Monday, November 27, 2017



Hugo Chavez is speaking

To thousands of tired youths

On youth's energy

Creating a future

Without disgrace.

In contingents 

They listen

'Youth are an Atomic explosion

Greater than Hiroshima

To create,

With revolutionary power,

A new world.'

Somebody hands me a phone

I am in Caracas

My sister in Perth.

The president speaking.

And she says:

'It’s Justin.'

And I know.

I am in the future

Talking to now

Where gay men die

Aged 24

By their own hand.


Yes... a fucking poem. Not a joke poem. I usually restrict myself to joke poems out a self of basic human decency.

But I wrote this when a facebook friend specifically asked me, after I made a joke about no one paying for my poetry, to write a poem about "Utopia", coz why have a simple topic. 

So I figured, seeing as I wrote it, this Godforsaken blog might as well be subjected to it.

It is about the  2005 World Festival of Youth and Students, an annual gathering of thousands of left-wing and progressive youths from around the world, that was held in Caracas that year. I was there with a "solidarity brigade" from Australia. 

At the opening of the event in a huge stadium in Caracas, then president Hugo Chavez address probably tens of thousands of youth from all over the world, divided into contingents by country. Chavez had only recently declared the goal of the Bolivarian revolution he was leading must be "socialism of the 21st century" -- and that this should be the goal for the whole world, lest we face extinction. This was the basic tenor of his festival speeches.

As Chavez spoke, one of the brigade organisers took a phone call on their mobile and somehow my sister had gotten through. I had been very sick and in hospital. First of all, the private hospital I was taken to just milked me for travel insurance cash, putting in antibiotics that made me sicker, and I was pretty ill.

The doctors in charge were white, upper-middle class and hostile to the government. When they weren't around, the dark-skinned nurses declared themselves Chavistas. There is a photo of me somewhere, sick as a dog on an IV drip, with two nurses, all of us with our fists raised.

Eventually, the supporters of the Chavez government and the pro-poor Bolivarian revolution who were looking after our brigade brought in a couple of the Cuban doctors working in the poor communities in Venezuela due to a deal with the Chavez government, where they staffed the free health clinics. The Cuban doctors, careful not to speak in front of hospital staff so their Cuban accents didn't give them away. (they were were hated by the private health doctors). 

They looked at the charts next to my bed, declared I should definitely get out of there or the mistreatment could kill me, and so, still so sick I needed to be on a drip, the unhappy hospital had no choice but to discharge me.

I was taken to one of the new clinics in a poor area run by the Cubans providing free health care to the poor -- the fact that, as a journalist for Green Left Weekly, I was there in part to report on clinics like the one I was now lying in seemed to bring endless amusement to the medical staff. 

Compared to the lush private hospital room, it was austere. Just three beds on a concrete floor and the food, and I use the term loosely, was bought from some nearby streetvender. But whereas I got worse in the three days in the private hospital, here, I got better over the next three days, and, being discharged,was handed the medicines I needed, no charge.

While still recovering, I logged in to check my email for the first time in ages. My sister wanted to get in touch urgently. Someone else, with no connection to my sister, also wanted to get in touch with me urgently. I couldn't for the life of me think what possible common issue would have both desperate for me to get in touch, but I was in Venezuela for a couple more weeks. It was clearly gonna have to wait.

It waited until that stadium in Caracas when I was handed the phone while Hugo Chavez spoke of youth in the forefront of a global revolutionary transformation. Justin was my best friend. I spoke about him a little bit here a couple of weeks ago in relation to different issues. 

There is a lot that could be said on the topic. I wasn't there, I hadn't spoken to him for months, I don't really understand the circumstances. I didn't go to his funeral or memorial as I was half way around the world. I am not sure if that is better or worse.

The main thing I take away is that "Utopia" only has meaning in relation to the darkness of today. 

I promise don't intend to keep being so serious fucking thing. I've been to serious lately, what with pieces on the death of Irish comic Sean Hughes, heartfelt ruminations on homophobia and 

Justin would walk away from me in disgust if he know I'd written a fucking poem.

Regardless, here is a song by Lucinda Williams, who has something of a tendency to write about this type of thing (this is the new version she has recorded of this track, originally released in 1992). Her lyric, unshockingly, make better poetry than my effort. 

Then again, Lucinda Williams wasn't standing in the stadium in Caracas listening to Hugo Chavez urge the  a new world, so it certainly isn't the same. Still she can fucking sing this story.

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone's ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm
Didn't you think you were worth anything...

Millions of us in love, promises made good
Your own flesh and blood
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes
The beat, the rhythm, the blues
The pounding of your heart's drum together with another one
Didn't you think anyone loved you...

Saturday, November 25, 2017


There are definitely some bad things in this Godforsaken world, but there are some good things too.

On one hand, Donald Trump (probably inspired by Australia) is fucking over refugees, seeking to abolish Internet freedom and escalating actions causing runaway climate change. On the other, there is a reasonable chance his administration could provoke a nuclear war with North Korea and thus end our suffering.

On one hand, the Western Sydney Wanderers have scored in every single first half of their games this A-League season. On the other, they have conceded in every single second half, condemning us a seemingly endless stream of infuriating draws.

On one hand, Tom Waits has not released a new album since 2011, on the other his brilliantly remastered version of 2004's Real Gone has just been made public!

This is very exciting news from the greatest living songwriter and innovative performer. I have a soft spot for Real Gone. Coming out a year or two after I fell in love with Waits' music, it was his first album I bought when it actually came out. Original and innovative (his only album without piano and featuring beatboxing at points) it remains one of his more underrated offerings.

It is also his most political -- and sadly the brilliant anti-war tracks "The Day After Tomorrow" and the the savage "Hoist That Rag" have not got less relevant. In fact, with a landscape of permanent war  (and with the US occupation of Afghanistan now its longest overseas military conflict ever), the sheer timelessness of "The Day After Tomorrow" (written so it could be about any war in history) feels even more poignant.

And let's not even get started on the 10 minute epic of "Sins of the Father", in part a take down of the corruption, venality and incompetence of the then-Bush administration. That is a situation that has only, somehow, degenerated even further.

Announcing the release, Waits' website says of the remastered product: "Some of the new mixes are radical transformations from the original versions and the whole album crackles and steams with fuller intensity and more vivid intimacy."

JamBase says:
Utilizing the original master tapes, Waits and his longtime collaborator and wife Kathleen Brennan prepared the updated version of Real Gone. The new edition is said to be, “a rare look into the creative process of the influential artist taking an opportunity to re-investigate a pivotal work …"

You can hear it at Spotify or stream or buy it here.

And ... well... it sounds fucking amazing. The sound is universally richer, often it feels like more space s have been created the mix or in some places a bit of a jazz vibe created. Other times, entire different sections are either brought out in the mix or seemingly added in. 

The remixing varies in its impact from turning "Shake It" into significantly different (and improved) track, to adding whole new elements at crucial points to expand the sound of already strong tracks (like "Hoist That Rag", the album's stand-out song that now features a horn section that creates a great interplay with Marc Ribot's awesome guitar playing, or "The Day After Tomorrow"), through to songs that sound only lightly touched, like "How's It Gonna End" or "Dead and Lovely".

Overall, it sounds fantastic and there isn't a song made weaker by the process. An already good album has been improved.

Best of all... THIS IS JUST THE START! His 2002 albums Alice and Blood Money have also been remastered and are ready to be released. Next month, a remastered version of Mule Variations is set to come out. So keep an eye on

And OK sure, an album of all-new music would be even better. But you can't have everything BECAUSE THAT'S JUST HOW THE WORLD WORKS, KIDS.

You can have great remastered versions of entire Tom Waits' albums, but then again the world will also keep being destroyed by corporate parasites and also there is still no new Tom Waits album since 2011. So just take what you can while you can because you'll soon be dead, and by "you" I mean the entire planet.


While Australian singer Nick Cave ignores the pleas of Palestinians and plays Israel, Tom Waits has taken a different path.

Waits has re-recorded the piano to his hauntingly melancholic classic "Innocent When You Dream" for British artist Banksy to use at his art installation in the West Bank -- the "Walled Off Hotel", which has the "world's worst views" as it looks out straight onto Israel's Apartheid wall.

Consequence of Sound explains:

Waits re-recorded “Innocent When You Dream”, from his 1987’s Franks Wild Years, to be played aloud at the piano bar at Banksy’s West Bank hotel. He explained in a statement, writing, “The Irish are no strangers to strife and division, and Waits selected this Irish tinged waltz because of its lyrical and wistful mix of regret and dreams for a world without walls.” 
Watch a video of the song being played aloud here.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Margo Price's NPR show the day after Trump won. An emotional, but defiant performance by awesome, rising and political country singer

This NPR "tiny desk" features country singer Margo Price on November 9 last year -- the day after Donald Trump was elected. Yeah I know it is over a year ago now, but I've been busy! With many things! Such as drinking, living in denial at the coming destruction of the last remnants of human civilisation, and not listening to Margo Price's NPR tiny desk show from November 9, 2016. It's been fucking hectic.

Over the past few months I've come across Margo Price and she's great. She has been making waves with music that, unlike much of what dominates country radio, is actual country music, stories of of pain and resilience filled with heart. Naturally, Nashville has little time for her, but she is part of a new wave of great women country singers outside the Nashville mainstream, along with the likes of Dori Freeman, Kristina Murphy (who I literally first heard today but already love) and Sarah Shook.

Price's NPR desk show was obviously always going to have to relate in some way to the rise of Trump, but its no real surprise she openly took it on (the notes from NPR below the clip explain the context). Price is explicitly, but not heavy-handedly, political (as an example, two of the three tracks at the NPR performance were not written as political songs, but took on political dimensions with Trump's win.)

Price is political in a way that gets label in the US as "liberal", but that label doesn't do it justice. This isn't about partisan party politics -- with the Democrats putting in a poor showing anyway of actual progressive politics -- but ordinary people and their interests in the fact of systemic inustices.

The show was recorded a few months after after her impressive debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, last year. The album won many accolades and debuted at number 10 on the US country charts -- the first time a female artist has debuted in the top 10 with her first record.

She has since released her second album, All American Made, it is even more political -- filled with anger and defiance as she takes down institutionalised sexism from a working-class perspective on tracks like "Pay Gap".

It goes beyond shallow liberal anti-Trump stuff with gut-level response to systemic injustice. The title track, although it explicitly refers to and ironically inverts Trump's "make it in America" rhetoric, was written before Trump's win. It swings from general points ("everywhere I go, somebody puts e in the dirt") to references to historical events like the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan in the 80s.

This is not about Trump dropping from the sky, but being an product of modern America -- he is, himself, very much all-American made. It is further evidence to the emptiness of prejudices that country is a reactionary genre.

And, like the debut, it also has some great country songs about pain of love gone wrong, and features a duet with Willie Nelson. It broke into the top 10 US country, folk and indie charts.

Price is the sort of artist that gives hope for popular music in general and country music in particular, as a vital creative force with some reason for its existence, that can relate to the world around it.

The clip, which features the title track for her latest album and two tracks from her debut, is below, followed by NPR's notes.

Bob Boilen | November 28, 2016 — When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play "All American Made," a song she's sung many times before, those words about America's changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful. Margo Price is a Nashville-based musician, the sort of country artist that captures the hearts of those both inside and outside the country-music scene. Her debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, is one of the brightest moments in country in a very strong year. As this Tiny Desk progresses, even "Four Years Of Chances," her song of a love gone wrong, feels less about a lousy husband and more about presidential politics. She dedicates her third and final song, "About To Find Out," to Donald Trump; she says it was originally written about a "musician acquaintance of mine who's a complete sociopath." When the song ends, she rips open her red cowboy shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words "Icky Trump"— a play on the title of The White Stripes' song "Icky Thump," which criticizes the U.S.'s immigration policies. She smiles, wipes a tear away: It seems cathartic, but temporary. Midwest Farmer's Daughter is available now: iTunes: Amazon: SET LIST "All American Made" "Four Years Of Chances" "About To Find Out"

You can see also see a longer show with full band in front of live audience.


Here is an upbeat, cheery track all about exploitation and systemic sexual harassment of women in the industry and in general!

In this town everybody's trying to get a piece of everybody else
It gets hard to tell a real friend from a fake one
So many promises, favors, and lies
Most of the town wears a good disguise
And even I, too, have been known to wear one

As the saying goes, it's not who you know
But it's who you blow that'll get you in the show
And if that's not the case I hear you pay 'em
But I don't come easy and I'm flat broke
So I guess it's me who gets the joke
Maybe I'd be smarter if I played dumb

I can't count all the times I've been had
Now I know much better than to let that make me mad
I don't let none of that get me down
From what I've found this town gets around

Now the very first manager I ever had
He was old enough he could have been my dad
He took me out for drinks and talked a big talk
He said, "darling sign on the dotted line
You know, "kiss my cheek and drink this wine
But if you walk on me, then you can just walk

I can't count all the times I've been had
Now I know much better than to let that make me mad
I don't let none of that get me down
From what I've found this town gets around

When I first came here the streets were paved with gold
And you can walk that road, I've been told
But I won't put out or be controlled
I don't write the shit that gets bought and sold
Ask any man
He might know
Who used to live on Music Row
But that was then, and this is now
He told me this town gets around
From what I've found this town gets around

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Yes vote was a great win, so here's a couple of sad songs by LGBTI country singers about love gone wrong to celebrate

Celebrations in Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle/Green Left Weekly.

They say nothing good ever happens, but events yesterday sure put paid to that! Yes, I got a ticket to Alabama's "alt-country"/Americana superstar Jason Isbell! I cannot fucking wait! You can check out this recently streamed live show of Isbell with his band the 400 Units from the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to see why this is really fucking exciting news.

Also, the results were released of the non-binding survey on whether to support marriage equality in this country and it was a decisive victory for "yes" in a rare win for humanity, equality and basic fucking human decency.

(For the record, Isbell tweeted his support for Australians voting "yes" early in the campaign.)

It is a strange feeling, in this godforsaken nation, to feel positive about anything relating to the cluster fuck that passes for "politics" here. But after an unnecessary voluntary postal plebiscite (coz obviously in 2017 there is no other way to resolve an important issue than mailing out ballot papers with prepaid envelopes via a largely defunded postal service) and a fucking ugly campaign by the well-funded, Christian fundamentalist-driven no campaign...

... the vote, with a turn out of 79.5% of registered voters, was about 62% "yes", with clear majorities in all state and territories.

As a non-binding survey -- why would you spend $122 million in taxpayers money to resolve something definitively -- it does not resolve the issue in-and-of-itself. But it makes it a political certainty in some form, and a bill is expected to pass parliament by Christmas.

This has made a lot of people very happy. You can see some of them below, in the Green Left TV footage of the moment the result was announced to thousands of people in Sydney's Albert Park.

No doubt it has made a few people sad, mostly people called Miranda, Tony or Lyle. I won't show you them because there's too much misery in the world already.

So finally, Australia can catch up with famously socially progressive nations like Ireland and that country that gave Donald Trump the keys to the White House in allowing same-sex couples to marry, if not fully resolving all issues such as legal discrimination for trans people in various fields.

It may not be perfect, it may have taken an unnecessary toll on LGBTI people, but still.... if a win like that is not worth celebrating, I don't know what is.

And I know how to celebrate!

With Guinness!

With whiskey!

And sad country songs!!!

There is no occasion I can think of in which decent country songs about love going wrong are not appropriate, least of all a situation which is, after all, a celebration of love!

Now, country music has a reputation as some sort of uniformly socially backwards form, but it isn't. There is all sorts of country music, including by LGBTI performers. The mainstream country industry can be very conservative, and many just see that as the entire genre, as though you could reduce rock music to Limp Bizkit or Billy Joel, or hip-hop to, I don't know, Vanilla Ice....

So here are a couple of good country songs by a couple of LGBTI singers. Because love is love, as they say, and it frequently fucking hurts!

'I'm drinking water tonight coz I drank all the whiskey this morning. Drank the whiskey this morning, coz my baby, she ain't coming home...'

This is a fucking sad song. You see, "last night she went up to the bar, said she met some big country star". This country star is, apparently, "like [country legend] Dwight Yoakam". Not is Dwight Yoakam, which might be easier to take, merely sounds like the guy. And she's gone having "taken every last one of my good years". God, no wonder Sarah Shook is on the whiskey in the morning.

Listed last year by Rolling Stone in a list of 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know, when she isn't spending her mornings drinking whiskey, Sarah Shook is an openly LGBTI performer and civil rights activist from North Carolina, who has won an award for her work in promoting a Safe Spaces initiative in Chapel Hill, NC.

'It took 19 years to find her, and three years to make her mine. We had four good years of loving, but it only took two words to break her heart...'

Oh God, Melbourne-based country-blues singer Cash Savage knows how to pull out a gut-wrenching vocal.

In some ways, this is less "country" country than Sarah Shook. With Savage's bluesy voice over a driving banjo, it has bit of a bluesy folk vibe more than straight up "twang". But it definitely has a country soul -- ie: misery over love gone wrong.

As to marriage equality, Cash Savage never waited for any bullshit plebiscite. She married her partner, magazine editor Amy Middleton, a while back.


And yes, OK... I guess I might as well throw a couple of "happy" and "positive" songs in the mix.

'Aint gonna reference no lonesome road, I confess my affection has grown and grown. I'm in love!'

Here, Cash Savage sings to the glories of love in a song that is almost a spiritual experience. Soulful doesn't being to describe Savage's vocal style, and on "19 Years" and "I'm In Love", she shows how perfectly capture both extremes of that crazy fucking thing called "love".

And ok, this one below is not country nor is about love, at least not in an individual sense. This is a song by Gossip, fronted by LGBTI singer Beth Ditto, about LGBTI defiance in the face of the then-Bush administration's attacks on her community. It is... well it is defiant and on point.

'Standing in the way of control, we live our lives....'

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lest we forget... when working people had real social power and the right resorted to a coup

Protest after Gough Whitlam was sacked by the governor-general.
As November 11 is Remembrance Day, so it is worth remembering that on November 11, 1975, the elected government of Australia was removed in a coup against the only truly left-leaning reforming government this nation has had.

After media attacks and economic sabotage and blackmail from the economic elites, the means was the "reserve powers" of the unelected governor-general operating as the representative of the British monarch. Governor-General John Kerr, in conspiracy with the Liberals, overthrew Gough Whitlam's Labor government and dissolved both houses of parliament,

In many ways, what the Whitlam government did was not that radical, but it can feel that way today. After a couple of decades of conservative rule, amid the general social upheaval of "the Sixties", Labor swept into office in 1972 and introduced free education and universal health care, legislated equal pay for women and Aboriginal land rights, withdrew Australia from the Vietnam War and diplomatically recognised the People's Republic of China, among other socially progressive measures.

This feels almost revolutionary after a couple of decades of neoliberal "counter-reform", but in many ways the Whitlam government also showed no desire to serious upturn the status quo or challenge the system. A symbol of this was the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the dying days of Whitlam's government.

A leaked document showed Australia's ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott said Australia should support it as a better deal over oil in the Timor Sea could be struck if East Timor was rule by the far-right Indonesian military dictatorship, rather than by the left-wing, anti-imperialist Fretilin party who ruled the newly independent nation. 

It could be said Whitlam's government had more pressing things on its mind at the time, but Whitlam continued publicly supporting Indonesia's occupation -- as did Labor right until its the end in 1999, suggesting it wasn't just the confusion of those hectic days at play.

The "Big End of Town" eventually turned on the Whitlam government amid economic chaos. In doing so, they confronted a powerful, highly organised workers movement -- probably at the height of its powers. The threat of a general strike against this right-wing assault on democracy was in the air, and strikes and protests broke out spontaneously.

Below I have posted a great song, "The Ballad of '75", that captures the mood in those days. It is by the Sydney-based Celtic punk band from the '80s, Roaring Jack -- led by the fiery Scottish-born socialist Alistair Hulett.

The song captures the contradictory sense of anger and confusion ("Drinking in the streets gave way to doubt") , but the most striking thing from our 21st century vantage point is the description it provides of the organised power of working people in those days.

This is spelled out in the song's opening scene, in a matter-of-fact way. The song is sung from the perspective of a young worker in an oxide plant in the then-working class area of North Fitzroy. When word comes that "they've given Gough the bullet", the workers simply walk out. 

Bert Gilchrist told the gaffer because Bert Gilchrist had the clout
He said, "They've given Gough the bullet and the lads are walking out"
And we walked right off that job while the gaffer held the door
And watched it on the telly in a TV rental store

The power relationship is described clearly: A shop floor militant "had the clout" and the boss ("gaffer") is reduced to holding open the door as his workforce files out.

We could talk a lot, no doubt, about the way this social power at the time was deliberate not used, sidelined, by the Bob Hawke-led ACTU, and the way this helped shift the balance of forces towards the right and opened the way for the Liberals to defeat Labour in the elections Kerr's double dissolution brought on.

But I think it is worth noting this power, as it's so far from our reality. Today, what the song describes would be highly illegal trade union action accompanied by six figure fines on any union that dared to try it (the CFMEU have in recent years walked out over safety, and that is exactly what they got, along with threatened jail sentences for union members).

The union movement has shrunk dramatically since 1975, from over 50% coverage to less than 15% today. That is real power lost -- and not just in formal rights, but actual social power.

For instance, in 1969, when a militant left-wing transport union leader Clarrie O'Shea was jailed under anti-union laws, the largest national strike post World War II won his freedom. The unions are in no condition for a repeat of that today  -- though new ACTU secretary Sally McManus, among others, is trying to  rebuild some of this power (which is why she is such a bogey figure for the right wing).

I think this social power of working people helps explain the sacking of the Whitlam government. The "Bert Gilchrist's" of the world, and the song's narrator, were emboldened by Whitlam's government.

The Malcolm Fraser government came in with the aim of undermining this power, but the union movement was strong enough to blunt much of the attacks. A much more complex process, where by a Hawke-led Labor government in the 80s signed an "Accord" with unions, made bigger gains in opening up a process of weakening union power, followed by the direct confrontations of the Howard years in the '90s and 2000s.

But for now... lest we forget there was a time when working people were so strong in this country, they could walk out at a whim -- and the powerful forces of the status quo had to launch a coup to remove a government they identified with.

I remember the day I was no more than a boy
Working in an oxide plant at the back of North Fitzroy
Bert Gilchrist told the gaffer because Bert Gilchrist had the clout
He said, "They've given Gough the bullet and the lads are walking out"

And we walked right off that job while the gaffer held the door
And watched it on the telly in a TV rental store
It was one hell of a situation, the kind you just can't gauge
There was Gough on the steps of parliament house saying now maintain the rage

In the year of the double dissolution
Drinking in the streets gave way to doubt
Australia voted in a revolution
Then stood back and let the fat cats push it out

There was violence in the air as I walked back home that night
Everyone you'd meet was getting ready for the fight
Saying "If they're out for trouble then trouble's what they'll get
We started out a colony do they think we're a colony yet?"

But as the weeks went by the anger turned to mild relief
Locks were freed like magic and I watched in disbelief
To see a scam so blatant so jacked up and full of holes
And the people in their thousands endorsed it at the polls

Some said they had it coming some were closer to the mark
Who spoke about conspiracy sinister and dark
But history records it and the story will be read
How we let them take democracy and stand it on its head