Review: Guns N’ Roses – Western Springs, Auckland 04/02/17

I’ve never been to the ‘jungle’ before, in the traditional sense, however I would argue that 55,000 people and I just left a monstrous one right next to Auckland’s idyllic Western Springs park. How can there be a jungle in the middle of a stadium, you ask? Easy, just get Guns N’ Roses to play. From the Looney Tunes intro music and the punky pulse of Duff’s bass line opening the show with It’s So Easy, it was already clear this night was going to eclipse many others. The band and crowd seemed to be equally enjoying themselves, catching most of the band zoning out at one point or another taking in the mass of bodies before them. Some of Axl’s first words to the crowd: “There’s a lot of you motherfuckers ain’t there?” They seemed to play, and play, hit after hit without really stopping to catch themselves. Only four songs in we received our official powhiri to the jungle, one of the night’s obvious highlights. If anyone was worried it would fizzle out, or run out of steam after such a strong opening they were met with such crowd pleasers as Live and Let Die, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Civil War, and November Rain to name but a smattering.

Throughout the night I had to take the time, more than once, to turn and fully take in the what was happening behind me. Leaning on the rail for the entirety of the gig meant I was quite literally standing in front of more than 50,000 people – a sight which, no matter how many times I go to Western Springs, floors me every time. Not to mention the overflowing decks and balconies of the homes just over the back fence, mere centimeters away from those who had paid for tickets. Yes, the same people who complain about the Speedway that happens once in a blue moon, yet don’t seem to mind too much when it’s Guns N’ Roses, or Foo Fighters, or Eminem.untitled

The award for Player of the Day has got to go to Axl Rose. For all the crap he’s taken over the years about how he’s this and he’s that, he sounded incredible. Being as close as I was you could see in his face and eyes that he was giving it his absolute all. His face during Live and Let Die, redder than the Devil’s dick, veins sprouting like a cracked windshield, eyes watering, screaming his lungs out for us, is something that will be permanently etched in my memory. I mean, it actually sounded like he was paining himself for us – like he was gargling shards of glass. There were legitimately times when I could close my eyes and imagine I’m watching some show on Youtube from the 90s. It’s not often that my expectations are plainly exceeded, least not when it involves a polarising figure such as Axl Rose, but I was blown away. As a cynic who downplays everything short of magic, words can not do justice to how truly awesome it was. ‘Epic’ is a word that has been so over used in internet-land that it has kind of lost its meaning, but in a Homerian sense it truly was an EPIC gig. Easily one of the best I’ve ever seen. My only regret would have to be not finding a way to see them in Wellington also.

So, the “reunion” tour (billed only as such by the media, not the band) lived up to the hype and then some. I can only hope the boys continue feeding the machine, as it’s clearly working – fat cheques and thousands of happy fans seems like a win-win. I hope to see them again in the coming years with different (perhaps new!?) songs, but would gladly fork out to see the exact same show I just saw over and over again.

My ears are still ringing, my feet still ache, I can barely move my neck, my voice has dropped a tone or two (when it works) and until next time, GnFnR are gone – on to Australia. At least we didn’t wake the neighbours!

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Music Memories – Going to California pt. 4

The week in between Festival of Disruption (Saturday-Sunday) and Desert Trip (the following Friday-Sunday) we did a whole bunch of touristy things in L.A all leading up to the grand finale. Each day was something special and new, and while at the time we were totally immersed in whatever we were doing (e.g Amoeba Music for the umpteenth time), it was no secret that some strangely colourful, yet equally hidden pocket of our brains had dedicated itself and was preparing for Desert Trip. Before we had witnessed it, the size and scope of the event was unfathomable, even one of the two acts per night would have been incredible. For perspective, I had seen Neil Young twice before, but the anticipation was such that I might as well have never seen a concert in my life. Just to confirm, the line up was this:

Friday – Bob Dylan – Rolling Stones

Saturday – Neil Young – Paul McCartney

Sunday – The Who – Roger Waters

Friday the 14th of October arrived, and we were awake early enough to arrive at the Greyhound station in Downtown L.A by 7.30am for our bus at 8am, scheduled to arrive in the Palm Desert at 11.30. This doesn’t seem too bad, I thought, Greyhounds were supposed to be bottom of the barrel. We loaded on the bus and it wasn’t until a large bunch of older ladies got on and had to sit in the aisle on top of their luggage that I had the “ahh” moment. Our second experience with Greyhound would be on the way back to L.A the next Monday when the bus simply didn’t show up. Luckily that time we had a flag-draped Australian couple to keep us entertained. Arriving in Palm Desert we didn’t have any time to waste as we couldn’t check in to our accommodation until 2pm, which might give us an hour to sit down and relax for a bit before we had to leave for the gig (allowing plenty of time , scarred by Coachella horror stories) which started at 6.30 so we wanted to be an hour early at least, accounting for Woodstock-level traffic jams.

By the way, the Desert isn’t just called that because it’s hot and dusty, it’s a literal desert with some houses and a wal-mart plopped in the middle. A bird’s eye would show a green grassed backyard, a thin concrete wall, then sand for miles. Quite striking visually for a Kiwi. So when we arrived at 11.30 with all of our 30 or so kilos each of luggage, in 30C+ heat, we didn’t have many options. We decided we’d go to a shopping centre and sit in the foodcourt for an hour or something, at least it’ll be air-conditioned. Apparently in America there is a major difference between ‘shopping centre’ and ‘mall’ as our Uber driver didn’t feel comfortable leaving us on our own at the outdoor shopping centre which had only a few fast food places, and some furniture stores. He convinced us to stay at his house, unsupervised, while he finished his shift as it was much closer to our accommodation than either the mall or the shopping centre. We stayed at Joe’s for about an hour with his dogs, watching Key and Peele, at which point it was about 1pm. So we went to the McDonald’s inside the Wal-mart (‘Murica!) and then went on to our accommodation.

Arriving at Desert Trip was a trip in itself. The largest gathering I’d ever been to would have been either AC/DC or Eminem, both at Western Springs with around 60,000 people. In my own neighbourhood that was impressive, and ‘new’, enough. In the middle of California, with an extra 30,000 or so people was something else. Everything flowed really well, not like the Big Day Outs in Auckland of days’ past. To get in there were never any lines longer than 10 or so people, and even then security was a breeze. The scale of the venue was monstrous, and to use the term ‘fine-oiled machine’ is a pretty huge cliche, but that’s what it was. The planning and care gone in to the event was palpable – yes its goal was to make a profit, and they would have done so even if all the performers just stood on a box in the field and played – but it felt very special, curated just for you. 

Taking our spot 3 heads from rail separating performer and attendee, Bob Dylan took the stage not long after, in a black blazer, shirtless otherwise. I honestly never thought I’d ever see Bob Dylan’s nipples, much less in the flesh, but I did. Dylan, as he often is, was the dark horse of Desert Trip, in that people weren’t sure if he was just going to get up and play Sinatra covers all night, although we knew he wasn’t going to treat us to a greatest hits set. Any fears were alleviated when he tore through his first few numbers, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. He started his encore with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, another Dylan-related thing I thought I’d never see. It feels like a disclaimer now, that there are going to be at least a few people walking away from a Dylan gig slightly disappointed, but if that’s still the case then it’s your problem for being 25 years late. He hasn’t pandered to an audience in decades, arguably ever, I don’t know why anyone expects he’d start now. To be honest, I’d have been slightly disappointed if the set list didn’t contain any songs I was familiar with, but that’s still not his problem, and I still would have (and did) enjoy songs and/or arrangements I didn’t know. Dylan ruled with a smoky enigma, but the spectacle that was the Rolling Stones, complimented his subdued set in the most awesome display of yin/yang.

Two 10/10 acts in the same night. Less than an hour change-over, even. We love Dylan, everyone loves Dylan but I was extremely intrigued as to how the Stones’ set would pan out. They have the hits that are always going to go off – ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, to name but a few – but I’ve always been more or less content with the ‘hits’, never delving much further. From the second they hit the stage and the first chords of Jumpin’ Jack Flash rang out, I simply didn’t care. Even songs I hadn’t heard before I was catching on to and belting out the last choruses like they were the songs that shaped me. Keef and Ronnie jamming acoustic together on ‘You Got The Silver’ was something I won’t ever forget. We were close enough to see the hairs on their arms, lines on their faces, and I remember thinking that they actually look older in the photos and videos than they do in real life. We met a guy we aptly nicknamed “Michael Shannon’s Dad” who claimed it was his 51st Stones show. During ‘Miss You’ he made a note of bending down and checking all the immediate people around us to see if we were “Ooh Ooh OOH Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh-ing” properly to the chorus, giving thumbs up in approval or a shaky palm if you needed to improve. Some guy caught Ronnie’s guitar pick and literally screamed for the rest of the gig. The passion was awesome and contagious, no one in the ‘elite’ $1600 pit was a ‘casual’ fan – unless they were very rich, which, ok there were probably a few of those people too.

The gigs ended around 12.30am, we got on to our pre-paid shuttle and were home around 3.30 – a trip that on the way there took 20 minutes. We got frustrated with how long it was taking and how many stops there were so we decided just to get off and get a Lyft the rest of the way, which was lucky because we were actually on the wrong bus. The shuttles were the only glaringly obvious inconsistency in how smooth everything else was running, we had plans and ideas in place for the next night to combat both foot and vehicle traffic on the way out. Collapsing in to bed, my head filled with visions of Richards, Dylan, Jagger – music’s equivalents of Windsors, or Obamas, names synonymous with power and the elite – I could only imagine what it would be like to see a Beatle in less than 24 hours.

Review: Naked Lunch

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Author: William S. Burroughs

Release: 1959

Admittedly late to the party, my first introduction to The Naked Lunch was in a hazy lounge trying to make sense of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation (1991) of the same name. For perspective, it wasn’t until much, much later that I made the distinction between David Cronenberg and David Lynch at all – to me they blended together to form ‘that crazy director with the cool hair.’ Perhaps it was a Lunch/Lynch thing?

Having enjoyed the film for what it was, regardless of references or metaphors I (definitely) may have missed, the book had long since been in my ‘To-Read’ list, especially considering the greatness that is Burroughs’ 1953 semi-autobiographical novel Junky. One thing that sticks in my mind about Naked Lunch is a review left underneath the book in a shop in which a staff-review noted simply that the book was “literary LSD”. If that person had ever tried LSD they mustn’t have had a very good time. Not that Naked Lunch isn’t a good time – some passages are laugh out loud funny, which is rare to me – but to compare a ‘trip’ to this book is telling. The extremely graphic depictions of talking assholes, constant consumption of ‘shit’, torture, rampant pedophilia, governmental abuse – the list goes on – is not a fun time on acid I’d imagine.

You can see what the reviewer was getting at, though. Naked Lunch makes for an extremely head-scratching read. The subject matter can change completely from sentence to sentence. I am all for non-linear art, or anything that requires a bit of thinking as opposed to being spoon-fed by Michael Bay, and I can totally respect things that I don’t understand. However, there were parts of Naked Lunch that I simply couldn’t follow or get in to no matter how I tried. It was of no surprise to learn that it was intended to be read in no specific order, which leads me to believe that perhaps there were parts of the book that weren’t exactly meant to be understood by anyone except Burroughs himself. Parts of it read like one giant poem, seemingly lacking any solid base. Although poets and the author himself might disagree.

There are, however chapters, or ‘vignettes’ as they are officially known, that follow more closely the writing style of Junky, which is interesting as these specific parts focused on the central character William Lee, the name in which Burroughs initially released Junky under, as opposed to the many other characters populating the world of Naked Lunch. It was these parts also that reminded me heavily of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925), especially the extremely incompetent government departments, and loosely framed vignettes. These parts of the book were much easier to read, however once you start to get a sense of understanding and something to stand on, the reader is just as quickly thrown back in to Interzone madness. Actually, I felt seeing the movie before I had read to the book to be somewhat helpful in a sense. My memory of the specifics of the film is sketchy, but I’d have had a much harder time picturing the bugs and ‘black meat’ had I not seen the movie first, which I’m aware isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect William S. Burroughs and everything he’s done – even things I haven’t read/seen/ or even know exist. He’s just one of those guys, one of those artists, who you can’t help but at least respect whether or not you actually like all of their work, or any of their work as the case may be. In no way do I regret reading Naked Lunch, I also think there will come a time when I will re-read it with a more knowledgeable mindset, or at least knowing fully what I am in for now. I’d just be very interested to hear peoples’ opinions on what it means, or have the thousands that cite its influence explain what they thought of it. Since it’s so widely revered, am I stupid for not getting it? I honestly don’t think so. It is the epitome of the novel as art. It doesn’t have to mean anything in particular, but can still be just as beautiful as any Louvre-housed painting.

Naked Lunch is definitely a thinker, and although I was relieved to read the last page, I know that at some point I’ll go back there. It seems to be a reflection of Burroughs’ mind at the time which was evidently sick with ‘junk’, as he calls it – I’d be very surprised if anyone understood Naked Lunch like Burroughs did. Although a lot of the stuff went over my head, it is an incredible display of vocabulary, and craftsmanship. Not understanding it doesn’t have to make it a bad book, in fact it could arguably mean the author is so good that you can’t even comprehend it yet. Defining the term ‘wordsmith’ I am by no means deterred from any of his other works, bring on Queer!

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.