautifully bound in silvery grey, with a lovely slip cover, and contains short essays I want to savour rather than tear through. 

Finishing Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that children become readers in the laps of their parents…

delight 1I still read aloud to my kids. I’ve done so ever since they were newborns and I suspect I will continue to do so for as long as I have literature to share with them and they have the time to hear it. For years now, most of what I have read to them would probably be considered to be above their reading level but which I think they’re capable of understanding.  In any case, since we’re reading together they can always ask questions if there are things they don’t comprehend on first hearing.

The last novel we read together was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I can honestly say that nothing has brought me greater delight in the past few months than hearing both children tell me it was the best book they’d ever read when we finished it. That said, I should qualify that statement by saying I found it equally delightful when my younger child described someone having a colossal dummy spit at school as “doing a Lady Catherine de Bourgh”. Parenting win.

Oysters

delight 2Oh! Delight in a seashell…especially at the tail end of summer. We are so spoilt with our seafood around here, thought in the interests of sustainability we try not to go overboard with our consumption. Even so, The Bloke is and always will be a sucker for a prawn roll — not the variety that looks something like a spring roll, but the kind where you cut open a fresh bread roll, butter it (in most cases generously, in his case obscenely), fill it with freshly shelled prawns and slather those with seafood cocktail sauce. Yum.

Me? I’m an oyster girl through and through, and the Sydney Rocks have been absolutely delectable this year. There is nothing more delightful chilled oysters on a hot day. Like today, even…

So that’s it for the moment, folks.  No doubt we will need to indulge in other delights as the world changes around us. Some of these delights are accessible most of the time, others might have to be savoured even more sweetly when they become available again.

In the meantime, stay safe and well, and be kind to each other.

In delight,

BJx

 

All Perfect Light and Promises

cloud 1Delight!

Even the word is delightful — to my ears, at any rate. It conjures images of warm golden sunbeams, of huge and happy smiles, and sounds of burbling streams and joyful laughter. It’s also what I have chosen to focus on this year: to notice the experiences and things that bring me moments of delight.

My inspiration for embarking on this project came from listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, when she interviewed the American poet Ross Gay about his Book of Delights. In that collection — which I have not yet read, but hope to soon — Gay presents a series of short essays written just about every day over the course of a year about what brought him delight.

Challenge accepted, I thought. What a wonderful way to find positive things in and about my life. And so, I decided to start looking more carefully at interactions and experiences I might have otherwise tuned out to, or have previously relegated to the purlieu of the mundane.

Beginning my quest, I discovered that the word delight has a Latin derivation from the verb delectare, meaning “to charm”, which is unsurprising since delightful moments tend to spring from things we find enchanting. These moments are probably happening around us all the time — if we only take the time to observe them.

My first moment of delight came came very early in the New Year, shortly after I had watched the first half of the documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence. Not only did the film remind me how brilliantly mesmerising a frontman Hutchence was, but it also prompted me to listen to some INXS. I found myself travelling down an aural memory lane, listening to the soundtrack of my childhood, when “New Sensations” started playing.

I suspect it is just about impossible not to sing along and dance to that song. It’s infectiously upbeat and in your face (in a good way), and it’s also got great lyrics. I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my life, but this time — which was sometime around New Year’s Day — one line in particular popped out at me and made me pause (despite the fact I may have been in full raucous singing along/daggy dancing mode at the time).

All perfect light and promises. 

I know that light. I’ve written about it before, some five years ago now, because I love it so much, just as surely as I love the sun rising over the sea.

cloud 2But it also struck me, in that moment, that it summed up my way of looking at the beginning of 2020, in all its bright shiny newness and with all my bold resolutions.

These moments of delight really are everywhere. They’re in songlines and skylines, in the cheerful chattering of my children, in the sinuous sprawl of our cat in the sun, in the first sip of hot Earl Grey tea in the early morning, in the scent of sweet peas and in the smell of rain and even in the stars.

Especially in the stars.

May 2020 be a year of delight for us all.

 

 

 

2019 in Song

OK folks…strap yourselves in — it’s time for my Top 5 in music for 2019!

Only rule that applies to this list is that the song had to be released in 2019. No more mucking around — let’s jump straight in.

1. Harmony Hall Vampire Weekend

Who can fail to be happy when one of their favourite bands releases their first single in aaaaaages on your actual birthday? This was a present I didn’t expect and one that kept giving the whole year long. I love everything about this song, from the catchy beat to the genre-jumping progression of muscial styles — especially when they go from what sounds like a classical piano solo into sliding country guitar. For what it’s worth, the snake in the video is super cute, too.

2. The Barrel Aldous Harding

I’m not going to lie — I have no idea what the lyrics to the song are about, but this was one of the tunes I found myself listening to over and again in 2019. It’s whimsical and somehow magical and proves you don’t have to be playing klezmer to include a clarinet on a track. Aldous Harding is a Kiwi folk singer-songwriter whose work I will definitely be checking out more regularly — though the video does prompt ever so many questions…not least of which is do I need to wear platforms to dance like that?

3. Firesmoke Kate Tempest

I read Kate Tempest’s book The Bricks That Built the Houses a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite reads of the past decade. I suspect this song will also be one of my favourites of the decade. It is an incredible, personal love song, a raw and searing portrait of intimacy. It’s Firesmoke.

4. All I Want Broken Social Scene

This one needs to be listened to up loud! It’s as bold and brash as Firesmoke is quiet and contained, but the sentiment remains the same. Canada’s indie rock darlings delivered this around the same time Vampire Weekend released Harmony Hall — it must have been quite a week for great tunes, because this one rocks and I love it.

5. Summer Girl HAIM

There is not, in my humble opinion, enough saxophone being played in songs these days (or clarinet…as The Barrel proved at No. 2 above). This song from HAIM is a poppy classic with a sax riff that gets stuck in your head in all the best ways. I love the video too: the idea of stripping off all we no longer need as we head into summer — not to mention the next decade — it one I can get behind.

Honourable Mentions this year go to James Blake for Don’t Miss It, and also to a few tracks released in 2018 than didn’t really make it onto my radar until 2019: Fireworks by First Aid Kit and No Roots by Joshua Hyslop.

And my Top 5 Throwbacks for the year (other than anything by the inimitable and still very much missed David Bowie) are, in no particular order:

  1. Love and Peace — Quincy Jones (1969)
  2. Heads Will Roll — Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2009)
  3. Kiss Them For Me — Siouxsie and the Banshees (1991)
  4. Where Is My Mind? — The Pixies (1988)
  5. Grateful Song — Villagers (2013)

Stay tuned for my best of 2019 in Movies/TV and books!

 

 

If Only I Was Barack Obama…

future

Clearly the former POTUS follows my humble blog and can’t wait for MY Best of 2019 Lists….

Barack Obama tweeted his best books of 2019 today.

Because he is Barack Obama (and even though we live a considerable distance across the Pacific, don’t we wish we were still seeing a whole lot more of him), he simply put up a list of what he thought were his best reads of the year. No doubt book sales will hit stratospheric heights momentarily…

Now, as any of you follow this blog with any semblance of regularity may know, this is the time of year when I, also, typically put fingers to keys and let you know what my favourite books, songs and viewings were of the year. And while I cannot even begin to pretend to operate in the same league as Barack Obama (I suspect it sufficient, at this point, that we reside on the same planet), those of you who follow this blog already know that this year had not entirely gone to plan. That said, previous years did not exactly go to plan, but sometimes we need to learn lessons more than once to make them really sink in…

So far, December 2019 has brought us the end of the school year, more Christmas parties than we care to mention, a special outing to Cirque du Soleil (magnificent and something we would highly recommended were it not for the fact that we saw their final Sydney show of Kurios), and a godawful lingering case of the flu — which has now metamorphosized into equally lingering head colds that require us to take a family sized box of tissues wherever we go, even if it is only to the beach less than one kilometre from our front door.

Meh.

And so…yes, I know, I’m running late on all these posts and won’t get them done in the next day and a half before New Year’s…I will be letting you know what my Best Of 2019’s were in — yes, you guessed it…

2020!

Because good things come to those who wait.

hey

Happy New Year, y’all!

And I have lists. You know I do…lists of my final top 5’s and shortlists and even thematic lists (though they may not make the final cut — you’ll just have to wait and see).

With every best wish and several tenterhooks to hang off,

Blue Jai x

 

 

A Friday Morning Coffee with Keef

KR 7

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.

KR 2

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.

KR 6

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.

KR 8

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

KR 9

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

IMG_3678

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?

reim cilly

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…