In which I consider a career in hip hop. For realz.

Last time we met I mentioned that I go to the gym. This is true. I am one of these annoying people who is actually addicted to exercise, specifically I just love pumping iron. True fact. I love answering questions from the audience at writers’ festivals, but what I’m really waiting for is someone to challenge me to an arm wrestle.

The key to a good weights session (stay with me, the light’s coming, I swear.) Is music. As I previously wrote, I attend a gym largely patronised by blokes, many of them (so-called) professional athletes. This can be a touch intimidating. The weights room is completely male dominated. A lass can feel like she’s trespassing on some primitive male ritual. I stick out amongst all the bronzed, oiled (eww) biceps. I am a gangly, fluro-white girl in glasses. But like I said, I like doing weights and Fernwood is about twice as expensive as a mixed gym so I have developed an effective method for keeping my cool (I use this term only as strongly as can be applied to someone who works out in an old maternity bra and tattered ‘Overland literary journal’ t-shirt.) What’s my secret? Hip hop, peeps. Rap. That cray cray ghetto thayng. Mos def.

Yes, in order to feel on par with the super-tough titanium lifters (Do they lift titanium? Is it even heavy? Let’s leave that little illustration alone.) I recruit the help of the Beastie Boys, sometimes De la Soul, and more often than not, a heap of Gwen Stefani. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

I don’t feel intimidated if I have Mike D rapping in my ear. It makes me feel like I have a little posse following me around telling these annoying 20 year old posers to get off my leg press, man. Never mind that the remaining beasties are now in their late forties.

The problem is, I have run out of music. I have listened to Hollaback Girl 68 times in the last month and I now know every word of every Beastie Boys song that’s got a fast enough beat to elevate the heart rate. Massive Attack? I know every thought that ever entered Tricky’s mind. Same for Jurassic Five. I am in that weird place where I am out of the loop and don’t know what to listen to. This is a problem exacerbated by the fact that I refuse to listen to anything misogynistic. That rules out about 70% of hip hop. Also, I have kids, so there can’t be too many expletives. Or if there are, they have to be easily masked as something else. For example, you can sing along to Hollaback Girl if you pretend Gwen is really passionate about her ‘ships’: ‘OooOoo that’s my ship, that’s my ship.’

So, I hear you say, why not try something else, there’s a lot of hip hop out there. Modern stuff: Jay Z? Kanye? That Snoopy Dog fellow?

Yeah. But the problem is, it all sounds very plastic, slick, sharp. I was a teen in the 90s. I cut my teeth on a grungy, fuzzy, rough-around-the-edges sound that comes from people making music it their parents’ garage. Without Pro Tools. I made the jump from guitar driven grunge to hip hop via the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, which owes more to Nirvana than it does N.W.A. That song was my bridge. I was able to ease myself in. I don’t want no computer generated, auto-tuned, slick sound. Also it seems that most people in the hip hop business today have lost their sense of humour. It’s all very earnest, either about popping caps or using hoes. It all sounds rather fake to me. The only caps I pop are Panadol and I use a hoe in the garden from time to time, but generally I just can’t relate.

I’m going to sound old now, but I remember De La Soul rapping about poor hygiene and the beasties mentioning their grandmas. Gwen Stefani had her tongue firmly in cheek on a permanent basis, as did Charlie Tuna. I miss those days. Now everyone seems super keen to prove how tough and mean they are and how much cash they’ve got.

What about Aussie hip hop? You may ask. The Pez Dispenser chappie? 360? Look, I’m going to be brutally honest, and I realise this is some cultural cringe thing I need to overcome, but I can’t stand rap with an Australian accent. I have an Irish friend who says I need to get over this. Easy for him to say, he’s Irish.

Recently I came across Iggy Azalea. She’s Australian, but you wouldn’t know it from her accent. She raps like Kelis or Nicki Minaj. She is clearly inhabiting an imaginary persona, but I don’t see the problem, musicians have been doing that for years. No one blames David Bowie for being fake because he never lived on a space station. Aside from the Minaj-esque accent, ‘Fancy’ sounds like it could be Gwen Stefani, so that’s a win. It’s also got a sense of humour about it. ‘I’m so fancy’ is a funny line, if for no other reason than it uses the word ‘fancy’. Iggy claims to be in the ‘murdder business’, but we know she’s making it up because she makes no secret of the fact she’s from Mullumbimby.

In fact, I like that song so much I bought the album. Trouble is, the rest of the tracks maintain the whole, ‘I was poor, now I’m a rich and l might shoot you’ narrative, funny for one song but tiresome over a twelve track album. Yes, yes, Iggy, you started out on your own with no friends and now you’re a success everyone wants to come around and drink your champagne. That aspect may be true, but it’s not entertaining. There’s nothing lyrically clever about it. While we’re talking white rappers, I have a lot of respect for Eminem. He’s a clever guy. But I can’t buy an album which glorifies beating up a woman and stuffing her in your car boot. No matter how linguistically sophisticated it is.

(It made me consider making my own hip hop. I would rap about books, a really nice skirt that I bought from Cue a few weeks ago and how much I love Spike Jonze movies. Maybe also horses and how expensive they are to maintain. But I’ve kind of committed to the whole writing thing for the moment and besides, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make a very convincing rapper.)

rapperIt seems that the only stuff around that doesn’t feature expletives does feature a fellow called Pit Bull, who is so manufactured he makes me want to shout expletives, which kind of defeats the purpose of listening to clean stuff in the first place. I have a big problem with music that’s marketed as family friendly and clean, but features a guy in a suit surrounded by gyrating semi-naked women. Call me picky.

On the upside, The Roots have released a new album, ‘And Then You Shoot Your Cousin’ which harks back to Faithless and other trip hoppy stuff like DJ Shadow, it even has a flavour of Portishead to it. It is largely a response to the shallow, braggy, materialistic hip hop which is so prevalent. If you want to read more about the comment it makes on hip hop and black America today, The Roots’ drummer, Questlove (he of the fantastic hair) wrote this piece for Vulture. It’s pretty freaking great. As for me I know it’s risky to cast any judgment over contemporary hip hop, both Lorde and Lily Allen have been accused of racism because of comments their music makes about mainstream hip hop culture. But that issue is another blog altogether.

 

Whistle-Blower Edition: The Truth behind the Dragons and NRL

There’s been a fair amount of whistle-blowing in sport lately, in all senses of the word. (See what I did there?) What with drugs of all varieties, bribery, corruption, players passing out and ploughing into parked cars, not to mention the small issue of Qatar hosting a world cup when their average temp for July is 75 degrees C*. (Nothing sus going on there. AT ALL.)

What I’m about to tell you shrinks all of these into insignificance. Let’s not kid ourselves, I am not a sportsologist of any kind. (That’s the right term, yeah?) But I feel the need to share a piece of inside information with NRL fans, specifically fans of the St George Illawarra Dragons. There are a lot of sad Dragons fans out there at the moment. I know because I live with one and I also live in the Illawarra, so I see a lot of fans in Dragons jerseys openly sobbing while they go about their day-to-day activities. Another tell-tale sign is the scoreboard. This afternoon the Dragons got beaten 36 nil. I’m pretty sure even I could manage a better score than that. (This is not meant to be derogatory to the Dragons because I am a woman**, but rather because my #1 objective on the sporting field is to keep as much distance as possible between myself and a ball.) In fact, considering the fact that last week they were beaten 38 to 6, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NRL introduced participation certificates specifically for the Dragons, or perhaps started a new arm of competition where no points are recorded and everyone’s a winner by virtue of the fact they had a go. Perhaps this is all a little harsh and mean-spirited, like I said I’m no expert. Perhaps this is part of a long-term strategy in which the Dragons bore their opponents into a semi comatose state, at which point they – the Dragons – then score some points. Any points really would be an improvement.images-1

Problem is they are experts. They are paid for this stuff.

So here’s the inside scoop, folks. I have observed the Dragons training and even I, with little to no knowledge of Rugby League, can identify exactly where they are going wrong.

My insights come from spending time at the gym, the same gym as the Dragons frequent. (This was not by design on my part, but I doubt many young ladies who patronise the said gym could say the same.) My time observing the Dragons started out fairly positively, one would oft sight them all lined up on the exercise bikes, peddling away whilst a fellow with a clipboard helped them out by setting the resistance and timer and what not. Sometimes they would have a go in the pool, each with their team’s name proudly displayed across their rear; for safety purposes I presume,  if should one be found wandering, confused and lost by the tennis courts, they could be identified and returned to the fellows with the clipboards and whistles. They put on the show one would expect from professional sportsmen, had all the right gear etc.

But then one day I witnessed something distressing. Was it Josh Dugan getting stuck in the turnstile? No, although I did witness this and it’s fair to say it was more amusing than distressing. No, dear reader, one day I was heading across to the gym, passing some shrubbery when, what should I spy there amongst the bushes? Two Dragons, in full regalia, puffing away on sneaky durries like a couple of year nines behind the Science block at recess. I thought I was seeing things. For months I told myself that the gents responsible for a large portion of the Illawarra’s collective mental health would never spend money paid to them to PLAY SPORT on cigarettes and then smoke said cigarettes during training. But then just last week I spotted a Dragon there amongst the trees by the oval, having a little rest, a little breather. Perhaps finding inspiration in nature or contemplating the more meditative aspects of maneuvering a ball around the field for cash. Unfortunately, as I neared, the plumes of smoke around his head area signalled that while he was taking a breather, it wasn’t air he was focused on breathing.

That information is shocking I know. Take a moment to process that mental image while I feed you another truth nugget: THE DRAGONS ARE AFRAID OF RAIN. Yes, just days after the second smoking sighting, as I was making my way from the gym to the car park, I was caught in a bit of a downpour – as is quite common in this temperate region (FIFA, take note.) Also caught in the downpour, mid-training session, were the poor Dragons. Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen NRL players in the rain before, carrying on with the game in the mud like gallant soldiers at the Somme. Not these ones. No, these ones had fled the field and were cowering, bone dry, under a small awning. They weren’t even puffing in any sense of the word. It was as if they had been taking only a brief turn around the grounds in the manner of Elizabeth Bennet or similar. Granted, Benji wasn’t there. And we all know he isn’t afraid of anything. But even the most talented player is rendered useless if all his teammates have fled the field for fear of messing up their hair.

So all I can say, Dragons fans, is if you thought these last two weeks were bad, heaven help you if it should rain.

*Rough estimate

**Some women are kick-arse at League, I know one, she’s a size 8 but could put most men to shame with her tackling skills.

Creativity can be a total bitch.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died. But you probably know that already. People far more eloquent than I have already written many words about it in places like the New Yorker. But there are still things to do with his death churning in my head, so I’m afraid I must subject you, dear reader, to a few of them.photo (4)

I share the opinion with many others that Hoffman was not only one of the greatest actors of our generation, but one of the greatest actors to have existed full stop. I’m pretty sure the first thing I saw him in was The Talented Mr Ripley, but the first time I really noticed how amazing he was and thought, ‘Oh that’s that guy!’ was in Punch Drunk Love with Adam Sandler. I generally avoid Adam Sandler, but Punch Drunk Love, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson is fopping brilliant. It includes the line ‘I love you so much I want to scoop your eyeballs out and eat them’ – so that’s pretty much case closed.

Then Hoffman played one of my favourite writers, Capote, in the film of the same name and cemented his place in my all time top five. He won the Oscar and everyone finally cottoned on to how great he was and I had that weird thing where you feel a strange ownership of someone because you know you were a fan way before almost everyone else.

I haven’t seen him in the second Hunger Games instalment. I pretty much lost my shit when I saw him in the trailer all those months ago.

And then, as you know, Monday came. I was starting to get my five-year-old ready for his first day of kindergarten when my husband read the news Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead. Heroin.

It seemed too droll for someone so brilliant. I also found it unnerving, probably not unlike when someone who has survived cancer hears of someone who hasn’t and finds themselves shaken. I have never had a drug addiction, but I have been in the place where it feels as though anything that can dull the mind is a good option. I don’t know if Hoffman suffered from depression or anxiety. But I doubt people take up heroin because they are feeling content in their existence. He clearly had a monstrously creative mind and such minds don’t often lend themselves to stability.

Creative minds are capable of accessing, quite readily, all sorts of labyrinthine tunnels of thought. These can come in very handy if you are trying to create an imaginary world, or compose a piece of music, or access an emotion so you can appear to be another person entirely. These tunnels can also present potentially catastrophic scenarios. They can unearth thoughts that would seem ridiculous if they weren’t so bloody terrifying.

The creative engine that makes a person who they are can be the very thing that destroys them.

Some people are dismissive of the idea that highly creative minds are more susceptible to mental illness, but in my opinion, the long list of people who have self-destructed in the clutches of their own creativity speaks for itself. If I were given a choice between artistic ability and perfect mental health I’m pretty sure I would choose to keep my creative brain. But then there are days I’m not so sure about that.

Either way, there’s no getting around the fact that Hoffman has joined that long list. And that, dear readers, totally sucks.

 

What you looking at? On being a dickhead.

Well hello, dear readers. It’s been a while. I was going to spend this blog reminiscing about my top five books of 2013, but instead I am feeling quite cranky about the world and I know that I do my best writing whilst I have a bee in my bonnet*, so here goes.

Hey Australian young men, why have you turned into a bunch of aggressive dickheads? Seriously, what’s your beef, exactly? You used to have the reputation of being friendly, ‘laid back’ and slightly inebriated if there’s a cricket match on. Now you’re known primarily for your tendency to punch other people in the head for no particular reason.

On New Years Eve an eighteen year old guy was punched in the head for committing the offence of WALKING DOWN THE STREET. He’s now in a coma. This comes after this other guy was punched in the head for the even more heinous act of walking down the street whilst wearing a pink shirt. And of course after the tragic death of Thomas Kelly in 2012. It really makes one wonder what is going on with the psyche of young Australian males. Why is it that their sense of self-worth is so utterly fragile that they feel the need to randomly punch other guys in the head?

And it’s not that these punchy guys are picking fights. It not a case of ‘Do you bite your thumb at me, Sir’ but without swords and Leo’s tropical shirt. We know that chaps have been punching on, as it were, since the dawn of time – and I’m not about to wax lyrical about the philosophical aspects of Fight Club. This is completely different, this is a premeditated, brutal attack akin to shooting someone in the back. Fist or bullet, there’s no difference. The family of the latest victim have urged the media to stop referring to this kind of attack as a ‘king hit’ and call it what it is, a ‘cowards punch’.

So what’s going on? The defining factor that emergency department doctors point out is alcohol. These people are pissed out of their brains (the youth, not the doctors). Yes, Australians have always liked a drink, but rather than drinking as a means to facilitate merriment, youngens are drinking specifically to get staggeringly drunk. Which seems odd to me in many ways. And sad. Are they so utterly starved for conversation points that there is nothing else to do? Is it perhaps because they don’t know what to do with themselves now that no one dances anymore?

One psychologist blames a generation of under-fathered men. These guys have no decent role models beyond NRL players and ‘(no) respect for authority, little exposure to tradition or ritual and few, if any, skills in anger management.’ Now there’s an interesting thought: little exposure to ritual. It used to be that in nearly every culture there was some sort of act which served to pronounce a boy had become a man. I saw a show called ‘Tribal Wives’ where one Ethiopian lad had to run over the backs of five cows to mark his transition to manhood. (Let’s not get all romantic about other cultural practices, though. The same ritual involved whipping the tribal women until they were covered in open welts and gashes.)

I’m not too sure what the ritual used to be in Western society. It could have been something as simple as a guy getting a slap on the back from his father whilst said father smoked a pipe and said, ‘Well, son, now you’re a man.’ (Let’s not get too romantic about the olden days though, because this sentence was probably followed by ‘Woman, where’s my dinner?’ or something.) Or maybe boys were simply more exposed to the tradition of walking down the street with their father or grandfather whilst observing the way in which said grandfather refrained from punching anyone in the head.

So it seems we have a bunch of broken, fatherless people who don’t know how to relate to each other or define themselves beyond a proverbial masochistic big-dick contest. We also have a society that is as individualistic as it has ever been. We have no sense of being a part of anything greater than ourselves. If life is all about self-gratification there’s no reason not to punch someone else in the head if you feel like it.

And of course, as a woman I can’t help but think of the fact that if this is the way some guys are behaving toward each other in public, one can only imagine what their partners cop behind closed doors.

*This is only half a metaphor, I do actually wear a bonnet whilst writing. Jane Austen etc. etc.