Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Year of Trev's Treehouse!

Here it is, friends - the fulfilment of a New Years' resolution from December 31, 2011. One blog-post every week for a year. I must say, I think it's the first resolution that I ever managed to keep. It feels pretty good.

It sure has been a lot of fun to do on weekends and helped me clear some of the cobwebs from my brain and articulate some thoughts that had been swimming around in the aether. Even weeks when it seemed like a pointless exercise were helped by the encouraging words from loyal fans on Twitter and Facebook - you know who you are - Thanks!

When I started, I considered one blog-post a week to be quite a daunting task. I found that once I started, other ideas sprang to mind, so there was never a short supply of things to write about. It also occurred to me during the course of the year that real writers write every day. Writing for one day on the weekend is not really that much of a work-load.

As for consistency of quality, the words of comedian Ben Elton come to mind. He was interviewed several years ago on the Andrew Denton program. Denton asked Elton a rather astute and forthright question mildly disparaging the quality of Elton's work when compared to the sheer volume produced. Elton's simple response was 'I don't think if I had done any less that I would have made something better.'

I didn't agree with this for years until I started writing this blog. I always thought pursuing any art form consisted mostly of divine inspiration, but I came to realise that waiting for inspiration often means essentially doing nothing. This goes for any other artistic endeavour I have tried over the years. There is a massive element of craftsmanship involved in any art produced and it is important to keep those skills honed. Elton wouldn't have produced something like 'The Young Ones' if he had not worked consistently and was lucky enough to find himself in a position where inspiration and craftsmanship coincided.

The other person which springs to mind at this all-important crossroads is Jeremy Hillary Boob PHD,  an animated character from the Beatles' film 'Yellow Submarine.' He is the quintessential 'Nowhere Man' from the song of the same name. Jeremy spends his time making poems, writing novels, composing piano concertos and painting pictures, whilst whiling away his time in 'Nowhere Land.'

I always feel a twinge of guilt every time I hear the song 'Nowhere Man.' The only element of the song that offers some comfort is the line 'isn't he a bit like you and me.' John Lennon sang that line! Maybe if he considers himself a nowhere man, then I'm not doing that badly after all.

Looking back on my earlier blogs, it occurs to me that they are stylistically similar to the more recent ones. Hopefully now they flow a little bit better. Over the course of the year I can honestly say I came to loathe any comments I made in parentheses and now try to avoid them at all costs (they still slip in from time to time.)

Also, I don't think I really succeeded in my quest to find out what a semi-colon is supposed to be used for and whenever I encounter them in my blogs they seem to be rather shoe-horned in. I suppose this is why successful writers have editors.

My advice to anyone wanting to write a popular blog would be to consistently write about one category. I find these boring, but a lot of successful blogs seem to stick to a theme. Originally I was going to call this blog 'The Long Bow' as I thought the one consistent thread in all my writing seemed to be that I tend to end up a long way from the initial starting point of the subjects I write about. Maybe this would have caught people's imaginations? Who knows?

The weekly deadline did take me to unexpected places and some interesting asides that I'm quite proud of include the political commentary of 'I Don't Know' and 'Thanks for the Advice, Gina!', the post-apocalyptic musings of 'Omega Man' and 'A Portrait of the Artist' as well as heart-on-sleeve confessionals of 'Hello You!', 'Bad Hair', 'Here We Go' and 'This Unsporting Life.'

As for reviews, my greatest success is still The Kinks' review contained in 'This is Hardcore Preservation Society Part 1', but I am most proud of the 'George Saunders: The Brain Dead Megaphone' review which was initially  not a popular blog, but has grown consistently in readership over the months.

There wasn't a big focus on art, but I thought my overviews of 'Robert Hughes' and 'Jeffrey Smart' accurately portrayed my understanding of both men. There was, of course, several self-indulgent autobiographical essays which hopefully made sense outside of the confines of my own reminiscences. These included 'Remembering the Village Twin', 'My Greatest Literary Achievement' and 'Apollo 13.'

It occurs to me that I now operate in the exact opposite manner to when I was a child. When I was little I would try anything. One week I wanted to be a soccer star, or else play the bagpipes or be a gymnast. All of these things I would give up almost instantly. These days if I start something I tend to stay with it no matter what. Surely there is some merit in quitting at the right time and knowing when something has run its course? It's something I have yet to learn.

Until then there are still poems and novels to write, piano concertos to compose and pictures to paint.

My New Year's resoltion is complete.

I'll probably see you next week.

Thanks for reading,

Trev xo

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Continuing Rise of WTF with Marc Maron

A few years ago I was getting a bit sick of inane radio talkback and was dabbling in a few audio books and podcasts to accompany me on the drive to work and weekend jogs. A friend recommended the 'WTF with Marc Maron' podcast. I don't necessarily follow up all recommendations from friends, but in this case I'm glad I did, because the podcast has been essential bi-weekly listening for the last couple of years.

As it turns out, I joined-in on the show at exactly the right time. The first episode I remember listening to was the now-infamous 'Gallagher' episode, in which Maron reluctantly interviewed ageing prop-comic Leo Gallagher. This episode marked the only occasion that an interviewee has walked out on the program, as a result of Maron calling Gallagher into question over homophobic and racist content in his stage act. It was a striking introduction to the program and instantly added a new addition to my lexicon of obscure pop-culture catch phrases - 'Aw c'mon, Gallagher!'

When Maron started the podcast, he was, by his own admission, at his wits' end. Recently fired from a presenting job at Air America, twice divorced, a recovering alcoholic, a stand-up career hitting the skids and rapidly approaching middle-age; WTF was born out of desperation and presented a more humbled individual presenting what was basically an interview-show broadcast on the World Wide Web out of his garage in the suburbs of LA.

What Maron lacked in technical expertise and a promotional budget, he made up for with a few decades of insider-knowledge of the film and comedy world and a rolodex full of contacts of people he had met over the years. The unique perspective Maron had on most of these interviews was a combination of his pent-up resentment for the success of most of his guests, combined with a genuine desire to follow step eight of the Alcoholics' Anonymous manifesto, which requires participants to make amends to people they have wronged. An episode that typifies this early interview style was with Louis C.K., who was one of Maron's estranged friends and is currently a comedy golden-boy.  It was, at times, a tense interview, but it all seemed to work out okay in the end and spawned another memorable catch-phrase - 'Are We Good?'

Louis C.K.
I'm an Australian and admittedly am not familiar with a lot of the comics that Maron interviews; in fact I would go so far as to say I veer more towards the Monty Python style of surrealist sketch comedy that often seems to vex Maron, than the heart-on-your-sleeve confessional style that Maron seems to favour. But you know what? - it doesn't matter. The professional status of the interviewee often seems to be irrelevant, because the majority of WTFs are basically intimate conversations between two human beings.

Perhaps it's the fact that Maron has been through the emotional wringer in recent years that people seem to be able to be open up to him about surprisingly intimate details of their lives. Maron himself also seems to have a sixth sense about guiding subjects towards incidents and emotions that most people would have a hard time talking about. The most striking example of this was a two-part episode featuring The Onion writer Todd Hanson. Maron felt Hanson was avoiding an issue after their initial interview and convinced Hanson to sit down for a second interview. Hanson then admitted that in 2009 he tried to commit suicide - in the very hotel where the interview was taking place! It's engaging stuff that easily could have slipped through the cracks from a less skilled interviewer.

Todd Hanson
I was initially a little wary when Maron decided to expand his interview base of comedians to also include actors and musicians, but these interviews turned out to be just as intriguing. I think it helps that I am in my early forties and Maron and I have similar tastes in music. Some musicians he has interviewed are among my all time favourites, such as Nick Lowe and Lucinda Williams. Even musicians I'm not familiar with such as Jakob Dylan have been interesting, because Maron has used his magic on them to bring out some trademark candour.

If I had to choose my least favourite aspect of the podcast, it would probably be the live shows. These usually consist of a panel of comedians in front of a live audience. They are perfectly entertaining, but lack the intimate one-on-one of the 'garage' interviews. I am, however, not averse to Maron's stand-up and actually went to see him about two years ago at The Melbourne Comedy Festival. He seemed a little disappointed that the room wasn't full, but continued on good-naturedly. I especially liked the aspect of his act where he would take out his note book and try and remember what hastily scribbled ideas for jokes actually meant in hindsight.

I saw Maron after the show and had a brief chat to him. I wanted to tell him that even though the show wasn't full, there were a lot of Australian comedians in attendance, including, Peter Hellier, Tony Martin and Gatesy from Tripod. I didn't, though - I thought it might seem a bit condescending. Maron gave me a 'WTF' sticker which I have proudly displayed on my car ever since. Recently, someone rear-ended my car and I remember worrying that I would lose my sticker when the hatchback door was replaced. This seemed more important at the time than the cost of the damage, or the fact that my daughter was in the back seat. Luckily the pane of glass with the sticker wasn't replaced. Oh - my daughter was okay as well!

Maron's pet-peeve recently seems to be that people tend to fast-forward through the introduction and outros of the podcast and only listen to the actual interviews. This is a shame. I love hearing what Maron has been up to - updates on his relationship with girlfriend Jessica, news on his bipolar father and mother with an eating disorder and, sadly, the disappearance of beloved cat and show mascot 'Boomer'. He even has helpful tips on how to 'season' cast-iron frying pans if you would care to listen.

Mel Brooks
Recently the calibre of interviewees has really laid testament to the success of the show. The one-two punch of having comedy legends Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner interviewed in the same week was especially triumphant. Brooks was clearly impressed with Maron's historical perspective on comedy and even suggested Maron would be a great late-night TV talkshow host. Maron's phoenix-like rise from the ashes has not only been noted by Brooks, but also other television producers and book publishers. Maron will star in a new comedy series later this year based loosely on his life and the podcasts and will release a book of comedy essays. His last comedy album 'This Has to be Funny' was something of a cult hit and he has recently started appearing in movies such as 'Sleepwalk with Me' and on old-pal Louis C.K.'s show 'Louie.'

Maron has confessed on more than one occasion that he doesn't deal well with success and has often counteracted this success by 'daring people to like him.' Looking back on WTF, it is this adversity that made the show appealing and a dark part of my soul almost wishes something bad would happen so we don't lose the wounded and cornered Marc Maron we have come to know and love. Mostly, though, I have faith that the newer, happier Marc Maron is mature enough now to enjoy his success. We like you Marc Maron - deal with it!


Saturday, 9 February 2013

Apollo 13

I'd like to think I'm pretty forgiving of most people's faults, however, I just can't stand it when people are late. If I had to trace this hatred for tardiness back to its origin, I think I'd find it evolved from almost any family holiday I've ever taken. We just never could get away on time!

No matter what the destination, there always seemed to be some incident that would arise to delay our departure, usually involving arguments over the ridiculous amount of paraphernalia we would attempt to pack for even the shortest holiday. After a long and laborious process of spacial visualisation, we would depart several hours late and then sit in stony-faced and cramped silence in the car for several hours until we reached our destination.

One particular holiday debacle has always stuck with me. I don't remember where we were going, or any events on the holiday, but I vividly remember the comedy of errors that led to this particular late departure.

I suppose I would have been about ten years old when we were preparing for this fateful trip. We had no pets that required high maintenance, but I had a salt-water fish tank in my room in which I kept some semi-exotic reef fish which included a star fish, a sea anemone, a clown fish and a blue damselfish that had a striking yellow tail. Perhaps rather incongruously, I also had a whiting which I had caught fishing. It was too small to eat. He ended up being a pet instead! It sounds pretty weird in hindsight. Why didn't we just get a dog?

Anyway, my father and I had to move the fish tank downstairs to the garage, so the neighbours could feed the fish while we were away. We emptied about half the water from the tank and stored the fish in a bucket until we had completed the transfer process. Unfortunately, we were over-confident in regards to our furniture-removal abilities and the shifting weight of the water caused the tank to slip from our hands after only a few steps. The tank smashed on the floor, resulting in saltwater, seaweed and rocks being strewn across the carpet and sentencing my fish to a hellish existence inside a cleaning bucket.

My dad must have noticed the look of horror on my face and in that instant decided that the mission brief had changed. The fish were no longer simply being transported to another area of the house - now they had to be rescued! My fish were like the astronauts in Apollo 13 - there had been an accident and now their lives were in danger. The moon was unfortunately no longer in their grasp.

We lived about a fifteen minute car ride away from Cleveland Point at the time. My dad and I decided our only rescue option was to release them back into the bay. We parked near the boat ramp at Cleveland Point. The tide was partially out, revealing an expanse of thick grey mud, perpetually slimy rocks  and sharp mangrove roots grasping towards the sky. We took our scaly heroes down the slippery concrete boat ramp and released them into the shallow murky waters.

The whiting took off into deeper water straight away, no doubt pleased to be back in his natural environment. My other reef fish were a different story. They languidly drifted about, not seeming too sure what to make of this new world. Their bright colours were a striking contrast to the dull-grey of the Cleveland Point mud, which made them appear especially vulnerable.

The astronauts had been rescued and returned to earth, but it seems the world had changed around them. They were probably expecting bright corals, clear waters and a vast variety of oceanic life that you might expect on The Great Barrier Reef. Instead, they now resided in shallow murky water that seemed to stretch on forever, concealing all manor of hidden dangers.

My dad assured me that the fish would be alright, but I had my doubts. It seemed we were about to go on holiday, but the holiday was over for my beloved pets. This incident may have contributed to my life-long hatred for tardiness, but the secret hope that my fish survived only helped to fuel my belief in self-delusion.

God-speed John Glen!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

A Blank Slate

A while ago I was browsing through my favourite record shop, 'Round and Round Records' on Sydney Road at Brunswick, when I was surprised and delighted to find an old friend working behind the counter. I offered a friendly 'hello' and a warm smile that only comes effortlessly through years of acquaintance. I was surprised to find that my 'friend' behind the counter didn't return my affections and remained stony-faced. Sure, we had never been especially close, but what had I done to deserve this scorn?

It was then that I realised the person behind the counter was merely a doppelganger of someone I had met twenty years previously.  In a different city! I felt mildly embarrassed and explained to the man that I had mistaken him for someone else. For some reason, I also asked if the man knew my friend. Of course he didn't, but said he'd look online to see if he could find some pictures. I begged him not to look while I was still in the store; after all, my friend was now 20 years older and didn't look the same. Maybe the record-store clerk might have taken offence?

My embarrassment would have been more severe in this situation if this sort of thing didn't happen to me all the time. I often find myself walking down the street and waving at people I think I know, only to realise after passing them and receiving a blank stare, that I'm imprinting on strangers the faces and personalities of people I've met long ago, as if time had suddenly stood still somewhere in the late 1990s.

Memory is a funny thing. I don't know if I'm alone in remembering things in non-chronological order, but I suspect I'm not. I think memory to me is something like a book. When I read a book I often don't remember all the details, but the bits I like tend to stay with me and are stored away for future reference, with the less important details being discarded and slowly dissolving over time.

Incidents of mistaken identity do tend to send me on something of a lonesome reverie, though, and I find myself dredging up details of the past that are hidden deep within the memory banks. These are mostly memories involving friends and good times, but also things I wish I could forget, like missed opportunities, stupid things I've done and time I've wasted through what more generous people might refer to as my 'laconic' attitude to life. I have more correctly diagnosed this attitude as 'sheer laziness'.

It was during one of these recent reminiscences that an answer occurred to me regarding a question I had long considered: Why would anyone become a Scientologist?

Admittedly, I know very little about the so-called 'religion', but what I do know makes it sound like a cynical bunch of bat-shit crazy money-grubbing individuals taking advantage of naive and emotionally vulnerable people. From what I understand, when you join Scientology you're expected to not bring any of the baggage of the past with you and start again as a new person. This one aspect sounds tremendously appealing. Maybe if I was freed from the shackles of my friends and family, my past and, invariably, my immense wealth, would I be truly free to fulfil my potential and become... What, a senior member of the Church of Scientology?

Hmmm... Doesn't sound as appealing as I first thought. Maybe my past isn't dark enough to warrant me taking such drastic measures. It seems I'm not yet vulnerable enough to be preyed on by such an organisation. Perhaps after I've murdered someone and can no longer live with the torturous memory, then I might reconsider my position. Until then, I think I will be happy with mildly embarrassing myself in front of strangers who I profess to know and feeling the occasional pang of guilt about things I've done in the past.

Just like most people, I suspect.