Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grand Theft Auto

This morning (well, before noon, anyhow) we were woken up by the kind of pounding on the door and squawking of radios that only ever means police officers (Couriers have a different, more furtive, knock) and Emily tells me that that sound, to her, means bad news of the 'come quick, a loved one is in hospital' variety, which demonstrates that we are obviously very different people because for me the first thought is always along the lines of 'the game is up - burn the files and find out when the next plane leaves for Argentina.' But I honestly couldn't think of anything I'd done that would bring police officers to my actual house, so I found a pair of jeans and opened the door.

Even though it was early and they could no doubt see that I was not up to effective communication yet, they immediately started in on questions about, of all things, my car. Like for example when did I last see it? and how many sets of keys are there? Had I lent it to anybody really, you know, shifty? I was still kind of bleary eyed because it was, as I said, the morning and too early for polite visits, so naturally I began to babble. I revealed that you don't really need a key to open the door of our car because it's kind of special that way, you can actually open it with a spoon, come have a look and I'll show you, it's parked right here in the carport, and all the while my sluggish and guilty brain was trying to figure out what antisocial behaviours I might have perpetrated with the car lately  that would bring two police to my door on a Sunday morning, and I was drawing nothing but a blank because honestly, my life is not that interesting.

And of course they looked at me pityingly - who is this disheveled buffoon babbling about spoons and with his jeans not properly on who clearly hasn't yet realised that his car is not where he left it? Because it wasn't, of course, otherwise they wouldn't have been there asking questions about it, and it began to dawn on me that my role here was not that of suspect run to ground by brave officers after a giddy spree of running orange lights and driving at 45ks in a school zone, but rather an honest taxpaying citizen who had just had some bugger thief off with his wheels.

So I did my best solid citizen impression and engaged the officers in conversation on the front lawn, because we have quite a lot of open homes around here on a Sunday morning and I know the government is worried about house prices at the moment so I like to do my bit by making sure the first thing prospective buyers see when they drive down the street is a skinny scraggly-haired lowlife blinking like a star-nosed mole and with his pants only half on bailed up on the front lawn by a couple of cops who are obviously here on a routine meth lab inspection, which I think should take a good five percent off the average offer for any house on our street this week.

This is me anytime before mid-afternoon. Forget about the 10% deposit thing, I could take the heat out the housing market just by walking down the street if I could be persuaded to get out of bed before noon every Sunday.  So far, that takes a minimum of  two police officers or the promise of a ride in an aircraft of some kind.

They told me an unlikely-sounding story about an off-duty cop who had spotted a person 'of interest' (like, you know, a 'perp' I think they call them) driving our car this morning, and this alert officer had phoned in the plates (by this time I was using words like 'tags' to show that I was up to speed with the evolving situation) and they were here to see whether we were essentially harbouring a fugitive. Which I was pretty sure we weren't, but then I obviously had incomplete information about a lot of things since I thought we still had a car in the carport. Anyhow, they went away soon after that, and the real estate agents of Morningside (Kingsland Fringe) breathed a sigh of relief as I went back inside to do up my trousers.

So it would seem that our car has been stolen, which should come as a surprise to nobody really, except that it's actually very hard to even get it going it at the best of times because the starter motor is not what it was. It also needs five new tires and some panel work, and it is full of dog hair. We've actually been meaning to sell it for ages but we're worried about getting bad trademe feedback, so it's just been sitting out there in the carport waiting for someone to boost it - which would have been great if we'd gotten around to getting it insured. If you see it around, do let me know, won't you? It's a silver Mazda 323, license plate TT1040, with roof rails and a person of interest driving it. We don't have any good pictures of it really,  because it's pretty ugly and we usually try not to get it in photographs, but here's one that was taken from the inside of the car in a rainstorm in Tauranga while we were feeding seagulls on the bonnet, in happier times. Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Magicians, Savages, Gypsies

The material we're dealing with in this Explorers Club: Antarctica show that we've been doing is pretty much public property - great archetypal stories of triumph and adversity, the tales of people who went out in a great blaze of publicity and either came back years later covered in glory or lost their lives out in the frozen wastes in pursuit of some combination of Imperial honour, scientific discovery or precious new lines on the increasingly detailed map. That means that we're not alone here - a lot of other people are covering similar ground, and as a consequence we get all sorts of interesting emails and invitations from other artists who are doing awesome Antarctica-related work. 

One such email came through the tubes a little while back, from Sue Cooke, who has put together a striking installation in Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery responding to her time on the Antarctic Peninsular. She'd heard about what we were doing, and she invited us to come and perform the show in Whanganui in association with her exhibit. Because of what we cheerfully refer to as our mental problems, we honestly and truthfully really enjoy driving for twelve to fourteen hours to play shows in small towns so we of course gave a resounding yes. 

As we passed through Taumarunui, night had fallen and we were looking for a place to eat. All the windows in the long main street have electric fences behind them and a lot of the shops are empty so the place has the surreal feeling you get in a lot of small north island towns. As though the apocalypse is here, and it's happening very, very slowly. Still a little dazed from the road, we pulled open an old aluminum ranch slider and stepped into a greasy takeaway joint. We stared at the menu board for a long time, as the family who ran the place took our measure. 
Magicians? If you like.

'Are you guys magicians?' said the daughter. 

I said yeah, we are. 

'Can you tell, like, fortunes?' 

I said yeah, but it's rude to. We ended up getting the rice, and I tried not to get too much on the floor of the van as we wound through the southern King Country highways with Led Zep II playing at a good volume. 

That got us to Whanganui with the gas light just starting to glow, and the next day we rolled down to the venue in fair time to set up for our morning show. I had heard tell of this place, some of our friends had played here before and the information I had told me that we were in for a slap in the cultural face. 

The Savage Club hall is a very challenging environment to walk into. It seems that in 1857 or thereabouts, Pakeha colonists in New Zealand, responding to international trends in racial theory, made their own fun by imitating Maori iconography and costume and getting together periodically to sing songs at one another. This should come as a surprise to nobody; there exist several similar examples of such appropriation around the world. A famous photograph by Frank Hurley, for example, shows at least one member of the crew of the Endurance in blackface during their midwinter revels. It should also be unsurprising that the Pakeha colonists quickly organised their entertainment into a regular club - with a president, treasurer, minutes, and of course a hall in which to meet. It is decorated more or less as one might expect with the above in mind, and yes, I am told, the carvings around the proscenium arch were stolen from a marae up the river. 

The Savage Club Hall: Make of it what you will

The odd thing about the Savage Club is that it still actually exists as a club, not just as a historical curiosity. We were just playing in their hall - our show didn't have anything to do with the club itself so I know nothing of its history beyond hearsay. But I gather that they still meet regularly and sing songs at one another, and the photographs around the walls of the hall show generations of white people dressed in grass skirts holding guitars, giving an overall impression of what the hell is going on here? I asked a few people and the answers I got were mostly around 'well it's all just fun, isn't it?' and 'they're not hurting anybody, are they?' 

As we stood on the stage and played our show, I kept thinking about other strange places I've got up and slung my guitar over the years, or gone to watch other people doing the same thing. There was this hall in Copenhagen tricked out it a Viking style one time, with probably not very many actual Vikings present. A lot of bars in places that weren't Ireland dressed up to look like how somebody might think an Irish pub might look if they liked the book Angela's Ashes. A series of shows that happened under various 'Gypsy' labels organised by people who I'm pretty sure weren't Romany. The tired old tradition of white people playing reggae. Or the blues. Those bars with all kinds of Oriental trappings that hark back to the good old days of the Opium Wars and the White Man's Burden. These things all seemed to me to have something in common and that is this: I don't really know what the hell to make of them. Kind of makes me glad that I'm not at University anymore so I don't have to write essays about it, plus you can't think about this kind of stuff too much when you're on stage because you forget where you're up to in the song and then the bass player rolls his eyes at you. 

Brendan Turner: Actually a Gypsy.

Anyway, the Whanganui Chronicle described the show as 'a performance to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, your teeth clench and your body shiver,' which coincidentally is exactly how I feel when I walk into a particularly glaringly fake Irish bar. There was no mention of us being magicians, but the performance was also described as 'mesmerising,' and 'stunning,' which are pretty close. The next time we play in Whanganui it will be beneath the echoing neo-classical dome of the Sarjeant Galley, on our album release tour in November (of which more later), so if you know people in Whanganui who like being mesemerised, stunned or chilled tell them to watch this space.

Here's the review.  Chilling.