Category: Noted


How to lose friends and audiences

The title of the film is 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People'. Step one wouldn't necessarily be 'make a bad film' but I'm sure it couldn't hurt.

This film reminded me so much of Ben Elton's dreadful 'Maybe Baby' in its poor direction and terrible story development that to think about it much more would only serve to make me angrier.

I haven't read the book and now I never will. The characters had little to no development and there were so many travelogue type establishment shots of New York that there was a moment I thought the director must have gone to the Ed Wood school of using found footage but he had obviously never graduated.

I could go on but I think you get the point. Avoid this film.

A weekend of photography

Ah, what a fine weekend of arts I've had. Well, I say arts but really it was just art. One art. Photography.
Peter Milne's brief Shining Moment is a stunning display of his recent political work and exposes him for the absolute genius he is. Of course we all thought he was good when he was shooting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds across Europe or documenting the comedians and punters during Comedy Festival but Brief Shining Moment really slaps us in the face and makes us realise just how far he has come and how far he's willing to push us.
The show was a collection of his thesis works, taking a starting point of Australian politics in the 70s and following it through to how it has shaped us today. He doesn't just capture moments but tells entire stories of power, corruption and downfall. Get yourself to 69 Smith Street in Collingwood before its gone.

I also got myself to the opening of the Frédéric Brenner exhibit at the Jewish Museum. Brenner's subject matter is interesting -- an almost 30 year exploration of Jews in the Diaspora. His photography, on the other hand is more medium than art and more expository than journalistic. Still, it exists primarily as exploration of a subject and in that it is fascinating. Of particular fascination to me were the photos of Morano Jews in Portugal performing their still secret rituals all these centuries after the inquisition has ended.

What could it be?

It's wednesday night at 7.00 and people are lining up to get into Billboard. What the hell could they be waiting for?
Fashions vary from goth to prep to suburban shopping centre. I can see no pattern but I can't be bothered crossing the road to ask.


Last Thursday's Sleater-Kinney show at the Corner was nothing less than rock as it should be. Janet showed further evidence of being one of the best drummers in the biz while Carrie performed some great windmills and Corin hit all the tough notes while screaming earnestly.

While the songs from the latest album, The Woods, translated perfectly live and gave the band a chance to show off their segue skills with some great stadium-rock style improvised moments, a few more songs from their back catalogue wouldn't have gone astray.

Still, as good as Sleater-Kinney are live and on record, one of the great things about seeing a band live is getting a chance to check out the support band. I don't see as much live music as I used to and as a result I miss out on discovering all the new bands who maybe haven't made it to radio. Sometimes these bands disapeared into nothing, like The Silver Surfers did, and sometimes they make it huge and support Supergrass on a European tour, like Rocket Science did. There was something to be said for taking that small risk and forking over ten bucks for a local pub show. I just don't have it in me any more. Maybe I've just become the old, grumpy, hard-to-impress man I never thought I'd be.

Anyway, new bands for me are now relegated to the support acts for those touring. Still, I've discovered a number of my favourites by getting to a gig early. In 1994 Magic Dirt supported the Smashing Pumkins and in 1998 The Avalanches came across my radar as the first support for JSBX (they were followed on stage by Kim Salmon who, as good as he is, could never compete with what I had just witnessed). These are the sorts of acts that make you want to go out the next day and get their EP and play it 5 times in a row. I remember that the Avalanches didn't even have an EP, just a 7-inch. I bought it even though I didn't have a turntable at the time.

I walked into the band-room at the Corner just as The Grates started their set for the night. I didn't realise until their last song that they were responsible for Message, one of my favourite songs off radio over the last couple of months. That lack of realisation, however, didn't stop me recognising almost instantly that they have what it takes to get into the members only nightclub of my CD collection. They were simply amazing. They're touring the UK from next week. If you get a chance there should be no question about checking them out.

**Thanks to Adrian for convincing me to go along early and also for one of the best birthday presents a friend could give. You rock 100%!

Alas 2nd Ave Deli, I Knew Thee

One of my favourite eating establishments in the whole world shut its doors for the last time at the beginning of this month. The 2nd Ave Deli has vacated its premises and seems to be no more. It's a crying shame and it is no way to be considered progress.

We saw a similar situation happen in Melbourne a few years ago when The Continental closed after a battle about the rent. A long term tenant of its Greville St premises, the landlord decided to increase the rent by a ridiculous amount, pushing the Marios out of their south of the Yarra building. Since then the building has featured a number of different restaurants, none of which have had the success of The Continental.

I predict a similar thing will happen with the building formerly occupied by the 2nd Ave Deli. Other delis will come and go and none will match its success.

There are just too many memories tied up in the walls of that building. For me it will always be remembered as the place we went to after a gig at CBGBs. 3 years ago I sat at the counter and savoured the last serve of half a sandwich and soup I'd have for years. My plane flew out of JFK two hours later and I was too full to eat anything until well after the NY to LA leg was completed.

There are other Delis but there was something about 2nd Ave that captured everything I wanted from a restaurant: the atmosphere, the food, the service, the complimentary pickles.

Nothing will ever come close to it and the world is a poorer place for its loss.

What is that pink thing? Eels in concert.

Last night I saw the Eels perform for their third visit to Australia.

Each time, thus far, has been a unique and wonderous experience. Mr E, leading the band through its revolving lineup, never disappoints and always knows how to make an entrance. Last night he was dressed in 20's European attire, entering with a walking stick in his right hand and puffing on a fat ol' cigar.

Mr E, as always, was hilarious, balancing out the heartbreaking lyrics. The other members of the Eels, this time, consisted of The Chet on every instrument imaginable (including a long stint on the saw), Big Al on double bass and four women on strings ranging from cello to violin.

A ten minute noise segue into Novocaine for the Soul had most of Hamer Hall wondering what happened to that pretty music show they were watching. Me? I love that shit. It's self-indulgent and noisy and fun. The highlight came when the cellist (Anna) put down her instrument and picked up another one. It was pink and made a clicking/whirring noise when she pressed it against the microphone.

Is that what I think it is?

Yes, I have seen vibrators used on stage but never like that!

While I dismiss the notion of performance art as bullshit I love it when performance becomes art. In the end the songs became secondary to the band's presence. Ask me tomorrow which songs were covered and I couldn't tell you but ask me what happened on stage and I will detail the performance blow by blow.

Everybody should experience an Eels show at least once in their life. I'm lucky enough to have witnessed three and I'd gladly go back for a fourth.

Whatever Happened to Manifest Destiny?

Dateline: San Diego, CA.
I arrived in California yesterday morning. Friends picked me up from LAX and we drove down to San Diego via a Carrows (sp?) restaurant. A note to Americans: Everyone thinks it's weird that you put maple syrup on your bacon and therefore you have no right to think it's weird that I put ketchup on my sausage and eggs (and pancakes).

One of the things I always notice about southern California is how much space there is out here. Everbody lives in these weird gated communities all huddled up together. Multi-level identical condos line the landscape in San Diego and it's all you can see from the highways. I couldn't get my head around it. There's so much land and so little of it being developed, so why is it so expensive? Why are the people here forced to live in overly buerocratic microcommunities where the idea of community is virtually non-existant like in some kind of anti-kibbutz?

Apparently there have been laws laid down. The state or federal government owns most of the empty land and it has been classified as state or national parkland. I have not confirmed this, I only know what I've been told. Maybe, if I'm not too lazy, I'll do some research.

So the idea is to disallow habitation on a lot of the land to force people into hyperexpensive high-density housing as an attempt to disuade more people from moving here.

That's right. It's now a case of: "Go west, young man, but don't stay too long because there's nothing for you there."

The Red Wrist-Band Posse

The Evil Eye in the Public Eye

Remember back when Madonna was a Catholic? How come that never caught on as a wonderful new eye-opening religious experience? For those who aren't aware because they've been in some kind of a media-free cave and haven't ever accidentally wandered over to Defamer or been to a dinner party, Madonna became involved with the Kabbalah Centre a number of years ago.

If you've ever wondered why Madonna wears a piece of red string around her wrist, that's why. If you've ever wondered why she was adorning herself with phylacteries in the James Bond video clip, that's why. If you were even vaguely curious as to why Britney Spears was purporting to be "spiritual" a while back, before she was talking about how great it was to fuck while pregnant, then you'll not be surprised to know that she was friends with Madonna who, in case you've missed the entire point of this paragraph, has become involved with Kabbalah.

"...Only a select few righteous individuals and scholars such as Moses, Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton have studied Kabbalah... Until now."
--Getting Kabbalah newsletter, June - September 2005.

Kabbalah vs Kabbalah Centre

So Kabbalah has become known as: "You know, that religion that Madonna is now." This is funny because when I was growing up it was very much just a part of a religion. Particularly Judaism. Even more particularly it was only for men over 40. Of course there were women who wanted to practice Kabbalah too and good luck to them. The reasons there were these restrictions on Kabbalah were because it was meant to be a mysticism so profound and forceful that there were very definite dangers of going insane if it was used incorrectly. If you have an image in your mind of some kind of Jewish peyote then you're close.

Recently these two brothers, the Bergs, and one of their wives (I'm guessing they have one a piece), decided that it would be a great idea to make Kabbalah accessible to everyone. They were, it will come as no shock to anyone, Americans. The USA, as everybody knows, discourages the practice of any kind of activity that may cause insanity... Unless there's a buck to be made.

This is where the Kabbalah Centre fits in. There's one across the road from where I'm staying in San Diego. I thought I'd go in and ask them a few questions. What is it about, how did it start and what is with the red string?

The red string is many things to the people at the Kabbalah Centre. The women who explained it to me told me that it was protection from the evil eye and that it was supposed to stop good people from doing bad things. "So it's kind of like a What Would Jesus Do band," I suggested, to help me better understand. "Exactly, it helps us remind ourselves that a man and a god should behave in the same way," came the reply. The way she answered implied more about humility and compassion than wrath and vengeance than is obvious from the reading. I guess I was hoping that the answer would involve some kind of explanation about Jesus not having anything to do with Kabbalah.

The answer I was given gave me more of a clue as to the nature of this new Kabbalah movement than ever before. One of the people at the Kabbalah Centre had to take a phone call and left me alone with a woman who, if I had to guess from her ethnic appearance, would have been born a Catholic. It turns out I was right.

In Sickness and in Health: A Guide to Religion Shopping

Angela, which may have been her name had I asked, had been very sick a number of years ago and was sure she was going to die. Even when she was better she was never really better. She started thinking about the point of life and whether or not it was worth living.

Angela had been born a Catholic but her family didn't hold it so closely anymore. Her mother practiced an Asian mysticism now and she was left with nothing to believe in. When she was sick, Angela lost her job and had to give up her house. She now had nothing to believe, nothing to live for and nothing to keep her there out of pure habit. She began searching.

Christianity, by which I took to mean some level of Presbyterian/Baptist form as opposed to the form she already knew, was her first port of call. It didn't work out. Then one day, while in the neighbourhood just like me, she decided to drop into the centre, just like me.

She found out about the energies and the light and discovered that the bad things, like her illness, homelessness and unemployment, were a result of her infliction of some kind of negative energy in the past. She can't remember what, where, why, or even if it was in this life, but it must be the case. This is what the Kabbalah teaches.

There are meditations in the Kabbalah Centre's take on the practice. These involve 72 names of God, as defined in one of the Kabbalah Centre's books The 72 Names of God. They're written in Hebrew but a knowledge of Hebrew is not required because one is only supposed to scan the text. This, as you can imagine, opens up the practice to many more people than ever before.

Angela explained the nature of the energies to me. There are seven energies that we can harness right here where we are. These are the seven levels of the chakra, according to her. Similarly there are three more energies above us. These, of course, are the father, son and holy spirit.

Religious Tech Support

I stress that I don't know if this is what the Kabbalah Centre teaches or if it was just Angela's interpretation. I do know that the Centre charges $US270 per series of classes. The classes are required to proceed to higher levels within the Kabbalah Centre. The classes are also available online at a much cheaper rate and if there are any problems you can call their "customer support centre".

Angela told me how wonderfully helpful their customer support centre was. She mentioned the word "customer" several times making it seem less and less like a religion the more she spoke about it. Maybe the intention is to make it less like a religion but it also sounded less spiritual.

I left the Kabbalah Centre with one basic message: the price of spirituality is quantifiable and measurable in dollars. What would Jesus do? Well, I doubt he would have charged for teachings. I also doubt he would have organised a call centre.

-- "Hello, Jesus Hotline, how can I help you who have sought to help yourself?"
-- "Yes, I'm having some trouble 'getting' humility."

I just don't see it.

Evil is an Anagram of Live (and other poignant moments)

On the other hand, Angela seemed so happy that it's hard to fight against the feeling that maybe the Kabbalah Centre is doing good work regardless of the founders' intentions. After all, the things they teach are based as much in blind faith as much as any other religion. That red string I mentioned? It can't just be any string but particularly string which is meditated on at the tomb of Rachel. I find its power just as plausible as the idea of transubstantiation.

The visit to the Kabbalah Centre raised a very important question for me: If a person is happy because they have found something that one believes will harm them more than help them over time, what responsibility does one have? If the person would be miserable right now if not for the thing that will ultimately hurt them, then where does that judgment fall?