review — i am a human being

Jackson is a great human and a stellar poet, and so I decided to review their new collection I Am A Human for the Unity Books Auckland website (oh yeah, by the way, we have one of those now, look at all those titles and think about the fact that aaaaall those titles were loaded manually, with at least 600 loaded by yours truly).

Continue reading review — i am a human being

new work – atlas/pantograph punch

Exciting developments in writing life, one of which is a long time coming in a couple of ways. In the more general, longer term way, I FINALLY have a creative piece in a print literary journal. Hurrah! In the specific, shorter term way, I submitted this piece over a year ago, and it was allocated to the second issue of the journal.

But now, it’s out! Issue 2 of Atlas Literary Journal is out, and my piece, ‘Trading Pain’ is in it. It’s about hospital and scary things like emergency surgery and ketamine and nasogastric tubes.

Continue reading new work – atlas/pantograph punch

A year(ish) of music

Been a while since I’ve linked to pieces that I’ve written. I mean, admittedly, I’ve not done a huge amount of extra stuff this past year, but my usual glorious New Zealand Musician articles have kept on keeping on.

So here’s a wee round-up. (Excludes CD reviews.)

Anna CoddingtonMy favourite interviews are the rare occasions when I go to the subject’s house. Anna and I chatted while her little bub napped and giggled and had an occasional squawk. He’s delightful – so is she.

PrizegivingWellington gang who make good tunes! We had a good natter over Skype.

Huia. Another glorious home visit. We sat in her little lounge looking over the bush of the Waitakere Ranges and drank coffee and talked about music and communications and motherhood and cats.

Purple Pilgrims. Arguably my favourite musical discovery of the year. Dreamy electronica with all kinds of fascinating instruments to create their own unique sound. And both the sisters (Clementine and Valentine) are amazing beautiful fairy women.

Shunkan. Okay, so this was technically the end of 2015, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet. This was my first fully-fledged cover story, and I felt so goddamn proud. Plus their brand of up-tempo LA-meets-Invercargill rock is just perfection.

And coming soon on the website will be my interview with Paul Cathro and a piece on The Eversons. Keep your eyes peeled.

NZ Music Month – Day 1 – LADYHAWKE

Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke at Big Day Out 2010. Photo by yours truly.

I’ve been a combination of overworked, overwrought and overtired since I kicked off this site, so it has started to feel like a bit of a lost cause at times.

But projects with an end date sometimes feel more achievable, so how about this: my take on NZ Music month. My opinion doesn’t necessarily have any more weight than any other person’s, but I write about music on the reg for NZ Musician, so I have some sort of idea what I’m talking about.

Particularly, though, I’m a fan of the badass women of kiwi music.

So for my version of NZ Music Month, I’ll put up a song or two from a different female artist or female-fronted band each day. And talk a bit about my feelings around the musician and/or music. It’s only 31 days. What could go wrong?

Let’s kick it off with Ladyhawke.

I remember watching the My Delirium video on AltTV (RIP) in my dad’s lounge, back when he lived in a more accessible kind of middle of nowhere (the corner of Scenic Drive and West Coast Road, rather than the Solomon Islands). It wasn’t exactly the sort of genre that I was necessarily devoting myself to at the time – though I was in my first year of uni at the time, and starting to come to terms with allowing myself to like more than garage rock, riot grrrl and punk cabaret – but it was catch as hell. I realised that I’d also heard Paris is Burning not long before. It was such a perfect juxtaposition against the bush outside the window. I was hooked.

I still lived at my mum’s out in Botany at the time. When my friends and I went to town, and drove home together, we cranked Ladyhawke, and I can still remember one of my friends (drunk) attempting (so drunk) to sing along, but giving up except for each time that ‘HEY’ happened in My Delirium.

I bought the French language version of Paris is Burning on iTunes. ITUNES. It’s Paris s’enflamme, and it’s arguably even better than the original, accent aside.

I saw her at Big Day Out in 2010. Back when that existed. It was great. She is great.

I wasn’t as sold on the single from her second album, Anxiety, though given the name I really need to go back and give it another go. But album three is on the way, and my anticipation is back on top.

This is from Ladyhawke’s forthcoming album, Wild Things. It’s coming out the day after my birthday, which is excellent. I’m excited. You should be too.

Sleater-Kinney at the Powerstation February 29th 2016

AKA the most important gig of adult life.

In my teenage years, there were three bands that I ADORED at various times.

The White Stripes were my first ever true musical love. I saw them at Big Day Out 2006.

The Dresden Dolls were an integral part of my older teenage years. I didn’t make all of my American friends via Amanda Palmer’s management team and the Shadowbox forum just by chance. I saw Brian and Amanda play a song together in at a late-late New Years gig in New York in 2009, and then I saw an actual Dresden Dolls show in 2012 in Auckland.

Sleater-Kinney were another story. They were the first band I managed to convince my mum to lend me her credit card in order to buy shirts online. They played at the same Big Day Out as TWS, but I didn’t know who they were. They had a fun picture in the programme. We passed by their stage, then went onto something else. A few months later, they went on indefinite hiatus. A month or two after that was when I really discovered them.

I thought it would never happen.

I was explaining to my friend Sam on the way to the gig that ‘Bury Our Friends’ is possibly my favourite Kinney song, because it represented the unimaginable – nearly ten years after they had released The Woods, here was a NEW album. And it was just as brilliant as ever, and my soul ached with joy for a long time after the single came out, and then again when No Cities To Love came out.

They were touring. I clung to hope. You never know if bands will ever make it down to the Southern Hemisphere, let alone New Zealand, let alone Wellington. Then, in October last year, the announcement. I was at the Wellington Central Library. I squeaked and bit my fist, because library. It was my day off, but I raced over to Unity (approximately 1 minute away, after all) and gasped at all and sundry. Sleater-Kinney are coming to New Zealand. Sleater-Kinney. SLEATER-KINNEY. I have been waiting a decade for this.

Tickets were going on sale that same day, so I went and sat in Civic Square and mooched the free CBD wi-fi and bought a ticket as soon as they went on sale.

***

That was in advance of the concert. It actually happened last night. I had a haircut after work and before the gig, and while walking to the salon I was palpably shaking. I hadn’t experienced this level of excitement for a concert since that first Amanda Palmer middle-of-the-night one, and that was enhanced by the adrenaline that fired every time I thought about the fact that en route to the gig I was probably going to mugged or killed. I was 18 and alone in New York and it was the first time I’d ever been there.

Anyway.

I got the haircut. I met up with Sam and Annelies. We caught up over drinks and Indian food. It was an important part of prepping, to be honest – it meant that I wasn’t getting entirely wild. Just somewhat wild.

We got to the Powerstation just as Mermaidens were taking to the stage. I love a gig that runs to timetable. I’m so not rock’n’roll. They were excellent – shades of Black Sabbath, Nirvana, even a bit of a RHCP funky bass towards the end of their set. They looked so young. They lacked a little cohesion within some of the songs, but the sound and the diversity of the tracks made up for it. I was impressed. Am I wasting my life?

I was never very good at guitar.

Damn.

Mermaidens
Mermaidens at the Powerstation.

I went to get water after they played. $5. I needed to take painkillers because I could feel a headache coming on, so it seemed like a reasonable investment. At the bar, a girl was freaking out at her friend and anyone else who would listen. Sleater-Kinney are in this building. They are going to play here. For us. We are going to see Sleater-Kinney.

I know, I replied. What that actual fuck.

This is amazing.

We cleverly snagged a spot on the step above the main floor area. So we were up nice and close, but we could actually breathe and see. I wore my new t-shirt over my dress because I had nowhere else to put it. It has animal arms on the back, like a hug.

And then, only about 10 minutes after they were scheduled to come on stage (seriously, when does that ever happen?) they were there. Janet, barefoot with a spangly top. Corin, drinking coconut water from a carton. Carrie, queen of high kicks and stage shuffles. What a bunch of babes.

sleater-kinney
Appalling quality photo, highest quality band.

They opened with ‘Pricetag’, followed by ‘Fangless’, both from the new album – but any worries that they would only stick to new material were allayed when they jumped into ‘Oh!’ (complete with me insistently oh-oh-ohhhh-ing along with them – I’m a chronic sing/mouth the words at gigs person, I admit it) and the ‘Get Up’, from One Beat and The Hot Rock respectively.

While they didn’t play anything from the first two albums (Sleater-Kinney and Call the Doctor), which to be fair, makes sense since Janet didn’t drum on those records, they played a really varied combination from the other six. Anything that I actively hoped they would play, they did (the closest I got to actual tears was during ‘Modern Girl’ in the encore). To be fair, I went in without any specific expectations. I just wanted to see them play.

And to be clear, they put on an AMAZING show. There’s always that slight element of fear that things won’t live up to your expectations. I hadn’t watched live footage of them for a long time. People had only said good things about recent concerts, but I was still worried.

But the singing was fab. Corin has a little more control than she used to, so its not quite such a wild sound as on some of the earlier records, but still a big beautiful captivating voice.  Carrie’s was wonderful too, with a little growl in there for fun – and Janet’s backing contributions were always on point.

I need a paragraph dedicated to Carrie’s stage presence, though. She’s beautiful (they all are – it’s motherfucking Sleater-Kinney) but she is also so much fun to watch. Kicks, balances, shuffles, guitar up in the air, facing off with Corin – just constantly a delight to watch. Better than I could have hoped for.

And amazing, amazing guitar playing. From both Carrie and Corin, as well as the extra touring member (augmented Sleater-Kinney, Sam whispered to me), who research tells me is Katie Harkin. And Janet’s drumming – frenetic, constant, unbelievably physical. Special mention to her harmonica in ‘Modern Girl’ too.

powerstation board
Calendar at the Powerstation

The main part of the set wrapped up with ‘The Fox’ and ‘Jumpers’ from The Woods, at which point I was already basically in a can die happy mode. And then the encore. I don’t know how I’d forgotten about ‘Modern Girl’, but I did. They reopened with ‘Start Together’ from The Hot Rock (always has a special place in my heart as the first album of theirs that I bought), and then… that unmistakable opening to ‘Modern Girl’. For once, I didn’t seem to be the only one in my line of sight who was singing along. It was utterly magical (and a slight extra moment of delight when Carrie sung hunger makes me a modern girl, with the whole amazing memoir by that name thing).

And then, ‘Dig Me Out’ from the eponymous album to wrap it up. Lights, flash, heft, spectacular. The lights throughout were perfect. The performances were exactly what you want – faithful to the originals with a little extra kick here and there to remind you that you are in fact listening live. Everything I could have wanted.

Part of me is sad. It has happened. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, if I’ll see them again. If I were more flush with cash and time flexible, I’d be on a plane to see them at their Australian shows too. As it is, though, I just have to close my eyes, flick my mind back, and remind myself that I have actually seen Sleater-Kinney play. And that’s something that I never thought would happen.

t-shirt
The memento.

 

Planet Earth is blue

 

One of my very closest friends in high school was – still is – the biggest David Bowie devotee I’ve ever known. I knew a little – I was already trying to broaden my musical horizons, the way that you do when you’re a teenager with deep feelings of nonconformity.

But Changes gave way to Looking for Satellites and Golden Years and it heralded the start of my investigating music from the past. Apart from my parents’ Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.

Sometimes we played records, even though it was 2005. There were windows all along the lounge, and the sun shone and so did our hearts. We were fifteen and took on affections of traditions that weren’t our own. Mostly, though, the click wheel of an iPod mini, whirring, stopping, whirring again as we realised we’d overshot it because D is awfully near the start of the alphabet.

We were sixteen and at the beach, and we listened to enough that I started to agree that he was the superior part of Under Pressure. I bought Best of Bowie. I bought Hunky Dory. You had a LiveJournal username homage to a track from Low. We knew all the words – you already did, I learned them by immersion.

We were in our version of teenage love, an impermeable bubble of joy and eternal phone calls. We were learning what love and gender meant. Queer wasn’t a word I could use for myself yet, I was too cautious, too saturated by the surrounding world, but as we unpicked our existences and what they could mean, Bowie was a part of that. Performance of gender, stories of Jagger relations, when you’re a boy, other boys check you out, ‘trisexuality’.

Everything helps.

I’ve never been afraid to be a little off-the-wall – one of my sister’s classmates in primary school told his mum ‘I’d rather be weird than cool’ at a tender age, and we’ve taken that on as a family adage. But at the same time, that particularly package of music and poetry and glamour and fluidity was new, and simultaneously enriching and comforting.

I’ve always liked the idea of getting a lightning bolt tattoo – an homage to formative childhood and teenage influences – Harry Potter (I’m a child of the phenomenon) and David Bowie. It’s been cemented now, with a loss that has been felt far more acutely than I could have ever guessed.

Take your place back up in the stars, you magical man.

Shouts from the void…

I’ve been so dreadful at maintaining this lately. Life is busy, and it’s winter. Combine those two things with an eternally uncooperative immune system and chronic blah-blah-blah and I’ve been pretty exhausted when I’ve been in a position to write things. Which is a pain, both for my disposable income and my general creative juices.

So, an update:

In curly health news! I have written a thing for the Crohn’s & Colitis NZ website about my experience living with IBD. I also spoke last week at a meeting of Inner Wheel (a women’s branch of Rotary), along with Brian Poole, the chairman of CCNZ, about my experiences with Crohn’s and associated shenanigans. It was rather lovely, actually – and I won the raffle, which was a bonus.

In book news! I have been reading SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. The Man Booker Longlist has some excellent heft to it this year. I adored The Chimes, by very lovely kiwi Anna Smaill , and hope like hell that it wins – but at the same time, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is astounding. I haven’t felt that torn apart by a book in a long time – possibly ever. Part of me thinks that Yanagihara might be the first person to take the Booker, Pulitzer and the Bailey’s (formerly Orange) prizes. It’s only the second year that a person could really be eligible for all three. Maybe we should have a draw for the Booker and Bailey’s? Could we do that?

Of the ‘Booker dozen’ I have also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which was also excellent. I’ve also got Anne Enright’s The Green Road on my bedside stack, but after I’ve wrangled that one, I might wait until the shortlist is announced, just to pare down my list a little.

I’ve been continuing my radio reviews, still primarily on Newstalk ZB, but I’ve nipped over to Radio NZ once, and will hopefully do so again. So far, I’ve talked about The Mime Order (as previously mentioned), Aquarium by David Vann, The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire by Fiona Farrell, The Age of Earthquakes by Douglas Coupland and, most recently, Mislaid by Nell Zink. All have been excellent, and have provoked interesting discussion in the studio. I’ll try to do some written bits and pieces on at least some of them at some point.

I’m also trying to stay on top of NZ books, naturally, and am about to get back into The Pale North by Hamish Clayton, after putting it on a brief hiatus while getting on top of things needing review or other immediate attention. I’ve also recently gotten through New Hokkaido by James McNaughton and The Predictions by Bianca Zander – and the previously mentioned The Chimes and The Villa at the Edge of the Empire are both NZ books too.

The second Rat Queens trade is out, and I’m verrrry slowly working my way through it, so as to make it last as long as possible.

And, most recently, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s forthcoming novel The Heart Goes Last. Which I have mixed feelings on. I enjoyed it – I just didn’t adore it as much as I’d hoped I would. Again, I’ll try to write something of more substance soon. I think I was – we all were – spoiled with the expansive world and characters created in the Maddaddam trilogy – but The Heart Goes Last is standalone and tops out at just over 300 pages, and is accordingly much more limited in its scope.

My to-do list is full of exciting things. The Enright, I’ve already mentioned. I also have an ARC of the new Jonathan Franzen, which will be interesting as I’ve never actually done any Franzen before. But I’ve been hearing immensely good things. I still need to get around to reading my work-birthday-present book, Between You & Me by Mary Norris, which promises to be delightful. I also still need to bash through The Art of Asking out of a sense of curiosity and nostalgia. And there are a million other things on my to-do pile, but to try to note them all would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say that I’ll get there, one day.

Also, in book/writing news, I wrote the content for the latest Unity newsletter, which was deeply satisfying to see come to fruition (I’d managed to forget the joys of the print production process already, but it was good to be reminded of how things operate). It’s all online in PDF form now, but you can also grab a print copy if you’re in Wellington or Auckland.

That ‘update’ turned much more in-depth than I’d intended. Ah, well. Consider yourselves informed.

Review: How Does It Hurt?

how does it hurtBooksellers NZ review blog – How Does It Hurt? by Stephanie de Montalk.

Here’s my latest review for Booksellers NZ. I felt a very deep connection with elements of this book – a memoir/essay collection/non-fiction wonderland focusing on chronic pain. Stephanie’s own experiences are at once entirely different and so very familiar to my own. Every page held a combination of new understanding of both the experiences of others and how to put into words my own experiences.

I fought the urge to make the review entirely third person without my own involvement, because it’s the sort of book that you are automatically involved in, whether you yourself have experienced pain of this sort or not. It’s informative where it’s not relatable. It’s a book that could play an important role in the understand the experience of others. It’s just a damn good book, too.

Here’s the first snippet.

A review should, as a rule, be an impersonal thing. But occasionally a book falls into your hands that resounds with you in such a tortuously familiar way that it’s impossible not to feel your own related experiences playing in the background as your read. With that in mind, this is a review of Stephanie de Montalk’s How Does It Hurt?, my reading of which was underpinned by my own experiences with chronic pain and illness and the medical world.

The rest can be read on the Booksellers NZ blog.

I also had my latest radio review today, which I will link to when the audio clip is up. The book in question this time around was Aquarium by David Vann, and it was altogether excellent. More on that later, hopefully!

How Does It Hurt? is published by Victoria University Press with an RRP of $40 and can be purchased at all sorts of good bookstores across NZ. Like this one!

Review: The Mime Order

Briar Lawry reviews The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon on Newstalk ZB with Tim Fookesthe mime order

I’m currently working on a few long-ish form book reviews for a couple of places – and when those are complete, I will link to them here – but in the meantime, here is a link I meant to post a few weeks back. My first radio review – simultaneously nerve-wracking and fun. These will be cropping up every six-ish weeks, as Tilly and I swap from session to session. Since I’ve previously reviewed The Bone Season here, it only made sense to make sure my review for its sequel ended up on here too, regardless of the different format!