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 EXTRACTS (2008)from an abandoned journal

The hangover – Tuesday morning 7th April , after the LUCINDA WILLIAMS  concert at Enmore Theatre.
Jack a little surprised that our seats in the Lounge J  Row were upstairs and so far away. Seating not as bad as the Bob Dylan concert Entertainment Centre I said. Bob was just an infinity, stick figure and there were no big screens to make it any better. Cheap bastard is true as they say?
The place was not filled at all by 8am when the music started with a duo called The Lukes or something.  A very tall young man and a very short young lady both in very dull black  sang gentle songs about relationships in the manner of Lucinda I suppose but their only interesting number was  their last. Not bad at all. The seats only slowly filled. Noise abounded from the bar by our left. Constant coming and going -   and talk. Very different to attendance at a theatre or even a cinema.
Noone dressed up for the occasion. Grunge. The duo finished and on came a 6 piece band very, very loud, instrumental, growly, twangy, showy, hard core rock and roll stuff. "They need a vocalist" I said to Jack and Janet who were sitting there slightly appalled at the noise. At the end of their set, the drummer – who seemed to pound the drums with every ounce of strength that he had – announced they were the back up band for Lucinda. He gave their name but I missed it. Thanked us for allowing them to indulge themselves 'instrumentally"   Thanks but no thanks. Bad omen.
I went out to get a glass of wine but one had to go downstairs  - steep awkward stairs – to the bar below because the upstairs bar was beer and sodas only. Queue for the men's toilet also. Many people seemed to be drinking steadily.Which meant that later there was constant movement during the sets back and forth from the bathrooms. Long time since I have experienced the rock concert ambience. And as it turned out this was a Lucinda Williams rock concert. If only I had been warned.
Low rake upstairs there at the Enmore which used to be a cinema, with no doubt a screen higher than the floorboards of the stage.  Everyone craning their necks to get a view of Lucinda. Me too even tho seated on an aisle.
The band was miked loud – the sound was clear and clean enough – so Lucinda had to be miked even louder. Her sound too was clear and clean enough also, just, but why on earth was the sound so loud anyway ?  She started off with several of her old and best songs (although not Go Back to Greenville or Lake Charles as I had hoped) from early albums, sung with that incredible and unnecessary loudness; but the songs are  so good that in a way it did not matter with the scorching lyrics audible enough provided you were familiar with the lyrics beforehand. Nothing from West at all, two from Essence, including  the key song which she sort of fucked up by allowing the band to overwhelm her, I suppose, she encouraging the guitarists (duelling lead guitars for heavens sake) to express the extreme emotionality of the theme (heroin rush likened to sexual orgasm) rather than her. A mistake. A train wreck that song. But it was nothing compared to what was to follow. She abandoned all the quiet old sad songs which I had long loved and Jack had too, by selecting the rocking songs from her new album Little Honey, and nothing but loud rock songs from then on. Real Love, Tears of Joy, Little Rock Star, Honey Bee ,Well Well Well. My Joy from Essence. Strong stuff as presented on the albums, but here in concert, just overwhelming noisy, unbearable almost, sending our ears ringing. She and the band were clearly enjoying every second of it. Her lyrics mostly lost by this time with the band rampaging and she not even bothering to announce the songs as she had done earlier – in her beautiful deep and smoky voice.  
For encores she sang a Delta blues, then a Fats Domino song, then thankfully a slow song, perhaps revelatory, about not wanting to sing all those sad songs any more. Fourth and last encore was It's a Long Way to The Top (from Little Honey) with the drummer and the band going overboard. I was beyond caring by this time. I just wanted OUT as did Jack and particularly Janet who hated the whole concert. Not being a fan of Lucinda Williams in the first place and not a fan of music at all being tone deaf. Why did she come ?
I got the sense that half the audience were all for the rock and roll extravaganza but the other half were disappointed like we were. Over to the far right a noisy brigade cheered away and yelled for songs which she did not sing, but all around us there was mostly silence and polite clapping.
Getting a glass of wine half way thru her set, (negotiating those steep stairs again), I found the further I got away from the auditorium the better the music sounded. At the bar it was very bearable. I mentioned this to the bartender as he poured me a plastic glass of red. Why so loud in there? I queried. It's eardrum hell. I don't mind a bit of rock and roll but her songs don't need that sort of treatment.
Would you like me to mention it to them?
Could you ?
The little glass of wine helped me accommodate to the wall of sound, and there was a rail behind me on which to rest my head. I closed my eyes and did not bother about craning my neck to see the blackly dressed waif of a woman in the tights belting it out on the distant stage. At her age! The fact that several people in front of us left two thirds of the way thru helped the sight lines. The bartender's offer came to nothing of course. The music just seemed to get louder and louder as the concert trespassed deeper and deeper into the rock and roll yawning boredom of it all. Until it was nothing but an ocean of loudness seemingly for its own sake. Anyone for drowning?
Sorry about this Lucinda., Glad you are happy now, and happy being a rock and roll guitarist chick, but as I am typing this I am listening to West and the quieter songs from your new one. Jailhouse Blues for example. Why didn't you ruin that for us too?.What a disappointment you were. Your guys could certainly play, ( Bob Dylan also had a great band behind him at his concert at the Entertainment Centre last year) but I can listen to the sort of rock and roll you blasted us with any old time, Your songs don't need that sort of bruising and nor do our ears. The loudness added NOTHING to the emotionality of your work and took an enormous amount away. I'd definitely sack that drummer and pull the plug on at least one of one of those duelling guitarists, just for starters. And for heavens sake get the amplification right for the venue you are playing in. Bob's concert was disappointing too (he wasn't up to the brilliance of his band) but at least he got the sound level right. I hope someone tells you and you get it right for your second concert tonight. One less rock and roll indulgence and a couple more of your deeply felt songs properly presented might help too.

My Holiday in New Zealand with John McCain's Cousin

Matt and Jim

When I read the gripping account of a nightmare holiday with Senator John McCain on Fiji's Turtle Island, as  experienced by an innocent group of US travellers, (on Richard Neville's website)  it reminded me of my own entanglement with another member of the McCain clan…
I was in Gallipoli earlier this year paying respect to our WW1 dead and got talking to a man called Wayne who turned out to be a B52 bomber pilot in Viet Nam. When he was dropping napalm on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I was one of the editors of Oz Magazine joining in and reporting on, anti-war demonstrations in the streets of London.  I found that my holiday with Matt McCain, John McCain's cousin, held similar ironies.
       A couple of years ago, Steve, my former landlord in Northern California invited five of his closest friends on a South Pacific holiday. Matt McCain was one of them, and he could hardly wait to get to New Zealand, the renowed world centre for extreme adventure. From the way he talked it was going to just one big candy store for Matt. He wasn't too disappointed that Milford Sound was fogged in and he couldn’t do his planned Swim with the Sharks or whatever because that meant he (and the rest of us) could sooner get to the Shotover River Jet Boat Cruise as a warm up for the Pipeline Bungee Jump, the 3rd highest in the world. The Jet Boat was a thrill I guess, as strapped in our oilskins, and clutching a safety bar, we slammed through channels whose walls were mere millimetres away, miraculously failed to hit massive boulders and survived near death experiences as we did 360 degree turns at the speed of light. I was still frozen and shaking when Matt talked us into the Catapult Rocket and then the Flying Fox but when he insisted we sign up for the Pipeline Bungee Jump we all demurred. The Rocket had been more disorienting than any of my bad acid trips back in the sixties.
Matt revealed only then that he had never done a bungee jump before.  This was truly maverick McCain style. A storm was moving in by the time he jumped. He did the  fall, came to the end of his rope, bounced about and then was still. A plaintive cry came up to us watching from high above. With the rescue boat long delayed, rain beginning to sweep across the canyon, Matt dangling upside down just above the rocks and icy water, I thought it might be the end of him. Mad Matt McCain, we were already calling him.
"First cousin?" I asked Steve later.
"Look at him," Yes, he even looked like John McCain. Muscled and buffed, brush cut and tanned, heavy shades, not quite Tina Fey to Sarah Palin, but there was definitely a family resemblance.
After the Chopper Drop on the Franz Josef Glacier and the Crevasse Slip and Slide, even Steve was getting horrified at how much all this was costing him. What was there to come ? No, said Steve, to the Sky Diving and to the Wind Surfing in the Worlds Wildest Waves at Haas. OK to Zorbing at Rotorua and to Matt's dearest wish, the famous Base Jump from the top of downtown Auckland's Sky Tower.
            It was actually getting to Auckland and the Sky Tower that turned out to be the problem. Matt was unused to New Zealand's narrow country roads and single lane wooden bridges. Travelling fast he had roared onto one of these bridges, not noticing there was a car just starting at the other end. Seeing his headlong approach, the car began backing hastily but too late – Matt tried to pass and took out the wooden fence on the left hand side of the bridge, crash landing on the bank, trailing fence posts and just missing falling into the river far below. I was in the next town in the first of our two hire cars, waiting and waiting for Matt to arrive. When we saw police racing south with sirens wailing we just knew that something had happened to Matt, and followed the police. Astonishingly, noone was badly hurt. Another hire car was summoned and our extreme adventures continued.
A few days later, with Matt again driving the second car, he failed to rendezvous at the appointed time and we spent over an hour waiting and then another hour retracing our steps, once more fearing the worst. On a whim, he had gone on a detour.
"No arguing, Jim. You travel with Matt from now on," said Steve who was pissed off at me for saying after the bridge accident that I would never get into a car driven by him. "Matt had a deprived childhood. No toys. Now he's having all the fun he never had as a kid."
"It comes over as irresponsible. Even reckless."
"Runs in the family."  
Matt forgot to load his main bag on to the Picton Ferry which crosses the strait between the North and South islands of NZ and had to wait in Wellington for it to come on the next ferry, some hours later. Steve let me off the hook and we five all crammed into the first car and would see Matt in Rotorua.  We had no interest in the Zorb Roll, but we did not want to miss our Hells Gate mud baths and massages, a bit more our speed. There was a sense of relief. Matt exuded a not unappealing macho self-confidence but away from the euphoric end of a bungee cord and the extreme frontier, he could quickly lapse into silence, even moroseness.
We relaxed, took our time, a sedate morning tea, a long lunch in Taupo with a fabulous view of the Tongarira volcanoes and by late afternoon found that Matt had arrived in Rotorua before us.  He had travelled non-stop at maximum velocity. I seem to remember he boasted of talking his way out of a speeding fine somewhere along the way.
We watched Matt successfully negotiate the Sky Tower jump but I seem to have lost my photographs of the event.
I managed to evade travelling in the same car as Matt but on the last night of our holiday, Steve, in revenge, assigned me to sleep in the same bed. Matt came in late after doing laps in the hotel pool. He took a fascinatingly long time getting ready to retire. At his age the buffed and tanned macho look came at a cost. Preening before the mirror, moisturisers and face pack to apply, pimples to pop, medications to ingest…
I wished him good night and sweet extreme dreams. Well, better dropping oneself to the end of a bungee rope than dropping cluster bombs on others. Matt McCain's maverick cousin John may see America as a force for good in the world, but the emphasis is definitely on the force.

Jim Anderson (9th October 2008) writing for Richard Neville's website www.richardneville.com where a shortened version can be read.


Photographs and an account will be published here shortly  - beautiful arid scenery magnificent vistas, particularly Counts Point, with welcome waterholes for swimming and relaxation from time to time in the Macdonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs. 40 degree centigrade temperatures, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen sort of weather for walking, but it was fantastic anyway; I had to cope with blisters (very first day, not because of my wonderful  Italian hiking boots which had never caused blisters before in a lifetime of walking and trekking, but the extraordinary heat that day, helped  late in the day by a cooling storm with wind and welcome rain; I also trouble with my sacroiliac which a little codeine dealt with satisfactorily in the short run but which has now escalated into full scale sciatica, and no more bushwalking for a while. I am dealing with the problem with a mixture of cortisone injections, myotherapy (deep muscle balancing therapy and some physiotherapy, all with goodish results but not yet perfection. I live in  hope.



Timeless Land With Hat  (2008)

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