Archive for October 23rd, 2011

Ideas Man

I‘ve always been deeply envious of people whose job it is to think for a living. It’s certainly an appealing remit, though of course, something that might manifest in various ways in different fields and industries, particularly where new branding and marketing concepts are required.

I was never quite satisfied, however, with the idea of working in a particular industry, such as advertising. Instead I imagined myself as something of a general ideas guru; someone whom anyone could consult about absolutely anything; be it a slogan for a new product, the name of a character or device, a sound-bite for a movie, the caption for a picture, the name of a novel or film, or, indeed, the name of a band. I saw myself sitting in a futuristic office, swinging from a suspended, white-cushioned clear-perspex globe, dressed entirely in white, drinking cold milk and throwing out immeasurably valuable suggestions to enthralled, fawning attendees.

“Guru,” they would say, a little breathless with awe, “can you help us? We need a really catchy title for our new album, but we can’t come up with anything.”

I would sip my milk, take a long pull on my hookah then, rolling my eyes like the priestesses of the Delphic Oracle, offer up my immeasurably valuable and ultimately best-selling suggestions.

Whilst none of the above ever eventuated, partly through general apathy and directionlessness, I have spent much of my life coming up with ideas that have gone nowhere. Those that have gone somewhere have mostly found their way into novels and short stories, which is a pity as they often seemed best deployed elsewhere. I would like to think I have come up with some good story ideas and created a few cracking titles along the way, but the one area in which I’ve always wanted success and recognition has been in the invention of musical groups. Over the years I’ve spent far too much idle time imagining band and album names, styles and concepts. Perhaps I should have gone into advertising, but, typically, I haven’t ever really worked out how to go into anything in this life, apart from consecutive university degrees, focussing on obscure intellectual pursuits like early medieval Italian history.

The love of band-names and branding began with the first and only band I was ever in: Easter Road Toll. I wish I could lay claim to the name, but that honour goes to my friend and founding member, Owen, who had also suggested the name Glass Asylum. The latter was, at the time, too obscure, intelligent and thus less appealing to the thrash-loving teenager that I was, who was primarily interested in the shock value of punk. The band’s origins lay in our rejection of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations, which we all agreed were inappropriate since it effectively constituted the invasion and theft of the continent from indigenous Australians. We wanted to tap the spirit of nationhood, suck out the poison and spit it in the sewer.

Conceptually, Easter Road Toll was supposed to be a combination of political grandstanding and blatant badmouthing, but being fifteen years of age and hopelessly naïve about politics, plus having a strong inclination to say “fuck” at every given opportunity, the songs turned out to be considerably less intelligent than they might have been. With lines such as “Ronald McDonald is a Nazi war criminal and therefore he deserves to be introduced to a ham-slicer”, it was quite clear that any intellectual pretensions were hopelessly misplaced. Some of the “tunes” such as Fingers don’t grow back (not even when you glue them back on), Zombies are Philosophers, Fuck I hate Car Alarms, Blow up your Relief Teacher, Lick the Lice off my Sweaty Butt-Hairs, Gun-toting Customs Officer, Spon-Com, Lemmings know what they’re doing and the ever popular Schwarzenegger, captured the curious spirit of adolescence with such power that I remained a sympathetic teenager for some time after their composition.

At the first ever jam we were armed only with an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar and Gorilla amp, a cheap Casio keyboard and a pair of drumsticks. We made an unbelievable racket, screaming about this, that and McDonalds, spitting at each other and freely indulging in the use of the word “Fuck.” There was very little method to the madness with the exception of my friend Max’s chunky riff on I Got Spewed on.

After three months there were just three of us left, Mike, Demitri and myself, but our dedication was unwavering. We had a lot of ambition which steadily increased as my good friend Demitri, the lead guitarist, fashioned my hastily scribbled lyrics into vaguely coherent structures. We tried a number of different ring-ins to make up for the sad reality that only Demitri was a competent musician, but organisation was a problem and as us core members had a furious passion for our art, we couldn’t risk depending on the availability of others. Demitri’s parents had been good enough to concrete their backyard and put a garage in, and it was from here that Easter Road Toll offered up its vomit to the residents of Redfern. Mike, our drummer without a drum-kit, would belt away on his carefully selected chairs, Demitri would unleash chords of unparalleled power, and I’d scream myself ugly hoarse. So professional were we that during a recording of Whipper Snipper Massacre, Demitri, who’d taken over the “kit” so his brother could give us some traditional Greek guitar and thus enhance the song with a more multicultural feel, broke one of Mike’s drumsticks and everything went to the dogs. The words “Aaaah! You broke my drumstick, you fuckwit,” and the ensuing scuffle, captured in unholy mono on a portable cassette player, are perhaps the greatest testimony to the achievement that was Easter Road Toll.

Our starting point had been cum-driven incongruity, and though it took a rather lengthy ejaculation that got Mike a drum-kit, me a decent guitar and amp, nearly wound us up in a recording studio, almost got us a gig, and saw the later addition of a Dostoevskian verse to Zombies are Philosophers to celebrate the seventh anniversary of its composition, the foundations were always going to give way. Phallic music is intrinsically immature, and as I tried harder and harder to take myself seriously, it became a considerable embarrassment.

One of the many problems faced by Easter Road Toll was how quickly we outgrew the music. When I turned seventeen and began to grow my hair long and wear paisley shirts, I lost the desire to shock and longed instead to charm and beguile. This was soon reflected in changing musical tastes and the themes and subjects of my artistic output in school. Inspired by David Bowie and Pink Floyd, I wanted not only to reinvent myself, but also to invent new bands, songs and concepts that suited the more introspective me.

This soon extended to my final-year major work in high school art class. I did a group of five drawings of the different members of a fictional band called Hydraulic Banana. The drawings were based on photographs of myself and friends playing instruments at various jams, heavily stylised to look both rock and roll and, at least somewhat futuristic. Hydraulic Banana were, in effect, inspired by Disaster Area, the fictional “plutonium” rock band from the Gagrakacka mind-zones, as featured in Douglas Adams’ Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Indeed, my principal inspiration for the sound of Hydraulic Banana came from the very brief snippet of music in the BBC television series of Hitch-hikers’ Guide, which is just audible in the background when Disaster Area’s Guide-book entry is voiced. I never actually wrote a song, nor came up with an album title for Hydraulic Banana, which seems odd in retrospect as I spent so long imaging how they might look and sound.

It was around the same time, during that wondrous final year of high-school, with all its house-parties and acid trips, that my friends Simon and Viveka invented the band Onions 11 &  12. The name was based on the relatively unscientific theory that any given bag of onions contained roughly ten onions, and the subsequent, and perfectly natural concern for the fate of onions eleven and twelve. Of course, one might simply say that they wound up as onions 1 & 2 in the next bag of onions, but this was not a time for simple deductive logic. Onions 11 & 12 were essentially an industrial band, heavily influenced by the sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten, with a dash of Nurse with Wound thrown in. Rocket Morton, anyone?

Immediately after high school, my friend John and I came up with a fresh band and album concept: Stool Pigeon was a return to the thrash / punk shock music that had so enthralled me at the age of sixteen. John and I spent quite some time not only designing the album cover, but also writing the full list of song titles; none of which were ever actually written. The album, Squeeze out the Meat, was to feature on its cover a black leather-gloved hand squeezing raw meat from a sausage into a bowl of breakfast cereal, capturing the moment that the meat struck the milk, sending skywards a neat dollop. The opening track of the album was called “Push in my stool,” a rather cheap innuendo which is, sadly, the only song title I recall.

A couple of years later, whilst watching Star Wars, I came up with another band name and concept. “Look, Sir, Droids,” a line spoken by a storm-trooper when looking for R2D2 and C3P0 on the planet of Tatooine, had the added advantage of being abbreviated to L.S.D. Look, Sir, Droids was to be an unashamedly psychedelic outfit, blending elements of Cream, Captain Beefheart, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and early Pink Floyd, with the then contemporary beats of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Again, my total inability to write music or play an instrument, beyond a few cock-rock guitar pieces, made it rather difficult to take things further. I had always wanted to be the lead-singer of a band, and believe, given the chance, that I might ultimately have written some half-way decent lyrics, yet my appalling singing voice shut the door on this possibility as well.

The last additions to the list of band concepts came to me only recently. We’ve all heard of the animal kingdom; the many and varied beasts who walk the Earth, but who ever mentions its natural corollary – The Vegetable Kingdom? Indeed, the only time I have ever seen this name used was in an inter-title in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film, Nosferatu, in which a professor refers to the Venus Fly Trap as the vampire of the vegetable kingdom. Watching this film on the big screen recently during a German Modernist retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I was struck by the quite magnificent possibilities of this title. I imagine The Vegetable Kingdom to have plenty of scope as a band; positioned precariously somewhere between folk, trip-hop and minimal electronic: the haunting sounds of Beach-House meet the more upbeat tunes of the Baths album Cerulean.

Another band name that only recently occurred to me derives from a line in the Pink Floyd song In the Flesh – “That Space-Cadet Glow.” That Space Cadet Glow would invariably be a prog-rock band; somewhere between The Church and early Radiohead, with a dash of glam to add a touch of harmonious melodrama, of melodious hysteria. The lyrics would be both poetic and poignant, ideally mixing the best elements of the successful concept album with stand-alone songs that lulled, moved and rocked their audience.

There have been a number of other titles and concepts along the way, many of which have been forgotten or lie buried in the depths of my diaries and notebooks. I can only really vouch for them by saying that I find them appealing, without any expectations of these sentiments being shared by others. One of the earliest titles to which I became attached was the incongruous Moscow Gherkin on the Rocks, a collaborative effort between myself, my brother and his friend Kieran, coined late one giggling teenage night in the kitchen of our old house. I have since appropriated the name as the title of an unwritten, fictional novel, but still dream of applying it elsewhere.

I still hope one day to find myself swinging from that Perspex globe, but until then, will have to make do with more pipe dreams and another blog entry…

ps. Should anyone wish to run with the abovementioned concepts and titles, be my guest, so long as appropriate accreditation is given : )

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