Friday, November 11, 2011

Rolling Deep at the NZ Green Party Election Campaign Launch 2011

Last time we had an election in this country the good guys lost. I was in Queenstown that night playing a show and there was nothing I could do about it from there, so I drank some whiskey and I got in a fistfight with Dylan Storey, even though he's on the same side as me. I lost that as well, and the next day I jumped off a bridge.

My considered response to the 2008 election result.

I was a getting a bit worried about this election, because it looks like there's a good chance that the bad guys will win again and I'll have to get into another fistfight with Dylan, and I think he's still a little sore at me from last time because I definitely started it. So I took steps to mitigate this risk and arranged matters so that I would be playing a show in Westport on election night, in the middle of a tour, a safe distance away from wherever Dylan was going to be. Now, however, things have changed a little. History is repeating itself to the extent that once more I will playing a show on election night with Dylan, this time in Auckland, so basically I hope the good guys win this one for the sake of public order.

It was that or move to Canada.

Here's why I won't be in Westport on election night any more: A little while ago we recorded this song that Reb wrote called 'Set Sail.' Through some chain of events somehow it's ended up on the Green Party campaign ads for this election we're about to have, and when the Green Party had their campaign launch in Wellington the other day, they got Reb and Dylan and me to come and play that song and some other songs to them.

Usually whenever Reb and Dylan and me go somewhere to play a show it turns into a bit of a massive mission for various reasons. We tend to arrive at the airport late and with too much gear, and me and Dylan wander away and get a coffee while Reb negotiates with the airline staff. Then there are arguments at the gate about cabin baggage (too big), and at the other end about rental cars (too small) and on the way to the venue about the the venue itself (too elusive). Then we realise that somebody, often me, has left his wallet or bag or keys somewhere inconvienient, and we have to go back to get them or else endure my incessant whining.

This time it wasn't like that at all - granted, we did have to get up at some unholy hour in the morning before the sun was up, which meant I was surly and uncooperative - but after that everything went, from a logistical point of view, swimmingly.  We made the plane just fine, and a Green Party person collected us at the airport in Wellington and whisked us around the city, picking up helpful people and bits of gear from various pre-arranged waypoints as we went. This is organisation, thought I. Then he took us to a cafe for breakfast with some of the campaign team, and I guess I must have been trying to impress the Green Party people, because I ordered muesli with seasonal fruit. I immediately felt grumpy and jealous when just about everybody else got the mixed grill and I remembered oh yeah that's right, this is the 2011 Green Party and they kicked out the hippies: nobody is impressed by your muesli.

I continued to be struck by the absence of hippies when we got to the venue (on time). Everybody was super-organised and really quite onto it, bustling about, setting things up, making things happen and so forth, and they all looked so very smooth and composed, like they knew what was going on - not only what was going on right there and then on the day, but also more generally in their lives, their careers, the world. I got this familiar feeling which goes something like: Christ, how did all you people get so able to do things? Why can't I be like that? Did I miss a memo?

This is a feeling I get approximately ten times a day on average, or whenever I see somebody who has a skill of some kind, and I'm pretty used to it. So I picked up a couple of cables and wandered around for a while pretending I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and soon the onto it people had the stage set up and it was time to soundcheck. Around then it became relevant that this song we had just been flown down to Wellington to perform was not one we had ever played live before. Also, I remembered that when we recorded it, which was a few months ago, I had been feeling passive-agressive and had insisted on playing the banjo. So, I realised, I had never actually played the song properly in front of other humans on any of the instruments I had with me. Uh-oh, I thought. I am going to fuck this up and break the Green Party campaign launch, and the bad guys will win again. Rats.

I've never been to a campaign launch before, and I've certainly never played at one, so I didn't know what to expect. It was in kind of a hall type thing, and there were a whole bunch of folding chairs set up in rows, and lots of people milling about as we played some kind of walking-in music.  Then I saw my high-school music teacher in the audience and suddenly the whole thing felt familiar, like I was back playing in school assembly.  She came up to the stage during a short break: 'Good to see you,' she said. 'Turn up your violin,' she added.

There were a lot of speeches of course, and Robyn Malcolm did some good jokes about John Key and how he's a bit useless, and lots of people clapped. Somebody who I went to high school with, who I think was maybe even a couple of years younger than me and is now pretty likely to be an MP after the election on current polling, gave an amazing speech and everybody clapped even more. She's a Rhodes scholar and will probably be the president of the Republic of New Zealand one day, and here's me standing in the audience going: I wonder how everybody knows how to do all of these things, and also: I wonder if I'm going to fuck up that song I'm supposed to know how to play. Very school assembly.

It pretty quickly turned out though that thing about playing at a campaign launch is that of course nobody was really there to see three scruffy musicians from Auckland, and as long as we didn't play anything absurdly cacophonic or by the Feelers they weren't going to hate us - we were basically there as symbolic background decoration, like the native plants in pots they brought in and dotted around the stage. That meant that we were actually in a pretty good position since most of the songs we play are in A minor or C and we know it, so even if we forget the specific chords to a given song (say, the one we came all the way here especially to perform) we're not going to stray too far into the sorts of challenging atonalisms that might antagonise this kind of crowd. And there's no way we'd play anything by the Feelers any time ever. The short version is that I didn't fuck up the song, or any of the other songs, and the Green Party people were happy because everything they wanted to launch got launched.

So happy were they, as it happened, that they asked us to play at another event they're having - on election night. Since they were prepared to sort out the necessary flights to extricate me from the tour I'll be on then, and return me to the West Coast the next day for the rest of the shows, it would have been churlish to say no, and now it's locked in: Reb Fountain and the Bandits, St Kevin's Arcade, Election Night 2011.  Which means that once more, despite my admittedly lackluster efforts to avoid the situation, I will be in a position to get into a fistfight with Dylan Storey on election night if the bad guys win.  So: I hope the right people vote, and I hope the vote for the right people, because nobody wants to see that again.