On Normality (a re-interpretation)

*photo above taken by Molly Mckew.

With a flip and a flurry Melbourne turns its charm back on. It’s a little greyer than normal: we’ve lost the coloured edges in a year where eight months both flitted past in the blink of an eye and expanded to feel like some fifteen years of bored afternoons, evenings and weekends. But we’ve made it to other side and with a brief haircut and a pub meal booked in we can all feel like life is normal and we didn’t just spend 2020 crying into our curried pumpkin soup and crusty olive sourdough.

With the return of ‘normality’, (and lets briefly assume that all is well and life is normal and we’re picking up where we left off, although as the scars of childhood trauma nip and harry their way through our adult years I can only assume this year of half-light stress will return to sink its fangs in to our psyches, long after we assume its done) re-arrives some of the aspects of a pre-COVID life that I’ve normalised for far too long.

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On Fighting on the Internet

*I preamble these thoughts with some other thoughts, namely that I released a very limited edition t-shirt this week. There’s exactly EIGHT of them left at this time of writing. If you’re interested in supporting my music career I’d be delighted to send you one, for whatever price you choose to pay. Link is here, and on with the show!

If there’s one thing that isn’t changing in 2020, it’s me fighting on the internet with strangers. If I had an app that could track my fighting time I reckon I’d be reclaiming a whole year in lost time. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this is where 2020 actually went. Here I was thinking it disappeared in the blaze of a global pandemic, turns out I just got lost in a Facebook haze where like some absurd version of Oprah ‘you get a comment’ and ‘YOU get a comment’ and suddenly I’m spending my afternoon doing obscure research into the ownership of Australia’s newspapers and the percentage of readers still accessing physical papers vs those who are reading via mobile devices, all in the name of winning a fight with a friend of a friend.

It’s a strange vice, and I use the term vice in a strategic sense because I feel the tightening pressure drawing me back to fight fight fight another internet random. All it takes is two minutes spent perusing the comments on an ABC article and I’m deep down a rabbit hole, clawing my way through a burrows worth of shit arguments and non sequiters and a vague feeling that I could be doing literally anything else with my time and I’d be getting a better return on investment.

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On Waste (part 3)

If there’s one positive to 2020 and this year that keeps trickling past, Earth Overshoot Day has shuffled back by a month (for a quick overview, have a squizz here, but the basic gist is every year humanity uses up all the stuff we can reasonably sustain for the year, and pretty much every year its getting earlier and earlier). This year was August 22, last year was July 29. This is good. It’s a positive trend. But the fact that it took a global pandemic and the complete shutdown of most of the world’s economy for a brief period of time to accomplish it is pretty worrying.

There’s a set of absurdities that co-exist around this space. Amidst the ongoing famine that keeps occurring and reoccurring in various parts of the world there is a constant flow of excess food into landfill in others. Obviously the solution isn’t as simple as just shipping excess potatoes from the US to Sub-Saharan Africa, and there are many more brilliant minds on the case than mine but I thought it would be interesting to examine the issues from a folk singer’s point of view. 

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On Waste (part 2)

*Quick note: the pic above is from Glasgow, circa September 2014. How time flies! This was just after I’d bought that hat. I’ve worn that hat most days since. Great investment. OK, on with the show…

A kid at school questions why I’m constantly bringing half a banana in as my snack. I tell him this story:

Imagine you had a beautiful chocolate cake. You spent ages mixing it, filling it with chocolate chips, baking it and it looks absolutely incredible. Well in the process of moving it from the oven to the bench you drop it, and it lands neatly on its side on the floor. What do you do? Do you throw the whole thing in the bin? Or do you cut it in half and discard the floor side, keeping the delicious non-floor side for your tummy? How close to the floor-side do you cut it? Are you happy to have a 95% non-floor cake? I think we can all agree that taking a kitchen sponge to the floor side of your cake to scrub off the little bits of ick is a step too far (or is it…?)

So most people would happily eat most of the cake, as long as it hasn’t been in direct contact with the floor. Well at home I have a big bunch of bananas. The only problem is one end of each banana has started molding, just ever so slightly. Resourceful me cuts all the bananas in half, throws the moldy bits into the compost and brings the other halves to school for my lunch. Delicious.

A seven year old’s perspective… that makes sense.

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On Waste

I’ve been dwelling on waste since around the time I was born. Not in an academic way, merely as a reflection on the steps my parents took to minimize our impact on the earth. There were many things we did when I was kid that I took as commonplace, that now resurface as perhaps being a little odd, but the acorn seldom falls far from the tree. In my ongoing desire to understand who I am, I start to note the things I do that others could possibly point to as eccentricities. My foibles becomes follies, exaggerating as I age.

There were the ‘standard things’, character traits that probably point to Dad’s working-class upbringing: keeping a toothpaste tube far beyond the point where you could squeeze any toothpaste from it, then chopping the end off with a pair of scissors to gouge at the creamy inside. Tie this in to the two or three jars of Vegemite left in the cupboard, each with the tiniest scraping of Vegemite down the sides. The rest of the family would feast on the shiny new jar of Vegemite while Dad would keep eking out meal after meal from the previous jar.

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On Normality

Life slowly starts to roll back to normality after a six month upheaval. Not ‘normal normal’ obviously, but ‘COVID normal’ where we still check the news a little too often, don masks to buy groceries and shy away from people blowing their noses loudly and wiping their hands on the door handle at the dentist. I feel I should have spent the last thirty years shying away from those people anyway. As a bonus consequence I’ve been remarkably well this year. Most years I get a winter cold that takes me off work for a couple of weeks, gets exacerbated by the late night gigs and over-indulgences of tour life and somehow sticks around as a perpetual sniffle until early September when it gets replaced by the itchy throat of hayfever season.

My partner tells me I’ve been clearing my throat less this year, so there’s a small positive to this global pandemic. Other small positives? I’ve been prolific on social media, posting a weekly video for three months now. I’ve upped my cooking game, embraced cuisines from a bunch of countries on the wish-list, churned out dish after delicious dish, then sat around in agony after overeating night after night. As a counter, I’ve somehow managed to curb my burgeoning waist line through giving up alcohol (only for six weeks, my asceticism has some boundaries) and running more than I’ve ever run before. I’ve written most of a new album, and some small parts of it are stronger and more exciting than anything I’ve created before (now to gather the motivation to record this sucker!).

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On Shore

Fleet Foxes released their new album Shore last week. This is a band that I consistently have time for. They create vast sonic worlds, every song happily existing a space that’s tucked neatly in to a musical universe that no-one else co-inhabits. It’s amazing how much Fleet Foxes sound like Fleet Foxes. There are many acts who you can pick from voice alone, ie Dylan sounds like Dylan from the first word he sings, Joni will always be Joni, but Fleet Foxes manage to do it even before the words come in. The way the chords are constructed, the reverb, the room sound, the intention behind the way the notes are played are so endemic to them that you can pick a Fleet Foxes song just from the first chord.

This album Shore is a masterpiece. In classic Robin Pecknold (singer/songwriter) method, it took two years to record, and it sounds and feels like it. I follow Robin Pecknold on Instagram and he’s been pretty open about the recording process, but pretty closed about the release process. Most days for the last two years he’s posted clips of him playing snippets of songs, recording overdubs and messing around in the studio, and this album has slowly unfolded in ten second segments, but this is nothing to hearing the full album in its entirety.

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On Down Days

Last week was a pretty down week for me. Both in terms of the emotional energy I pulled out of it and in the amount of mental energy I put into it. I pride myself on rolling through life relatively staidly, coasting through the bumps and bends without taking too much of anything to heart, so it felt strange to have this heaviness hit me and to have to acknowledge that sometimes I can’t just roll out the other side unscathed.

Sometimes you have to sit with emotions. While its more enjoyable to hold on to happiness, I’d suggest its infinitely easier to sit with sadness. Sadness rises up to meet you and you sink into it, and where an emotion like joy needs to be fed and re-fed to maintain itself, sadness tends to feed itself in a self-fulfilling cycle. The sadder you feel the more you feel like retreating, the more you retreat the sadder you feel. I had a very physical response to this emotion, spending five days sinking into the couch with a book and a coffee. At any other period in the last thirty years this would have felt luxurious, but this time it just felt a little lonesome because it wasn’t self-imposed, it was thrust upon me by the wider world.

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On Giving Up

2020 has become the year where I gave things up. It started back in March, with COVID and giving up on normalcy. In quick succession I gave up gigs, my music career, spending time with friends. It carried on with giving up special occasions: friends birthdays, overseas travel, eating out, my June school holidays.

Over time it became more ascetic: I gave up meat for six months. I gave up booze for June and July. I gave up on days, Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday disappearing mysteriously into a muddled block of nothing. Without gigs and pubs and friends, the days that framed my work week became less ‘days with hours’ and more ‘formless vacuous space’.

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On Mum

If I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Dad, I need to dedicate equal thought to Mum and the impact she’s had on my life. There is no Dad without Mum. There is no me without Dad and Mum. This is the yin and yang, the cosmic duality that created me and I can’t fathom seeing either of them without the other.

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