Taxi Driver -A film to welcome Trump with – Happy 40th

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Release: February 8 1976

Director: Martin Scorcese

Taxi Driver is an all-time great. One of my favourite, if not my very favourite, movies of all time. This year it celebrated its 40th anniversary with a new blu ray release, which if Santa doesn’t bring me, I will get him to put on his belated sleigh via Amazon.com. If you haven’t seen it (then we can’t be friends)it is essentially about a Vietnam war vet Travis Bickle (De Niro, duh) who, unable to sleep, gets a job as a Taxi Driver. Meanwhile he develops a crush on a woman named Besty (Cybil Shephard) who works at the New York campaign office of Presidential hopeful Charles Palantine. He eventually comes on too strong as the socially awkward, and apparently friendless, Travis takes her to a movie theater specialising in sex films. Offended she leaves and goes home alone.

Growing increasingly disillusioned he confides in a fellow taxi driver about his thoughts and ideas, which are starting to become violent. Travis, disgusted by the sleaze, prostitution, and drugs (to name a few) that he sees throughout the city on his routes – “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” – undertakes intense physical training in his home, both to ready him for the ‘rain’ and as an outlet for his frustration. He eventually befriends a young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) who he tries to convince to move back home with her parents.

He buys guns, shaves his head in to a mohawk, asks if you’re talking to him, you. Here’s where it gets relevant – Travis shows up at a rally for Charles Palantine where he plans to assassinate him. He gets noticed by Secret Service and flees successfully through a crowd of people. When Palantine happens to jump in his cab Travis tells him he just knows he’s going to win! Next, he’s out there trying to kill the guy. What changed? Betsy. He’s getting more and more fed up, not helped, by his recent run ins with Iris, with the way things are going. It seems killing Palantine is more of a symbolic ‘fuck you’ to Betsy (and the Government that allows the ‘whores, skunk pussies’ etc.) as opposed to killing her – the dead don’t feel pain, right? Keep in mind this film was made roughly 13 years after Kennedy’s assassination, around about the same amount of time between the 9/11 attacks and the present – less than ten since Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down. Crazed gunmen were likely the boogeyman of the day, much like Middle-Eastern terrorists at present.

The fact that the movie is so widely revered, aside from its impeccable content, is testament to just how real and common Travis’ feelings of loneliness are. He feels no one understands him – he’s “God’s lonely man.” – and that killing a prominent politician may serve as a catalyst for change, or at least give some damn relief. Now, I don’t mean everyone, or anyone, who’s been let down by a girl, or society, or both, would or should gun down politicians, but it wouldn’t be the first time and I’d wager it won’t be the last either. What can Taxi Driver tell us, or warn us, about a Trump Presidency? Maybe nothing, but we do know that, for better or worse, he is skating on thin ice already, and the film is depicting true, real emotions and circumstances. New York in 1976, as portrayed here, takes on an almost dystopian image; neon lights, steam coming from man-holes, drug addicts, rubbish flying in the wind, you know the drill. I am partially reminded of the proletariat from Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of how the world looks through Travis’ embittered eyes – perhaps it’s how the world is  now beginning to look for a lot of people, Trump voters or otherwise.

Paul Schrader’s script, at a glance, might be too confronting for some. In it’s complete, filmed, form maybe even more so. It was definitely controversial in its release, especially the final few scenes. However, if this were simply a film about a lunatic that people don’t really identify with, or don’t even really care about, it would have been lost and forgotten like plenty of other neo-noir New York City thrillers. Instead it remains consistently hovering in most top 10 lists of the greatest movies ever made. Happy 40th.

 

Paradise Lost – tragedy, entrapment, trilogy

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Release: June 10 1996

Director: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

My first introduction to the West Memphis Three (WM3) must have been around the time they were finally released. I remember some sort of controversy in the news that one of the boys convicted (Damien Echols) was either now living in New Zealand, or spending some kind of extended holiday here, I can’t remember which. I didn’t think much of it, but it stuck in my mind because they made the point that Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh were staunch supporters, and believers of their innocence. Since then the documentary series about the case has consistently popped up on my IMDB recommended list, and documentaries you ‘must see.’ On a whim we chucked it on and from, literally, the first frame I was captivated.

A quick recap; On May 5th 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas three eight year old boys – Michael Moore, Steve Branch, and Christopher Byers – were reported missing. On May 6th a black shoe was found floating in a muddy creek in Robin Hood Hills. The creek was subsequently drained and the three missing boys bodies were found dead, naked, and hogtied with their own shoelaces. Christopher Byers died of ‘multiple injuries’, the other two died of ‘multiple injuries with drowning.’Much of the politically conservative and Evangelical Christian community, including detectives, believed these killings to be the basis of a ritual, Satanic slaughter.

The film’s opening scenes are plainly shocking. They stopped me dead. I remember making jokes, or acting silly, before the movie had actually started thinking we’d have a while to get through the opening sequence or whatever. The opening scene(s) had my mouth agape the entire time. What struck me is what I imagine strikes most people when first hearing about this case – the absolute brutality that it takes to do this sort of thing to three little boys. We are first shown police footage of the boys’ bikes sitting on top of some pipes, we are then shown the actual crime scene creek being drained, followed by images of the dead boys lying on the banks, still hogtied. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen a picture of a murdered kid before. Perfected by Metallica’s song (Welcome Home) Sanitarium, the scene is one of the most powerful, if not the most, I’ve ever seen. It made me so mad and disgusted with whoever did it that in my mind I was already doing my own research by the light of my laptop monitor while everyone else was asleep.

Going in to this documentary series, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that it was just another crime doco about three kids who were really in to Satan which led them to murder three boys and how it destroyed a community. Boy, was I wrong. About ten minutes in to the film the tone takes on a slight change, one of almost passion backed again by Metallica’s awesome instrumental ‘Orion.’ The mother (Pam Hobbs) of one of the boys is asked by a reporter – “Do you feel the people who did this were worshiping uh…”

“Satan? Yes, I do.”

“Why?”

“Just look at the freaks. I mean, just look at ’em.”

This chilling statement (accepting the fate of your murdered son over the way someone looks!) is one to sum up the entire film almost. We meet the parents  of all three kids, Jason Baldwin (16), Damien Echols (18), and Jesse Misskelly Jr. (17), who all profess their sons’ innocence, followed by the boys themselves. It is Joe Hutchison’s (Echols’ father) words “Our son is innocent. We intend to prove it.” that subtly shifts the film, or rather opens up the film, in to an ambiguous (pfft!) account of the trial. When Hutchison said that, I had chosen my side – the underdog, obviously. He speaks with truth and conviction, while Pam Hobbs, for example, speaks like someone suffering paranoia, or even delusions as she smiles throughout the interview. What follows is perfect structure – hats off to the film makers. Stepfather of Christopher Byers, John Mark Byers, is seen in his redneck uniform of a trucker cap and overalls at the actual crime scene, making such claims as – “…they had their satanic worship services out here. They had all sorts of wild, homosexual orgies…” Such were the rumours and hatred for these three scapegoats, stories like this with absolutely no factual basis came out of nowhere, likely from those trying to deflect blame. Perhaps those responsible for the crime itself.

The first Paradise Lost film (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) is a masterclass in documentary film-making. The injustice is so blatant though, that you hesitate to call the film an objective piece – even though it is. There are no voice-overs or narration, everything appears exactly as it was filmed. If someone looks stupid? That’s the way they made themselves look, not clever editing or framing.  On that note, the justice department, and the community of West Memphis, Arkansas should be ashamed of themselves for the way they perverted justice so righteously – ironically playing God as Echols was sentenced to death, some parents of the murdered boys even proudly displaying themselves on film shooting at pumpkins made up to look like the accused’s heads.

If we’re going off the way people look, or seem, (thanks Pam Hobbs) then my partner Abbey was right when Jason Baldwin appeared on screen for the first time. “Well, he’s innocent.” she said. And of course he is, “just look at ’em”. What we see on his face is genuine shock, and more than that, terror. The film makers themselves even noted that before they arrived in West Memphis they simply assumed that the three accused were guilty, why wouldn’t they? After the film’s release, however, it became clear that it wasn’t only the film makers, or Abbey, who could tell these guys were innocent, but basically everyone that saw the film – including people like Eddie Vedder, and Johnny Depp. This sprung the Free the WM3 movement which gained traction and support from all over the globe, and sprouted two more films in the Paradise Lost saga, and West of Memphis, a separate documentary released after the Three were freed.

Yeah, spoiler alert – they got out eventually. The story of how, why and when is just as gripping as the first film so go check it out. I will say this, though, justice has not been served. Just because they can walk freely today is no consolation. The circumstances they were released under were a disgusting display of the state throwing their weight around and forcing three already trapped men further in to a corner. Echols, however irresponsibly, summed it up best during his trial:

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Brian the seismologist

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“I made my lenses out of my hair”

In the wake of America’s harrowing election results (let’s be honest, it would have been pretty harrowing either way), New Zealand got it’s own taste of an, albeit watered down, Trump-like ego. More of a reminder than a taste, actually. ‘Bishop’ Brian Tamaki and his Destiny church have always been a good source of entertainment for anyone centered enough to not let his frankly ridiculous hate speech bother them. More of a ‘check out what he’s said now’ kinda guy – like Trump was when the joke about him running was still a joke.

But, following New Zealand’s 7.8 earthquake which has left many small towns stranded without direct access to aid, he went a little too far. I like to believe that generally us Kiwis don’t care what you do as long as it’s not hurting anyone, so when Brainless Tamaki made the ‘yuge’ call that gays were to blame for the plates shifting we all got really pissed. Our friends, our teachers, sports coaches, mums, dads, brothers, sisters, are gay. Don’t you dare, especially at such a time, go and spread this isolated hate and fear – exploiting a national tragedy to try and justify your Mercedes-Benz. To Destiny church fear=donations, and a tax-free status means that donations=profit.

He then went on to clarify that, oh no it wasn’t just gay people, it was all people having extra marital sex. So the implication there is that gay sex is extra marital (a.k.a wrong) by default, thus in his mind gay marriage is not valid.  Regardless of the harmful, bigoted comments about homosexuals, the idea that sex is bad seems to directly oppose the Christian message of being ‘fruitful’ and to ‘multiply’. Trying to clarify, or downright alter, what God (God!) ‘meant’ to say takes balls of a size I can’t fathom. Not only are his views on sex essentially oxymoronic, but they are irresponsible as an adult and as someone of influence. Naive kids of all ages hear that sort of thing and take it seriously, often regardless of religious orientation. How is it fair for some 16 year olds who don’t know any better to feel so guilty over something so devastating like an earthquake, all because of something so unscientific?

This is far from the first time he’s managed to cause a headline-sized fuss. One such time is called to mind wherein some of the original 26 families that helped build Destiny church had left after becoming disillusioned with church spending. One such member even being Tamaki’s public mouthpiece, often defending him and his lifestyle.The straw that broke the donkey’s back , apparently, was Tamaki asking each family for a $1000 contribution to build his new ‘City of God’. Apparently people who couldn’t afford to donate any money were trying to come up with things they could sell. Destiny Church pastor Martin Daly went so far as to say “I love reading the Destiny Church Facebook page seeing families going without Christmas presents ‘cos they’re saving up for their $1000 grand slam offering for the promised land that’s gonna bless the people of South Auckland.” Nice bunch, huh?

A change.org petition has so far garnered nearly 120,000 signatures after only a few days. The timing couldn’t be better though (or, for Tamaki, worse). The most powerful man in the world was elected just weeks after it came out that he spoke about “grabbing” a woman “by the pussy”, and people are sick of it. The PC among us are sick of it because it is harmful and discriminatory, while the more right-leaning of us are sick of it because the implication is now that any conservative (or Trump-voter) must think that way, too. I imagine it must be the same for certain members of Destiny church. In a way you have to feel sorry for them. They are lost in a world of niche religions, disenchanted with the ‘standard’ ways. So much so that that they turn to the obscure off-shoots of Christianity that sound more like they take their inspiration from Leviticus than the Bible as a whole. I’m sure even Pope Frank would agree that a 2000 year old book of rules may not hold all the same relevance as it did back then. And so what? I can’t think of many things, written or otherwise, that do. There’s no denying that the Bible is full of great life-lessons and teachings. Not killing people is a good one, so is treating others the way you’d like to be treated. On that note, I don’t think any book of the Bible specifies how God will punish gay people – definitely no mention of New Zealand’s Alpine Fault. I’m struggling to find any mention of the straight people that were also affected by the gays’ and their (how dare they!?) sexual activities. What was God’s plan for me, then? I’m not gay, therefore shouldn’t have to suffer. Oh, it’ll be the extra marital sex, damn. Guess it is my fault, too.

I wonder why God chose little old Kaikoura in little old New Zealand to punish the roughly 200,000,000 gay people worldwide, pretending the USA is a giant focus group, the last census had 4% of their population as gay. If 200,000,000 people truly evoked God’s wrath so, it seems the last week was more of a ‘ceremonial’ smiting – in that, God doesn’t care who’s gay, he just has to pretend to because of High Council tradition, or something like that, God’s just a figurehead you see?

That seems to me like the only explanation that might be parallel to Tamaki’s. He did seek to remind us all, however, that this was only God’s view and not his. So, he can speak for God, but doesn’t necessarily agree with God? Jeez(us), makes you wonder how he sleeps. Depressing answer incoming: on silk sheets, I bet.

Book Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks – Mark Frost

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Since Twin Peaks’ finale in June 1991, and sometimes even before that, certain layers had been added (or peeled back to reveal) new mysteries surrounding the world of Twin Peaks. I am talking of things like The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, written by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch, or Fire Walk With Me – the initially panned film that explored the last week of Laura Palmer’s life, and even My Life, My Tapes, Agent Cooper’s backstory in the form of anecdotal voice recordings. None of these have actually managed to clear anything up, nor – I imagine  – was their intention.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks, however, manages somehow to do both. At the same time that a lot of things, and their origins, are becoming clear(er), things are happening parallel to these events and explanations that actively create new questions. We know, sort of, where the jade ring came from, but why was Nixon wearing it? And what does this have to do with Roswell? If you know anything about Twin Peaks I’m sure you wouldn’t head in to this book expecting everything laid out in front of you, dumbed down, ready to be ingested. Mark Frost himself noted that apparent discrepancies and inconsistencies between the new book and the show’s timeline, are in fact clues, or ‘mistakes’ made at the hands of he who compiled the dossier, and that there is indeed something to it.

Oh, yes the dossier. The FBI, and law enforcement in general, play an integral part in Twin Peaks so it should come as no surprise that Frost’s new novel is written in epistolary form, the narrator being FBI agent Tamara Pretson (who I’m willing to bet is a character in the upcoming series, perhaps Naomi Watts’ role?). Tamara Preston, or T.P, is given an assignment from the now Deputy Director Gordon Cole (my socks are on fire!) which is to comb through this dossier left at a crime scene and try and find out who wrote it and why. All we know to begin with is that the writer calls himself simply The Archivist. The main purpose of the dossier, it appears, is to keep record and find out a bit more about the town of Twin Peaks, it’s history and surroundings, with an emphasis on the strange things that happen around the town, and in the woods in particular.

Throughout we learn all kinds of new and interesting information, the full story of Ed, Norma, and Nadine, written by Deputy Hawk, the very important history of the Milford brothers, and even what became of Hank Jennings. It goes in to a lot more detail about the whole ‘mill’ fiasco, but serves only to muddy the story further as it appears to be one of the most glaringly obvious inconsistencies. Mark Frost is a smart dude, though, and I am confident in the fact that it was all intentional and will be (somewhat) explained as we are watching the new series. Perhaps someone, aside from the archivist, has maliciously messed with the dossier? When reading I got so swept away in the mythology that I had to remind myself that nothing is as it seems. In the book itself, a point Frost reiterated during a recent Reddit AMA, they make a clear distinction between the words “secret” and “mystery”, hinting at something deeper to do with the book’s title.

Even, to my surprise, we got a little bit of extra Peaks ‘content’ at the end, as the last entry was written in ‘real-time’ and actually takes place just after the events of the show. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but the end of the book is almost as spooky and pertinent as the end of the show. It could easily serve as part of the foundation for the new series.

The book itself is beautiful. Even the feel. The materials make you feel like you are reading something special, and real. The fact that a lot of the events reflected in the book actually took place in history helps with the immersion, and often I truly felt like an agent trying to figure out what the hell is going on. If you didn’t know any better it might serve as an astounding piece of historical journalism, and I’d believe it such are Frost’s skills. The way he weaves true history in to Peaks mythology is wizardry. The care and meticulousness put in to actually putting the book together is palpable, all the secret documents, journal entries, and newspaper clippings (to name a few) all feel authentic and real.

This the perfect addition to any Twin Peaks fan’s collection, and I would argue that it is an essential – ‘the owls are not what they seem’takes on a whole new meaning. Mark Frost has heavily hinted at another similar book to be released soon, rumoured to be detailing the lives of those living in the Twin Peaks universe from 1991- 2016. If it is anything like this book, and I imagine it will be, it’ll be a release-day grab for me definitely. I still don’t know who BOB is, or how Annie’s doing, but Frost’s talents for writing are such that I don’t even mind that this book created more questions than answers. It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who hasn’t read it, but it gives you a lot more food for thought on (some of) the more ambiguous parts of the show, while still keeping with the original mystery. I shall leave with some words of the great Agent Dale Cooper: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”  – Make today’s gift the Secret History of Twin Peaks.

 

Guns N’ Roses and the (Not in This Lifetime) Tour that we need to talk about

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Guns N’ Roses have always been one of those bands that, for better or worse, have had their ‘original’ lineup canonised  as the lineup. Like Led Zeppelin. Anything less and you can guarantee someone somewhere will be unhappy with what they’re given, not only that but they’ll actively try to thwart your excitement – it’s not even Guns N’ Roses, they’ll say, I saw them 25 years ago before you were even born! Hold on to that memory bud you obviously need it, meanwhile I’ll go see the exact same amount of ‘original’ members as were on stage during the mammoth Use Your Illusion tour – the jaunt most purists will claim they saw the original line up during, expecting us not to know the difference.

Well…

August 1997 – Duff McKagan, the only original member still in the band, leaves claiming it is now Axl’s band, following Slash’s departure a year prior.

Cut to, 2012. Axl Rose is leaving Chateau Marmont with Lana Del Ray when a reporter asks him if there was any chance of a reunion tour. His response? A near chuckle, then a hearty “Not in this lifetime!”

Cut, again, to May 2015 when Slash casually mentions that there is no longer any tension between Axl and himself, in response to an interview question regarding their relationship. Anyone who cares about any sort of popular music in general would probably be able to tell you, or at least guess, that Axl and Slash hadn’t spoken since Slash left in 1996. Yes, left – not kicked out. It’s been one of those long-winded, rumour-fuelled, infamous feuds granted to us by the entertainment gods, along the lines of the Gallagher brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Richards vs. Jagger etc. In any case, Slash’s statement was not one to be brushed aside, especially considering he had verbally showed his annoyance with another reporter asking a similar question only months prior. Further to that, in August 2015 Slash mentioned, again with a confident nonchalance, that he and Axl had actually spoken and are in fact on good terms with one another.

Taking in to account the number of bitter jabs through the years, Axl going so far as to call Slash a cancer, this was big news for music. Around the same time rumours started heating up that there were indeed plans to get the original lineup together, or at least have some form or reunion. It was coming from many, apparently reputable, sources so the main question now was: Who’s in the band? The lead guitarists (Slash’s job) had both left recently, and Duff had actually filled in on bass for their most recent tour so it seemed like a no-brainer really. But, as the saying in GnR camp goes, where’s Izzy? And what about Steven?

Izzy later told Rolling Stone that he was never asked to be part of any reunion. Tweets from his account, since deleted, seemed to imply that he was involved in early talks – perhaps on a ‘special appearance’ basis, but denied their offer. One deleted tweet reads “Bullshit. They didn’t want to split the loot equally. Simple as that. Moving right along….” Original drummer Steven Adler, kicked out for substance abuse issues (Hey pot, kettle here – you’re black!), has since appeared for a couple of songs here and there at select shows on the Not In This Lifetime Tour. And I urge anyone who cares enough to Youtube clips of him playing with the guys this year, because for those few minutes a more happy and deserving human there is not -especially given all he’s been through to get there.

Ok, so again, who else is in the band? This question was not answered until April Fool’s Day 2016 where the band played a ‘secret’ show at the Troubadour, the same venue the original band debuted at in 1985. The answer was not what some had probably been hoping for – the band consisted of Axl, Slash, Duff, and the remnants of Axl’s band performing the rest of the duties. No shit, Axl is not just going to fire a bunch of guys that have been loyal to him and reliably working for him for years and years, just so Izzy Stradlin can have a percentage of Axl’s (and Slash and Duff’s) huge take – according to Pollstar the band is making $5.5m per night between them.

Therein lies both the problem and the cash cow. Die-hards are refusing to attend (attendance numbers speak otherwise…), or acknowledge the band as anything less than Axl’s money-making machine. There also seems to be a lot of general confusion for those who haven’t yet bought tickets, perhaps due to the fact that since their first shows together in April of this year there has been but one instance of band members addressing the public together (Axl and Duff in this instance), and that was only broadcast in South America to promote upcoming shows. An Axl and Slash sit-down hosted by any of America’s favourite late-night talk show hosts would have ratings through the roof. But because there has been nothing of the sort, I’ve seen a few people virtually scratching their heads via various social media platforms. Even in the flesh. I’ve asked people if they were planning on attending the recently announced show for the Oceania leg of the tour at Western Springs in Auckland. I’ve had some ‘maybe’s followed by, “It’s just Axl and his mates though, right?”

“Nah, nah Slash and Duff are back, too”

“Oh true, might be worth checking out, then.”

Might be!? Ten years ago half the world would have been falling over themselves for tickets. It would have been up there, I hate to say, with Led Zeppelin’s reunion in 2007. Maybe that’s a contributing factor, it’s just been left a little late and/or people can’t be bothered with Guns N’ Roses after such a volatile run? Either way the tour has been, and is, a resounding success. During the North American run alone the band played to nearly 1.5 million fans. None of whom were apparently put off by the lack of Izzy Stradlin or Steven Adler.

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I saw Guns N Roses – yeah, GNR is whoever Axl decides to put in his band, get over it – in 2006. I had heard all the rumours – he’s fat, he can’t sing, he’s this, he’s that, the guitarist wears a KFC bucket. I heard all of it, but wasn’t put off because I genuinely thought I’d never otherwise get to see these songs performed live. Plus, I’d much rather see Axl with a different band than the original band with a different singer. It was one of my greatest lessons in not believing what you read, and doing your damn research. Buckethead (the KFC guy) hadn’t even been in the band for almost three years at that point. Cornrows and all, Axl brought it. So. Hard. I was seriously blown away, a mixture of it genuinely being amazing, and having such low expectations. Dude, he even joked with the crowd! I was conditioned to believe that any time he addressed us, he would be kicking someone out, stopping the show, or ranting about security. But nope, ol’ Axl seemed in fine spirits, even reminiscing about the last time he played Auckland and sarcastically telling the crowd off for being too rowdy before asking everyone to please “take one step back, you don’t wanna hurt your fellow New Zealanders!”

It’s an important distinction to make, however, that the only people using the word ‘reunion’ are those in the media. Axl seems like the kind of guy, Slash and Duff too, to not want to make a huge deal and/or make anything more awkward, or forced, than it had to be. On paper this is not a reunion. At all. This is Axl filling two vacant slots in his current band. Those filling the slots happen to be original members of said band, hence the tour name. Perhaps Guns N’ Roses otherwise isn’t interesting to the press now that no one’s fighting, and that explains the lack of transparency? Well, I could blame them for my opinion going in to the 2006 gig and I’d like to blame them for everyone else’s opinions now. It’s a very interesting distinction between then and now. If it’s not negative, it’s not news, right?

Music Memories – Going to California Pt.3

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Well, we were no longer going to California, we were in California. Lying on the bed of our motel we worked out that by the time Robert Plant had finished his set we would have been awake for 40 hours. We can’t sleep now because we’re so tired that we’ll go in to a deeep sleep, perhaps sleeping through an alarm, or worse, waking up on time but being even more tired than you had been as a result of the sleep tease. So no sleep, but a shower helped a lot especially considering we had been welcomed with 34 degree heat that day, and were still dressed for New Zealand weather as our bags were, sigh, a day or two behind us.

Even though it was in a theater it was general admission, so once everyone found their seats you pretty much had to stay there or risk losing it. We had a good spot, and for Robert Plant I didn’t want to risk anything. Looking at the festival program it would be Jon Hopkins, St. Vincent, and then Robert Plant. Jon Hopkins seemed forgettable, and Abbey was intrigued by St. Vincent as she had played with ‘Nirvana’ at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jon Hopkins was anything but forgettable. His style of music was one that gets glossed over, or lost in the vast landscape of ‘dance’ music. People are too easily impressed by the pushing of buttons on a Macbook. Jon Hopkins surprised me pleasantly. He was totally watchable and interesting, seemingly improvising the songs as he goes adding new layers and effects that, while subtle, change the flow of the song completely. Then he did some brief interludes on the piano. The main thing I took away from witnessing this dude is that regardless of what he’s actually doing, the man is a virtuoso.

St. Vincent sucked. Sucked so bad. It’s not that she can’t sing or anything, her music is just bad. Almost seems contrary just to make a point of it. Can’t fathom that sort of thing, but the artsy L.A crowd seemed to eat it up. Her last words/noise? An elongated burp thing. On to Robert Plant, I think.

Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters. Yeah, his band definitely deserve a shout out. They were all world-class musicians more than deserving of a spot next to a legend. As soon as he took the stage, not to mention when he played the first Led Zep tune, our tiredness dissipated. The entire seated crowd leaped to their feet and didn’t sit down for the rest of the evening. Plant was personable, and made this already intimate venue feel even more so, something that can’t be said for a lot of other musicians – much less those worth hundreds of millions. Apparently Led Zeppelin were asked to play Desert Trip and declined, which Robert Plant noted from the stage “So we’re not in the desert tonight, for better or worse…”

His set list was fantastic mixing old blues standards and world music with classic Led Zeppelin songs. The new arrangements took nothing away from the old (standard) ones, and in fact breathed new life in to them. It’s not something you realise straight away, but it occurred to me that there’d be something off about him playing those songs exactly the way Jimmy Page arranged it. Not that he doesn’t deserve to, it’s just easy to see what Plant’s doing and why he’s doing it, and it works. I must admit once it was all over, standing up slapping my hands together in fury, and watching him leave the stage made me shed a tear or two, turning in to Abbey’s shoulder out of comfort and so none of the cool L.A peeps see me whimpering as they turned around to walk out the door. That was not the last time I cried at a gig in California.

 

Music Memories – Going to California Pt. 2

We had done it. Albeit at a rate we weren’t expecting but are considering tax for not being prepared. Demand was such that in the ensuing days ticket ‘worth’ on the secondary market would reach, I’m not kidding, over $100,000 before dropping sharply (to a mere $8,000 for a pit ticket, pfft). No complaints from us, we were going and it’s something you can’t really put a price on. Why the cliche? Because it’s honestly true.

In the months leading up to the event there were no other snags, none that eventuated anyway. I was in a constant state of fear that our tickets wouldn’t arrive in time or that they would have been tampered with or stolen, or something – mainly based on our postie’s claim that she had seen people from ‘the hospital’ up the road going through peoples’ mail and mailboxes. They arrived with ample time to spare in a beautiful box with a bunch of goodies inside, which is something I’d never known any festival to do. Some people online said it’s what to expect after paying such prices, which seems funny to me because in my mind I’ve only paid for the gig(s), and that anything else on top of those 6 artists performing (i.e an awesome box with presents) was a nice bonus.

Around the same time Abbey and I had been getting way in to David Lynch and Twin Peaks. No real reason for it, we had been meaning to check out Twin Peaks for a very long time and a bunch of Lynch films had been on our ‘list’ for ages. If you’ve seen Twin Peaks you probably know that nothing is a coincidence, and the owls are not what they seem, so imagine my pleasure when David Lynch him-fucking-self announces his own, new festival featuring headliner – wait-for-it-because-i’ve-been-beating-myself-up-about-not-seeing-him-when-he-came-to-NZ- Robert Plant. Robert Plant. Lead singer of my favourite band of all time, Led Zeppelin. The voice.  Things were indeed aligning as I scroll down the page and notice that the dates and location- Oct 8-9 Ace Theater, Los Angeles. We were landing in L.A on the 8th.

Tickets actually seemed harder to get for this than Desert Trip. The only reason we were able to score them, I believe, is because I managed to find a presale code on the internet somewhere, Reddit perhaps. The venue is a theater at a hotel, the capacity is only 1600. Lynch is one of those directors that has somewhat of a cult following, you either don’t really get him, or you LOVE him. More than 1600 people would have tried to get tickets regardless of who was playing, let alone Robert Plant, and indie darling St.Vincent. Robert Plant probably hasn’t played a venue this size since Led Zep’s early days. Based on social media, and again pricing on the secondary market, demand was huge and I honestly felt special just knowing that I’d be able to go. Not many cool things like this happen to me.

With everything go, having tapped my feet and paced the living room for months in anticipation for the day, it had arrived. There were no more snags. Couldn’t be. We had everything in order down to the smallest detail. Certain, rather thoughtless, friends had suggested strongly to us not to plan anything – after we’d already planned everything. Yeah, this isn’t some two-week jaunt across Bali, guys. I’m not going just to get wasted, I’m going for a pretty specific reason and if I end up sleeping in, or missing the bus, or anything, I’ve wasted so more money than your entire trip cost. Money that, for more private reasons reason than one, I won’t see again. If Desert Trip was in Spain, I’d be going to Spain instead, get it?. But alas, we get to the ticket check-in and the girl at Virgin Australia types in our flight details and with a smile informs us our flight has been cancelled because of “the hurricane.”

The hurricane in Florida? On the other side of the continent? Surely not. But, hey, you take their word for it right?  Immediately we go in to hyper drive thinking of other options, I head over to the Air NZ counter and ask when the next flight to L.A that we can get on will be. It’ll be $1000 bucks a person, and we’d be fighting tooth and nail to make it in time for Robert Plant. That was the main concern, we’d always make Desert Trip regardless, but Robert Plant, man. So Abbey is getting on it talking to a bunch of customer service lines, travel insurance etc., and we have to go back to the Virgin counter and ask the customer service team for printed proof the flight had been cancelled. The lady says, “Proof? The hurricane is all over the news.” The manager who happens to be in the vicinity overhears this and asks what flight we’re on. We tell him. It’s not cancelled, he informs us. Only some East Coast flights are. Pretty much what we had thought, too. We had no time to abduct and torture the woman who told us otherwise, so we thank them profusely and run to our gate where we arrive with plenty of time.

Hunter S. Thompson Episode II – Attack of the Clones

“Ye gods..” is a phrase that I really like to use, although sparingly. You have to be careful when blatantly biting someone. It’s a phrase that I’ve heard Johnny Depp, poseur extraordinaire, use on occasion too. I imagine we both got it from the same guy.

It doesn’t sound quite as cool with a New Zealand accent either, which is another reason I’ve got to use it like it’s running out and we still need what we have left to last the summer. Sounds much better crawling its way out of a throat dry with whiskey and American cigarettes, barely said at all. Dark sunglasses might help, too. I first came upon it reading a bunch of Hunter S. Thompson’s stuff, probably some volume of the Gonzo Papers. It doesn’t really mean anything, it’s more of just an expression, exclamation. When talking about The Rum Diary he (HST) states, “Ye gods, this is me…”, for example.

Hunter S. Thompson is one of those writers, even just one of those ‘guys’, that it’s very cool to be ‘in’ to, apparently. If you don’t own a Fear and Loathing poster have you even tried mushrooms? Everything that fell out of his mouth sounded like prose. Sentences that I’d have to sit in a dark room for weeks on end just to birth, only to never be able to say naturally. He would be over the thought before it’s even left his mouth, very little thinking actually seemed to even go in to it. Most of us have to think before we speak, a sentiment drilled in to us since the very earliest of education. Hunter, on the other hand, could say the most vital, intelligent things apparently without having to have thought at all. Not to mention the weight of all the drugs and alcohol he’d likely be performing under. He was positively Dylan-esque – Dylan at his best, that is.

There are, however, throngs of people that don’t understand the madness that must torture a mind as intellectually superior as Hunter’s. A lot of very clever, highly regarded, artists have killed themselves. I don’t think that burden is nearly as glamorous as the literary and yes, even photographic snapshots would have us believe. But for many 16 year olds just discovering the Fear and Loathing movie (“Aw dude, you’ve never got high and watched Fear and Loathing!?”), this is the place to be. And thus springs the inspiration for the New Years’ journeys and festivals. Instead of Duke and his Attorney blasting through the California/Nevada desert in a red convertible with suitcases full of drugs, spawns of Auckland’s elite pack silver VW Golfs with a few bags of weed, some pills full of chalk and rat-poison, stock their iPods with music their source would have hated, and drive off to Gisborne thinking it’s the same thing. Well, it’s not the same thing. Cue the Snapchat stories filled with piss breaks, and the caption “We can’t stop here…” There’s a famous scene in which Duke and the Attorney get really messed up on some ether and go walkabout. Here’s a sad, sad, true story – I knew some people (seemingly intelligent Uni students) who spent a night huffing CRC because it CONTAINED ether. Contained! Lots of things contain ether. Lots of things contain lots of things, but such is the struggle to be like him.

Most of those guilty will immediately get defensive and claim they aren’t doing that. Watch their faces when you say, “Yeah you’re right, you don’t really read his stuff anyway,do you?”. It’s like asking a robot what happens when Pinocchio says “This is a lie.”, they just can’t compute and then explode. Where else do you get the idea to DO ether? It’s not exactly like South Auckland is dotted with ‘ether houses’ and cops come up with big loads of ether in all the gang raids. The main point is, if the praise that he seems to get on a real, day to day basis, was literary and legitimate, he’d be considered one of the greatest who ever lived.  Instead of inspiring people to read and write, he’s apparently inspiring dumb teenagers to live up to some impossible expectation that is the epitome of drug-decadence, and frankly isn’t even his best work. He’s definitely considered to be ‘up there’ on the literary ladder, but instead of just sharing drugged-out quotes of his over Facebook and pretending you understand, actually give it a go. If you think this one tiny quote is so cool, you are in for a treat because his books are full of them! I believe people simply can’t be bothered. Can’t be bothered with the challenge of anything non-linear, or slightly confronting, which is really sad.

It’s kind of a general issue and arguably stems from the same soil as ‘headline whoring.’ Sharing a story, or facts, simply based on a cheeky, click-baiting headline. It is so wrong and irresponsible and is greatly contributing to the dumbing down of our collective sub-conscious.

“Did you see Company X is trying to get their employees to…”

“No, if you actually read the article it said they were ‘considering’ it, to ‘potentially’ be implemented by 2025.”

Same thing when people see a quote of his, or see the movie adaptation of one of his books, they take it in and share it like its their own. And this happens with many, many, other respected musicians, authors, and artists in general. Anyone that it is ‘cool’ to like is at great risk of being reduced to a slogan, or a t-shirt. It happened with The Ramones, Black Flag, Sex Pistols and even Che Guevara. Of all the people who use the quotes, the bat country, the ‘drugs always worked for me’, the breakfast routine – the percentage of those who have actually bothered to go further and read anything substantial by him would be very interesting on one hand, and embarrassing on the other. Interesting to me, because I believe it’d truly back up what I’m saying, and embarrassing for a lot of you.

 

Music Memories – Going to California Pt. 1

So, this one time (at band camp) I saw Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters live all in one week. Impossible, you say? Hah, merely difficult. And expensive. It began late April this year. Whispers started circulating, Chinese and standard, about a so-called ‘mega-fest’ to be held in the same venue as Coachella each year – Empire Polo Club in California’s Palm Desert. This mega fest was to feature just six acts, all of whom embody and represent a certain ‘lost era’ of music. Hilarious puns were quick to follow, namely “Oldchella”, geddit!? Mick Jagger even quipped from the stage that he tried to stay away from doing age-based gags, but that backstage resembled one big AA meeting, and welcome to the ‘catch-them-before-they-croak’ tour. Rumour had it that there would be only two acts each night and the six acts were apparently Dylan, the Stones, Neil Young, A damn Beatle, The Who, and Roger Waters. Come early May, my worst fears simultaneously collided with a dream come true. I’m going to have to go. Damn. I signed up to any and all pre-sale information and subscribed to online mailing lists supposed to keep me up to date with all the latest info and developments. Soon enough legitimate info began trickling out and we knew the price of tickets and we knew that they were planning on building a makeshift stadium in the middle of the polo grounds. Holy shit. Not only that, but behind the stadium would be the general admission area, my usual stomping ground. One that is also usually the foremost section of any gig. $400 to spend the weekend behind the stadium? Imagine paying ANY amount of money to stand outside Western Springs and watch Foo Fighters on a big screen.That being said, all 6 acts on their own fully eclipse bands like the Foo Fighters, not to mention when they’re all together playing the same gig.

If I was a semi-wealthy, or even semi-passionate Californian, it’d be a no brainer – Go dance with a few mates and a few drinks in the desert for a few days for a few hundred bucks. Easy. Decent weekend. However, coming from New Zealand, hypothetically, why pay all that money to be at the very back. I wondered, what would the other, seated, tickets be like? Too much of a gamble? Hang on..Yes, there is a general admission pit at the FRONT of everyone else!  Of course there is, no promoter worth their salt would waste the opportunity to charge people premium prices for the premium spot(s). $1600 to be in front of everyone else. Shit, it’s worth the bragging rights alone. A guaranteed spot within the first few rows for some of these acts individually would reach the $1000 range easy.  Even at the very back of this section you have a better view than 95% of the people there, you’re standing in front of 85,000 bodies. Hard to comprehend sitting at your computer analysing a bunch of not to scale lines pretending to be the ‘site map’ on the festival’s website, and in a strange way it’s almost harder to comprehend when you’re actually there experiencing it. It’s like the desert’s most awesome mirage. If it hadn’t been for some of the breathtaking aerial photography, I don’t think I would have ever fully realised the scale.14570760_646593188852332_6827367877076541211_o

Tickets for Desert Trip went on sale on Monday the 9th of May at 10.00am (their time), 5am our time. Before even going on sale a second weekend was announced due to interest/demand in the virtual waiting rooms. My goal was to buy one of the hotel packages that were being sold that included accommodation and the tickets for the weekend, so without so much as a wink of sleep I opened up pages to purchase (each counting as one ‘place’ in the waiting room), on my phone, my laptop, Abbey’s laptop, the PS3, the PS4, and Abbey’s phone. 5am ticked over, and we were immediately glued to our respective screens, switching between devices every few moments in the hope that at least one of our little men had walked his way across the screen (which meant you’re through, free to buy tickets). Eventually all around the same time we had multiple options so quickly snapped up our preferred hotel, sweating and with a captive heart beating its fist against my chest in anxiety,  we entered credit card details and clicked ‘submit’ with relief.

“Card not valid. Please contact your bank”

No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s supposed to work, I even asked customer service specifically if my card would work and was told unequivocally ‘yes’. Banks aren’t the easiest places to get hold of in the best of times, not to mention when they weren’t even open. It’d be no use – this thing was going to sell out instantly. We’d missed out. For shits and gigs we tried each card multiple times but to no avail. We were even charged a few bucks for each attempt. I was deflated. Beyond angry. So angry that it was like a calm plateau somehow, numb almost. Abbey retreated back to bed, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Sitting on my floor jamming multiple screens, all featuring multiple options, it seemed it couldn’t just be over. Surely not. It was all going so well, I have the damn money all I want is to hand it over! Please take these thousands. I managed to borrow someone else’s credit card, but would have to wait until my transfer hit their account. By that time the festival would be sold out (Duh Max, you have no chance), but wouldn’t hurt to at least try, right?

Desert Trip posted on their Facebook page less than two hours after going on sale “Thank You, Desert Trip 2016 is now Sold Out”. 85,000 tickets times 6 days, that’s a lot of people, a lot of money. In my search for this elusive “other” option I happened upon what seemed perfect for people like me. ‘Like me’ in the sense that they were, inadvertently or otherwise, unprepared. What were Desert Trip Premium tickets?

Around 9am that morning, 4 hours after tickets went on sale and sold out, I sent a text to Abbey (who, remember, was under the impression we tried and failed. Did our best, not to be.) reading: Check your Facebook.

On her Facebook page I had posted a screenshot of the confirmation email I had just recieved featuring 2x 3 day Pit Standing passes, with a caption referencing the meme flavour of the week; Ha! Got ’em!