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I’m writing on a windy, drizzly, overcast Goulburn day. I’ve had to triple-peg the washing on the clothesline otherwise it will end up down the street. On the Tuesday just gone it was so windy – with gusts of 80km/hour we were the windiest place in the state – that one of my standard rose-bushes was decapitated; I’ve bandaged it up with masking tape and, miraculously, it seems to be recovering. The chooks aren’t coping as well: Mrs Honky became poorly during the wind-storm and proceeded to go downhill until I woke up yesterday morning to find her still body on the floor of the run, the score marks of her legs in the dirt as if she thought she could outrun this. But I noticed that she was making small, long, slow breaths, so I got down to a crouch. She opened her eyes and looked at me, or at least in my general direction. A few minutes later I returned to the run with gardening gloves and a large plastic bag. She didn’t open her eyes, and her body was no longer breathing.
So here I am today, with the wind and the drizzle and the overcast sky. And Inni by Sigur Ros playing on the television. If there’s been one constant in my life since 2000 it has been Sigur Ros, the band that plays music which sounds like the earth is simultaneously falling apart and coming together, all because they’re from Iceland. I’ve been with the band since their miraculous Ágætis byrjun album. At first, I wasn’t taken by the enigmatically titled ( ) record, until I realised that I’d played it non-stop for eighteen months. He Who Likes To Sing Along To Some Songs and I were lucky enough to see the band play at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney just before the Takk album was released in 2006, so that record will always remind me of how we downed a bucket-load of vodka and soda before the band took to the stage, and when they did how overwhelming it was – there were tears, that’s what I can tell you.
In 2007 Sigur Ros put out Hvarf/Heim, which is a cross between a b-side collection and live footage of the band playing intimate shows across their homeland. And then came Med sud i eyrum vid endalaust (meaning ‘with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly’), the record with the young folk doing a nudie run across the road on the cover. For the first time Sigur Ros worked with a producer (U2, Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey et al), and the production is more three dimensional, the songs more varied, even if Med sud contains ‘Ara batur’, which is so widescreen Hollywood that you expect some trout-mouthed actress to leap out of the speakers and try to whisk you off to the altar.
And then the band went kaput, at least a temporary-hiatus kind of kaput.
But now we have Inni, which is the essentially the soundtrack to a film of the band playing live in London in 2008. Where I’m from, for $39 you can get the DVD, two CDs, and the album across three vinyl records, which is quite a bargain. In Inni, Sigur Ros sound more aggressively electric, which is no doubt because they aren’t playing with Amiina, their regular four-piece string section. Lead singer Jonsi Birgisson is in extraordinary form, somehow sharing the secrets of his life even though we English-speaking types have no idea what he’s saying because he uses either Icelandic or his own made-up language, or an infuriatingly appealing combination of both. As usual the band around him is both tight and expressive, although loose-limbed drummer Orri Pall Dyrason can sometimes sound as if he’s barely able to hold it all together.
Jonsi, who in the footage looks like a cross between Jimmy Hendrix and Adam Ant, and his almost pitch-perfect falsetto and his way of playing the guitar – with a violin bow – is undoubtedly the focus of Inni. But just as important is the film-work by Vincent Morisset. It is grainy, it is gritty, it is menacing. Morisset takes us onto the stage, almost as though he wants to give us a first-person experience of the band. He does not say, look how popular and talented Sigur Ros are; instead he takes us inside the band and beyond. I mentioned the word menacing, and it’s an appropriate word for Inni. Sure Sigur Ros can be pretty and beautiful, and yes sometimes they have their Enya moments, but there’s darkness at their core, a terrible darkness; anyone who’s noticed the David Lynch-esque motifs in Heim will know what I mean. Morisset reveals the band’s gravitas by focussing on the musicians and their music; how revealing are these four men, how unafraid they are of being emotional.
There’s very little sweetness and light to Inni, which is a good thing. Especially for days like this one, with the gale-force wind howling around the house, the grim sky, a dead bird in the garbage bin, and a rose-bush stuck together with masking tape. Because if Sigur Ros says anything it’s this: work fucking hard to live the deepest life possible, because there’s nothing else.
A few days ago, feeling a little glum, no reason, it was just one of those glums that settles like a dry, overcast day, except this was a beautiful late spring day, a hint of the summer that’s just around the corner, so go figure, I headed off on my weekly drive south to Canberra. I love the drive because I take the back road rather than the freeway, so it’s a narrow meander through cattle and canola paddocks, sometimes bush, wind turbines on the ranges, passing through three villages, one of which has no shop, just a tearoom-slash-museum that’s never open. I love the drive because there’s no email, no social media, the mobile can ring but it rarely does. It’s just me and my music, the Old Lady of The House on the back seat like Miss Daisy.
But back to the start, the glummy start.
At the edge of town, nearing the freeway overpass, I saw ahead a big mother of a motorbike parked on the side of the road. It was black, terribly shiny black, and it looked like the devil’s wheels. Standing beside the big mother of a motorbike was the rider, also black – black helmet, black riding leathers, black gloves, black boots. Clearly this wasn’t a policeman, but still he put out his hand to stop me. Oh Christ, surely I wasn’t about to be robbed. I slowed down, but part of me, the bigger part, wanted to speed off and get the hell away.
The motorbike man, looking to all the world like Mad Max, walked into the middle of the road but got down to a crouch. I looked to see what on earth was going on. There, on the solid yellow line, was an echidna, yes, one of those delightfully spiky little guys, the ones that like to waddle as they walk through the bush looking for ants and termites. Thankfully they’re not uncommon, but they are shy, and they certainly don’t like to get this close to town.
I put on my hazard lights and watched.
Mad Max tried to pick up the echidna – he had the black leather gloves, you see – but the echidna wasn’t too happy about that: the little guy struggled as if its end was nigh. So Mad Max put the animal back down onto the bitumen and proceeded to marshal it off the road. Slowly, carefully, gently, he got the echidna onto the grassy verge until it disappeared to safety. Mad Max turned to me and gave me the thumbs up – literally – and I waved at him and he waved at me. I put the car into first, turned up the music, wound down the window, and headed off on my way south, the narrow meander through cattle and canola paddocks, sometimes bush, wind turbines on the ranges, passing through three villages, one of which has no shop, just a tearoom-slash-museum that’s never open.
And I knew that I was now 100% glum-free.