Friday, October 27, 2006

You gotta jump up / a-to the beat

Maybe it just me, and maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but why do so many good, potentially great, restaurants have such terrible, terrible music. I know it’s not universal, and there are places that get it very right, but, dammit, sometimes it feels that way. It’s a particular bugbear of mine, a hobby horse, but one that I sit quietly and suffer…well that’s not true...I groan and mumble to those sitting with me. They, as often as not, give me a look, shuffle their bums a little uncomfortably and then resume talking amongst themselves as I continue to critique each and every track.

I eat out a lot, probably more than I should, but as a defense, both Brigid and myself enjoy our food a lot (as I can tell when I look in the mirror most days...off to the gym again in the pagi), its not expensive once you get to Asia, and we travel a lot, and eating out is part of that.

I like a bit of music whilst I eat, for obvious reasons. To be honest I like a bit of music when I do most things but that’s rather beside the point. We have our favourite places, ones we return to over and over again, and we like to try new places that look interesting, as often as possible. So we are experienced and, I’m afraid, rather critical customers.

But clearly, the skills required to make a restaurant work, that work in a kitchen, that go into the aesthetic design of a restaurant and a menu don’t necessarily imply any great taste in music. My experience would indicate otherwise. Two cases in point here in Bali. The first is a new place run by a young, Dutch I think, guy on Sanur beach, a place that’s been screaming out for a decent place on the beach for god knows how long. And now it has one. The food was good, the vista, sitting on rather pleasant solid wooden bench seats at solid tables rather than the standard plastic beach fare, looking out over the gorgeous Sanur reef on the brand new Japanese built (it was war reparations I’m told) beach, was fantastic.

And all was fine until Norah Jones and Harry Connick were turned up…whilst I’m eating my food, I don’t want to hear shitty MOR over-wrought takes on My Funny Valentine or These Foolish Things. These people do not make sophisticated dining (or any other time) music despite the way they may be marketed. I want faux sophistication I’ll go to somewhere where I expect it…like say, Euro in Auckland, not a pretty little beach restaurant in paradise.

Talking of fake…then there was Ku de Ta yesterday, the fashionista centre for the (self proclaimed) beautiful people of Seminyak. Now, whilst I have problems with this rather shallow aspect of Bali, it’s a beautiful spot and the food has improved in recent months (the breakfasts are fantastic), albeit still rather overpriced, apart from said brekky. But surely I don’t need to hear Wham as I sip my strawberry juice and look down the beach. Wham Bam / I am a man just doesn’t sit well with the rhythm of the cascading surf…

Auckland and Sydney are no better, I’ve had to endure Jimmy Barnes quietly in the background in overpriced Bondi eateries in the past…..and if I hear the bloody Buddha Bar or fucking James fucking Blunt again, I will, I promise, get violent, or at least think violent thoughts.

Look, you spend a small fortune on interiors and a beautiful Bose system, and then you put on Duran Duran’s Greatest Hits (as was the case in Ponsonby recently). One restaurant in Auckland has played the same CD on the twenty or thirty times we’ve been there over the years. Honestly, nobody in your place wants to hear your favourite CD, or for that matter, any store bought CD, that’s not why they come there.

Not getting a professional or at least a talented amateur to design the audio aspect of what you are offering is inexcusable, unprofessional and lazy.

A least I got that off my chest.

On a completely different tack, as a kind of follow up to the post yesterday about the post Corby (she’s writing a book…apparently it’s all the Bali 9’s fault now) braindead great southern landers and the like, it is with some concern that I have to report our very own drug abuse problem.

More of an issue than a problem I should say, as its not featured on any fear and loathing in Sanur bulletins in the Australian press yet. In our garden, between the cobras, squirrels, geckos and other much larger lizards we have many assorted frogs and toads, big and small. .

In the evening its hard not trip over a hopping wee creature and they do, from time to time, create quite racket.

And Chippie, our dachshund has also noted the creatures. In fact she’s discovered rather than torturing the poor things to death as nature would generally have her do, she (and Star, the anging kampong) gets more pleasure out of keeping them alive, hoping and sweating….sweating all that lovely juice which when licked sends our little mutts off to another planet. Yes, our dogs are toad junkies…both, but in particular little Chippie who likes nothing better of an evening than to get nicely toaded, to froth at the mouth, stagger blissfully around the property until she collapses at the end of the bed. The next day is clearly a little rough for the girl who looks a little fragile, the head is not feeling as it should I imagine, but she’s often back into it again when the opportunity (or toad) presents itself...and so on and so on…

And whilst she doesn’t see the need to do a Michelle Leslie (whom I actually felt rather sorry for until she opened her mouth, what an unpleasant soul she turned out to be) and don a head to toe burka, as the photographic evidence to the left indicates (PhotoShopped for modesty), we are a loss, as responsible parents, to know what to do next….although perhaps the photo could be a handy reference for any parent trying to work out if their child is on drugs…

Thursday, October 26, 2006

then we'll all be happy / and we'll all be wise / and together we will live beneath the burning sky

Tourism in Bali is down, not as much as it was, but its still down. It’s a fact and it’s a tragedy for those on the island who can least afford it as, without a proper social welfare system (beyond the village system, which is in reality probably more supportive than half the systems in the so called developed world (hello Singapore, hello USA)) those on the bottom rungs, who depend not only on the actual work but the obvious flow on, are clearly suffering.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still tourists by the thousand arriving daily on this island (to suffer the indignity of the rather poorly thought out visa-on-demand fee, which clearly is designed to benefit those with such access to so much ready US cash than Indonesia, but that’s another story) but the numbers are clearly down and the balance has changed rather dramatically. There has been a massive upswing in the numbers from many of the more sophisticated Asian nations; and Europe and even the fearful American tourists seem to be returning. In truth there was never really a substantive drop off in the young European visitor, attracted by the sun, surf, and the lights of Seminyak; and the pick up in American numbers is relative to the fact that our paranoid imperialist want-to-be-masters don’t like to travel and haven’t much for some years anyway, unless they go under the guise of the 82nd Airborne or such.

But the obvious swing is the drop in the budget Australian tourist…Ma and Pa with three kids from the sprawling suburbs of Perth, Sydney or Brisbane, who have, as a habit, spent their annual three weeks off from the Holden factory in Bali. The fifty percent drop in their numbers has really hurt ocker central...the low end tourist market of Kuta and Tuban. The unwashed crowds who used to come en-mass to buy their cheap T shirts, knock off DVDs and pay far too much for “plaiting of hair”, let alone frequent the seedy bars of Jl Legian, are staying away in droves. The middle and high end seem to have tossed aside any concerns and are here in obvious numbers, as a drive down Jalan Laksama on a Saturday night will attest.

And, you may say, can you blame them…after all four years ago, in a couple of those very seedy and sleazy Kuta bars 202 poor souls lost their lives. It was and remains a tragedy. There is nothing that I can say to make it any better or to justify the horror of what was done then, or in Kuta Square & Jimabaran last year.

But, and I thought long and hard before I posted this…according to a recent poll, this understandable reasoning is NOT the primary reason most of these people are not coming here. No, some 76 percent of Australians, in a recent Australian poll of those who have made a decision to holiday elsewhere, stated that their primary reason for avoiding Bali was the fear of being fitted up for a drug conviction. I don’t have an link for this as it doesn’t appear in the online version of the Jakarta Post who reported it, so you’ll need to take my word for it.

Now I can also understand that many people would, and have, dismissed the bomb threat as minor (I’ve not seen any figures but I would imagine the chance of being hit by a Sydney bus would be about the same as being in another bomb here, and indeed, courtesy of Sheriff Howard’s rather pathetic desire the to be seen as a player, you may be as much at risk of a bomb right now in George Street or The Crown Casino as Bali…)…not non existent mind, but the chances of being in that particular place...well you know…I lived in London whilst the IRA were blowing up Harrods and the like, but you put it in perspective. Planes crash but I still fly; there are nasty snakes here but I still wander carefully through the countryside.

So I scratch my head and wonder, is this symptomatic of a recent failure in the Australian education system or have these people always been so bloody stupid. There is even some idiot (from Harvey World in Tasmania no less) who has conducted a campaign against traveling to Bali because of what was done to our Schapelle. Forget the fact that she’s probably guilty (and I’m not going to go into it again but look at the evidence...any court in the world would have convicted her, and I’ve yet to hear a convincing contrary argument, or for that matter, meet a Bali resident who thinks otherwise) and the fact that the drugs were allegedly planted in Australia by corrupt baggage handlers for gods sake, not by those terrible Indonesians. And forget the fact that the Bali 9 were handed over to the Indonesian police by the Australian Federal Police who were well aware that, when found guilty, as they most surely are, what the likely outcome would be.

See, I don’t agree with the sentences handed out, 20 years simply is wrong and the death penalty is always wrong wherever and why ever its applied, but, big but this, that is largely beside the point…if you consciously plan and undertake the crime, as I believe both the Corby crew and the Bali 9 obviously did, and then you work out your odds…and the odds in Indonesia for bul├ęs with drug related crimes are not good. End of story. You do it, you are stupid, even if, as so many suspect, the Corby family may well have done so before successfully. We are not dealing with a bright family here, but the above polling suggests that they are more or less representative of many their compatriots in that.

The Australian hypocrisy stinks too…complaining on one hand about the death penalties for the Bali 9, and on the other clambering for the Bali bombers to meet their end. And then there is the Ba’shir nonsense. The man was convicted on hearsay, most of which would not have held up in an Australian court. In Australia it’s doubtful if he would’ve spent any time in a cell, but so eager were the Indonesian Authorities to be seen to be doing the right thing that perhaps the goalposts were shifted a little. The Indonesian justice system is a million miles from perfect but I would suggest that before the self righteously ignorant downunder rant that they look a little closer to home, at their justice system as it’s applied to their native peoples over the years, and the notoriously corrupt police and courts in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

So that’s my little dua ribu’s worth…stay away if you are worried about your physical safely (but apply the same values to your next journey to London or NYC please), but anything else is crap.

Anyway, as seems to be the common wisdom here, the place has, aesthetically if nothing else, benefited substantially from the demographical swing…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

there'll always be a place in my heart for you

Brigid says I’m turning into a grouchy old man if the recent posts are anything to go by, so let’s get POSITIVE….Lets talk about music. In particular I need to make some sort of attempt at adding to the album list I started a few months back, here, and here. So, without much more ado…here are more albums that would make any listing complied by me but somehow slip though the “authoritative” lists from real critics.

American Spring…(United Artists 1972)…the great lost Brian Wilson album (although to be fair he only co-produced this, but his fingerprints are obviously all over this and are the ones that matter). American Spring were called Spring in the US but there was a UK band called that (who had a good album on an obscure RCA label called Neon) but were originally called The Honeys...confused? Don’t be…it was essentially Brian’s then wife, Marilyn’s band (with her sister). Whilst the songs are sometimes familiar the approach is different from anything else Wilson did, or would do, and, this may sound ugly, but it makes more sense aurally than conceptually, imagine a blending of the Beach Boys with the Carpenters (not my favourite act but I do understand them). However it works rather well, with the purity of the vocals accentuating the depth, and complexity of the Wilson sound. Rather wonderfully actually. Hard as hell to find, but best tracked down on the early nineties CD reissue with the extra UA singles tagged on.

Art Pepper….Smack Up (Contemporary 1960)….shortly before, as the title suggests, the heroin dragged Art down (but not out, his later work is mightily magnificent too) for a spell, he released this work of genius. I knew nothing of Art when a guy in a little shop in Soho recommended this to me in the early eighties, so I bought it on a whim, based upon the fact that it sounded interesting. And found my self absorbed, not only by the record but by the man’s rather tragic quagmire of a life (his autobiography, Straight Life, is an essential, if somewhat depressing read). But to the record itself, a collection of tracks written by other players on his label…I love the fact that despite his personal problems, this record simply oozes raw soul, so beautifully executed, and with such melodic passion. Whether the heroin contributed to or detracted from the performance in these black grooves is an arguable point (and this is a vinyl record, the CD does it no justice), but he only did these sessions under duress from his wife. I hate the drug, and all it implies, more than I can express but it’s impossible to satisfactorily dispute the fact that so much of the music I love was created under its influence. Smack Up is no exception..

The Temptations….Sing Smokey (Gordy 1965)….the album that gave the world the My Girl and in a single swoop invented the whole sweet soul sound that so dominated the first half of the next decade. But that may be the weakest track on the finest album from, arguably, Motown’s finest band. The story was that Berry Gordy was desperate to get this band on the charts so he gave them to his finest songwriter, the mighty Bill Robinson, who, in early 1964 began crafting the series of songs that comprise this wonderful record. Many of the tracks herein are well known as Miracles originals but this is much much more than the standard Motown artist covering other Motown hits that was the company rule to fill out albums. Eddie Kendricks’ vocals, to my ears, dominates this record and the match between his voice and Smokey’s (for the want of a better phrase) smokey anthems, especially the take of What’s So Good About Goodbye, which sounds like it was recorded after a hard night of the pain espoused in the lyrics, is absolutely perfect. I’m a huge fan of the Norman Whitfield Temptations era too, but if I had to pick one album of theirs, this swooningly beautiful collection is it.

Lamont DozierOut Here On my Own (ABC 1974)…fresh from the intrigues of both Motown and his own (with the Holland brothers) HDH labels (Hot Wax and Invictus) Lamont resumed on his own solo career (he’d released a few singles prior to his years with Gordy) in the early seventies, with mixed results both commercially and artistically (more in the later years than the first part of it). But when he hit home he did so resoundingly and nowhere more so than on this wonderful album which brought together all the strands of his earlier work and placed them firmly in the black America of the early seventies. The album is vaguely politicised (the gorgeous soft funk of Fish Ain’t Biting), lush (the post Philly and romantically disarming Trying to Hold on to My Woman) and raw (The Meters-ish title track with its classic livin ain’t easy / when you’re black and greasy line) but never fails to deliver. I worked out today I’ve worn out three vinyl copies of this over the years….

Gregory IsaacsSoon Forward (African Museum 1979)…recorded at Channel One, this was my personal soundtrack for the last half of 1979. I’m a massive fan of our Gregory, despite the fairly substantial amount of dross that peppers his huge catalogue. But it’s that voice, you see, that lazy way he seduces the listener before you know he’s even snuck up on you. I buy all sorts of Isaacs stuff, usually unheard, and as often as not I’m disappointed...there are actually only about eight albums that are absolutely essential, and this is one of them. I should say, actually this is THE one you really need. Even if it didn’t contain the career defining, Sly and Robbie produced title track (Gregory produced the rest), this album would stand up. Slave Market is beautifully tragic from the winsome opening line of “you’ll never get away” onwards; My Relationship is probably Gregory’s most romantic moment (and that’ saying a lot) and a pointer towards his crossover hit, Night Nurse, a couple of years later; and Universal Tribulation might not have the anthemic qualities that took Marley’s songs around the world but its every bit the conscious equal of anything Bob did, and melodically vastly superior. At the same time, both staunchly militant and beautifully wistful, Soon Forward is one of the crucial albums of its era. End of story..

Orange JuiceTexas Fever…(Polydor 1984)…a mini album, remember those? Produced by the peerless Dennis Bovell (check that discography and weep), Texas Fever was the “mature” record made by the fantastically quirky little pop band from Glasgow who were an about-to-make-it band for pretty much their whole career. By the time this came out, not that many were still waiting but I saw Edwyn Collins in the street once and told him this was my favourite OJ record...he said it was his too, whether that was something to say to a fan I don’t know or care, but it worked for me. The intro to A Place in My Heart is so beautifully evocative, and it’s a song I’ve, to steal a line from the lyric, always been mildly obsessive about. The Day I Went Down to Texas has glorious little time changes, but does beg the question…why are Scots musicians so obsessed with the state? A wonderful little record, now sadly, largely forgotten.