Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I discovered Ryan Adams in 1997 when I bought the Whiskeytown CD Stranger’s Alamanac, at the recommendation of the good people at Basement Discs. I listened to it quite a few times without paying it any particular attention. I liked it, but didn’t think it was all that special.
I became hooked late one Friday night, after arriving home from the pub. Not wanting to go to bed quite then, I smoked a joint, opened a can of beer, donned the headphones and listened to the CD again. It was then that Ryan Adams voice captured me heart and soul. I hadn’t until then actually noted the band personnel; they were just a good band with no standout performers. David Ryan Adams, as he designated on the CD, from then on grabbed my attention.
Of course, his days with Whiskeytown were numbered. His solo career began with Heartbreaker (2000) but news of his doings filtered out in magazines such as No Depression some years before that release. Heartbreaker is a gorgeous recording and contains two of his best songs “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Come Pick Me Up”, songs which are always requested when he performs live.
It was Gold in 2001 that really reignited my obsession. I played that CD every day for months and still experience a surge of joy every time I hear it, the songs have become so well loved and ingrained in my psyche. I can imagine myself as a little old lady in a nursing home still playing Gold. No easy-listening classics for this old lady!
Seeing Ryan Adams perform live in January 2002 almost put me off. My first impression of him in person was - what a slob! Somehow, his music overcame that reaction. I went to another live show last year and really loved it and Adams himself looked very dapper. My review of the show is here.
It’s his voice and the way he sings that really affects me. I know of no other artist who can sing with such sincerity words such as “when black arrows shot out your bleeding heart?” or with convincing heartbreak, the words “over” or “lose”. He uses his voice in amazing ways. His latest CD 29 is brilliant as an example of expressive vocals. Singers do like to sing certain words, I believe, just as guitarists like certain notes or riffs. This is so with Adams
Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead has described his voice thus:
“…he has about nine hundred voices that he can use like a Bene Gesserit…”
The comparison of Ryan Adams voice with that of a Bene Gesserit is quite apt in a way. If you don’t recognise the Bene Gesserit reference it refers to a sisterhood in the Dune books who - “are trained in the use of their voice (it is always capitalized "the Voice" in the novels) to compel obedience in listeners on a subconscious level. By controlling the subtleties of her voice, a Bene Gesserit can speak to a person's unconscious mind, commanding it in a way that the conscious mind is aware of, but cannot resist” (from Wikipedia).
Originally the darling of the alt country magazine set, Ryan has managed to alienate the press over the past few years. He attracts sensationalism - not a bad way to draw attention to himself. He released three CDs last year, all quite different – Cold Roses (country rock), Jacksonville City Nights (country) & 29 (solo acoustic). I loved them all and thought every other 2006 release paled into insignificance by comparison.
I am not alone in my obsession...
The Ryan Adams fan base is an interesting one. Comprising roughly equal numbers of males & females, both young and old, it can also be divided into three separate groups. There are the fans who wish Whiskeytown was still going, there are those who prefer the Gold type of music – glorious rootsy rock, and there are the Heartbreaker mob who pine after sweet & sad balladry. Ryan Adams caters to all three groups. He has a vast catalogue of songs, many unreleased. The unreleased songs are as good, if not better than the official releases. The word used most often to describe Adams’ output – and it is overused – is “prolific”. The interesting thing about this prolificity is the high quality of the songwriting. It’s not all that surprising that Adams released 3 albums last year. He could do it again this year and still have songs left over as he is writing new songs all the time. NB: He has lately advised that three new albums are in the works for release over the next 12 months.
The only one of his albums I didn’t like all that much – in fact I only listened to it once – is Rock N Roll. There is story behind how it came to be. Adams’ label Lost Highway took objection to the album Adams was planning to release in 2003 titled Love Is Hell. Lost Highway’s beef was that it was too depressing. Adams in defiance self produced Rock N Roll in a very short time and obviously made a deal with Lost Highway – officially release Rock N Roll and allow Love Is Hell to be released as well, in two EPs. Love Is Hell is the superior of the 2003 releases. It is full of sad introspective songs, but quite exquisite melodically and lyrically. Adams rarely plays any of the songs from Rock N Roll in his live shows these days - it remains an anomaly. Uncharacteristically sloppy in production, the songs lack depth, though there are some in the fan-base who would disagree. Of course I really should listen to it again sometime. I may have misjudged it.
Part and parcel with my obsession, I take quite an interest in the career of Ryan Adams and pleasureably anticipate his next release. As long as it’s not another Rock N Roll I’ll be quite happy. You certainly can’t call Ryan Adams’ music boring. He can sing any type of music, is a hummingbird dipping into diverse musical genres, wearing his musical influences on his sleeve. His interpretations of other artists’ songs are stunning, for instance his shimmering version of the Oasis tune “Wonderwall”.
I can’t leave out mentioning the predominant fan site, www.ryanadams.org, or more particularly the .org message board, which is basically the only thing on the site worth reading. As fan sites go, the .org is one of the most interesting and lively that I have ever come across. It’s constantly on the go and, although I never post myself, I read it daily to follow the obsessions of all the .org board regulars and to catch up on the gossip. The tone of the board is characterised by a witty cynicism. No soppy stuff here, though posts by the man himself (if he does post) cause wild speculation. Later note: Ryan has recently become a frequent poster and even goes so far as to answer questions asked of him by the fans.
As one poster recently said: “Ryan's music aside, I come here because I love the community of the .org. We laugh, cry, fight, make up, get drunk, have in-depth conversations about things which alternate between the ultimate in depth and meaning and complete hilarious nonsense...we're like a big online family. With plenty of weird uncles.”
It is obvious, from reading comments made by Adams himself, that music, and the production of it, is his life’s calling. One can sense this in his recordings and when he performs live. I think he is a genius – cranky, eccentric and hard to grasp, but a genius nonetheless. Though not recognized as such, Ryan Adams is up there with the greats of Rock N Roll.
Here’s a verse from one of his songs, “September”, which demonstrates his skill as a songwriter. It is heartbreakingly poignant and has a vivid pictorial quality to it. Ryan Adams vocals express, without being mawkish, the inherent tragedy contained the lyrics.
“Laura lays on the foot of the bed
Mimics a noose with the telephone cord
Doctor’s on the phone
And she hangs up and says,
"I ain't never gonna see the winter again"
Then, I don't know how, but she smiles”
Click here to listen to Ryan singing the words. (mp3)
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Well, so far 4 of the horses in my stable have resumed racing.
Last Saturday it was Apache Cat and Cats Fun. Apache Cat came third in his race but Cats Fun failed to get anywhere.
Today Paratroopers and Haradasun both won quite convincingly.
Haradasun was hyped to favoritism even though he'd only raced once before in a country meeting where he won by 10 lengths. I was keen to see how he went today against a bunch of top 3 year olds and he ran a ripper race, running from near last to first in a blazing finish. He's a half brother to Elvestroem who was a very good performer in his day. Elvis, as he was fondly known, even beat the great mare Makybe Diva. He was retired to stud last year, so now we can look forward to seeing his progeny race in a few years.
My stable is starting to look quite healthy as a result of today, so I'll have plenty in my pot of virtual funds to purchase substitutes.
So, to make the entry a little more interesting I'll talk about my latest music discovery - young British singer/songwriter, Jinder whose latest CD is called "I'm Alive".
Jinder has a marvelous voice, rather reminiscent of Ryan Adams whom Jinder readily admits is one of his influences. One song on the CD is called "Townes' Blues" a tribute to one of Jinder's musical heroes, the late, great, Townes Van Zandt. Jinder's style of songwriting borrows a lot from Townes Van Zandt. He certainly can't go wrong there, as Townes is acknowledged as one of the great songwriters of the 20th Century. Jinder's tribute to Townes cleverly borrows words and phrases from TVZ 's famous songs "Flying Shoes", "To Live is to Fly" and "No Deeper Blue" among others. Jinder's song brings back all that TVZ means to those who love his music and mourned his passing and is a TVZ type of song as well.
I first discovered Jinder on a Ryan Adams fansite messageboard where he was touting his version of one of Adams' songs, "Nuclear". Jinder's version is a wonderful slowed down version and quite distinct from the Ryan Adams original.
I've been following his career with interest since then and strongly feel that he is an artist to follow. This latest CD is a winner and a much stronger effort than his first CD "Willow Park" which showed enormous promise, but seems somewhat raw in comparison to "I'm Alive".
Anyway, I'm about to publish this page so we'll see how Windows Live Writer performs in this regard. Cross fingers and hope for the best.
Update on Live Writer
It worked very well, except for images. I had to add the image in Blogger edit mode. However, it is very handy being able to set up a blog entry at desk top level then publish.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
As this blog is named after my cats it is high time I introduced the little critters to you. Also I recently took this photo of Willy and thought it was so good, I had to show it off. It displays his typically wilful expression.
Willy is a Tonkinese cat. If you don’t know what they are, the Tonkinese cat is a hybrid of a Siamese and a Burmese. It is quite distinct from its parent breeds having a personality and appearance quite its own. Willy is classified as a natural mink, having a coat of medium contrast with points. He has a wilful nature, is easily bored and is curious and active. He is a good-natured animal and loves playing rough games. The other night I rolled him up in a carpet and he thought it was great fun. He’s 2½ years old and we’ve had him since he was a kitten. He was a replacement for a much-loved cat, Oscar, who we were forced to euthanise after he developed a cancerous growth in his throat. Though Willy is not in the least like Oscar, who had his own eccentricities and the sweetest nature, he’s a great replacement who entertains us with his antics, despite worrying us to death with his vagrant ways. It’s challenging to have him climb into bed in the middle of the night drenched to the skin, but he is very endearing and extremely handsome.
Our other cat is Lizzie, also a very pretty cat. She’s a middle-aged puss these days and did not welcome the addition of Willy to our home. She is an amazing cat in her own right, being highly intelligent and extremely affectionate. She is an Abyssinian/Oriental cross, but in looks, behaviour and temperament is pure Abby. They are bossy cats and, it is said, will always get their owners to do anything they want, like feed them. I swear she can understand the meaning of human words, for over and over again, when she is begging for food, with food already on her plate, I will tell her to eat it first before I give her anything else, and she will obey. A great huntress in her youth, when Willy was a kitten, she used to bring him baby mice to play with even though she was miffed at his presence in her house. Since Oscar died, she will not tolerate any other cats and has attacked Willy’s young cat friend Pickle, hence the nick in one of her ears. Pickle lives a couple of houses away and she and Willy have been friends since they were both kittens. It’s a pity Pickle can’t come into our backyard, otherwise Willy might stay home more. Half the time we don’t know where he is, though some cat friendly neighbours have told us that he makes himself at home in their houses. He’s had hair-raising adventures such as being driven away in a Telstra van. He climbed into it while the Telstra technician was busy in the street before driving away with cat unknowingly in tow. He returned him shortly afterwards, thank goodness. We have to warn people who leave their car doors or windows open to check their cars before they drive off.
Lizzie is a stay at home cat these days and never has caused us much worry. She had a tendency to get locked in the neighbours back shed when she was younger and if she was missing it always turned out that she was there. She was very attached to Oscar and truly mourned for him after his death. She and Willy don’t fight. They are polite to each other most of the time and even occasionally play hide and seek, until it gets too rough. However, it is too late for any overtures of friendship on Lizzie’s part towards Willy, because she makes him nervous after years of tacit hostility.
The photo of Lizzie was taken recently whilst I was lounging in bed reading a book on a sunny morning. I just happened to have the camera handy and snapped her with this mild and gentle expression on her face.
Willy and Lizzie are just the latest in a long line of feline companions. Willy is actually the first purebred cat we have ever had. The rest have been cross breeds or ordinary moggies. They have all been a pleasure to know. From the nameless cats of childhood to Will and Liz’s recent predecessors they were of various colours. There was Enrico (white), Morgan (ginger), Tam Lin (white), Mao (black oriental), Claudius (black), Bear (black), Maggie (black & white long hair) and Oscar (chocolate brown Siamese cross).
We estimate, based on our ages and life expectancy, we will be able to have one or two more cats in our lives. No doubt they will be as entertaining and as individual as all the others.
Friday, August 11, 2006
About the only sport that I follow with any regularity is horse racing. I’ve been interested in it since I was quite young. When I was about 13 I kept a scrapbook, cutting out pictures of racehorses from the daily newspaper. I followed a particular horse called Dhaulagiri, though I was interested in all the others racing at the same time. I can’t remember now why I picked Dhaulagiri as my horse to follow. Perhaps I just liked his name. He was a better than average performer and won some prestigious races, the Cox Plate for instance. He was placed in a Melbourne Cup, the weight he had to carry penalised him out of contention I think.
I still have the scrapbook and take it out every year during the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne. I continue to save newspaper clippings of memorable racing events involving memorable performers.
Over the past decade there have been some truly outstanding racehorses. This has kept my interest alive. We had the great Might & Power in the 1990s, Sunline and Northerly in the late 90s/early '00s and more recently, Makybe Diva, The Mare, as she was dubbed by the media.
Horseracing = gambling is a common perception, but I rarely put on a bet. I hate losing so only place a bet when I’m forced to by the terms of my Internet betting account, or have a strong hunch about a horse. Like everyone else I love winning, especially at good odds. Instead of gambling, I enter tipping competitions on the Australian Racing & Sports website message board, where the only prize is virtual recognition of race knowledge and tipping accuracy. My favourite comps are the Groupies and Super Stable in which I have acquitted myself fairly well.
Here is my super stable for the coming spring:
Virage de Fortune
It works by selecting horses from a list. The horses have set prices according to a rating system devised by the competition runner. The stable owner has a virtual $1,000,000 pot to purchase 7 horses. My stable above cost me $942,000. I have $58,000 left in my pot.
I’ll keep you posted on how it fares. Your stable wins the amount of money your horse/s collect in races from August to November. You are permitted to substitute horses on two occasions. One hopes that one’s original stable earns enough to make substitution viable, particularly when selecting horses for the Melbourne Cup. The winner of the Cup collects $1+ million dollars in prize money, so it is vital to be able to afford a good stayer at the last substitution.
My stable has good sprinters and middle distance runners for the start of the season, plus a few promising 3-year olds who did well in autumn. One is obliged by the rules of the game, to retain at least two 3 year olds and at least one mare. Hopefully my stable will perform well in the early stages of the season so that I will be able to afford some prime stayers for later in the season.
One of the things I love about horseracing is the “rags to riches” story. More than any other sport, these heart-warming stories seem to be common. Recently an Australian sprinter won a race at Royal Ascot in England. Named Takeover Target, he was regarded as a crock when put up at a sale for only $1250 and has proved the doubters wrong by winning 12 races from 19 starts. He’s owned and trained by a taxi driver, a humble soul who can’t believe his luck.
Another thing I love about racing is the naming of horses. I’m still attracted to racehorses with odd or unusual names. Some names vibrate with me and I get these hunches that they will win. Unfortunately this method of picking winners is not all that reliable, as horses with names I find boring often win too. Horse names are often derived from their parentage and can be quite laterally creative. Some are named through the whim of their owners. For instance Makybe Diva is owned by South Australian tuna fisherman Tony Santic, who named her after the first two letters in five of his employees' names (Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diana and Vanessa). A Melbourne trainer, Lee Freedman, some years ago named all his horses after Art movements. There was Surrealism, Dadaism, Naturalism, Mannerism and they all performed well and won some top races.
Of course if I am having a bet, or even selecting a horse for a tipping competition, I studiously read the form guide and try and watch races when they are on free to air television.
The form guide is a fascinating document. If you know how to read it and understand all the codes and acronyms you can find a wealth of information within. Consideration must be given to several factors – track, track condition, distance, weight, barrier, weather and form. Sydney horses rarely do well on Melbourne tracks owing to the direction they race in Sydney, which is the reverse of the way they race in Melbourne. The same goes for Melbourne horses racing in Sydney. The best performers seem to be able to handle either way of going.
The different racetracks have peculiarities and individual quirks that will either favour a horse or disadvantage it. For example, Moonee Valley racecourse in Melbourne has a very short straight and a tight corner just before the straight starts. It also has a particular surface that some horses can’t handle. The great Sunline, a super New Zealand mare, really liked Moonee Valley and rarely lost on that course. She rarely lost anywhere else either.
I intend going to Moonee Valley in September as I have done for the last few years, for the first group one race of the season. It’s a good day to go as crowd numbers are not all that large, particularly as the weather has been pretty awful the last two times with rain and hail.
However, it’s a good meeting to see star horses. Last year Makybe Diva ran a stunning race there and only lost by a nose after giving the winner an enormous start. I saw Sunline race against Northerly several years before and I was at the Cox Plate meeting when Might & Power won. I used to go to the Cox Plate every year, but recently it’s just too crowded and the admission cost is astronomical.
Anyway, I shall report on my day at the races when it happens, and hopefully will be able to get some good photos of horses and people.
The above photo is of Makbe Diva winning her third consecutive Melbourne Cup – the first horse in Australian racing history to do so. It’s a gruelling race over 3000 metres (2 miles) and is termed “the race that stops the nation”. In Melbourne we get a holiday, but just about everyone else in Australia watches it on television and has a bet. When I was a child, living in the country, it was broadcast over loud speakers into the classroom.
Two horses in my virtual stable are racing tomorrow – Apache Cat & Cat’s Fun. I don’t really expect them to win as they are both coming back from a spell, but hope they are in the money all the same. Anyway I’ll be interested to see how they go.
Monday, August 07, 2006
On Friday it was the funeral and wake for my friend Gavin, and Saturday was my birthday.
Gavin’s funeral service was very moving and his wake, as with most funerals, drew people out of the past into the present, either physically or through pictures in photo albums.
It turned out Gavin had photo albums, which depicted the past. There we all were, looking so much younger in the days of our socialising at the Dan O’Connell Hotel. It had people I’d almost forgotten, Gavin’s old girlfriends, for instance, long departed from the scene. I used to be very good friends with one of them, a New Zealander, who lived close by to us. I haven’t seen her for years. I think she must have returned to New Zealand.
We gave Gavin a good send off. The funeral service was a civil one in a funeral parlour and was handled with tact. We were all a bit tearful by the end of it. He was privately cremated and his ashes will be scattered in a country area he loved.
After the service we all adjourned to a pub close by for the wake. There was a decent crowd of people, which was good to see.
On Saturday it was a lunch engagement at yet another pub, the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy. Over the past year or so a group of the old Dan O’Connell crowd have been meeting up every so often for lunch in one or other of the many fine pubs who provide food in the Melbourne inner city area. As we are all getting on - most of us being 50+ - we don’t socialise as we used to. Hence these civilised catch-up lunches. With us all being such old friends with plenty of history in common, they are very pleasant and relaxing,
It was my birthday as well, but that’s neither here nor there, it just served as an excuse to get together. The Rose is an excellent hotel, cosy, with good food. The Rose was one of the local pubs involved in the summer hotel cricket competition of which the Dan O’Connell was a part. The Rose always put on a great barbeque at cricket matches - better than any of the other competing hotels.
I might expand on the cricket matches in a later post. Suffice to say, the matches were great fun and I learned the rules of cricket, though only as a spectator.
On Sunday, another lunch, another pub. This time it was with my brother and sister in law who decided to drive down from the country for my birthday. We dined at the North Fitzroy Arms. The food was excellent and the pub was friendly, so it was another pleasant outing with the added bonus of seeing my brother and sister in law, who, as they live 100 kilometres from Melbourne, I don’t see all that often.
Got home from lunch to more visitors bringing gifts. It is very nice having one’s birthday spread over a few days. And to cap it all off the weather was mild and sunny all weekend, a welcome change from the wintry conditions that have prevailed over the past few months.
The above photo was one I selected from Gavin's old photo album. It shows Gavin in a "come and get me girls!" position in the pool room of the Dan O'Connell Hotel. Sitting next to him is another old friend, known as Cheng Wah, fortunately still alive, but moved far away.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Our back garden is full of birds, mostly common and garden variety birds - mynahs, blackbirds, sparrows, wattlebirds, starlings, thrushes, doves, silvereyes, ravens, currawongs, lorikeets, willy wagtails – treading a fine line between life and death with the cats.
Sometimes, an unusual bird will land in one of the fruit trees. I saw a goshawk once, and occasionally flocks of cockatoos will screech through and small honeyeaters can be seen sipping the nectar of the honeysuckle in springtime.
Our household takes an interest in birds and we recognise most of the local and visiting avifauna.
Not so our neighbours down the road. They have been accusing our cat of disturbing the woodchips in their boring garden. It’s a painfully neat garden and Mr Neighbour is obsessed with keeping everything neat and tidy. He can’t abide woodchips spilled onto the path and is convinced our cat is responsible. He spread cut lemon pieces though the garden in some misguided attempt to discourage the cat. Not that these measures would put off the cat, if he did indeed go into the garden.
It’s the blackbirds that are responsible. We’ve seen them at it and it is very typical of blackbird behaviour. They’re messy and toss stuff around willynilly. Try to tell our neighbour this, and he looks bewildered. He doesn’t even know what a blackbird is. He probably thinks of ravens when we say blackbirds. We’ve tried to get photos of the blackbirds in action, but they are wily and fly off at the slightest movement.
I am astounded at the ignorance of some people about the world around them. Our neighbour is such a one. He lives in his own small world and isn’t the slightest bit curious about the creatures that also occupy the planet. He doesn’t appear to like animals at all.
His house is one of two built on a large block. Formerly it had a single unattractive brick house, but a lovely garden. I used to love the smell of orange blossom as I walked past in the springtime, and it had a great old walnut tree in the back yard. All the trees are gone and these dreary, uninspiring dwellings take their place.
I suppose we get a lot of birds in our garden owing to the number of trees we have growing there. We have 4 plum trees, 2 fig trees, an almond tree, a loquat tree, a bay laurel and a pomegranate. They are not exactly native trees, but Northcote seems to be almost Mediterranean in soil type (it sits in the crater of an ancient volcano). Mediterranean fruit trees thrive. Immigrants from Greece and Italy planted them many years ago. Our almond tree is very old and a most unusual shape. Its lower branches appear to form the trunk and legs of a recumbent woman. However, it rarely bears much fruit these days. It blossoms in late July and a great many of the blossoms get blown away and possums, starved by winter, enthusiastically eat them, leaving little for the tree to form almonds on. Also, almonds require the services of another almond tree close by to properly produce. There used to be another almond tree a couple of houses up the street, but it appears to have gone, probably to make way for medium density building projects.
Such is the price of “progress” fuelled by greed!