Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Books that changed me

I love to gaze emptily at my bookshelf and just skim the book titles. I've spent many a happy hour standing there, occasionally pulling one book out or the other, opening it at a random page, reading a few lines and smiling in that warm and secure knowledge of having rediscovered an old friend.

The Little Witch (Die kleine Hexe) by Otfried Preussler:
This is the first book I read when I was five years old. Here it was: The magic of words and the astounding miracle that a whole world is just waiting for you when you open a book. I was hooked.

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse:
The knowledge of self was a recurring theme in Hesse's work. And isn't intense self-examination at the core of trying to become an adult? Hesse wrote about finding yourself, being true to who you really are and about claiming your individuality against the odds and against society. So when I discovered these books at the age of about fourteen, they very much suited the angsty, confused and quietly rebellious teenager that I was.

The Age of Reason (L’âge de raison) by Jean-Paul Sartre:
I shared an apartment in Munich with a bunch of crazy, noisy and partying art students. I had just returned from a year of backpacking through Australia and Asia, had broken up with my boyfriend and was at that delicious and heady stage of absolute freedom without any constraints. And - voilà - at this pivotal moment Sartre stepped into my life and talked about just this: You alone are responsible for your own fate, you choose your destiny. There is no helpless surrendering to a divine fate that makes the decisions for you. The purpose of life? You create your own meaning in life (or a lack thereof) yourself.

The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) by Thomas Mann:
With this book I come full circle: Here again is the vast, sheer endless landscape of knowledge that just waits to be discovered. The language is full of beauty, rhythm and musicality, and one can dreamily read whole passages without quite understanding what Mann is actually talking about. The characters in the book reflect on time, politics and sociological issues. Reading the novel just makes me feel so damn clever and eloquent; a state I have tried to capture and maintain ever since.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Jezabels at the Hordern Pavilion, 9 June 2012

You know what I love about concerts? Once you have listened to a band live, nobody can take it away from you. It is stored in your acoustic memory. And every time you listen to their music - at home, in the car or in the supermarket (if that's the kind of music you are into) - you can tap into that memory and add layers, visual details and so much emotion to the songs that it will change the way you experience them forever.

I go and see the Jezabels by myself, which is an interesting experience in itself. Before I had children, in that distant past I remember vaguely, I used to have these solitary outings quite regularly. And it actually feels nice getting into the car, putting on the Jezabels, singing along and driving into the night.

After the support acts, Lights and Snakadaktal (how's that for a band name?), there is a long break where I have time to study the audience around me. The first thing that strikes me is how young they are and then that almost everyone is clutching an iPhone and is either typing frantically or just gazing at it. I wonder if this is the modern equivalent of the archaic and almost universally outlawed ritual of holding a cigarette; something that occupies your hands and makes you look busy.

The lights are finally dimmed, and the Jezabels make an impressive entrance preceded by an ominous guitar riff and a strong bassline that makes my skin tingle. They launch into Endless summer, one of the more upbeat songs of their album Prisoner. Singer Hayley Mary is an intense stage presence, with raven hair that hides her face and a very tight, catwoman-style black outfit. Next is Easy to Love and Long Highway, songs that both show off the singer's strong voice that ranges from low and smoky to high-pitched wailing.

Mid-concert Mary gives an endearing little talk about how she is probably supposed to say something now but that she is actually quite nervous. She says that they are living a crazy dream and thanks us for sharing it with her. That sends the crowd into another frenzy of shouted We love you's and Oh my God's. The girl next to me exclaims several times during the concert how this is, like totally, her song.

The Jezabels are one of the rare bands that sound life even better, as their songs are perfectly suited for the drama of smoke wafting off the stage and an amazing lightshow. Their sound is dark, moody and quite theatrical, all the things I like in music. Maybe I'm not that old after all...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Vivid festival 2012

Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas that's in town for the fourth time. Didn't I say that in this blog I want to share what recently got me excited and delighted? Well, the following definitely qualifies:

The Customs House in blue...

...and again multicoloured. Kiss!

Light pompoms that looked like exploding fireworks...

...the Museum of Contemporary Art...

...and the astounding projections on the Opera House. This photo is from the official website, because mine just didn't do justice to the amazing concept.

Oh, the excitement!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Deep Sea Arcade at The Standard, 2 June 2012

Finding The Standard in Surry Hills proves to be a challenge. We walk up and down Bourke Street a couple of times looking for it, only stopping for a delicious kingfish carpaccio at My Zakaya and again for cheese and dessert wine at Le Pelican.

Thus fortified, we finally venture into The Standard (it's just off Taylor Square, for the record) in time for the last few songs of support act The Cairos from Brisbane. They are a talented bunch and their song Shame really makes you want to shout along, but, seriously, what is it with rock musicians and their hairdos? Especially the bass player sports a ridiculous outgrown mullet and keeps blowing his fringe out of his eyes. Very distracting.

Enter the members of Deep Sea Arcade and their singer's own version of a Beatles bowl cut. Nic McKenzie is either very stoned or channeling Jim Morrison (or both) as he prowls the stage with a lazy smile playing around his lips and his eyes half closed.

The retro vibe is supported by the '60s sci-fi and French Nouvelle Vague movies played on folded screens in the background. But the frontman's voice sounds surprisingly fresh and clear as he belts out the first song of the concert, Seen no Right.

McKenzie dedicates his next song Girls to a couple of ladies in the audience. He helpfully points them out one by one (sadly, I'm not included). The influence of The Doors is unmistakable in The Devil Won't Take You, and it is the song that made me discover the band on radio. On hearing the first tunes of the upbeat Steam, everyone in the audience starts cheering and singing along. No wonder it is currently one of my four-year old daughter's favourite songs.

The album's musical influence varies from '60s surf pop and the Madchester scene to '90s beat and The Smiths (which is one of my all-time favourite bands, incidentally). This is psychedelic indie pop at its best with catchy tunes and great, layered arrangements. It's joyful and original, and I'm already looking forward to hearing what they will come up with next.