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.

 

The Crohn’s Saga (to date)

When I talk to people, I speak freely. I open my mouth, and words come – thoroughly rehearsed, to a point. Every time I tell my mirror about my life, it’s a slightly different rendition of the same song. This is how it goes.

In high school, I was a swot. I went to a posh school, I was a high achiever, I was a musician. I didn’t even think to be rebellious until my last year, and my rebellion was not of the extreme variety. Most of my free periods were taken up with scholarship classes, but swot that I was (am, at heart) I had far too many, and three sessions overlapped.

So on occasion, I would tell art history I was going to French, French I was going to Spanish, and Spanish I was going to art history, and spend the fifty minutes feeling guilty while scribbling rambling poems in my binder instead. I got a second piercing in one lobe. That was my acting out. Continue reading The Crohn’s Saga (to date)

A Vigil

Someone who I hold very dear does not have much longer for this world.

It’s not uncommon to feel that the worst part of a break-up isn’t losing the other person (especially when time has provided a little perspective), it’s losing touch with their family. After the initial hurt of my last big break-up had mellowed, the thing that really stuck out was how much I was missing the rest of his family, who I had spent so much time with, adventures over to Devonport on the regular to see C and V and O.

My timing in going to Wellington didn’t help things. We were still in vague social media oriented contact, and before I left for Wellington (and after the break-up) we hung out – I talked with C and V about my plans in studying publishing, they talked about what was on the cards for them – I had some good cuddles with wee O, and we hovered as she stomped through the waves at Devonport Beach.

I only came back to Auckland twice while I was in Wellington, and they were both very brief visits. Weird work hours and very little holiday pay after a major Crohn’s issue last year meant that travel funds and timing were both less than flexible. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with the Devonport crowd. And I’m going to regret that for a long time.

Because I’m not going to see V again. He’s my ex’s brother-in-law, and one of my favourite people in the world.As a group we shared the same snarky brand of humour. I learned about writing, about gardens, about food from him. He had so many stories to share, and if you’ve read any of his writing but never met him, he’s just as delightful in person as on paper – more so, even. He told me to just pitch articles to places. To build up my writing. To follow that particular passion like he has. And I have. And I’ll be perpetually grateful to him for that.

He’s a wonderful father to his girls – O is magical, and I presume that Little V must be too, though I haven’t had a chance to meet her. That little house in Devonport is so full of love and warmth, and I can’t begin to imagine how the tone has changed. From what I have heard, he is still with them, but he is gravely ill.

I wanted to write to remember, and celebrate, and share something of someone who is a glorious human being.

And then, just in case you have anything that you can spare for a little family dealing with the hardest thing imaginable, there is a Give a Little page set up. Anything that you can contribute will help C and the girls deal with the costs to come.

I’ve had my first week at my new job, which has been great, but every evening I have come home and shut off. I know I’m lucky to be my age without having encountered much in the way of unexpected loss. But that knowledge doesn’t help right now. My heart aches for the family, for him, for everyone he has touched (and there are so many).

 

Little House Near the Dairy

Sometimes you shouldn’t go with the first pun that comes into your head, but so be it.

My partner Uther and I have just moved into our own place for the first time. Exciting! It’s nice and fresh and modern, hooray! It’s also very small. It’s a studio, sort of a detached granny flat, really. But we live within these walls and nobody else does, so it’s a good time.

house interior shotOr it will be, once we have it set up.

Small houses are a major Thing right now. So good work, self. We’re bang on trend. But small houses that are nice to live in and visually appealing take some work, I’m beginning to think. Especially when that small house needs to somehow fit somewhere in the range of 400 books, if possible. And a big TV. And two humans who occasionally need their own space.

I’ve never really ‘lifestyle’ blogged before, but since my new job is as a copywriter, I’m dabbling in all kinds of areas that I haven’t really touched before. And with my new job comes all manner of Great Life Developments. Everyone there eats really healthily. They do yoga on Friday lunchtimes. We’re organising an after work French lesson. I feel like I’m finally doing that Adulting thing. So it seems like a really good time to leap into something a bit different for blogging too. At least every now and then.

So, alongside the books and the music and the Crohn’s and the rambling creative pieces, stay tuned for more updates along the lines of Life on Ariki Street and Things From Briar’s Crockpot.

I think it’ll be a good time.

Salt Lick

last time
all of us
a smaller, self-contained, of the moment
kind of all of us
we sat at the water
she went into the ocean
her feet cautious then
enraptured
the elongated vowels of a toddler
whose life is
overwhelming/exciting/in danger
pick one
she’s not sure herself
trying to stamp down
the water as it licks her ankles
swift kicks and sun hats
and sandals up on the sand

we watched and laughed and talked and said
we’ll keep in touch

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.

A change is as good as a rest

A change is as good as a rest, or so ‘they’ say. And sometimes it’s all you have to work with. So here we are.

Maybe you came here from my previous blog/website, maybe from Twitter, maybe from some strange Googling (god knows what your search terms were). Either way, here you are, here I am, I’ll write some words, you can read them if you like.

So that’s the online presence change. At the same time, I’m shifting cities (bit exciting, bit bittersweet, bit banal – heading home, after all) and starting a new job. The job’s the really wild thing. I’ve worked in bookshops since I was sixteen. Now – or in the last week of January, when I start – I’m a writer. Writing things for businesses and charities and people – writing. I’ve done a lot of writing within my bookshop work, and I’ve freelanced here and there, but now I am going to be doing it full time.

This, of course, is super exciting. But the side step from the book trade is also something strange to deal with. I’ll have to actively seek out what’s new and interesting, rather than stare at a sub sheet or NTI flyer. I’ll have to find books myself, whether through bookstores or libraries or friends – I won’t have reading copies at my beck and call. I’m going to have to put in effort, and I’m actually really excited about that. I’m going to have to think about my reading consumption, for my own benefit.

So I’m planning on writing more about books, in earnest. Since I’ll no longer have the ‘product knowledge’ reason to devour books, I want to be sure that I don’t let my reading slip by the wayside – and the same goes for reviewing. So here we are, first week of the new year, with my literary leanings taking a new shape. I’ve set a Goodreads goal of 100 books, but I really hope (and think) I can beat that. I’ll try to write at least in passing about most of the things that I take on – so stay tuned.

Small Mercies – TPPA discussions and biologics

We have heard this morning about new developments within TPPA talks, after several days of delays brought about by continued discussion on various topics, including dairy, the automotive industry, and biologic medications.

People understand what dairy means to New Zealand, and what the automotive industry means to other players in the TPPA, but ‘biologic’ is something of a mystery word. Some articles refer to cancer sufferers, some go into no detail at all, just that word, ‘biologic’.

It seems like it’s important for people to understand the significance of biologic medication for individuals with a variety of different conditions – and why it’s particularly important that issues like patents dealt with reasonably.

At their root, biologic medications or biopharmaceuticals are those derived in some manner from biological sources, rather than created chemically. The category can include vaccines, chemotherapy agents and blood products – but some of the most well-known biologics are immunomodulators that are used in the treatment of various inflammatory diseases.

‘Inflammatory diseases’ covers some things that you might never consider to be related. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease – most often Crohn’s or colitis), rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis – these are all diseases involving the immune system that have severe inflammatory components – whether it’s joints, skin or intestines. All can have major complications. All are chronic conditions that the patient potentially has to deal with every day of their lives. There is no cure, there is only treatment. And, you guessed it – biologic medications are the frontline of care for such conditions.

Biologics are complicated. The molecules of the drugs themselves are highly complex – and because they are taken from cells rather than cooked up to a recipe by chemists, when patents expire, things get a little tricky. The original developer company does not have to provide any original cells or materials. Competing companies can access the final publicly accessible product, but that’s about it.

So unlike situations with ‘regular’ drugs, where there’ a particular combination of compounds to put together, and that’s the drug, biologics can’t be perfectly replicated. Instead, competing companies can create what are called ‘biosimilars’, from their own research into the original product. There is rigorous testing in place before these biosimilars can go on the market – they are even more tightly investigated and controlled than the original biologic. So if they make it to market, they are a viable alternative.

Alternatives are great. They create competition in pricing, which results in a cheaper product to the consumer – which in a country like New Zealand means both the tax payer and the patient themselves. And pricing is a huge issue here.

Case in point: adalimumab. Currently known mostly by its brand name, Humira, adalimumab is used in the treatment of all of the inflammatory conditions listed earlier. It is administered via subcutaneous injection – either a pen, or a syringe – mostly on a fortnightly basis. It was, according to Pharmac figures, the highest expenditure medicine in 2014, with a total spend of $62.2 million. This was slightly lessened by supplier rebates, but still. Adalimumab usually incurs the regular $5 prescription fee per three month supply – and this is where we thank our lucky universal healthcare stars, because the actual cost of a two-pack of syringes is nearly $1800.

This is all good to know. But more important to the issue at hand is that the patent expires next year. Which means that all of a sudden, it might not be AbbVie’s Humira that provides the best product at the best price. It might be an alternative version of adalimumab by another drug company. That’s up to Pharmac to decide, when such options become available and legal.

Whichever company’s product is chosen, the price will almost certainly go down considerably. Which means a number of things. Other medications could now be budgeted for that couldn’t in the past. The criteria for patients to be considered for adalimumab treatment could be widened.

Adalimumab’s future looks to be fairly steady, going by information available at this time. But the future of forthcoming biologics is an issue that has kept TPPA negotiators battling it out. The US fought for twelve years of patent protection, claiming it was needed to encourage innovation. Every other nation involved in the talks was against it – affordability being a key factor.

Though it appears that the wording is yet to be finalised, the deal as it now stands is that countries will maintain their previously existing patent periods – five years for Australia and New Zealand. Concerns have been voiced that this is not yet set in stone – Annette King, acting leader of Labour, has pointed out that Doctor Without Borders are claiming it is effectively going to end up being an eight year period. In the coming days, hopefully more will be made clear about precisely what has been agreed to – in practice as well as in writing.

New medical innovations are being developed all the time. For now, adalimumab is a key component to the wellbeing of many patients. Should another biologic drug come along that is more effective, it’s only natural that people would want to give it a go, and Pharmac is going to be able to exercise much more leeway with criteria if the costs involved with funding the drug are likely to drop significantly in five years, rather than twelve.

Regardless of your stance on the TPPA as a whole, the fact that this element of healthcare has been fought for is drastically important.

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.

Elsewhere: Writehanded Girl

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a guest post for Sarah Wilson’s Writehanded website. It’s an excellent blog about important health and advocacy issues, and it was wonderful to be included.

Here’s a snippet:

Yes, when I’m clothed and in company, I look pretty darn normal. Pink-cheeked, four limbs, certainly not frail or underweight. But when have those sort of things ever really been barometers for health?

Even the most uninformed people in NZ society are aware of diabetes, for example. The average diabetic will be, well, average looking.The average IBD patient is equally average. Some of us are underweight because our disease strikes our small bowel and we can’t absorb nutrients properly. Some of us are overweight because the diet that we can safely consume without physical pain and internal ulceration isn’t terribly nutritious – or because we’ve been on a course of steroids for months and the puff just keeps on coming. On the street, we’re just one of you, going about our business, because that’s what you have to do when you have a chronic illness – you get on with things, as much as you can, whenever you can.

I wonder if FW would be saying ‘You look pretty healthy to me!’ if he saw the cupboard I used to have that was brimming with colostomy supplies. Or if he went to grab another beer from the fridge and saw my Humira pens nestled between the maple syrup and the kewpie mayonnaise. Or if I had, as I was a little tempted to, shown off my wicked scars, which are still red and raised and some of which still require biweekly nurse visits, some two months out of surgery.

I also have a couple of pieces in the latest NZ Musician magazine – I’ll link to ’em when they go up online.

In the meantime, here’s a new picture of my face.

my face

You’re welcome.

The end.