Monday, September 25, 2017

Sexuality is complicated, but homophobia is very simple

(content warning: homophobic violence, suicide)

I try not to talk too seriously on this blog -- except on the life-and-death matters of country music or Tom Waits, because some things are just profound spiritual matters about which no joking can be allowed.

But I’ll admit I’ve been taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the homophobic attacks reported as part of the "non-binding postal survey" we are having in Australia on whether to allow marriage equality. Much as been heard of Tony Abbott not being hurt by a headbut unrelated to marriage equality, far less is reported about a trans teen being bashed in the same area of Hobart

I probably shouldn’t be so shocked. It is clearly there, but as a heterosexual man, I guess I have the privilege not to see it. (I sometimes find privilege a strange concept, there is little privilege for most people in this society, just a series of different fucked up shit people are subjected to that gets worse the more intersecting oppressions you are hit with, but if not fearing violence because of who you are is a privilege, I definitely have it).

It has made me think about something I don’t really make a point of talking about -- which I think is in itself a privilege. I simply don't have to and so, as it is very personal and I don't generally talk about personal things, I simply don't.

I don't doubt my sexuality, I know I am straight. I know this clearly not despite, but because, my first ever romantic and (some forgettable fumbling notwithstanding) sexual relationship was with another man.

The first person I ever feel in love with, at about 18 or so, was another young man. And it was an intense relationship, romantically and physically. And I was very physically attracted to him.

And so you can imagine that for an 18 or 19 year old to go through this, it poses some big questions about sexuality that had never really been posed to me until then. I was pretty sure I was attracted to women. And yet I was also in love with a guy.

This young man then proceeded, the fucking prick, to break my heart by breaking up with me after an intense six month or so period. He was right to do so, of course. He was about 17 at that point and really didn't need to be weighed down by the sort of ultra-intense relationship I was determined to offer.

We remained best friends, and our physical relationship continued on and off for years — essentially, as long as neither of us were in serious relationships, it was "on" whenever we saw each other, which became less frequent once we started living in different cities.

This experience obviously caused me to ask serious questions about my sexuality. If I was attracted to this guy, then obviously, why not others?

But it didn’t take too many further experiences to figure out it didn’t translate in general. Other experiences with men just didn’t really leave me feeling anything at all. I just didn’t particularly enjoy them.

The conclusion for me was clear: I am heterosexual with the capacity for exceptions. My subsequent relationships have all been hetersexual. While there is no rule to say this will always be the case, I imagine it is pretty likely to remain so and I say this as result of experiences that make me confident on the question of my own personal “preferences”.

The young man I feel in love with and had such a romantic and physical attraction too, however, was gay.

Like me in reverse, he also had some sexual and even romantic experiences with the opposite sex, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t any more bisexual than I am. He was a gay man who had some experiences with the opposite sex that didn’t really stick.

That young man is also dead. He committed suicide in 2005.

It would be reductionist and wrong to suggest his suicide could be directly connected to his sexuality. It is very hard to prove what role any of the various aspects of his life ultimately led him to his grave at just 24.

What is known is the far higher suicide rate among LGBTI people. LGBTI people, especially youth, are killing themselves at unacceptable levels because of the sort of homophobia this campaign has encouraged to express itself publicly and often violently.

He was my best friend and, whatever role his sexuality directly played in his death, it is true that he was subjected to pressures I have been able to avoid by the pure chance of me being heterosexual and him not. 

So it is hard to take the homophobia rampant right now and not be reminded of him and his fate.

I honestly feel that most people with violently homophobic feelings are either hiding something (from themselves as much as anyone) in regard to their feelings towards the opposite sex or to gender in general, even the simple fact of being capable of finding romantic or physical pleasure in the same sex. I am not even saying they are necessarily gay or bisexual. Just that sexuality is not straightforward and sexual preference means just that -- preference. Not a 100% iron clad rule.

And the sooner our society comes to view sexuality as nothing more than a personal preference, with none more valid than any other -- and therefore all relationships being entirely equal -- the sooner we can end the violence and its consequences on the human psyche.

I hereby promise, and this is a promise you can absolutely trust, I will never, ever refer to my sex life on this blog ever again.

To ensure I keep this promise... for fuck's sake, vote yes and fight to end homophobia.

'So you say it's not ok to be gay, well I think you're just evil...'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

'This world's been shaved by a drunken barber's hand' -- a playlist for my stand up show 'Inspired?'

Slaid Cleaves.
Now, I've been pretty quiet about it, I know, but I actually do have a solo stand up show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival next week, in fact on Wednesday and Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 6pm. Just in case if you are interested at all.

I don't care. I don't care if you attend any of the shows at are at the Container room at The Factory theatre, to which you can book tickets here for the cheap, affordable price of $15/$10, which frankly is a fucking bargin. 

It is also a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so I guess it depends, like, if you want the planet to survive or not. I mean I'm not saying it literally hinges on this show, I'm just saying you'd have to be some sort of Donald Trump-loving prick to consciously not come. That's all. The choice is yours. Fascism or humanity. Choose wisely. I mean, I don't care myself...

The point is, faced with a show next week, some performers might try to focus on last minute building, or even working on refining the material by going to various comedy rooms to test things or just agonising in front of their laptop over exact wording, pacing and structure.

That is because they are hacks. The key question is to spend your time developing a musical playlist to accompany the show.

And by "accompany", I don't mean literally. I don't mean the songs have any role in the show. Don't worry, you can turn up to the show without country music ruining your night. Or the Hobart-originated Nation Blue screaming about corporate destruction of a small town in rural Australia with lines like "THESE STREETS ARE SCREAMING HELP ME!!!"

They are just songs that I like and happen to relate loosely to the theme. The type of songs I think about when I think about the shit I talk about in my show.

They describe the sort of topics that get discussed, but as is self-evident, they don't as a rule contain jokes and let me tell you... that's one thing my show has! Jokes! Oh yeah! It is sort of the point!

(Of course, the Hayes Carll and John Prine tracks have a couple of witty lines, as they are witty chaps, but still not the same as trying to come up with a 50-minute stand-up show.)

So, my show is called "Inspired?" and it is about the hilarious topic, which is the fact it is fucking hard to be inspired about the world and the prospects for positive change when everything is SO FUCKING SHIT and seemingly getting worse.

This is dealt with by these songs in various ways. It runs through the shit we deal with, the fact life is hard, the fact our politicians are pricks, the fact climate change is terrifying, the fact this is hard to deal with, and then runs through to the crucial question of hope in the face of darkness.

To be honest, with that in mind, the two key songs are the first, Texas folk/country/Americana singer songwriter Slaid Cleaves' "Drunken Barber's Hand", and the last, South Carolina folk/country/Americana husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope's glorious rendition of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

I feel those two tracks form a great start and end point, and the rest fills the gaps, from Celtic punk band Flogging Molly's self-explanatory "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's "Hope The High Road" about combatting despair with hope.

The list includes incredible acts like Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Jason Isbell ... and more! Some aren't even country/folk/Americana!

Well you can hear it below and my show will be like this, only with jokes. So like if you like these songs... come along! And if you hate them... then fear not, they play no role in my show at all, and forget this post ever existed!

Just... come along if you are in Sydney. You will not regret it. Here's the fucking playlist:


I don't need to read the papers
Or the tea leaves to understand
This world's been shaved
By a drunken barber's hand

Well, I know, I miss more than hit
With a face that was launched to sink
And I seldom feel, the bright relief
It's been the worst day since yesterday

Everybody knows it's a hard time
Livin' on the minimum wage
Ah, some people just gonna sneak on through
Others gotta rattle that cage
One of these days, I'm gonna find my way
Or else just disappear
I'm out here in the filth and squalor
And all I wanna do is stomp and holler

Well over the sea, and far away,
Our kids die in deserts, they been sent that way...

Well Hell doesn't want you
And Heaven is full...

Some humans ain't human
Though they walk like we do
They live and they breathe
Just to turn the old screw
They screw you when you're sleeping
They try to screw you blind
Some humans ain't human
Some people ain't kind

From the cradle to the grave
You will always be a slave
To the quiet darkness of your memories
And that's the truth, my friend
The ugly truth, my friend
I've got proof, my friend
And that's the truth

These streets are screaming help me
Burn the town down
Burn the fucking thing down!!!

There can't be more of them than us
There can't be more

I know you're tired
And you ain't sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I want to know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

'Go on back to Greenville': Lucinda Williams and the art of a 'fuck you' song

Songs telling people who deserved to be told to get fucked to "get fucked" has a long and proud tradition in popular music, from Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" (dripping in venom, with its sneered opening line "You gotta lot of nerve to say you are my friend", before really laying into the unnamed backbiter), Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", as devastating a sustained put down as it is an insanely catchy song, to English pop singer Lily Allen's entire 2006 debut album Alright, Still.

One with more than a few songs on arseholes is US bluesy country singer Lucinda Williams, and like with Simon and Allen's savaging of fuckboys who had it coming, she clearly speaks from experience of having known her share.

One of her finest examples is "Greenville", off her 1998 classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which contains more great songs than any album has a natural right to include.

The song lacks the bombast of many other examples of the genre. It feels understated  — but the impression is superficial. It is quiet, stripped back and builds slowly, but in its poetic simplicity, it finds its mark just as surely. Each verse further strips away the layers of the man in question's pretensions, revealing an intolerable arrogance that spreads pain in its wake. 

By the end, without any sneering just a strong sense of how sadly pathetic he is, Williams offers up the observation "Looking for someone to save you. Looking for someone to rave about you. To rave about you oh to rave about you..."

The man, and there is no doubt it is a man any more than it is a real man Williams had the misfortune to become entangled with, is told repeatedly to go back to Greenville. This is the name of towns in several US states, and it could be any of them, but it is one of them. 

Bellow is the album version, with Emmy Lou Harris providing backing vocals, followed by Williams singing the song on the BBC TV music show Later... With Jools back in 1999.

Don't want to see you again or hold your hand
Cause you don't really love me you're not my man
You're not my man oh you're not my man
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

You scream and shout and you make a scene
When you open your mouth you never say what you mean
Say what you mean oh say what you mean
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
You drink hard liquor you come on strong

You lose your temper someone looks at you wrong
Looks at you wrong oh looks at you wrong
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Out all night playin in a band

Looking for a fight with a guitar in your hand
A guitar in your hand oh a guitar in your hand
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Empty bottles and broken glass

Busted down doors and borrowed cash
Borrowed cash oh the borrowed cash
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Looking for someone to save you
Looking for someone to rave about you
To rave about you oh to rave about you
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville

Now, I know what you are thinking. After everything in this post so far and with no obvious segue, can I still force in a plug for my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1?

The answer is no. Obviously I cannot actually elbow in a reference to my show, which attempts to grapple with how to stay inspired in a world so horrific while also telling amusing jokes and is a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly and at which you can book tickets here

It would ridiculous! Worse, to even try might be seen as an example of the sort of arrogant men that Lucinda and others slay in their songs!

Sorry, but I just won't do it. However, if you are desperate for details, I guess you could click on the ad on the right hand side of this blog. If you want to. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Waiting for the last train after midnight on an isolated Monday night....

I caught the last train at Redfern on a quiet Monday night after midnight and the atmosphere was spooky. I stood near the far end of the platform waiting for my train and a young woman's voice: "Let's just HUNT FOR EVER!", followed by the laugh of another young person.

I drew the obvious conclusion: "Fuck. It's vampires."

My blood ran ice cold as I gathered up the courage to risk a glance in their direction... And I see two young women hugging each other tightly, and I realised -- one of them had actually said: "Let's just HUG FOREVER!" And sure enough they they looked like they might try, so enrapt in each other were they... But the train came and the two young lovers reluctantly separated and as I also got on the last train home I thought... I still hope she's not a vampire or I am fucked coz we just got in the same isolated late night carriage.

Suffice to say, I made it home alive and without being transformed into one of the Undead, doomed to roam the world at night feeding off the blood of mortals.... Or did I?

Yes I did. And as such you can still see my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1. You should book now

In the show, I employ segues as brilliant as that one just then to grapple with questions of how to be inspired and positive in a world so horrific, and I absolutely will not drink the blood of audience members, having been turned into a vampire on a dark and lonely Monday night just after midnight at Redfern train station... 

Or will I? No, I won't. It would violate the festival's OH&S policies.

Having got my plug out of the way, you can enjoy a song from Jason Isbell that combines the crucial topics of lovers and vampires and how lovers might wish to be vampires so they could indeed hug forever. 

Isbell is a disturbingly talented singer-songwriter from  Alabama whose latest album, The Nashville Sound, hit number one on the US Country, Folk, Rock and Indie Billboard charts coz he is better than a human has any right to be, and the song is about his wife Amanda Shires, a fellow singer-songwriter who is also in his band and sings backing vocals on this track.

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind