Friday, December 30, 2011

Albums of the Year 2011

Happy New Years from Vegas! Here are my favorite albums of the year-

1. Wasting Light- Foo Fighters
2. Age Of Hell- Chimaira
3. Unto The Locust- Machine Head
4. Blunt Force Trauma- Cavalera Conspiracy
6. 13- Megadeth
7. The Hunter- Mastodon
8. Watch The Throne- Jay Z & Kanye West
9. Worship Music- Anthrax
10. Making Mirrors- Gotye

Honorable mentions:
21- Adele
Beast- Devildriver
King Of Limbs- Radiohead
The End Is Just The Beginning Repeating- Living End
Kosiosko- Jebediah

Forget About-
Lulu- Lou Reed & Metallica
Kaos Legions- Arch Enemy

Wasting Light is just a ripper and I listed to it again and again. These Days and I Should Have Known are the best songs Dave Grohl has written since Everlong (think about that- that included Best Of You, The Pretender and All My Life).

Chimaira's album was one that pushed their sound forward again. They even brought in saxophone (Clockwork) and slowed it down to Sabbath like grooves (Beyond The Grave). Year of The Snake and Trigger Finger are crowd pleasers. An awesome album . Unto The Locust was MH pushing everything they could to the limit. Epic arrangements and Robb Flynn singing his arse off. Not sure where they go with the long song format, I think they've done all they can. Maybe this explains the shorter more focused songs on Mastodon's album. It featured some great riffs too. Megadeth and Anthrax returned with really solid albums with excellent musicianship and great choruses.

Let me know what you think! What did you spend 2011 listening to?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Change shapes my reality

Someone requested that I sum up the year. So here goes...

The move to the new school is been good for me in every sense. Whatever staleness or cynicism I had about teaching last year has been swept away. Reinvigorated like a butterfly from a cocoon. (OK fuck this. I am not doing the cliche thing again. I've heard way too many graduation speeches full of the bloody things. And I won't swear again.)

So they year began with an oath. I wouldn't swear. See the best thing about changing school, the invigorating thing, was that I could start again. With much of the old reputation left behind I could forge a new way of doing things. Not that I would want to be anything but myself, and yet, I felt liberated by the chance to forge new relationships with people and choose how I would maintain the old ones. Evolution was the name of the game and I was hungry for the opportunity. So I didn't say a swear word in the office.

For about a week.

I lasted about two weeks in Year 12.

So The D'Aprano was unleashed in all his glory for all to see. Unashamed and brutally honest. Having been a chest beater in my time at RSC I was a little more humble this year. Perhaps the rejections of last year wised me up a little. And it helped. A sign of growth if you will. The staff accepted me too, though for a minute there, I thought it was a case of the Emperor wearing new clothes.

The staff here are, in a word, brilliant. They have, against all odds, been completely welcoming and up for anything I've presented. They have been unafraid to challenge me too. They are a diverse group, at very different stages of their life and careers. It makes for a great environment of opinions and talents. And talented they are! I'm lucky enough to have a number of leading teachers in my team, the timetabler, a god sent assistant coordinator and who knows how many future leaders. Specific people for ESL and English Language. People who ride bikes and people end up on Millionaire Hot Seat. I reckon I've met some of the best graduates since, well, us. It was been interesting and I've learned a lot from working with them. Amanda said this was the idea - work with people you can learn from. And I am. It helps that we have one kick arse trivia team and plenty of laughs in plenty of pubs. Celebrating our birthdays and successes is nice too. Their impact on me was such that it meant a lot that they came to watch Mel and I say our vowels.

The school itself is interesting and eye opening. The timetabling is a nightmare. Different rooms every period. It took me a week to get used to the shorter length. My first double finished twenty minutes early. My first single had barely got out of first gear when the bell went to end the day. There were plenty of these mis-steps. One Year 8, in an extra, called me a prick. TO MY FACE. So the kids are different too, or at least my reputation is. The year ended today with a Year 9 calling me a douchebag. That was a different too.

I don't want to talk about my Year 12s. I met some brilliant kids who worked really hard. I met some others. It was the biggest challenge I've had in five years. I'll be better prepared next year.

In many ways being in other school has improved some of my old relationships - both as a teaching peer and a friend.

And I guess that is the idea. The change has been a breath of fresh air (FUCK there I go!). I've had the privilege of working closely with some brilliant teachers and professional instructors. It has been a tremendous experience and one that I look forward to tackling again next year. There are a whole range of challenges we will face in 2012 and I really can't wait!

We are going to do some amazing things together.

My memoir "FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME (and other stories about bulls on parade) will probably never come out. But if it does, this story will be in it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sentimental Bullshit

The bowels of Rod Laver Arena aren't the most intimate setting for a rock show. For a large percentage of the concert going audience this is where they see their favorite bands. Why they would subject themselves to the merchandise, beer and toilet ques is beyond me. A typical event is going to cost you in excess of a hundred dollars, often to sit in the upper and watch stick figures prance and preen on stage. The sound isn't bad most of the time I suppose though most people who come here for gigs don't go anywhere else so aren't going to be the harshest critics.

Actually it is their version of criticism that is the target of this blog. Friday night saw Cold Chisel play the last of three shows at the Arena as part of their latest reunion. I knew I was in for 'a night' when the guys with mullets out numbered the girls with long hair. Yes, this was Bogan-ville at its finest. A quick visual survey of the T-shirts being sported by punters revealed an eclectic and, somewhat, strange crowd. There was the usual AC/DC shirts (2010 tour) and a spattering of Metallica (2010 tour) but the odd Judas Priest helped lift my spirits. Maybe this would be a the day that Chisel would ascend the radio friendly fair that had plagued my previous experience.

But alas, the number of morons in Chisel singlets (2011 tour) and cheap (but being sold for $20) headbands outweighed any sense of musical diversity. They were here to hear the hits. I could smell it in the air. (If you're wondering, the average Chisel punter smells like they showered and sprayed Brut For Men just for this night.) For myself, I wore my Zappa t-shirt, perhaps my most snobbish act in sometime. Without realizing it I was making a statement about my musical knowledge- that I was in to something that was A) classic, and B) not played on the radio. Like the brilliant two-set tour Ringside (2005 I think) that occupied Festival Hall I wanted to hear some of the lesser known masterpieces from Don Walker. Home and Broken Hearted. Hound Dog. Fallen Angel. Yakuza Girls. Maybe even Last Wave Of Summer.

Of course the power of Chisel is in its singles and these would be welcomed too. The importance of hearing Chisel on the radio can't really be understated. Keep in mind that Khe Sahn was banned soon after it debuted on radio for being too explicit in its description of the post-Vet mentality. What other band has ensured that abortion is a subject of mainstream radio? Or prison life? Don Walker's best songs have a meatiness to them. Their subject matter forces the listener to consider his contention and feel something for his protagonists. Other songs capture the working class mentality, and for the majority, this is where their love of Chisel was born. I won't begrudge them their moment with these songs.

But I'm cynical. The Arena is full of people who only see shows here. This for them is a gig, despite it having all the hall marks of a show, rather than a smaller, more immediate experience. I remark to my wife that it would be awesome to see Chisel at Byron Bay Bluesfest at Easter. Most would never see the charm of standing on the edge of big top in the driving rain with 20,000 people singing along. There is magic in the Autumn dampness. A magic rarely found in the Tennis Center. My cynisim is well justified as thousands scream during Standing On The Outside, Cheap Wine and Choir Girl, but then head for the bar and loo when they break out Things I Love In You (which was their friggin' COMEBACK single for pete's sake!) I remark this to my wife who nods approvingly. I sing along anyway, one of only a few nearby. (Actually there is one guy I admire. Despite his poor choice of the Nitro Tour black singlet he rocks out to EVERYTHING all night. His unbridled joy at everything the band do isn't contagious enough for the people around him unfortunately.) The same thing happened at Meat Load in October. The crowd was welcoming and forgiving of the poor vocals when they new the Triple M approved songs but fled, leading to rumours they had walked out, when he played newer or more obscure stuff (if you call Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through obscure- its off his second highest selling album!) The crowd here wants their radio songs and Chisel gives it to them. The mother's club shrieks when they finally recognise the beat to Forever Now. Never mind that the band had been jamming on the bass line for a couple of minutes prior. So feeling smug about my judgements I bask in the knowledge that I am better than these average punters. My dad shares a similar sentiment- at the Ringside shows he lamented the fact that the crowd stood and sang along for Forever Now and My Baby but not Shipping Steel or Star Hotel.

Then something happens. The occasion gets to me. Even though I loved that they played Hound Dog and appreciated the acoustic interpretation of Yakuza Girls there was only one moment that a I lost myself. When Jimmy croons, "Who needs that sentimental bullshit anyway?" I close my eyes and sing with him. The moment of magic arrives. Forget the irony of me enjoying that line but my shield drops to the size and I embrace the light. I'm not embarrassed. I'm not ashamed. In that instant I am one of the Triple M punters. There is a power to that band to transcend class, gender and, indeed, time and trends themselves. That's why we give up the intimacy to share the music with thousands of strangers. The radio song got me. It does every time.

They rip through Khe Sahn and the crowd sits down again for Bow River. I don't retreat to my shielded, superior, elitist views. I enjoy the encore of Saturday Night, Don't Let Go and Four Walls (my favourite song). By the time they rip through Goodbye and we've headed out I'm reminded of why I bothered. This was my wife's first time seeing THE real band play When The War Is Over and, of course, Khe Sahn. There was probably several thousand of them tonight who had only ever heard crap cover bands play these Australian classics. These were songs they grew up hearing and singing about trains heading to Vietnam. They deserve their chance to see it live and in-person.

Even if half those morons paid $20 for a plain white headband.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A sample for Whose Reality - using Michael Leunig's THE LOT

'Our environment shapes our reality'

The family holidays of my youth have largely molded together in my head. Despite remembering nothing else about it, a clear memory of a trip to Joanna is the birth of a new born calf. As most holidays are a mental montage of theme parks, resort pools, or beach side caravans, baring witness to such a wonderful moment is entirely unique. There it was; defenseless, damp and incapable; the calf lied next to its mother as excited farm hands simultaneously kept us away and ensured we could see. Despite their familiarity with the lifestyle it was clearly a special moment for them.

Why then do I remember the moment but not the year? Hell, it took me two goes to remember the exact place! I remember it because of its wonder, its uniqueness, its natural beauty. I am distant from the calf's rural and raw lifestyle, even on holiday. Michael Leunig would no doubt knock my lack of authentic experience, though perhaps he could acknowledge my appreciation for this moment. He detests the rampant commercialism of modern society. Indeed he celebrates being entranced by the "widely peculiar" sight of foal born during the recent drought. He is right to knock me. Most of my holidays are common, the result of commercial bookings rather than a chance encounter with ugliness in an uncomfortable environment. But in this wiz bang society the package tour is easier than a chance encounter with God's work.

There is still room for the pure moment though. No travel agent could guarantee being able to witness a natural birth. I am glad that I have been reminded of this moment. I have traveled the Great Ocean Road many times but have never been to back to Joanna. Would I appreciate the moment if I saw it every year? Probably not. It has made me realise that these singular moments, often left in my unconscious, are precisely the best kind of memories. They are chance encounters that remind me how wonderful the world is. One trip to Skeene's Creek on the Great Ocean Road was rudely interrupted when a gale swept through the caravan park sending kids, adults and tents flying down the dirt road. While most braved the night, one simply scooped up the tattered remains of his tent and began the two hour drive back to Melbourne. It has become an iconic camping story in-spite of the plush toilets and availability of electricity. Whenever I stare up at another ridiculous roller coaster, smell chlorine in the pool or notice the trees that have been trimmed to ensure I see the Opera House, I am reminded of these distinctive moments. The natural juxtaposed with the forced reality of a commercial holiday. My favourite moment on the Gold Coast was being caught walking home in what can only be described as a Monsoon (and people say Melbourne's weather is unpredictable!) So soaked were we that no cab would pick is up, making for a long, damp walk back to the apartment. I could only laugh at the mess as we collapsed when we arrived.

Leunig can be cynical of society's obsession with artificial appearance, false wit and faux personality. He has every reason to smirk at Occupy Melbourne protestors who use iPhones and Twitter to spread their message. But the purity of nature can still be appreciated. As the recent drought and floods have shown, we can wear whatever mask we want, but our environment will always frame our perception. I choose to remember great moments of my holidays, the moments when, like the new born calf, the place allowed me to experience something new and utterly unforgettable.