You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Charles Bukowski’ tag.

A Cataract Gorge postcard, 1906

Last week I came to Tasmania with only a backpack and a laptop in a travel-case and, let me be frank, a shitload of hope that I’ll write well here (and by ‘well’ I mean, as I’ve noted before, to write by hand).  While the jury’s out on the latter, the minimalist luggage situation has caused one very significant problem: no room for CDs.  In the past when I’ve gone away to write I’ve been able to go in my trusty Barina, meaning more than enough room for a swag of CDs.  But not this trip.

Of course, I have an mp3-player contraption loaded with some much-loved albums, recent gems by Four Tet, Frightened Rabbit and Volcano Choir, amongst others.  There is, however, a need to hear music through the air, music that fills more than the space between my ears.  For that purpose I made room for just one CD from the hundreds (possibly thousands – eek) I have collected over the years, so I chose very, very carefully indeed.  I chose what I know will be in the top three albums of 2010.

When I arrived at the Gorge, tired from a day of travelling (two flights, a stack of waiting and reading in between) but also excited about commencing another period of writing in an unfamiliar place, I discovered that the CD case was broken.  I feared the worst – the actual CD could be irreparably damaged.  I needed to play it to make sure it worked.  In the first hour I hunted around the cottage for a CD player, getting increasingly desperate.  Could I really be about to spend the next month – a whole month – without music in the air?

After turning the place upside down (though not really: I am at heart a gentle soul, and this cottage is 120 years old and, apparently, one of the most photographed in Tasmania, so it deserves respect) I realised that there was no magic music machine here.  Immediately, and just a little shamelessly, I emailed the Launceston City Council who manages the Cataract Gorge Artist-in-Residence Program.  No doubt sensing the distress in my words, they offered to bring around a CD player – but they couldn’t do it for a few days.  Could I cope until Thursday? they asked.  No, of course I couldn’t, but I wasn’t about to push my luck any further.  For the next 96 hours there was no sound in the cottage other than that of pen on paper, fingers on laptop keyboard, and, at the end of each day, the sweet relief of white wine being poured into a champagne glass.

Then the glorious moment arrived: two lovely representatives from the Launceston City Council came around and dropped off a brand-spanking new CD player.  ‘We were just waiting for someone to ask,’ they said generously as they lifted the handsome black beast from the box.  An hour later, after a cup of a tea and a chat (we spent most of it talking about blogging, would you believe), they left me to my own devices.  But the stereo stubbornly refused to play my CD – it claimed that there was ‘no CD’ even though I could see such a thing on the spindle.  I pressed every button I could find and swore like a rabid trooper, but still my CD couldn’t be brought to life.

Being at times the most tenacious person you’ve ever met (or not met, as the case may be), I realised that the CD player had a USB port and I had a legal download of the album on my laptop.  Hooray for technology after all!  I put the album onto a memory stick that had once been used as a marketing gimmick, put the stick into the CD player, and…the bastard thing still wouldn’t work.  It quit playing halfway through tracks, and quite steadfastly refused to broadcast whole sections of the album.  I cleared the memory stick and put the album on it a second time, but it was still no good – the same mega-frustrating problem.

In the morning I’d be travelling two and a half hours to the other end of Tasmania to spend a couple of days in Hobart.  I hatched a plan: while in the big smoke I’d buy a damn good memory stick and see if that would fix a matter that was now keeping me up at night.  After spending much of my time holed up in an 1840s whaler’s cottage (poor bloody whales) and giving a workshop on writing about place, I ducked into town to get the much-desired memory stick – despite the fact that I’m running out of money, I didn’t skimp on price – and this morning I jumped on the bus back to Launceston.  Would what I had safe and secure in my laptop bag fix this hurdle to my month-long residency?

It was an interesting bus trip to say the least.  Behind me was a man who, with earphones in his ears, insisted on laughing loudly to himself the whole time as if he was in his own private comedy show.  Even more worrying, in the seats in front of me were two heavily tattooed young men who spent the journey talking loudly and proudly about how they’d both just gotten out of jail.  One of the men ‘couldn’t read or nuffin’’.  The other man had gone to Hobart to see his ‘missus’ before she too was sent to jail, but rather than stay with her he’d spent the night on the streets; this same man wondered if his mate knew that sometimes you can shoot a wombat twelve times and it may not die.  The poor granny beside me did nothing but stare straight ahead, refusing to even blink for fear of being knifed.  I had flash-backs to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  Needless to say I clutched onto my newly purchased memory stick very tight, as if it was made of Unobtainium.

But then, thankfully, gratefully, I arrived in Launceston and walked back up to the Gorge.  Would the Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage be soon filled with the sounds of an album that I know will be in the top ten of the decade?

As soon as I stepped into the cottage, I downloaded the album onto the new memory stick and then plugged the stick into the stereo.  Oh dear Lord, there it was at last.  Music in the air, good music, great music.  But it’s not just any music.  What I played this morning – and am still playing this evening as I write this post – does everything I expect of great music: it is clever, it is beautiful, it is dark (to the point of grimness); it makes you want to cry one minute and then swing your hips the next, or even do a bit of air-guitar; it is new, thoughtful, sometimes funny, but above all it takes risks.

It’s a clash, a mash-up, a remix and a reimagining.

Interested in hearing This Mortal Coil versus Sigur Ros?  Philip Glass versus Elton John?  REM versus Sia?  Want a listening journey that encompasses David Lynch soundtracks, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Coldplay, Nancy Sinatra, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Bon Iver, and Harry Dean Stanton, Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan, just to name a few artists represented in this collection?   Do you have a penchant for melancholia and the more reflective side of eletronica?  If the answer is yes to these questions, you need Introversion by Irish DJ/producer/remixer/mash-up artist Phil Retrospector.  Amazingly it isn’t available commercially, but you can listen to it here.

Can I be so bold as to say that if the Coldplay versus The Beetles versus Joe Anderson mash-up called ‘Jude Will Fix It’ doesn’t make you smile or bring you to tears, or both at the same time, then you may want to check for a pulse – and I’m not even a crazy fan of these bands individually.  So I end this tale with a declaration and a request: if a wild Tasmanian storm comes Launceston’s way (the weather reports are saying that it’s quite possible this week) and I get flushed out of my little cliff-face cottage and washed into the Tamar River and never come up for air, then please have this song playing as you file out of the crematorium.

Last week I came to Tasmania with only a backpack and a laptop in a travel-case, but now I have music in the air.

An Australian snowfall. Not yesterday.

My name isn’t Miss Smilla but I do have a feeling for snow, well, a thing for snow at least.  Why a sixth-generation Australian (whatever that is) would have an obsession for the little crystals of ice that can fall on mountain tops is beyond me.  I was obsessed by it as a child, and again as a young man when a friend and I would go camping in the Snowies just so we could be surrounded by whiteness.  Now, in the potentially tricky ‘middle’ years, the obsession isn’t waning one bit, in fact it seems to be getting worse.  And let me say upfront that I’m definitely not a skier – on the slopes I’m only good at breaking stocks, over and over again.

Recently I was lucky enough to spend time in a place nearby where a snowfall was possible – a year ago to the week there had been an unexpected dumping.  As if trying to bring it on through fashion, I packed beanies, scarves, gloves, thermal underwear, and, most importantly, a pair of uggboots.  Day in, day out, I gazed south and watched as the telltale puffy white clouds formed on the ranges, but never did they make what I was looking for.  Then, however, on the very last day, the radio announced it: a major change was coming through and a snowfall might indeed happen.  So, armed with a plunger load of coffee, and a nana rug wrapped around my lap, I sat by the open fire and watched, and hoped, and almost prayed to the heavens.

Why exactly do I love snow so much?  It can’t be because of the Irishness in my blood, can it?  No, it’s not that (though surely the Eire DNA plays a part).  As high-falutin as it sounds, it’s because snow reminds me of art, all kinds of art, the best kind.  Snow is both beautiful and dangerous.  It absorbs light, but also emits light.  It is frustratingly unpredictable: it comes and goes as it pleases.  Most of all, however, it is the simplest of the simple, but also inherently – perhaps infinitely – complex.  It was the German-born US author and poet Charles Bukowski who wrote in his Notes of a Dirty Old Man, ‘An intellect is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.’  Do you see?  Snow, too, says a difficult thing in a simple way.

So did it snow that final day out in Woop Woop?  Well, yes it did actually.  In the evening, as I huddled by the fire and cooked myself a celebratory sausage, a sudden rush of wind bolted up the valley and dived down the chimney like a banshee.  Then, with a frightening VROOMP, it shot itself out of the hearth.  Stunned, I turned around and looked up.  Inside the living room it was snowing, actually snowing: little white flakes were falling slowly, silently, covering my laptop, my stereo, my CDs, my books, the rug; even the sausage I’d just burnt to perfection was covered in the stuff.

But, of course, it wasn’t snow.  It was three weeks’ worth of soft, fine ash.

All I could do was shake my head and laugh like a madman.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, August 23 2008)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 177 other followers