Remembering Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam, one of my few political heroes recently died, aged 98.


In 1975, aged 10, I was in grade 5, in Brisbane, Australia. The news that the Labor government of Gough Whitlam had been dismissed by the governor general John Kerr came on the radio in the classroom (teachers of course knew it was imminent). The kids around me cheered. I had no idea why. Our household was a labor-voting household. Years later, I realised it was because I was at a private (Catholic) school, mostly full of kids whose conservative parents wouldn’t have realised that something called ‘society’ was at least partially responsible for their personal success.

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Gun control: a debate in need of framing

Is the aftermath of the most recent gun massacre in the US any different from those before? Many hope so due to the fact that the dead were mostly little kids of the ages of 5-7; it seems such an unacceptable atrocity that even the gun lobby would realise the need for change. Right? I doubt it. But it doesn’t mean no progress can be made. [this post updated with DailyBeast poll link under opinions 23/12/2012].

Newtown flag of honour

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Ginger Baker – bringing African rhythms into modern music

Ginger Baker

Saw Ginger Baker’s African Jazz Confusion the night before last at Ronnie Scott’s in London [I had made a longer post, but it was trashed by WordPress]. Suffice to say a great experience: with Abass Dodoo (Ghana; can’t wait to see him again somewhere) on African percussion, Alec Dankworth on bass (great musician, wonderful rhythmic and melodic sensibility) and Pee Wee Ellis (a legend in his own right – ex-James Brown, Van Morrison, many others) on sax.

I love Ginger Baker’s style – his rolling, bounding river of beats just goes on and on, giving real movement and emotion to the music. This isn’t esoteric jazz or academic jazz drumming, this is something that taps into an underground river of rhythm and makes you want to get up and move, and start hitting some drums yourself. Younger ‘musicians’ and bands take note.

Never the Bride: real rock with soul

Every so often I walk over the river to the famous (among Jazz & eclectic music-heads in London at least) Bulls Head in Barnes. Every time I think I am going to see some small possibly interesting gig in the 100 or so seat jazz room. And every time I am blown away by quality, and I think, hm, this should be a 1,500 seat gig. London is funny like that. There are these strange places where hardly any people can fit, and superstar quality just turns up on any night of the week.

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And now the cine-bad: the Unwatchable Films List

I created a new permanent page for Unwatchable Films. It’s a specific thing – not just bad films, but truly unviewable ones that have a similar effect to a general anaesthetic. They have their own criteria, and are nothing like the ’25 films so bad they’re unmissable’ lists you often see. I am talking cinema CRIMEs here. Please contribute.

Cinema, alive and well

Over the last few months, I have managed to squeeze in enough thought-provoking films to think that my favourite medium is still alive and well. We drown daily in a such a stultifying rain of nonsense and noise that it sometimes it seems that any sign of intelligence must be a mistake. Here are some rays of hope.

Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier): ***
We need to talk about Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay) *****
The battle of Warsaw: 1920 (dir. Jerzy Hoffman) ***
Incendies **** (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy **** (dir. Tomas Alfredson)
The Skin I Live In **1/2 (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
The Debt ***1/2 (dir. John Madden).

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Sunday, (pre-)occupied at St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Today on the London tube I was reading the introduction to ‘The Monstrosity of Christ: paradox or dialectic?’, a debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Millbank, edited by Creston Davis, the latter the author of the introduction. My post here is not about the main subject matter of the book (two views of theology / christianity) but the final sentence of the introduction stayed with me for the day:

The monstrosity of Christ is the love either in paradox or in dialectics – and I believe, may be the pathway beyond the current popular-absolutist rule of finance, spectacle, and surveillance.

Although we can argue about the faith part of this (or even reject it out of hand), the two sides this statement resonate nowhere better right now than at tent city in the forecourt of St Paul’s cathedral, in the heart of the City of London.

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John McLaughlin – Ronnie Scotts London July 2011

A bit late, due to holidays, but too good not to report. I saw the guitar legend and his band the 4th dimension at Ronnie Scott’s in London last month. Probably the most expensive tickets I have ever bought, but to be 10 feet from McLaughlin and the rest of the band … why not?

I won’t bother to try to describe his playing, you can find samples on youtube, but to give an idea, it was in the groove of a) his own music (of course) – louder and tighter than ever, b) reminiscent of Jeff Beck / Jan Hammer in the 80s and c) some sensibilities of Jan Akkerman, the great Dutch Jazz guitarist. McLaughlin goes further and harder than you expect – he plays great jazz lines over hard syncopated rock rhythms.

Gary Husband played keyboards, and as ever, is a great personality in stage. You never know quite what he is going to do. This gig, he left the keyboard for a while and went head to head in a drum duel with Ranjit Barot for around 10 minutes. The presence of two complete drumkits on the stage was a warning that something amusing was likely to happen. It was like the ‘cuttin’ heads’ scene in the Crossroads movie, but with humour. Translated into words… Barot: I’m the real guy here, cop this… Husband: wimp. Take this. Barot: just getting my overcoat off here. Whack! Husband: that sucked, eat my sticks! Barot: off my stage, pretender! …. you get the idea. Etienne Mbappe on bass was just a joy to listen to (especially for me, he was 3 feet away), punching out hard rhythms, lots of slap and melody.

Summary: a bunch of world class musicians + 1 legend in London’s most famous jazz club = perfection.

Film review – Animal Kingdom ****

This Australian film has much to recommend it. It maintains a dark, slow-burn tension for the duration, a by-product of characters who while being completely believable become less and less predictable as time goes on. In a way the film is a kind of trick: you are initially not sure if you are in for a gangster story (will there be a heist, or a gangland battle?), a psycho-drama, or a character study.

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