Worrying About The Future

[UNPUBLISHED]

A little after midnight on a Friday, almost a week into the new year, our daughter was born. Our first child, she entered the world in a flurry of flailing limbs, eyes wide in surprise at being wrenched from the warmth of the womb, howling like a freight train out of control on dark tracks. It was indeed an entry I will never forget.

She calmed quickly though, and spent the next hour and a half lying on my wife’s chest as we smiled and looked at each other, and her, in disbelief. Of course, we’d known of her impending arrival for quite some time, and yet in the cold, harsh light of the hospital delivery room, the reality of what was happening was almost too much to comprehend. And yet, as many will appreciate, it’s a shock that’s edged with awe and excitement – the thrilling possibility of life with this little creature far outweighing any fear or anxiety.

In the days since her birth, I’ve found little pockets of time in which to think on the life-changing consequences of her arrival into our lives. Of course, ‘life-changing’ is the operative phrase here – among other large changes, most of them sleep-related, I regularly find myself standing, with raised eyebrow, considering the almost inhuman amount of poo in yet another nappy. Indeed, things are different now.

With this new joy (and poo-related disbelief), also comes a healthy dose of worry, as I’ve quickly ascertained. I worry about small things, like whether or not that noise she just made in her sleep was a death rattle (it wasn’t); whether or not she’s warm enough at night (she is, it’s hot as hell at the moment); whether or not she’s cool enough (she’s probably not, none of us are, it’s hot as hell at the moment); whether or not our friend’s nine-year-old will drop her (he didn’t, he plays a lot of footy and has a safe pair of hands).

And, naturally, I worry about big things. I worry about what sort of world she’ll be growing up in, a world that largely denies climate change despite worsening natural disaster; a world that elects a misogynistic blowhard as leader of the most powerful country on the planet; a world where, here at home, politicians spend more time bickering with each other and frivolously spending tax dollars, than they do actually governing for a better future.

I also worry about the age-old issue of equality, whether she’ll be afforded every opportunity she would have were she born a male. Will she be treated differently because of her sex, or have we made enough inroads into what, in this day and age, should be a non-issue, so she’ll thrive in life, able to do and achieve whatever she sets her mind to, regardless of her gender?

Worrying, it seems, is the parent’s lot. When I catch myself getting carried away with thoughts like this though, I try and put the brakes on, focus on the here and now and the new life that’s been wrought for us. Look on the positive side, I tell myself – she has the requisite number of fingers and toes, she’s eating well, she’s healthy, she (mostly) sleeps well. She also looks more like me than my wife, which is actually another worry, at least for her.

The best we can do then, is just love and support her. Protect her from life’s evils as best we can, set her up to deal with challenges and obstacles in the best manner possible so she can thrive as she gets older. Some of the best advice I received prior to her birth, was not to take on anyone else’s advice. Listen to everything, it was suggested, and then ignore it, instead taking it all as it comes and listening to her and each other, forming your own ways of doing things. It’s this advice I’m taking to heart, when it comes to how she’ll grow up.

As such, one hopes, no matter what ugly paths the world may turn down, no matter how inept those in power seem to be when it comes to ensuring safety and prosperity for us all into the coming years, she’ll be ready to face whatever comes.

Just let me get some more sleep first though.

 

Samuel J. Fell

What Came Out Of BigSound

[An alternate version of this story ran on Crikey, Friday September 13, 2013 – click here]

BigSound

Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

September 10-13, 2013

Sitting on the bus into Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley for the final night of BigSound – Australia’s reasonably modest answer to the behemoth that is Austin, Texas, music industry shindig South By South West – I find myself savouring the calm.

It’s early evening on a Thursday, traditionally a day to let loose, to get a jump on the upcoming weekend, but it’s been a long few days and so I’m enjoying the relative quiet; the hum of the engine, the gentle forward motion, the space, the solitude.

It’s short-lived though. “Last stop before the city,” yells the driver, a pork barrel of a man in navy blue shorts, neck like a ham, and so I’m ejected onto the sidewalk at the corner of Ann and Brunswick and the calm is all but a distant memory.

For this is the Valley, where the city’s drunken elite meld all too easily with the barrel bottom, a place that used to house the bohemian element, before rapid, and rampant, development had them fleeing across the river to the relative safety of hippie haven, West End.

The music still resides in back alleys though, upstairs in odd warehouse spaces, boutique venues still thriving and so it’s the ideal place for BigSound, this year running for the 12th time, a three day conference that brings all involved in music in this country, and beyond, together to nut out problems faced by an ever-shrinking industry, to collaborate in order to overcome barriers to growth, to find the ‘next big thing’, to talk.

Idle talk, big talk, small talk, chit chat, back chat, talk back. It’s all about the talk – to paraphrase from ‘79 sci-fi flick Alien, at BigSound, no one can hear you scream. Because they’re all too busy talking. It’s a tsunami and it washes over you leaving you battered, bruised ear drums, craving silence. I long for the bus.

“It’s about connecting people,” says Executive Programmer Graham Ashton, this year being his last BigSound at the helm. Given it’s late on the Thursday, he’s sufficiently relaxed. “People come from all over the world… [BigSound] is about making connections.”

Networking, they call it. It’s happening all around us, standing as we are in the dingy smokers area out the back of what was once Mustang Bar, people with sky-blue lanyards talking shop. Or perhaps, given the hour, shit.

During the day, over the past three days, BigSound is a mild-mannered conference, comprising panel discussions like The Future Of Australian MusicIndie Labels 2013 StyleTouring Tips & The Live Music Environment, along with a plethora of In Conversations.

By night however, it’s like this; there are over 120 bands playing over two nights this year, and so music flows, as does the hooch, and an environment like this is fostered, where people spill outside in between songs to network. To connect.

“There are no rules to this,” Ashton says after a bit of thought. “That’s why music is so exciting. Every band is different, every idea is different, there are no rules. One thing though, [BigSound] isn’t education, it’s inspiration.”

The inspiration for most comes in the form of the music itself – scungy rock ‘n’ roll bands, thundering country, lilting folk and pogo pop, for this is why we’re all here. Whether it’s Billy Bragg or Robert Forster playing Bakery Lane to a full house, or some young quintet out of Melbourne playing an early slot to an almost empty room, the entire place throbs with not only literal sound, but with an inspired energy. People are excited, they want to share, and so connections are made, as they should be.

It’s not all beer and skittles however. One of the reasons events like this exist is to talk about what’s not going right, about how to change same, how to better the industry and to help all those who work within.

In typical fashion, during the The Future Of Australian Music discussion, outspoken promoter and label head Michael Chugg lashes out at commercial radio’s local music quotas, saying, “The quota’s far too low and they take advantage of late night… running tracks from midnight to dawn. They’ll deny it, but it’s true… It’s bullshit, and it’s holding the industry back.”

At the Byron Bay Bluesfest showcase at lunchtime on Wednesday, festival director Peter Noble attacks on a different front, saying in front of a large crowd, “I don’t want to criticise [politicians], but they’ve got to emulate,” referencing the lack of support the Australian government offers its musicians compared to their Canadian counterparts.

Perhaps he should have had a word in Wayne Swan’s ear, although the ex-Treasurer seemed far more preoccupied with UK punk poet Billy Bragg, seen at both his show and his keynote speech, tweeting later about the latter, “A really engaging discussion by Billy Bragg… about the power of music and the purpose of politics…”

It’s a shame Bragg wasn’t around a few months ago to give the same talk to the crumbling Labor party, but I digress.

So it remains to be seen what comes out of BigSound this year, at least in terms of solid, lasting, effective change. If you were to just buy a ticket to the music side of things, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that music in Australia is alive and well, and it is, without a doubt.

A new government though, not one renowned for generous arts funding, will have an impact, but as the dust still settles, people nursing final night hangovers, it seems inspirations and connection, the initial aims of BigSound, have been achieved. There is, however, still a lot to talk about.

Samuel J. Fell

Crowded Solitude No Place For New Year’s Resolve

[Published in the NEWS REVIEW section of The Sydney Morning Herald, January 09/2016]

Around a year ago, I took up running. Most mornings, around seven o’clock, I’d rise and don the appropriate footwear, shorts and a t-shirt, and I’d head out, do a few stretches then jog my way down the road, do a few laps of the local oval, jog back. Nothing too intense, just some early morning cardio to justify the smoking and drinking that accompanies my profession like the smell of damp undergrowth does a tropical summer storm.

The timing for this burst of exercise was purely coincidental. The fact it was early January had little to do with it, far less so than my rapidly expanding mid-section, far too used to the relatively small amount of exercise I’d been doing previously; as was gently pointed out to me by my better half, I needed to step it up somewhat, and so I started running. I hate it and am not a natural runner, but I began none the less.

I kept at it too, which is something of which I’m reasonably proud, and so this protuberance I’d been carrying around gradually shrank. Or at least, for the most part, didn’t get any bigger.

So here I am now, a year or so later, and I rise early and head out for the first run of the year, looking to get the heart-rate up and begin to shed some of the excess that has accumulated over the festive season. It’s a cool morning, rain on the horizon, but light and brisk, birdsong etc. It’s a lovely time of day, solitary and still, which is what I need in order to keep this momentum going – it won’t work if there are multiple spectators.

But here’s something I’d forgotten from when I first began last January. It’s January. People are fresh off boozy New Year celebrations, weeks (perhaps months) of eating and drinking and making merry. They’re bloated and fat, over-ripe and ready to pop. And so they think to themselves, ‘I need to get some exercise happening, my New Year resolution, I will get slim, I will exercise daily’.

And so, as I set out on my first run of the year, a hoary old veteran of such sweat-stained dealings, I have an audience. Multiple walkers and runners, around every bend, every turn in the path, as I emerge from the bush track into the wide open spaces afforded by the cricket oval, there are people everywhere, undertaking some form of January-induced exercise, sweating and wheezing in my previously quiet and solitary morn.

‘What fresh hell is this?’, I mutter to myself in a fit of self-righteous pique, albeit a slightly out of breath one. ‘Where have these people come from and how dare they encroach upon my carefully choreographed morning custom’. I carry on however, side-stepping middle-aged men with fat and droopy dogs in tow, finish my course and head, dripping with outraged sweat, for the shower.

Of course, I have no right to be grumpy; these roads and paths are as much anyone else’s as they are mine. As well, the early hour, before the world properly wakes up, belongs as much to a well-intentioned first-time dog walker as it does to anyone who’s risen early these 12 months past. Or longer, for that matter.

I have no ill will toward anyone wanting to better themselves, and I certainly don’t hold myself in higher esteem merely because I stuck with something (to be honest, the main reason I didn’t stop running, is because of how much I do like to drink and smoke…). I do like my solitude and space however, particularly when engaging in an exercise I utterly abhor and so don’t want anyone to witness.

Oh my quiet paths, my empty oval, the birdsong sung just for me. How I yearn for you, even after only a day. Go to the gym you lot, leave me to my hobbled jogging, my fractured running, my uneven-gaited perambulations. I admire your intentions, I doff my cap to your will power and I salute your resolve. Just do it somewhere else and leave me to stagger around in peace, trying to keep my gut in check, lifting the heart-rate and shedding the excess in my own, solitary way.

Samuel J. Fell

Trumped

[UNPUBLISHED]

The rain has stopped. It’s cooler now, the aroma of wet earth rising and mingling with the cigarette stench and the smell of fish off the barbeque, long since eaten, digested; we’re on to bourbon now, beer chasers, rolling new smokes and lighting them with the stubbs of the old.

A clutch of moths hatched somewhere in the garden earlier today and so the lights out the back are being bombarded. Tiny flying insects chasing their sun. Bumping and buzzing with a ferocious intent, getting stuck in your eyelashes, your ears.

Aside from their buzz though, the croak of the odd frog, the cicadas, it’s quiet. Claire’s gone to bed and I’ve shut down the endless Twitter staccato; the rolling analysis from the New York Times; the ABC; Fox News; all the rest. Shut down the apps on my phone, closed all the windows on my laptop.

A couple of hours ago, Donald J. Trump was named the forty-fifth president of the United States, a notion which, only a few hours before that, was regarded as a long shot, a laugh, a joke, and a bad one at that.

Earlier, we’d sat and followed the results as the storm front came over, lessening the humidity, the grey sky lowering as its moist loins girded and eventually birthed upon the dry and crackling north coast a torrent. We watched as Electoral College votes stacked up, and even though this was happening half a world away, we kept watching, swapping stories we’d heard via various news sources throughout the day.

I was on deadline, not an urgent one, but closing in, three days with the majority of reportage behind me, three days in which to ruminate and write. I let it lie though, gave away half a day, pulled down the rabbit hole by the events unfolding with alarming rapidity across the Pacific.

I, like everyone else, have spent the better part of a year smirking at memes, nodding with faux-educated agreement at analysis, talking with friends and work mates about how this imposter dares set foot upon the hallowed turf that is a presidential race, and yet here we are now. An angry white male, about to take up a post in The Oval Office, in The White House.

Indeed, it’s never been whiter.

At some stage, not long before the heavens opened, we talked with my sister on Skype and the three of us asked each other over and over how this could be happening. My phone, open to some graphic or other, sat on the table next to my laptop and mid-conversation, I’d lean to the right to check results. My sister, two thousand kilometres to the south, would periodically do the same.

Claire’s sister rang at some point. They talked briefly out the back. Incredulity was the tone that floated in through the open screen door.

As we shut it down, maybe an hour ago, the analysis was starting to filter through. What next? What does this mean? Where to from here? I don’t know and don’t pretend to. All I know is this has ceased to be a sick joke and is now a sicker reality. It’s the uncertainty that’s the killer, the feeling that anything at all could happen, and that most (if not all) of it won’t be of the notion that respect, inclusion and diversity is the key to a new world order.

The uncertainty, that’s the killer.

The rain has started again. The moths and frogs and cicadas have gone. There’s another storm brewing.

Samuel J. Fell