Archive for the ‘celebrity musings’ Category

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

December 28, 2016

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

Well, it was a year wasn’t it? A catalogue of death and damnation and one wonders, given we still have a few days to go, what else might befall the planet?

Many years are much the same as others, and pool and blur into an indistinct hue once the moment has passed. Some years we remember: those where we succeeded; where lives started; where we met important people; where we traveled; changed jobs, and yes, lost loved ones.

2016 could be called our global annus horribilis, just like the good old queen had a few years ago, when amongst other things Windsor Castle managed to go up in flames. 2016 has seen the passing of many of the greats of the entertainment world – we kicked off in January with the death of David Bowie, followed swiftly by Alan Rickman and the floodgates whooshed open. I am not about to list the plethora of passings – it is too many to mention. Some celebrity deaths bit harder than others and in our celebrity saturated world it became impossible to keep up with the tributes and the ceaseless march to immortality. Once rock n rollers died young or faded into obscurity, this year they died in greater numbers than before and not the young and not from celebrity excess. No, we lost them to cancer, and illness and oddness (Prince, what actually happened there?) and to a more limited extent old age – Leonard Cohen was in his 80’s.

There must be something in the air, some cosmic disturbance of the energy surrounding the planet, something that has shifted us off orbit and decreed this a year of death, disaster, and disturbing changes.

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Has this been a particularly savage year or is it just a symptom of age: of the age of the departing celebrities, our own ages and of our modern age of instant information? Once the spread of such news would have taken longer. But we knew within minutes of the public announcements that our beloved stars were gone. George Michael died on Christmas Day – we knew about it Christmas night. I was just getting used to Rick Parfitt (Status Quo – the morning music of my youth thanks to my brother, blasting it through the house as he ate his cornflakes, toast and Vegemite) being gone when there was George Michael, one of the iconic music figures of the 80s & 90s, gone as well. And, as I write, Carrie Fisher has died too.

Some deaths will effect some more than others. Yes, there was so much about Bowie, it was hard to ignore and yesterday BBC Radio2 was devoted to George Michael with a bit of Status Quo thrown in. Some of these artists had a massive impact, their songs marked people’s lives; they meant something beyond just great music and amazing performances. Celebrities matter these days and ones that were around for key moments in our lives are mourned like friends, are missed like friends. So, for some it has been like being in the ring with Muhammed Ali, whom we also lost this year, or the like – going the twelve rounds, getting knocked down, getting up only to be knocked down by the next death blow.

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Celebrity deaths are traumatic things but the increasing toxicity of the media is perhaps far more to worry about this year. Several brutal and vicious elections were contested. And to continue with the boxing analogy, the gloves were well and truly off. The EU referendum in the UK was vile and ugly. It marked a low point in an area of life where we have come to expect gutter like behaviour: politics. As you well know I am no fan of Michael Gove, and everything I loathed about him was on display; arrogance, lies, contempt for all and sundry, no care for ordinary people, only ever about his own agenda. Never mind that both sides ignored the consequences of a campaign run on sound-bites and misinformation, never mind that a politician was murdered and that hate crimes and racism has spiked since Brexit, all that seemed to matter for Gove, Boris, Farage, Cameron and Osbourne was their opinions, their agenda, their egos; no, nothing really concrete or honest about what was going to happen next. I guess the best thing was that many political careers were wrecked in this democratic farce but what are we left with in this brave new world of looming UK independence and the lurch to the ultra-conservative right?

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Across the pond the unthinkable happened and an ‘unelectable’, sexist, racist, hatred spewing geriatric was elected. How did the world get Donald Trump as president of the most powerful nation on earth? Would Hilary have been better? Who knows … But at least she had some experience and has spent her life in public service. The Donald seems only to have spent his life in service to himself. And why did so many people who were not his natural constituents vote for him?

No, I would not have voted for him, just as I did not vote for Brexit but the fact that so many did and effectively voted against their own self interests (you too, Australia) does make me wonder about democracy and the blatant lack of consequences for those elected on ridiculous promises they have no intention of keeping.

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Regardless of your feelings about Brexit or Trump, or about who deserves to win, what is most reprehensible about both of these elections has been the unprecedented level of vitriol, misinformation, false news and outright lies. But no-one seems to really care. Hey ho, another politician has lied. More tax breaks for the rich, more pain and restriction for the poor and less able, in the US, UK and Australia too. Do people get the government they deserve when they are so deliberately misinformed about what is happening and what will happen when the election is over? Do ordinary people really deserve this level of toxic contempt from those who govern us?

And let us not ignore the media in this – the legit media – whoever they are these days and the alternative media, who may or may not be giving a thoughtful alternative to the gate-keeper news of the big papers and big networks. Where does this level of bullshit come from? Yes, the various media and tech barons across the world. Do you really think Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg aren’t influencing the masses, making normal folk vote the way they want? Mr Face-book himself needs to take a long hard look at the amount of acerbic vitriol that was parading as news on his platform, his octopus like platform with tentacles across the world poking into the impressionable minds of all sorts of unwary, unwise people. Does he think Face-Book did not influence the US election, does he really think his locks and bars stop the shit getting through? As to Murdoch, why is such an odious old man allowed such power, enabled by slews of policy making wonks to do his bidding?

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How do you tell real news from fake news? How do you tell what is a toxic real story and a toxic made up story? Why are we buying into the slanging matches that are the comments on various articles, where we seem to prefer to ignore the argument and go straight for the personal attack? If people disagree with our view then clearly they are stupid, and should die or be raped, etc. Yes, these are the sorts of comments that are now common-place. There is no space for disagreement, you are either with me or you are the enemy. And so we scurry to safe places, behave like snow-flakes, ignore unpalatable truths and live in an ever increasingly dangerous world.

Perhaps this year’s gaggle of dead celebrities have seen too clearly how the world is turning to the dark side and have got off?

It’s been a shocker of a year. Not one to be repeated, but I fear things will not suddenly be better in 2017. Perhaps the death rate amongst the talented and exalted may slow, but the toxic state of the planet is not going to suddenly turn and shift to the light, move back to some sort of balance.

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Your job, dear reader, is to learn from this horror show of a year. Hold your loved ones close. See your old bands and favourite musos before they go. Do your best to behave with honour and decency. Do not get pulled into the vortex of bile and slander, on-line or in life. Teach your children well, lead them to truth, let them discern the lies, enable them to stand up for themselves and what is right without resorting to violence and verbal assault. In the old Aussie Rules parlance, let’s play the ball and not the man. (Images taken from Private Collection)

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Guilty pleasures: Top Gear

January 30, 2016

I have a confession: I love Top Gear. I know I shouldn’t, I know they’re reconstructed dinosaurs, who manage to offend all and sundry, and front such an unapologetically blokes’ show but I love it. I do. Let me count the ways.

I have come to the show late – so late it no longer exists in the Clarkson-Hammond-May format on the BBC. But, as you will know, that means nothing in the new era of TV where shows are endlessly repeated and on some days they run end on end on end. So Christmas was a boon period for anyone wanting to watch Top Gear for hours.

Top Gear, is as we all know, about cars. And I love cars. Have done ever since my second car, a 2.5 PI Triumph that caused all sorts of woes and troubles and expense but could drag off a motor bike at the lights. Then there were the Jags. Yes, dear reader, 3 of them. I am Three-Jag-Jac. The blue V8 saloon was the most beautiful car in the world but my favourite was the maroon V12 5.3 XJS. Which had more traumatic days than happy days, who cost a fortune but went like a rocket and dragged off the odd policeman. It also only started for me and even my mechanic was awestruck by the engine, if nothing else about the car.

Jag Front close up

So, it’s easy to see why I would appreciate a show that worships cars, their beauty, their style and doesn’t just give me a ‘guide to’ made mainly to soothe the manufacturers or sponsors. I’ll never own 95% of the cars on the show but I like to watch them being driven hard in differing conditions and I like that the boys are honest in their appraisals. Personal and quirky but honest and that actually matters these days.

The dynamic between Clarkson, Hammond and May is magic and it is why the show works and it is why Hammond and May jumped ship after Clarkson was fired. Okay, Jeremy should not have punched the producer, he should not have caused so much offence and so many complaints but surely that was/is part of the attraction of the show. It is the biggest money earner for the BBC, licensed all over the world. It’s impossible to think that Chris Evans can manage to make it work. But the world is a funny place.

The three men play off each other, tease other, bait each other, but the banter is what we love. They are horrid to each other, they fall out during their challenges and have a plethora of not-so-nice names for each other. James is Captain Slow, Richard is the Hamster and the Rural Simpleton/Idiot, Jeremy is the gorilla, the dinosaur and Jennifer. Hammond and Clarkson are Pinky and Perky. They revel in this and we love it too. The show works because they know each other inside out, have different knowledge banks, different approaches to motoring and somehow, just somehow they work together brilliantly.

Top Gear

I love the challenges. They are ridiculous and can’t possibly pass Health and Safety regulations. How on earth was Hammond allowed to be winched up the side of a damn in an old Land Rover? My favourite was the polar challenge. Clarkson and May living the life of Riley in the Toyota Ute (for those of us in Oz) with their meals of wine and foie gras while Hammond was on the dog sled and freezing in his tent. The differences are extreme but fun and of course Jeremy drove too fast and nearly killed the car and James nearly killed him too. I love that they genuinely fall out. But they forgive too.

So, they are offensive. Jeremy regularly says things he shouldn’t. I’m not sure that that’s such a bad thing. Increasingly we are being curtailed by the speak-police, the PC Nazis gone mad. Say something someone disagrees with on any sort of media and you will be trolled. Speak out about an issue and you will be vilified in the media, possibly receive death threats, be banned from speaking at universities (Germaine). So, in many ways, Top Gear is refreshingly unreconstructed in these terms and it is a shame there will be no more of this freedom of speech on free TV.

I have to mention the cinematography too. This is an amazingly shot show. You see the cars from every conceivable angle, but the close ups and angles and all of it actually are works of art. The camera guys, who are regularly mocked for their inability to shoot any wild animal effectively, are masters of their craft and clearly love cars as much as the hosts. If for no other reason you should watch for how beautifully filmed this show is.

But the main reason I love Top Gear is because these guys are literate, verbal acrobats, not always mangling a metaphor but speaking lovingly about the cars, about what they do. I love Jeremy most for this. I could listen to him for hours, with his poetic language, his historical and literary references, his inspired metaphors. These are not ignorant idiots on our screens, these are quite clever men, doing what they love, having the time of their lives. Perhaps that’s what the world-wide audience of men and women love.

Mum and Car

Finally in the spirit of the show, where we decide which of these three cars are the best, we need to decide which of these three presenters are the best. Or, to take it down a level, which one would you sleep with? Many years ago when I was the only female member of senior staff I would, during the more boring moments, consider each of my colleagues and wonder what they might be like in the sack.

Who would you choose? Jeremy, lanky, expanding gut, thinning on top, but with words to woo and long artistic fingers: James, with his gentle smile and kind eyes, his tousled mop and gentlemanly ways: or Richard, with his impish smile, his sparkling eyes, his fit body, his joy in what he does, his vigour and cheerful disposition? (Top Gear picture from the Guardian, other pictures from private collection).

Celebrity Death: David Bowie, still a hero

January 16, 2016

I was gutted to hear of the death of David Bowie. I loved him growing up. On my wall was a decent sized poster of him in his Aladdin Sane regalia, alongside equally large pictures of Queen, plus a few of Mark Spitz – even then, eclectic heroes. Like many others I’ve loved Bowie all of my life – loved him before others in my crowd knew who he was, so he was special to me, almost like he was mine. His songs form the backing track to my life, from buying records, (vinyl!) to play in the solitude of my room and escape to his strange and wonderful worlds, to a computer full of tunes from up-loaded CDs and Youtube clips.

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Bowie, along with the likes of Freddie Mercury, Roxy Music and many other musicians in the 1970s changed the way we dressed, the way we behaved, the way we described and considered ourselves. Men wore make-up and satin and velvet and looked more beautiful than women. Women became wild animals, sinuous and strong – remember Jerry Hall in various Roxy Music video clips? Sexuality became fluid and free and fun. And the music was stunning – it became operatic (Bohemian Rhapsody), transformative, quirky, mesmerising (Avalon) – all things were possible. Even Punk would not have been possible without Bowie et al to rage against, appearing like a puss-filled pimple on the backside of a pierced and tattooed youth with outrageous hair.

Punk faded into history but Bowie survived, he changed and mutated. He created new characters and somewhere in there he became himself, stopped being Ziggy, Aladdin, the Thin White Duke and became finally but not absolutely human. Some comments are noting that he was never really one of us anyway and has finally gone home to the stars – he was our Starman, all those years ago when we only had Five Years, experiencing all our Changes, about the time he was The Man who Sold the World.

Consistent creative people, like Bowie, who push barriers, define moments, change them and keep on growing, are heroes. He struggled to break through, he was not an over-night success, certainly not spawned from the monstrous talent shows that infest our television channels. Remember the Laughing Gnome – how could that lead us to Space Oddity? But it did and then we inhabited all sorts of worlds and experiences through his musical journey. We went with him into film- The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and of course, Labyrinth. My girls, especially my eldest girl is devoted to all things Bowie, because of listening to him all her life and because of that amazing, wonderful ageless film. Like the Princess Bride it is and will always be a classic – great stories, well told, great acting, suitable for children and adults alike.

Bowie was a chameleon, always changing, evolving, suiting his landscape, the ultimate survivor: the greatest performer. Yes he had dark periods, he was promiscuous and drug addled, but why not? Rock n roll is about hedonism and the 1970s with Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and Bowie, et al was all about excess.

In the end his final act was a tour de force: the final album, with the prophetic title: Dark Star and the amazingly beautiful poignant picture taken on his birthday only a few days before he died. The words on Lazarus, his farewell single, ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’… He knew he was going and he went in style, as he had lived his life for so many years. He also died with dignity. Did we know he was ill, did we know he had cancer, was it splashed across the media? No, it was not. No it was kept private, as it was with Alan Rickman.

This is what we learn from David Bowie and Alan Rickman, men who were beyond the cult of celebrity. Both were immensely talented men, both are being mourned on all the social media sites of the planet. They were not really celebrities – vacuous no talent creatures who have infected our souls and screens with their unmitigated crap (shall I mention Angie Bowie’s disgraceful carry on on Celebrity Big Brother- she is the epitome of a sad wannabe – once she was famous by association but that was many-many years ago). Bowie and Rickman were stars, men with talent. Rickman was a fine actor much loved by many of us for his brilliance as the nasty man, the evil one, the cheating husband. Bowie was the consummate artist – writer, musician, singer, actor – performer.

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We will not see his like again. And so the tributes roll on – Brixton had its night of song, Beckenham High Street has its floral tribute outside Zizzi – the former Three Tuns Pub where Bowie first performed. Sydney Festival held a tribute evening. Tributes flow, events are planned but thankfully the funeral will be a private affair. Bowie was not a celebrity – he was a star, he was from the stars and he has gone back.

David Bowie was important to me, as he was to many others, he was a hero for so much more than one day – how could you not love a man who wrote

Under the moonlight

The serious moonlight … from Let’s Dance

Who are Our Heroes Now?

June 13, 2015

Who Are Our Heroes Now?

Recently there’s been a spate of fallen heroes. Sepp Blatter, Alberto Salazar, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods. Notice that they’re all from sport and all tainted by cheating and corruption. Yet these men have been held up as heroes, as role models for others. There are others of course but sport seems to spawn an inordinate amount of cheating fallen heroes. Other areas are as guilty, entertainment has been tainted by the abusive and predatory Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, and politics is not a place we find anyone to admire any more – Joe Hockey, anyone? David Cameron, Tony Abbott?

There are a range of issues with expecting too much from people, with expecting perfection and goodness, with not allowing for human failure, with having heroes. But those mentioned have knowingly and wantonly cheated for their own good, have abused their positions of trust and exultation and in many cases are criminals.

Something in the human psyche needs someone to look up to, to revere, admire and emulate. Apparently Alexander the Great’s hero was Achilles, assassin supreme of myth and legend.

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What makes a hero – or a heroine? What traits do we look for in those we admire? Think about this collection of positive characteristics:

Tenacious – they don’t give up, despite set backs, rejections and disappointments

Self-belief – they know they have something to offer, something worthy about themselves

Gifted – heroes tend to have a gift, a natural talent of some sort – Achilles and Alexander were gifted warriors; Richard Branson is a gifted businessman; Jimmy Page is an extraordinary guitarist/writer; Cate Blanchet is a talented and mesmeric actress; Dawn Fraser was the first woman to swim 100 metres in under a minute; Angela Merckel is a fierce and powerful politician. Heroes go beyond the ordinary, in who they are and what they do.

Dedication – these people work at their gift, they develop and refine it, use it and make themselves the best they can in their field. This is why we admire sports heroes – we know how many hours go into being the best, into winning. We admire skill and talent, we know we can’t do it and how hard it is, so their talent becomes super-human, as does the effort to become that good.

Achievement – true heroes leave their mark. The world knows they have been here – they have done something, not just made money or ripped things apart. Alexander built an empire; Shakespeare left an extraordinary body of work; Columbus went where no man had gone before. Agatha Christie wrote the best collection of crime fiction there is.

Something extra, something special – there is a sort of ‘it’ quality to heroes, something that sets them apart. They aren’t necessarily nice people, driven people often aren’t. They can be selfish and narcissistic, impervious to the needs of others but this single minded determination is admirable. People admire Steve Jobs but it’s clear he wasn’t the nicest person to be around. Elizabeth I was a great queen but mercurial and dangerous to cross. Still, we admire these two for their achievements and their presence on the world stage.

 

Why do we need heroes/heroines?

It seems we need people to look up to, to give us a clue about how to live a better life, be a better person. There’s no harm in hero worship. How many of us had walls plastered with the heroes of our youth – rock stars, film stars, sports stars? We could look at them and dream about being like them. Their benign presence in our bedrooms made us feel less alone in the world, and knowing that many of them had come from humble backgrounds and/or fought their way to the top was useful in the moments when you felt useless and unloved. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mark Spitz helped me through many tumultuous teenage traumas.

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Perhaps the point is that we should be more careful about who we admire, who we elevate to hero status. It is so easy in a celebrity saturated culture to be elevated beyond your talents, beyond your means. Too many such fabricated ‘heroes’ are fools with feet of clay, who should not be on any pedestal or strutting on any stage. (Enough clichés there?) Too easy for us to be duped into admiring what is not worth a second glance.

Look away from vacuous greedy celebrities and corrupt cheating sports stars. They bring nothing of worth to the greater good of mankind. Look to those who achieve, who make a difference, the ordinary heroes all around us; nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians, firemen, policemen. Don’t over-look them when searching for people who do great things every day.

By all means have a hero. But choose wisely. Look to real achievement, to characteristics that are worth admiring: look to the past, look beyond pretty faces and keep well away from sport.

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Remember, too, you can be a hero too – as Mr Bowie said, we can be heroes, if just for one day. Worth a try, I’d think – look to yourself as well as to others. (Images from Google Images & Private Collection).

Rolf Harris: When Celebrities Fail

July 5, 2014

Australia’s PM, Tony Abbot ‘is gutted’. The rest of us are shocked and appalled, but mostly we’re disappointed. How can this happen, how can someone we think we know, whom we’ve known all our lives turn out to be a criminal? How did Rolf Harris fool so many of us for so long?

Yes, he’s not the only one. But sometimes the fall of particular celebrities hits home harder. Jimmy Savile doesn’t mean much to me or most Australians, nor does the jailing of Andy Coulson for the phone hacking. Oscar Pistorius means little to me – I think he’s guilty as sin and hiding behind his celebrity status. But Rolf Harris, one of our iconic Ozzie blokes, a battler done good? Well, yes, that hits home. There is a sense of being personally let down as well as being disgusted by his behaviour, by his abuse of power and the deliberate use of his celebrity status.

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What is it about celebrities when they fall from grace that is so compelling to us? Why do we follow certain stories with a passion?

Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong were kings of their respective worlds. Both excellent sportsmen but more than that, they were such good guys. Lance and his cancer, and his foundation to help others. Tiger and his pristine, guy next door, all round good bloke image. Both were rich trading on their sporting prowess and their carefully crafted public image. We admired them, we looked up to them and we believed the image. We did not know the substance. So, when the substance emerged – well, exploded in Tiger’s case – the world was aghast. Just as with Rolf, we were shocked – it can’t be true. Not Tiger. Lance’s fall from grace took a lot longer, had a much uglier side to it. But when the scale of his cheating finally emerged it was breath-taking – the lengths he had gone to to shut people down, to kill the truth of his life.

Both men had large secrets that they went to elaborate lengths to hide from the public and many around them. They seemed to believe they were above it all, that they were both different and the same. Tiger Woods famously wanted to be left alone like a normal man cheating on his wife. But he wasn’t an ordinary man cheating on his wife. Lance Armstrong didn’t really think he was cheating because everyone else was. It took both celebrities some time to accept that they were in the wrong: that they were cheats and liars.

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Rolf Harris, and many others, traded on his celebrity, lived in a milieu that seems to allow behaviour that is not appropriate. Perhaps it was the times, perhaps it was the company he kept, perhaps he is just a misguided old man who shouldn’t be going to jail…

But the problem with some celebrities is that they hide behind their status, use their status and the power from that status to behave badly. Does something happen to their moral compass when they become famous, or was there something faulty in them in the first place that pushed them to become famous and enabled their faults to have full reign?

We should be in no doubt that while celebrities seem to be like us, they are in fact nothing like us. Their trick is that they seem to be, which encourages us to connect to them, to buy their products, see their movies, follow their lives, which increases their power, status and wealth. But they live in different circles, they do not work as we do, struggle as we do. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t get divorced, she ‘consciously uncouples’.

Fame and wealth make you different to your fans, your followers. It has to, otherwise why would it be so attractive? Being famous is one of those things we can all aspire to. It’s not accident that many of the big names in the world of sport and entertainment came from humble origins and have such big fan-bases – Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Johnny Farnham and Rolf Harris.

Whether they like it or not, their rags to riches stories resonate for us. It means we can too, if we work hard and have enough talent. It’s also why we admire them: we understand their struggle and we appreciate how hard it was for them to climb their stairways to heaven. Thus when they fall we are crushed. Somehow their journey has been our journey. Their successes ours and therefore their failures ours. We know them, that’s the point of being a fan, a follower – we have a special relationship – albeit incredibly one-sided, but as important for some people as their every day relationships.

So, when they let us down, as David Beckham did a few years ago with his affair and Tom Cruise embarrassed us on the couch with Oprah, and now Rolf Harris, we feel personally affronted. We didn’t know them at all.

No, we don’t know them, we know a version of them, the one they want the world to see. What hides beneath none of us really know. We see the product, the manufactured entity; the version sent out into the world, not the one that lives at home. Rolf Harris’ wife and daughter tell a sad tale of a man they hardly saw, didn’t really know, who saved the cheerful daftness for others, not them. He was away from home at key times, didn’t recognise his wife and new baby, was somewhat self absorbed. His letter of contrition to the family of the friend of his daughter is pathetically about himself, not his sorrow for the damage to her or her family.

So, this weekend another celebrity has fallen. Rolf Harris sits in jail, notionally for 5 years and 9 months. His family sit somewhere, broken and shamed. His victims have some justice. He is 84, my father’s age. Should he be in jail for crimes from over twenty years ago? Yes, justice has to happen and be seen to happen – war criminals from WW2 were pursued and jailed in their 80’s many years after their heinous crimes.

Will Rolf Harris be rehabilitated in the public eye, will we forgive him after he’s done his time? Will we do what we normally do with celebrities and forgive them once they’ve been publically humiliated and punished and sought our forgiveness? I have my doubts. Perhaps finally we are sick of celebrities and their extreme behaviour, their lack of contrition, lack of shame for what they have done, only sorry because they have been found out. Perhaps we are tired of their duplicity, being something they very much aren’t.

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So, look to your favourite celebrity. Are you sure they’re all they seem to be? Are Brad and Ange as solid as we think? Are they as nice as we think – like us only infinitely more beautiful and rich, or is there some dark secret waiting to find air, to be exposed… (Images: Rolf Harris, BBC; Tiger Woods, Wikipedia; Brad & Ange, Guardian)

*For a more in depth consideration of the Rolf Harris story read this article by Peter Conrad from The Monthly – ttps://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2014/july/1404178677/peter-conrad/inside-strange-world-rolf-harris

Celebrity Death: are we all vultures?

April 12, 2014

People die every day. And mostly we don’t think about that, only when it directly affects us because it is a loved one. We pause for the victims of natural disasters, and political up-risings but we don’t tend to pour over the bones of those innocents the way we do the famous and dead. The death of famous people has famously stopped nations – you know: I remember where I was when JFK was shot, I remember the day Lennon died. But in our increasingly celebritised world we know the moment another is gone, usually at their own hands, always well before their expiry date.

Several questions arise: do we need to know about the untimely demise of Peaches Geldof and L’Wren Scott? Do we need to know the why and the how? (And we were told the how of L’Wren Scott) Do we need to see the suffering and pain of the ones left behind? Because let us be in no doubt both Bob Geldof and Mick Jagger are in extreme pain. Both men made eloquent, heart felt and loving comments in the wake of their loss. The Stones acted as brothers and their Oz tour was cancelled.

What is it about the way we live that people feel free now to not just offer sympathy and sadness about the recent losses from celeb-land but almost obligated to vent their spleens with vile outpourings of bile?

For all that Peaches Geldof and her family, and L’Wren Scott and Mick Jagger live a life in the public eye, we don’t know them. We have some idea about them as projected onto our screens and in our magazines, but we only have a version of them, a manufactured version of them that suits their and the media’s purposes. We, the audience, the fan, only get a highly mediated version of these people. We never, well hardly ever, meet them. We only know them in a very specific and artificial way.

So why might we feel as sad for Bob and Mick as we would for others we know who lose loved ones in tragic circumstances?

For me it’s simple: Bob Geldof is one of my heroes. I loved the Boomtown Rats when I was at uni and have a best of on my iTunes, often running through the set, so much more than I Don’t Like Mondays. Like a lot of other people I remember Band Aid and Live Aid and where I was when that concert happened. I’ve always appreciated his off-beat ways, his intensity, his devotion to causes and his adoration of Paula Yates and his oddly named girls. He is a man much blighted by tragedy and it seems to me that to be anything other than heart-broken for him at this time is to be inhuman.

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When he was a child his mother went to bed one night and never got up again. He was brought up by sisters and aunts and suffered through the Irish Catholic Education system. We know what happened to him and Paula, how they were blissfully eccentrically happy but then she fell insanely in love with Michael Hutchence, left Bob, had Tiger-Lily, and then self destructed not longer after Michael Hutchence had, leaving Tiger-Lily alone in the world, the centre of a very ugly custody case.

Whatever you may think of Peaches Geldof, her being in the papers for all the wrong reasons, her desperate need for attention, her wildness and foolishness, there is no reason to wish her ill, then or now. She was clearly a deeply unhappy lost soul. To lose your mother young (as too many in the Geldof clan now have) is one of the worst things to happen. Paula Yates died on the birthday of her third daughter, Pixie, on September 17, 2000. She was forty and seemingly had much to live for but clearly troubled too. A life in the spot-light, often sniped at and reviled by the media she, overdosed on heroin. Was it accidental? You never know these things, do you?

Bob&Paula

To me, there is little doubt that Peaches was a deeply troubled soul. She had tried all sorts of things to make sense of her life and seemed to be settled and safe. But from her comments, over time and just before she died, it seems Paula was ever present in her life: a mystery that Peaches couldn’t sort through in a way for her to make sense of it. Why would your mother leave you if she didn’t have to? Weren’t you enough for her, wasn’t your love and need of her enough to keep her here? Has Peaches spent most of her life trying to feel okay about herself in the absence of a loving mother, despite a clearly loving father? But how ironically tragic is it that she has doomed her boys to her own feelings of abandonment all their lives. It is hard to believe she was in a hopelessly dark place. This is a girl who seems surrounded by love – father, sisters, husband, sons. But what do any of us ever know about the heart and mind of another?

So, from this unutterable sadness, what can we learn?

We should keep our own loved ones close, watch the signs that things may not be quite as well as they seem to be.

We should respect the grief of others, be they ordinary mortals like the rest of us, or the famous.

We should not presume to know anyone, we should keep our judgments to ourselves.

We should remember always and forever that being famous does not inure you against pain and suffering and being mortal. That being famous is a twin edged sword that both elevates and decimates.

Rest in peace, Peaches. Stay strong Bob. (Images courtesy  News BBC: Bob & Paula; cover of Is That It?)

Doctor Who is a Sagittarian Rabbit – Who’d Have Know That…

November 23, 2013

Today is the birthday of the great and wonderful and utterly unique Doctor Who, who took to the airwaves this day in 1963. For all of those interested this makes the Doctor a Chinese Rabbit and a Western Sagittarius. An interesting combination and one you, no doubt, had hitherto not considered.

doctors

It is interesting that 23 November is just inside Sagittarius, which is a wholly good thing, given the cheerful and optimistic view that Sagittarians bring to matters, to wit, the Doctor always believes there are solutions and that he will win. And he’s right. The Sagittarius cheerfulness and joviality can be a bit annoying at times. Also consider that this is the sign that loves travel. Well is this not one of THE defining characteristics of the Doctor – have Tardis, will travel?

Imagine if he had been a brooding Scorpio, a secretive, but sexy (children’s TV?) dangerous Galifrean? Perhaps Tom Baker or David Tennant could have pulled that off, but the others? True the Doctor is wearying for his many companions, his energy and constant movement is more akin to Sagittarius than Scorpio, as is his ability to see the best in all, even his mates and make them feel as if they’re missing out if they’re not along for the ride. Sagittarians are known for good times, for shooting at the stars but being firmly rooted in reality, even if that is the relative unique reality of being a Time Lord.

tom baker

And what of being a Chinese Rabbit? That doesn’t sound too auspicious does it, but consider who else is a 1963 Water Rabbit: Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, George Michael, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Jordan. Not too shabby, eh? Handsome and most talented men, all of them: if not a bit quirky and utterly unto themselves. Is the Doctor not like this – handsome in some lights, most definitely quirky and utterly himself?

The Rabbit is clear sighted and quickly spots dishonesty in others. They work very hard, but you don’t always see it. How often do we see the Doctor apparently goofing off, only to reveal that he has actually been doing/spying/noticing all manner of things? And where did the Sonic Screw Driver come from? His fiddling and tinkering and there in the midst of play was the best little, most unassuming weapon in the universe.

tennant

Rabbits can be unsentimental and quite tough when it comes down to business – well the Doctor has vanquished many of his enemies across time and space, repeatedly. How many Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and Weeping Angels are there in the universe? Not to mention an assortment of other nasties including Davros, who just won’t die, or the Master, who really was quite deliciously evil, most especially when he was John Simm. Yes, indeed Doctor Who was banned in our house because of these horrors when my mother found my pathetic, useless woos of a brother cowering behind the couch. I missed the Cybermen quite seriously there for a while.

the master

Rabbits also like long relationships and make good partners. Well, we know the devotion the Doctor has shown to his companions over the years – Sarah Jane, Jamie, the Brigadier, Leila, Romana, Rose, Amy, and of course K9. And the heartbreak when some of those affairs have come to an end. It must be tough having two hearts and living forever, even in different bodies.

And today, the Doctor is 50. That’s quite an achievement. I’ve been with him most of the way and remain true and am ecstatic to discover after all this time that he, like me is a Sagittarian – it only deepens the bond. I confess my favourite remains Tom Baker, but closely followed by David Tennant, Peter Davidson (who is forever Tristan from All Creatures Great and Small) and Patrick Troughton.

What will the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi bring as a 55 year oldie, who is an Aries Dog, who is amazingly the same age as the original Doctor, William Hartnell. Oh, how 55 has changed these 50 years. How will Capaldi’s astrological mix merge with the Doctor’s? We can but hold our breath and wait and see. Ah, anticipation…

capaldi

Happy birthday Doctor Who, may you have very many more. (Doctor images courtesy Google Images)

Why I love Jonathan Creek

October 5, 2013

or What we can learn from Jonathan Creek & other detective TV shows about Thinking, Problem Solving and Working Together

I love Jonathan Creek, moreso when Caroline Quentin was Alan Davies’ original side-kick, but the joy of the show remains years after it hit our screens as I re-watch my box-set. The off-beat crimes, the gothic horror, the mansions, the people who deserve something utterly nasty to happen to them and most of all, the quirky lateral way Jonathan the nerdy-grumpy-rumpledly-sexy-hero solves them all. Yes, the episodes are somewhat formulaic and the dialogue is often repeated and some days one crime/mystery does seems to blur into the next but what’s pricked my interest this time around is the way Jonathan solves the puzzles. The way we know and experience his thinking through the problems. Oh and Maddy (Caroline and then Julia Swahala and most recently Sheridan Smith) who as the not-as-insightful-or-clever partner, who actually does quite a bit to help solve the mysteries.

JC5

So Jonathan Creek is not a detective, nor is it a detective show, rather it is a problem solving show and to that end quite nicely relevant to good teaching. Quite often JC has to actually define the problem clearly before he can get started. He examines the scene intensely and often several times over, always seeing things that others, even the most seasoned police, do not. Maddy et al help him by making seemingly innocuous or sometimes dumb comments that manage to trigger something in Jonathan’s mind, somewhere in his sub consciousness that he can’t quite access just yet. He indulges in a bit of research, he worries the problem, making notes and calculations as need be but he also lets the problem drift away to somewhere in the back of his brain where the problem does what it needs to do and the solution pops up. Jonathan does not solve problems quickly but he solves them comprehensively and definitely leaving not one bit of the equation left out as he brings it all together, tying up all the loose threads at the end in a Tom Barnaby like summation at the conclusion of the episode.

A couple of things to note. He doesn’t do this alone. He asks for help, searches out clues, gets things a bit wrong, works closely with Maddy who has her own set of unique skills that contribute to the end result, just not perhaps as she might have intended. She asks stupid questions and isn’t afraid to indulge in outlandish speculations. They discuss their progress, review the situation, check their facts. Jonathan perseveres until the solution is found. He freely admits to being puzzled and tells us frequently that something has popped up, a light has gone on, there’s an echo of something. He tells us how he is thinking, how his brain is processing the problem. He is letting us into the elusive, intuitive part of his brain, the lateral part that supposedly is where he solves the mysteries of the world.

JC4

So, as learners and teachers what did you notice about what JC does?

1. Defines the problem – he makes sure he understands what the issue//task is

2. He makes tentative explorations – he makes notes, doodles, a bit of research, perhaps a plan of attack (usually that’s Maddy’s domain)

3. He’s collaborative – he works with others, letting their skills enhance his skills, or building on what others know

4. Asks stupid questions – Okay JC doesn’t do that but Maddy does and it is essential in getting to the heart of the problem and someone has to ask…

5. He reviews his progress, checks his information, consults with Maddy – are we clear, are we going in the right direction, and makes adjustments accordingly

6a. He thinks – more importantly he isn’t afraid to take the time to think, to allow the problem to find its shape(s), to let the connections come of their own accord

6b. He is intuitive – goes with how he thinks, how he feels – sometimes he doesn’t know how he knows or when he will know it, just that it will come

7. He does not share his findings until he is sure, until everything checks out

8. He takes his time to get it right – he is no rush, he wants it to be correct before he presents a neatly tied up package to the bewildered and confused

JC1

There’s much to be taken from this approach to problem solving or completing a task. To take it one step further into the darkened corners of Education, Jonathan knows his learning style – he knows how he solves problems and he feels no compunction to do other than he does.

Teachers planning lessons could look to JC and other detective shows, Midsomer Murders and New Tricks come to mind. Tom Barnaby is methodical but sharp: he sees things no-one else does and makes wonderful connections. Quite often his suspects under-estimate him in his plodding naïve way, but he is vastly experienced and always gets his killer. The New Tricks team is an odd assortment of ex-coppers but the secret is that they all have a set of unique skills that helps the team solve the crime. They are also committed to the job and justice.

JC3

What sort of detective-teacher are you? What sort of detectives-students do you have? Do you allow them time to do all that Jonathan Creek does? Do you appreciate the different strengths in the class, as per the New Tricks team? Are you astute and observant like Tom Barnaby, knowing all that’s going on in your class so that you end up with killer units of work that intrigue your students?

If you take only one thing from this blog take the matter of thinking – that thinking takes time, that it occurs in many different ways – that you cannot always see it and you cannot sensibly allocate a set amount of time for it as it must occur through and because of what the students are doing. Learning comes in many shapes, like TV detective shows and thinking comes in more shapes than that. What can you learn about learning from other TV detectives?  (Images courtesy Google Images)

Why I Won’t Be Seeing Luhrmann’s Gatsby

May 18, 2013

The reviews are coming in thick and fast and the response is mixed but Baz Luhrmann’s latest epic, his re-imagining of The Great Gatsby is hauling in the loot and that’s what matters. It may have cost $125 million but it’s first weekend made $51 Million, so that’s not a rubbish start and and judging by the amount of reaction it will only enhance Luhrmann’s reputation as one of our more eccentric and inspired movie makers of out time. Besides the critics have always been divided about films of Gatsby and about Luhrmann, so why the surprise about the range of response now.

 GG new

Australians will remember the delightful Strictly Ballroom that launched his career. Then there was the wonderfully extravagant Moulin Rouge and the utterly inspired Romeo and Juliet, with DiCaprio at his youthful exuberant best. Perhaps Australia, Luhrmann’s take on the Aussie classic, Capricornia, was a bit much for some. Certainly his Darwin (my beloved home for many years) bore no resemblance to my Darwin. But in the end it was quite an enjoyable film (thank you, Hugh Jackman), if a bit long.

Now, after all the hype, the on-going delays and expectations, we have The Great Gatsby. It seems, like Romeo and Juliet, it is Luhrmann’s version of the story, not exactly faithful to the original. This shouldn’t matter really: the film of the novel/story/play does not have to be a faithful representation. (But you must tell the students otherwise they will refer to the film and not the book – Of Mice and Men is classic in this department.)

The Great Gatsby is one of the classic texts taught across the world to senior English students, so a new version will sit on the top of English teachers’ lists of films to see and DVD’s to buy. Just as he did with Romeo and Juliet, a thousand classrooms across the world are saved from out-dated 70s film versions of literary classics. So, well done, Baz, that will be helpful. Perhaps you could do something outrageous with Macbeth – that would be good.

But this is the thing – there can be only One. And usually it is the One you saw or read first. So for me, the One is the 1974 version of the film with Robert Redford in that beautiful pink suit, on that verdant green lawn, in that fantasia of a house, yearning for the superficial, luminous Mia Farrow as Daisy. I can’t get past Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, or Tom Waterston as Nick.

RF as GG 

In fact the main reason I won’t be going off to the movies to watch Luhrmann’s latest lavish extravaganza is about the actors. I guess I am showing my age, and being resistant to modernization of one of my favourite novels. In fact, I think it IS my favourite novel. Perhaps that’s why I won’t go too, I don’t want my version – true with Mr Redford as Gatsby – messed around by Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s work.

I don’t want my favourite book bastardised by some lurid remake that renders the book impossible for me to read again for a number of years as all my images and feelings will be obliterated by Luhrmann. The Great Gatsby is defined by a lightness of touch, of writing that is exquisite, that inspires the writer in me. It’s the best put together 50,000 words in the English language. I don’t want Luhrmann’s focus on excess and garishness to over-take that. It was the same years ago with The English Patient, another of my favourite books, also exquisitely written. I could not watch the film until quite some time had elapsed and I could accept the film version alongside the story in my head, such that one version did not destroy the other.

 RF & Mia

Just as Gatsby is Robert Redford, and not Jack Nicholson, who reportedly was considered for the role, bringing out the darker, less romantic side of Jay the bootlegger and man of dubious origins, so DiCaprio is forever Romeo. I can’t watch DiCaprio trying to be Gatsby. I know he is a wonderful actor and I have enjoyed his skills in many other films, but I want him to remain that gorgeous youth, not that gorgeous man. It’s perverse, I’m sure but I want Gatsby to be Redford forever, and not mussed about by being DiCaprio.

 Leo as Romeo

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I saw the 1974 film with someone I loved immensely, in all the idiocy of teenage passion, and when I watch Redford and Farrow I remember how I felt all those years ago. And you know, I don’t want to have that taken away from me. (Images are film stills taken from Google Images)

Australian Crawl – still amazing

March 3, 2013

In our hearts and minds there’s a time we return to when we feel a bit low, or happy too. In my mind I return to the times when all I listened to was Australian Crawl as well as a bit of Dragon and a fair bit of Cold Chisel. I think I have recounted the singing of Cold Chisel songs with my friend Ross, who looked like Richard Gere when I looked like Better Midler in the Tas Uni ref in between lectures. Good times, as my boy would say.

I loved Aussie Crawl from the moment they appeared on Countdown with the divine James Reyne singing Beautiful People with both wrists in plaster. Their songs were infectious and smart and the boys were uniformly handsome. I was never quite sure if James or Brad Robinson (much missed) was my favourite. I find it hard to believe how young they were as I watch Youtube clips from then.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJKOYbxSoZU

They had a string of top albums, The Boys Light Up (1980), Sirocco (1981), Sons of Beaches (1982), with endless top 20 singles. It wasn’t until 1983 that they cracked no 1 with Reckless from the Semantics EP. Phalanx (1984) and The Final Wave(1986) their two live albums. Between a Rock and a Hard Place (1985) was their last, very expensive studio album and it didn’t do the business with the public. Their time in the sun was over, especially with the death of Guy McDonough and the departure of his brother Bill. The band wobbled, and with the out of band ventures of James and his various acting roles the band performed their final concert on February 1, 1986 at the Perth Entertainment Centre.

Some interesting facts to remind us why they are an important Australian band: in seven years they sold over a million records in Oz; five albums in the top 5 album charts; a cumulative total of 11 weeks at no 1 on the album charts makes them the equal fourth best Oz band behind, Skyhooks, The Seekers and Midnight Oil. The Crawl sold well and were very well loved! It’s a shame they never made it big OS – perhaps they were too Australian, too locked into our culture of beaches and cars; and the cynical slant on the world. But their songs of love and lost, especially Downhearted and Reckless should have found universal appeal. Perhaps there was too much of the larrikin in them?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIrUqsB-0vw

James Reyne went on to have a moderately successful solo career and can be found doing unplugged gigs on Youtube, still sounding the business. I still love Slave and The Fall of Rome – his nasal twang is unmistakable.  He’s made over a dozen solo albums and tours still. You must hook into his 1992 duet with James Blundell, Way out West, the remake of the Dingoes classic. It makes you proud to be Aussie. It’s so upbeat: utterly brilliant. It was no 2 on the charts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySzhj-XoZb4

Brad Robinson ent onto manage other bands, including The Chantoozies, worked in television producing documentaries, as well as managing tennis player Mark Phillipoussis (Scud) before dying of lymphoma in 1996. Simon Binks played in other bands but was sadly injured in a car accident that left him slightly brain damaged. 1n 1996 the band was inducted into the Australian Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91RHwxauB-s

When I’m writing about Australia, especially sitting here refining my PhD novel Ophelia I listen to Crawl and James on iTunes and plug into a few Youtube clips and it takes me home, the place, the smell; the feelings of being young and hopeful. A scene in my novel where my heroine gets back up on stage on the Darwin Casino lawns is drawn from a concert given by James Reyne in 1992 under the stars on a balmy tropical evening. Another concert I remember like it was yesterday was a Crawl concert held at Tas Uni in 1981/82. I stood a foot from the stage, from James, completing entranced by him, knowing every word from every song, oblivious to the hundreds of others in the room. I had every album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwzNN4IMyx8

It was the 80’s – they sang of love, of drugs and betrayal, of loss and beaches and Errol Flynn. They were catchy clever tunes that implanted themselves in your brain and James’s smile and sneer struck my young heart and the crush remains. I note on Youtube that he’s aged remarkably well and as snarky as ever in his patter. I leave you with this quote about why their final concert as Crawl was held in Perth.

“We really enjoy Perth, and have a lot of friends there, so it was a conscious decision to play our final show there. Besides, everybody expected us to play the last show back in Melbourne, so stuff ’em.” James Reyne (Clips courtesy Youtube)