Books Are Cool

Books seemed to be really uncool, for a really long time there. I read heaps when I was younger, and pretty well until my age caught up, or until I stopped ‘pushing myself’ depending on who you ask, but I admit I fell in to the ‘books are lame’ category for a time there. Couldn’t say why. The last word was interchangeable, too. Books could be anything – boring, shit, for losers. That sort of thinking is almost baffling looking back.  I don’t know if there is any data on this, but I am highly confident that there is a direct correlation with intelligence and those who read frequently. Actually it’s not that I didn’t like books, it was just that I really, really did not ever think to read one for leisure. Fiction written for young people though truly is generally pretty stale, with a few exceptions.

But then it suddenly came back. Guys and girls all started wearing brown coats, and leather shoes, growing (and grooming!?) mustaches, and carrying around tattered anthologies of George Orwell essays, stopping only to drink coffee and proudly display to everyone that they were indeed part of the ‘intelligentsia’, did you not notice what they were reading?  Or that they were reading at all? I suppose some people felt left out, or stupid, and sought to read thin novels by obscure authors and wear it as a badge, or weapon. Can’t be all bad though, reading became the cool, trippy (for some reason?) thing to do.

The first book I remember really enjoying as anything more than a child was a Kurt Cobain biography, Heavier than Heaven. I didn’t even like Nirvana at the time,although I knew who they were. I would have been 12 years old, everyone in class had to check out a book from the school library and the only ones that really interested me at the time were about music or movies, not really novels, so the first thing I grabbed was Heavier than Heaven. I read the back and looked at the pictures, and had the “oh, it’s that guy” moment. For ages when I was younger I just thought that ‘Kurt Cobain’ was a serial killer. It seemed interesting enough and someone in class started talking to me about it so I held on to it and a few days later I went to the public library and borrowed a Nirvana greatest hits CD – the first time I even realised you could do that – and never returned it. Here was a book about a heroin-shooting, instrument-wrecking, rockstar-millionaire, who literally blew it all away, and I’m allowed to read it. School said so. Actually, my english teacher did give me a shifty look and demanded to know what I was reading when I asked her what ‘carnal knowledge’ meant, with regard to Dave Grohl’s time off on tour. Regardless, that’s a pretty interesting book to a 12 year old.

From there I mainly kept reading books about music, or biographies on musicians, preferably autobiographies. Around that same time I read one about Axl Rose that was similarly fascinating, and one about Jimi Hendrix called Room Full of Mirrors that was written by the same guy that wrote Heavier than Heaven, Charles R. Cross. Who knew, that just because it’s on paper and in between two slightly thicker pieces of card, it didn’t have to be lame/shit/boring, or any of those other words?

Art is kind of one big circle, in that they all compliment each other so when reading books about musicians that you love and respect and they talk about books and authors that they love and respect, you pretty much pay attention. You don’t have to like it, but you definitely want to find out about it. If Kurt Cobain likes Black Sabbath and The Beatles, and I like Black Sabbath and The Beatles, maybe I’ll like some William S. Burroughs stuff too, like he does. I think if you keep it organic you can’t really go wrong. Be open minded, but don’t pretend to like something just because it’s Lou Reed’s favourite. Being dishonest leads to the mustache grooming discussed earlier. At the end of the day, books are just stories, and some people like them on paper, some people like them spoken and filmed, some people like them in a video game. It’s content that really matters, not the medium. Books are honestly pretty cool though, in a similar way to albums, and I’m lucky I read because since I quit smoking I need all the coolness I can get.

Movie Memories – Stand By Me

STNDBYME-CTIT-1

Release: August 22 1986

Director: Rob Reiner

My first recollection of Stand By Me was seeing it in a magazine – Top 100 Movies of All Time. It came in somewhere around the 20s, and the accompanying picture was the one above, of Vern (Jerry O’Connell) pointing out Ray Brower’s dead body. I wrongly assumed that the boys shown were ‘the bullies’, and that’s all the thought I ever gave it (having perused that list many, many times) until my older brother mentioned having to study it as part of a coming-of-age thing. I must have been 11, if my brother was in year 9. Dad was an avid Stephen King lover, he had all of his books and had read them each more than once, so was pleasantly surprised when my brother mentioned off the cuff that he was studying this movie called Stand By Me at school. “Stephen King wrote that,” Dad said, “it’s a short story, you would like it too, Max.” My brother agreed, “Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool, man.”

“Stand By Me? About a bunch of boys on an adventure? Sounds gay if you ask me.”

The very next weekend we were at Dads we went to Whitcoulls, and lo and behold, the Stand By Me DVD is sitting in a bargain bin. Dad and Jed immediately grab it and show it to me, while Dad slips it in to his other hand to meet the other movies we’d be adopting – the “I’m buying you” hand. I don’t know why, but the fact we had just bought it made me even stronger in my fight to ward off this “gay” movie. The slipcover gave me all sorts of material, while Dad smiled to himself and shook his head knowing somehow that I’d end up eating my words, “If you say so…”

“River Phoenix? River Phoenix?  That’s a person’s name? Should be Stand Bi Me they all love each other so much. Ugh, set in the ’50s? How boring. Oh look, a treehouse! Wank.”

I imagine at this age I was trying extremely hard to shed my ‘innocence’ because I can’t fathom how anyone who knows me, let alone me myself, could ever make a convincing argument that Stand By Me isn’t up my alley. I even found myself at that stage leaving Star Wars behind, an ever present source of wonder for me, no matter how hard the devil playing Eminem on my shoulder had tried to convince me otherwise. I even think part of it was pure bloody-mindedness. I didn’t want to like it partially because these people just assumed I would; how dare they!?

Dad and Jed put it on when we got home, to prove me wrong. Jed didn’t mind because he truly had enjoyed watching it in class – that was soon to change. And Dad didn’t mind because he hadn’t seen it in years (plus, he collected all the movies based on Stephen King’s work too). I remember the opening sequence with the older Narrator sitting in his car by himself and the score behind it thinking “Pfft, this so isn’t me”, but as soon as the cash register “chings” and we see Gordie’s face for the first time I was in 1959 Castle Rock, and I didn’t want to leave. I still tried to appear weary and not fully sold, but I wanted their lives and I felt honestly duped that I wasn’t able to experience it.  At the end of the 90 minutes, they both looked at me exaggerating their points. See!? See!?

I saw. I skipped forward which took me straight back to the main menu of the DVD and again I clicked play. I watched it three times that day, back to back. And when my little brother joined us another weekend, we watched it multiple times then, too. And twice the next day, and the next day – hence Jed’s eternal sigh whenever it’s brought up.

Stand By Me quickly became, and still is, one of my favourite movies of all time. I don’t have an ordered top ten when it comes to movies or music because I feel like I’m being mean to any one who isn’t number one, they all deserve it. Stand By Me, the song, is also one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.tumblr_nir90zxpfz1r7a23yo1_1280

When I first saw Stand By Me it became an instant favourite based on its own merit. The writing, the acting (especially by such young boys), the soundtrack, everything comes together in a completely dynamic and perfectly subtle way to create a real, living, breathing world. You feel like you are experiencing this adventure as opposed to watching it, and it’s only at the end when we are reminded that the ‘narration’, and the story itself, is in fact just The Writer recalling it, and yes, it isn’t real – Richard Dreyfuss is an actor. Hearing Rob Reiner, or even Stephen King, discuss the film in interviews, or the special features which would often bridge the gap between viewings, it becomes clear that it not only epitomises their childhoods and their understanding of coming-of-age, and rites of passage, but once you step back like they are you realise it pretty much epitomises coming-of-age in general. Stephen King who is famously weary of people adapting his work (see: The Shining), has gone on record to say it is his favourite adaptation of any of his books, regardless of noticeable differences in content. People see themselves in the boys and can relate to at least one, or all, of them in a totally personal way. The characters created are so vivid and real that it’s hard not to relate – when you’re watching it you ‘choose’ a character and they’re you’re guy for the duration of the film, you feel like part of their gang.

Stephen King born in 1947 loved it, when it came out in 1986 people loved it, my little brother born in 1996 loved it, I loved it. Film itself does age, it is a physical thing that deteriorates in quality with time, but it also is something that has been in a constant state of improvement ever since it was invented. Stand By Me’s age doesn’t take away from the impact for even a second, which is something that can’t necessarily be said for all ‘classics.’ I would put its emotional impact, even just enjoy-ability, up against any movie, not to mention those that have access to all the state-of-the-art technical bells, whistles, and top talent.

Sure, Stand By Me isn’t like anything filmed today – those ways are mostly redundant – but the content is timeless and could hold its own against anything from ancient Greek poems, to 4k movies so life-like that any emotion less than a close-up of a quivering tear duct slaps the medium in the face.

Music Memories – 18 Jan 2008

86119980_10

The all-encompassing aroma of marijuana and cigarettes wafted over the stadium gates and in to my nose like a heat seeking missile, or a pie cooling on Marge Simpson’s windowsill. Dave and I both made bug-eyed expressions of “We know what that smell is!”, subtly enough as to not get ‘caught’ and thus thrown out of our first festival – not taking in to account that you’re actually allowed to comment on drugs without being implicated in their smuggling. I readied my ticket to be scanned. The entrance was like a portal in to some kind of alternate reality where circus sideshows are 50,000 strong and they happen on the hottest day of the year. Foot-high mohawks adorned the leather-clad punks’ heads, and girls had piercings in places I didn’t even realise could be pierced. This was what I had come for, this was the Big Day Out; it was midday and Rage Against The Machine were due on at 9pm. As I wandered around the site in awe of my first ever festival experience, my pupils widened and my jaw unhinged itself and began swaying like an open door in the wind. It was hard for my newly 15 year old brain to deny a blonde in shorts so tight they seemed painted on willing to cut me a ‘deal’ on these little party pills that were supposedly soon being made illegal. Can’t go wrong, I thought.

Looking over the two main stages at one end of the field I felt like a dictator, all the little freaks bobbing in unison before me to their favourite bands confirmed a love affair with live music that has continued through the present. It was easily the largest, most powerful mass of people I’d ever witnessed in my life. Before that day the only gigs I had been to were Tenacious D at the Logan Campbell Centre, and Guns n Roses about 6 months before at Vector Arena. Both venues paled in comparison to the expanse that was Mt Smart Stadium.  I had never before witnessed such a palpable feeling of togetherness; the electricity being stored by the crowd and then being released in seemingly random and sporadic successions of bouncing and cheers made me doublethink my ‘dictatorship’ and planted the first seeds of understanding when it comes to famous musicians and their infamous egos. By mid-afternoon the stadium was full – every space had been occupied like a fitted sheet and it became clear to me and everybody else there that this was to be something different. Nearly 50,000 ticket holders, over 100 acts, but it seemed that everyone was there for Rage. As Shihad were in the midst of belting out ‘Home Again’, (that song sounds cool, I thought to myself, have to look that one up.), I figured that would’ve been the last opportunity I’d have to get even remotely close to the band once they took the stage.

Readied in my proudly scummy uniform of a Sex Pistols shirt and frankensteined denim shorts, it became apparent that security had begun blocking off the entrances to the D barrier which leads to the pit – and if you can make it – right up front. The mood took an almost sinister undertone as everyone realised what was happening. A dreaded figure appeared from the mass of bodies, perhaps sprouting from an armpit, and asked me just how badly I wanted to be up front. In typical 15 year old manner I replied in a way that made me seem more keen than I probably was. We got to the front for Tenacious D, thanks to the kind crowd noticing I was with my little brother – amid cries of “Let the little dude through!”, could be heard me: “I have to go with him, he’s my brother”, and the seas parted. At Guns N Roses I had seated tickets (not by choice) and looked down enviously upon the crowd being welcomed to the jungle. So, a mosh pit of this magnitude was more or less going to be a brand new experience for me.

bdo-ticket-2008The hairy maniac beat me to the punch, I looked over barely having got my reply out and see him prying barricades from the security’s hands like a crazed prisoner. We had literally only met each other 10 seconds earlier and already a majority of the barricades security was attempting in vain to put up were successfully crowd-surfing further and further behind me while the rest of the crowd rushed through the gate despite the three guards’ feeble attempts to regain control of the situation. According to footage on the news later that night, a similar situation had eventuated just after Rage started their set, during ‘Bulls on Parade’.  What made it seem so easy, and everybody so confident, was the fact that at that point a few thousand people became one mass all with a common goal – which was achieved. It gets to a point where no matter what these people had all drunk, or taken, throughout the day, it’s all less effective at a certain point than the natural adrenaline that flows just when you need it. Almost on cue with the lights going down a giant red star illuminates the backdrop like the sun, its power similar as the crowd response suggested – it was unparalleled total ecstasy, you could feel this unconditional love for the band rising in you as the roars from the crowd grow in strength like a snowball. A militant silhouette sporting an afro strides on to the stage like a school principal, ready to scold the students for their behaviour on last week’s field trip. He casually walked up to the microphone.

“Good evening…”

I’m sure he said more, but the crowd made sure to drown out whatever that was. From those first words the entire field was in his grasps, spinning and bouncing like his own boiling cauldron, adding ingredients like fists in the air, “get the fuck ups”, whenever necessary in order for this rap-wizard to concoct his perfect gig. Judging by the faces of the band members when the house lights came on at the end illuminating us all, the ceremony had been a success and the audience successfully intoxicated and possessed by their chants and war-songs. Waiting on the corner of Beasley Ave for my ride home I heard two ladies probably in their 30s, veterans perhaps of past events featuring Nine Inch Nailses, Courtney Loves, and Marilyn Mansons, walking together on the footpath and one said to the other in perfect elementary simplicity “Well, that was a bundle of fun.” I laughed out loud, and again at home in bed ears ringing, feet thumping as I slowly regained feeling. Forgetting all the political agendas, tidal mosh pits, blood, and spilt beer, regardless of whether you’re 15 in a Sex Pistols shirt, or you’re 30 with a floppy hat and a nice Pinot, the Big Day Out is always a great, big, bundle of fun.