Thursday, July 05, 2007

See the rain come down when the sun is shining

It always seems like one of those places that man was not meant to spend much time, let alone live. And, yes, it serves its purpose…it’s a place to put the politicians when they’re not opening things, and, more importantly, it’s a perfect place for a ferry terminal to the very lovely South Island.

But, yes, like most New Zealanders, I have mixed feelings about Wellington…for those of you not in New Zealand, it’s our capital, a city of some 400,000 (although the core is about a third of that) perched rather hopefully on the lower tip of the North Island, looking rather warily at the rather rough (and sometimes deadly) straight of water between it and the South Island. More to the the often blustery weather that blows off that body of water.

My good friend Damian Christie too seems to have mixed feelings, so much so that he put finger to keyboard and wrote a rather good, and very funny piece about the city from a visiting resident’s POV.

wellington I suspect, with good reason having been on the end of countless anti Auckland barbs over the years from residents of the southern town, who seem oddly obsessed with Auckland, and even more frustrated by the fact that no-one in Auckland actually cares about their obsession, that Damian will suffer endlessly in coming weeks, perhaps years, as these things tend to fester somewhat in the capital, for this. It’s a place that, unless you want to see countless variations of cocktail reggae bands, you need to look hard to find other diversions.

He’s a lawyer…he can take it.

Indeed Wellington’s entrenched Napoleon Syndrome far exceeds the odd Sydney / Melbourne snipe, or London / Manchester back and forth…its quite odd, often nasty, and probably says far more about Wellie than anything else.

However, this post was not about Wellington’s complexes, it was intended to plug Damian’s rather cool opinion piece in the (July?) Metro. I have to be honest, I didn’t buy it, but that’s largely because Metro is, well, tricky to come by here in South East Asia. You can of course get parts of it online, but for some very odd reason most of the editorial is not online, at least until sometime after publication. By their very nature, in 2007 city magazines should be online, and, honestly, I can’t think of one from any other city anywhere that’s not. No, I was lucky enough to be sent it, via email, from a friend who thought I might enjoy it.

I’ve spent many, many hours with Damian over the years and he’s a man who speaks his mind, albeit with a sly grin.

Thus, D takes firm aim and resoundly takes no prisoners, feeling as he does, that it’s:

Like a booby trap in an Indiana Jones flick, every new person you meet represents those spike-encrusted walls inching closer. This is life in Wellington.

As said, you can almost feel the heat rising from the Lampton / Courtney / Cuba nexus, and the protests of we have art and culture, which Simon Wilson attempts to toss at the Northern City in an earlier Metro piece….but I couldn’t help but feeling that Simon could have easily condensed his hundreds of words about the Queen City to the following few: you are too messy and you need more politicians to fix it...oh, and you are all philistines. The last bit needs to be chanted over and over. Oh and Simon, nobody in Auckland actually gets their style from Wendyl Nissan, its just non-Aucklanders that think we do.

The inevitable claims as to Auckland’s pedestrian unfriendliness always bemuse me though….Akaroa is pedestrian friendly…cities almost never are by their very nature. I like Akaroa too...

Damian covers this well too:

The village mentality is a double-edged sword for those who attempt to be single in Wellington. It’s easy to meet people; impossible to avoid them later.


Unless that is, there’s a southerly blowing. A friend down for the weekend remarked on how much we all discuss the wind direction. She couldn’t understand why, until it turned southerly. When it’s southerly you hold tightly to the car door as you open it lest you take out a passing cyclist. When it’s southerly you don’t take an umbrella, no matter how hard it’s raining.

Whether Metro is any good or not now, I don’t know. The first Warwick Roger editorial tenure was good, but for much of the rest of its history it’s been both shockingly facile and shallow, and perhaps a contributing reason for the Wellingtonian misview of New Zealand’s only real city. It certainly has had little to do with what actually goes on in the city I’ve lived in much of my life, and Aucklanders, with their wallets, indicated years ago how irrelevant it was. People within the city (but not those without) stopped paying attention a long time ago.

But Damian’s thoughts are both good, and very funny, and worth your time and money. My friend Harry in NYC, who’s seen the story too, said it was very John Cooper-Clarke, and so it is, especially this killer:

Wind and weather is to Wellington conversation what the property ladder is to Auckland. Wellington weather is, in fact, indefensible. “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day” say the absolutely positive crowd, but of course you can. You could be somewhere good on a good day.

Go Damian….

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

speed along the highway / honey I want it my way

Oh, I’m a sucker.

I stick with people, I surely do. Take James Paul McCartney. I’ve either bought, or cajoled out of EMI (mostly the latter in the past decade or two) every post Beatles album he’s made. I bought, with hard earned pocket money, McCartney, from the PDC in Palmerston North in 1970. It was the same shop I’d bought Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road, Let It be, The Beatles and With The Beatles from, so it was a grand tradition.

I followed McCartney with Ram and everything else, despite the diminishing returns. And boy, did they diminish. All was fine until Band On The Run, which felt a little lightweight but it had bouncy tunes that worked on the radio.

Then the vacuum and the wait came. And came and came. And still I acquired every album, well aware that there was likely nothing on them worth my time. All those terrible Wings albums……indeed, over the next two decades it’s not an unreasonable overstatement that there was very little that floated above the crap marker…I can only think of the Goodnight Tonight 12” mix ,and perhaps a track or two on McCartney II.

But that was it. The only glimmer of hope came when his collaborations with Costello (Just Like Candy) arrived in the late eighties, but his drawings from these (on the Flowers In The Rain album) didn’t come close to Costello’s. And the bootleg renditions that floated around illustrated to all who still cared to listen (and it was a shrinking number), that he needed a pushy ego like Lennon or Elvis, but we all knew that anyay.

I saw him play in 1993 and, between the cheery, but lite, renditions of the Beatles hits, we were subjected to the horrors of Biker Like An Icon and the like….everytime he announced a song from his solo career, the queues grew at the hotdog stands and bathrooms. I was watching a Beatle but there was a clear notion of a Beatle past decline.

Then came Flaming Pie, in 1997, and it had its Macca moments, despite the trademark lousy lyrics…but lousy lyrics have been a McCartney feature since….ahh…Michelle, or for that matter Yesterday. You can forgive the volume of them when a) they are tempered by Penny Lane or Rigby’s lyrical majesty, and b) the melodies are so entrancingly wonderful. But Flaming Pie was a 2 ½ out of 5, which was a massive step up from Press to Play or London Town.

And that was then followed in 2001 by the rather wonderful Driving Rain, a record that for the first time in decades not only sounded contemporary but finished. I guess producer David Kahne needs to take some credit, but I credit it more to the fact that finally Paul no longer felt the need to compete, to make records that might conquer the chart, and the last time he did that was on 1971’s lovely throwaway Wildlife. It had its horribly twee moments for sure, and ended with the excruciatingly awful bonus track, the 9/11 anthem Freedom, but despite that it was a confident modern pop album from an elder statesman.

paul_mccartney But that was only the first step in the rehabilitation of the man who wrote We Can Work It Out. 2006’s Nigel Goodrich produced Chaos And Creation was a full-blown return to form, and is arguably his finest solo album. It has less filler than either McCartney or Ram, and feels less slight and contrived than the only other contender, Band on The Run.

So to 2007 and a new album and a new label, coupled by quite a media ruckus over both his divorce and his move to Starbuck’s Hear Music, plus a return to Kahne as producer. McCartney was rewarded for the strength of his previous two studio albums, by his best chart position in the US for a decade, with a number three album chart entry.

Memory Almost Full however, as much as it feels like a comfortable old friend from first listen, is not quite the album its predecessor was, but neither is a slip back to the ugly decades. Paul still sounds confident in himself, with absolutely nothing to prove and this record really has its moments. I love the concise Liverpudlian (for want of a better word) rocker Only Mama Knows, which sounds like it was honed on the floor of the Cavern by a teenager bought up on Little Richard; and the pompy House Of Wax, which is very much Maybe I’m Amazed on some sort of drug; oh, and the single, the infectiously charming Dance Tonight, a song that only McCartney could get away with….it’s just so FAB and could easily have been lifted off side two of the The Beatles. There are other moments, quite a few in fact, but I suspect that Kahne doesn’t have the same editorial authority as Goodrich as the lyrics have acquired the appalling tag more often than they should, and there are times when you know that somebody really needed to say, no, that bit needs to go. My friend Chris also notes that that a decent back vocal here and there would not go amiss.

But, yes, it’s ok in a Paul sort of way…a little too slight perhaps and disappointing after Chaos, but as one review noted, this is perhaps a more fab album than we, all things considered, had the right to expect from Paul McCartney aged 65, and I’ll go against the critical tide and say that it’s more pleasant and less egotistically faux-roots album than any of the last three Dylan albums. But I know everyone disagrees with that so I’ll shut up.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

well don't look now / but here comes Johnny Cool

The sound is rough as guts and even the visuals are shaky but this is another fucking cool few minutes of retro guitar pop. How cool is Brendan, and Des looks as wonderfully un-flusterable as he did the hundreds of times I saw him play. But the obvious question is, how did Johnny get a sticking plaster on his head. I have a fair idea. Oh...this is The Marching Girls, ex-Scavengers..First in Line, a single I released back in 1980 on Propeller.

stuck inside of Semanggi with the Soekarno-Hatta blues again

Yesterday I blew my nose and this huge black bit of gunk came out…lovely.

But you get that in Jakarta…the relentless dirty yellow and grey air is an obvious downside to one of the world’s most fascinating and vibrant big cities. And big it certainly is. The official figure is twenty three million but nobody actually believes that it’s anything close to that number. The figure everybody throws at you, from taxi drivers to diplomats is closer to thirty, and the truth may lie somewhere in between I guess, if anyone really knows. Whatever it is, that yellowy grey fog, much of which comes from the untempered exhaust fumes (vague attempts to officially control it have come to naught) that seem to spew out of almost every vehicle but in particular the multitudes of buses and bajaj is both omnipresent and choking. On Wednesday evening last three of us, after coffee, and naively believing it was only a few hundred metres, walked from Aksara, along Jalan Raya Kemang for some two kilometres or so. It was far further than we planned to walk, but, despite the light rain which began towards the end and then intensified, we did so. The footpath on the way, what there was of it, was broken and blocked here and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         there, including sector with rolled barbed wire, was no reasonable way anyone could walk on it for any distance, so you spend eighty percent of your time on the road dodging the fume spewing vehicles rolling past you in an endless nose to tail line. It was pretty awful but you soon realise that this is the way eighty percent of Jakarta’s millions live…the ones who don’t own of those countless new Kijangs or, as likely, BMWs streaming past (this was Kemang after all), and you shut up and stumble on.

Yep, Jakarta…the air aside, if I’m honest, I love it more every time I visit, and it’s never long enough. It has much better food and substantially better shopping, on more levels, than Singapore now (at much better prices…and unlike the island nation the smiles are not defined by a rule has soul, immense soul) and more chaos (and a city needs chaos) and is more tolerant than KL. With Bangkok, it’s the city that defines Urban South East Asia.

This time we spent a morning exploring the twenty four stories (over two buildings) of the wholesale fabric and clothing markets, where Indonesia’s manufacturers’ and it’s mom and pop outlets source their fabrics, readymade clothing, buttons, accessories and everything else you can imagine…downstairs where fabrics are only sold in multiples of thousands of meters, and upstairs to the ultra-modern foodhall where traders can enjoy any cuisine from any corner of the world. And it’s in places like that where the sheer scale of this city really hits you. It’s immense….an urban juggernaut with a population five times that of the country I come from (and that excludes its endless sprawling dormitory and manufacturing suburbs across East Java), and yet for most of we westerners, like the country that it exists as the capital of, it’s almost, beyond the terror alerts we read about over our eggs (oh, and Bali…but it never ceases to amaze me how many compatriots don’t know it’s in RI) an absolute unknown. Whilst writing this I tried to find a reasonable link for Kemang, but found nothing much, which when one considers that in Western terms it is of the size and sophistication of many of Australia’s trendier inner suburbs, is astounding. And even Jakarta as a whole, exists only in the sketchiest terms on the net. And that’s simply because, because of it’s sheer size and self-momentum, and because so few visit it from outside Indonesia, this city looks inwards towards Indonesia, a country which is increasingly comfortable in it’s own self and such a bemusing enigma to outsiders.

After two and a half years here, and quite some visits to Jakarta (and countless more to other parts of Java) I find the things that used to astound and confuse, and yes frighten me, now seem so very normal, and warming. I love the groups of young kids on their bikes grinning widely and yelling hello mister at me, and the groups of workers gathered around the bakso carts in hungry anticipation. The heartland of Indonesia is incredible.

It’s a very easy country to fall in love with, and despite knowing that it has to change if things are to get any better for either the masses or the country’s future, you do find yourself hoping that it doesn’t change too much, which of course is incredibly OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         selfish, and spoken as a bulĂ© who doesn’t have to live the way so many here do.

And of course I sound like a gawking tourist, which of course I am, but what was once a mindboggling, even terrifying, place (I described Jakarta after my first visit, to friends, as the “wild west”) feels surprisingly normal to me now. Perhaps it still is the wild west, and the back streets of Glodok still have that aura, but it doesn’t phase me anymore.

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