Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fuckity Fuck All The Way From Collingwood To Kensington

So what happened was, I saw a post for an online magazine looking for new writers. I thought what the hell, I'll give it a go. I had just joined the Yawp family and the Warhol's Children family, both editors apparently very keen for more of my stuff. I needed this because I have been unemployed for a while now and had been feeling pretty down, so this was good. At least I'm writing again, and funny stuff too.

So I see this call for submissions for Soot mag. The editor writes for Rolling Stone, Australian Penthouse and more and appears to be rock chick uber cool. The other contributors also seem pretty cool. I am not too worried by this because I have the runs on the board by now and think I have a chance, so I send some samples in and very quickly I get a positive response and am welcomed to the Soot family.

I am asked what I'd like to contribute first up. I had just receieved a press release saying that David Sedaris is coming out on tour, and I had just finished reading Max Barry's new novel Lexicon (fucking brilliant read). Max also has a Hollywood film coming out based on his first novel, Syrup. I say I wouldn't mind interviewing both these guys.

One thing leads to another, the Soot editor is remarkably well-connected and she makes the Max Barry interview happen. He wants to meet over a coffee at his local coffee shop - coincidentally a few doors down from a coffee shop The Dreaded One and I considered taking over a few months ago.

Thing is, I've gotten lazy lately and have only been doing email Q & A's. It's just easier to write up the questions and get them to do all the writing. I've done loads of phone interviews in he past but they are a bit of a pain, getting the words from the tape recorder (yes, I have an actual tape recorder) onto the computer. Also, I don't have a landline so recording isn't really possible.

Also, I feel out of practice, and when your confidence is taking a beating (plenty of resumes sent out, not many nibbles) you don't really want to interact with people.

And probably the biggest also, I haven't ever done a face to face interview. It seems ridiculous, but even after writing features about performers and writers for about 10 years now, I have never sat down with someone and interviewed them. I don't consider myself a confident, outgoing person, and surely you need to be both these things to do face-to-face interviews.

Weirdly, I find myself thinking what the hell and agree to meet one of my current favourite novelists in person. I test out my tape recorder and it makes pretty lousy recordings. It's okay when hooked up to the phone line but crap when it just sits there taking in ambient recording. My phone, on the other hand, is brilliant. How good are phones? Is there anything they can't do?

I'm about to do a new thing. I think you put up fake barriers when you've put something off for long enough. I think I really felt I'd be awkward and awful at face-to-face interviews. I'm not a professional. I have no training. I don't have this particular skill.

But I decided not to bother thinking this way. I've had no training in any kind of writing, have never done a single writing course, yet here I am 10 years later still getting away with it. Besides, it's not going to air. We're just going to chat exactly like we would if it was a phone interview, and they are easy. Time for a new experience, to learn a new skill.

I'd like to say it all went smoothly... well it did, aside from the fact that I was late for the interview. This is a writer with five highly regarded novels under his belt, film options on all of his books and a big screen version of one of them out in the Northern hemisphere now, out here later in the year, he's agreed to meet me for a chat, and I miss my tram and stuff up my train connection so that the next train arrives in 20 minutes and I am due to be at the cafe in less than 15 minutes. You are supposed to arrive at these things early to test your recorder and just make damn sure you don't keep the interviewee waiting. Thus the title of this blog post.

Standing on the platform, I realise that the next train, due in two minutes, is going to North Melbourne, with Kensington being the train station after that (but this train is not going on to Kensington). Rather than wait the 20 minutes for this train, I'll go to North Melbourne and catch a cab from there. There must be a cab rank at North Melbourne Station.

There is no cab rank at North Melbourne station. There is nothing at North Melbourne station. There is a busy road a few minutes walk away which I could walk to and hope that a cab comes by... and that might happen immediately or not at all. I have so little time left that if I commit to this plan it will need to happen immediately. I can't risk it. I have to go back and wait for the Kennsington train and just accept that I am going to be late for my first face-to-face with a reasonably important person. I am such a fuck up.

In the end, I am 15 minutes late and Max is texting his agent to get my number to find out what is going on as I walk in the door. I apologise, and thankfully, he seems chilled and not too pissed off. I set up the phone recorder, and we start talking and it seems to go all right after all. 45 minutes later we finish things off and after much indecision I ask if he would mind signing my copy of Lexicon. I need to ask someone about this - when interviewers interview famous people, is it accepted or frowned upon as being uncool to ask them to sign things? I don't know such things because I just don't hang around with journos. I am a lone wolf, a loose cannon... or just a bit of a twat.

Anyway, I thought I'd rather regret being a bit of a twat and have my signed copy than regret having the opportunity of getting a signed copy and not taking it. He seemed pretty cool about it.

You can read the finshed piece here at Soot Mag. Looking forward to doing more with them. I think both they and Warhol's Children might be doing something with my 17 Stories Of Love & Crime. Stay tuned.

I still haven't got a job but I did sign up with an agency and worked all last week and I think there is more coming up next week. It will be very nice to be working again. Nicer still to have our own cafe. And I really am enjoying having current writing out there again. These three editors have been really cool and enthusiastic. Soot even posted something the other day telling everyone who had submitted samples to be patient as they'd had hundreds of applicants, but here I am with my first piece live, and my bio up there with the other contributors. Happy pants.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ubu Roi, Review

Ubu Roi

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

A raw version of Ubu Roi was written in the late 1800s by three teenage schoolboys with Alfred Jarry considered the author of the final version. It was originally written as a parody of one the boys' schoolteachers and was performed as a puppet show in an attic for the boys' own amusement.

However, Jarry persisted with the central character of Ubu and the play opened on stage in Paris in 1896, with a riot breaking out in the theatre upon the opening words from the lead character. The audience was eventually calmed, only for chaos to erupt again shortly after, so shocking and vulgar was the content to the sophisticated French audience. The play polarised critics, and theatre of the absurd was born.

Naturally, more than a hundred years later contemporary audiences are made of more robust stuff. The play now presents itself as more of a curiosity than something to be shocked about and is presented by various theatre groups in a variety of settings. Which is not to say that this theatre goer and his plus one, The Dreaded One, didn't approach this performance with some trepidation. Just how absurd is absurd? Would it make any sense at all? And in this case, there is mud... lots of mud.

Chatting briefly with director Jason Cavanagh before the show, we joked that given that we frequent multi-day dance festivals in the bush, we are not afraid of a bit of mud. “Yes,” he replied, “it reminds me of Confest.” Precisely. He also asked casually if we'd be sitting in the front row. Erm... no.

Not that there was anything to worry about, mud-wise; protective sheets were supplied to the front row and clear shower curtains were drawn whenever a battle scene erupted, flashing swords replaced with mud balls. As the actors became more covered in mud, it actually looked like an awful lot of fun.

The story feels very Shakespearean and indeed is given something of the Shakespearean treatment by this cast of very fine, if muddied, actors. The script doesn't quite have the finesse and the poetry of Shakespeare, but you do recognise a bit of MacBeth in the motivations and actions of the characters. Largely at the urging of his wife, Mama Ubu, Papa Ubu hatches a plot to kill the king of Poland and install himself of that country's ruler. Why Poland? It would appear that Poland wasn't on the map in 1896, so Ubu was effectively taking over and ruling a non-existent place. Absurd, no?

Co-conspirator Captain Bordure's men are killed after being offered food which looks a lot like shit on a toilet brush. The mission is successful, Ubu acquires great wealth by simply killing all the noblemen and taking their money, and much double-crossing, treachery, plotting and fighting ensues. The language is as infantile as the motivations of Ubu, a huge, lumbering man-child driven largely by his animal needs.

In creating Ubu, Jarry was having a go not just at the ruling elite (though he was definitely doing this) but also the common man. Ubu started out being a parody of a loathed teacher, but in reworking and reworking the character over the years of his short life (he died at 34 after complications from his various addictions, not the least of which was absinthe), he was also attacking modern man and society generally. Given the antics of Australia's current gaggle of politicians – Rudd comes to mind with his earwax-eating and his juvenile look-at-me-I'm-just-a-regular-schmuck tweets – Ubu Roi still feels relevant. Especially given the apparent lack of ideology in politics today; our political leaders seem more driven by their desire for fame than anything.

If I went into this production from 5pound Theatre with trepidation, The Dreaded One did more so. Given it's absurdist reputation, she wasn't sure if she was going to enjoy it at all. I was relieved to hear her laughing throughout and tell me afterwards that she thoroughly enjoyed it. I think she was a little relieved at just how much she liked it.

Nicholas Dubberley was superb as the grotesque Ubu, as was Amy Jones as Ubu's ruthless wife and Andi Snelling as Captain Bordure. In fact the whole cast, playing multiple roles, was pretty damn good. Although occasionally played for laughs, overall the text appeared to be taken quite seriously, which is often the best delivery for humour. Lighting and set-design enhanced the whole experience to make it something quite unique; strangely thrilling, weirdly compelling.

5pound Theatre continues to do interesting things at The Owl & Pussycat. It really is worth checking out this little mud-fest, the piece of theatrical history that is Ubu Roi.

At The Owl & Pussycat, Richmond, Melbourne until July 27

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Man In Black - The Johnny Cash Story, Review

Man In Black – The Johnny Cash Story

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Appallingly, although I've been a bit of a fan of Tex Perkins since the first Cruel Sea release, I've never seen him or any of his bands perform live. So naturally when I heard he was doing Man In Black again, I jumped at the chance to finally catch him on stage.

Man In Black tells the Johnny Cash story from start to finish in a laidback blend of spoken word and song. Tex and Rachael Tidd tell Cash's story in their own voices sometimes in conversation with each other, and occasionally slip into character throughout. We hear about Cash's early years doing it tough in Arkansas; the death of his 14 year old brother from which he never truly recovers; his early singing career, the meeting of Vivian Liberto, his first wife, and the thousands of pages of love letters they wrote while he was on military duty in Germany; his prolific song-writing and performing; the legendary performances in Folsom and San Quentin prisons; his prolonged love affair with co-performer June Carter; how drugs and alcohol kept taking over his life; and we follow him into old age and his eventual death just three months after Carter's.

The story runs the gamut of emotions, obviously. But the overall feel of the show is one of joy. This is a celebration of a flawed artist who in the end made a massive impact on music history and brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people. As moving as certain parts of the story are, the smiles and happiness are never far away. This show is loads of fun.

The rapport between Perkins and Tidd is charming and casual. There appeared to be quite a few mistimed gags in the banter, but far from detracting from the dynamics it actually served to capture what the vibe was probably like on stage between Cash and Carter; it probably wasn't a highly polished performance in real life.

Except for the music. Tex Perkins does a superb Johnny Cash. It's quite uncanny just how perfectly he nails it. He opens with I Walk The Line, then every few minutes throughout breaks out into all the Cash favourites as well as – to this punter – some lesser known ones and he is just so good. Clearly Perkins enjoys this role and the audience lapped it up. There is much laughter throughout as we learn of Cash's obsession with train-related songs and novelty songs like A Boy Named Sue. But musically, even if there is a gleam in the eye, it's all taken quite seriously so that even the most sincere of Johnny Cash fans won't be disappointed. The crowd really got into the music, and the band – The Tennessee Four – were very impressive in recreating The Tennessee Three sound.

If you are not overly familiar with the Johnny Cash story, you'll no doubt learn a few things. I was intrigued by the fact that Johnny and Vivian wrote 10,000 pages of love letters in three years... you have to wonder about the true nature of their relationship compared to how it was portrayed in the 2005 bio flick Walk The Line. Interesting follow up reading there.

But the main reason for seeing this show is for its entertainment value. This is a stage full of engaging performers telling a fascinating story. The medley at the end will leave your hands saw from clapping and your face in a permanent smile. Johnny cash is unlikely to be touring any time soon, but if you want to see what he might have been like in his charismatic prime, check out the next best thing.

At the Athenaeum Theatre Melbourne until Sunday 21st July. Click here for details and future performances.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dark Thirst

I can't believe it. I appear to have lost another passport. I wasn't even looking for it, I was actually looking for my food handler's certificate, which I haven't needed in the 18 months or so since I got it. Suddely I'm going to a hospitality agency tomorrow and they need to see it and I cannot find it anywhere. And along the way I realised that my passport was not in the passport place. I found the one that I thought was missing three years ago when The Dreaded One and I went on the big trip (TDO had removed it from my passport place and put with her stuff because she thought it was safer there... and not knowing this, three days before we left I had to get an emergency passport replacement. I found that the original had been in with her stuff a year after we got back from that trip).

But now... I have no idea where the food handler's certificate is or the passport. It's not in The Dreaded One's stuff... it's doing my head in.

But I did find this advertisement. That's me at the end of the table, lots more hair than I have now and much more cheeks. I was a bit chunky back then.

And if you know me, you'll appreciate how funny it is that I am some kind of poster boy for alcohol restraint. It is deeply funny. I have been uber booze monster at times.

I have a story brewing called Dark Thirst. Companion story to the one about the time I overdosed on drugs. Booze, when it gets its claws in, it ain't funny. Hangovers? I laugh at them. Hangovers are nothing compared to proper addiction. Hangovers are a walk through a field of daisies. Booze addiction... it's a monster in a cage. It rattles that cage and jangles your nerves and fucking owns you, and the struggle to get through that is a kind of hell. You don't sleep it off. It's just not that easy. It really is fucking awful.

But if you are lucky, you get through it. You find a kind of peace. You appreciate being in control. You say goodbye to the anxiety attacks and the fear and the constant nausea and feel happy that you can just pick up a fucking glass of water without shaking so much you spill it everywhere.

Mostly, people haven't suspected a thing. I am nothing if not a trouper. Some days, some weeks, when I think about them, I really don't know how I made it through.

So yeah, the poster above, it's funny because when booze is fun it's the best. But the poster is also uber ironic given what I have been through.

Life. Funny old thing.

I'm hopng to write Dark Thirst soon. It won't be light-hearted (though there might be funniness in there), but I feel the need to write about it. There's no point going through this shit if you can't use it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two Days

two days

lee bemrose

two days of sanctuary
two days of isolation
of protection
from the alienation
from the frustration
and the non stop electric jangle
the constant grind
the futility
the stupidity
the chaotic screech
the cash register crash
the lust for cash
the vocal noise
of vacuous pseudo-thoughts
the negativity
the futility
the stupidity
the one day at a time
mindless crawl towards death
with no appreciation
no comprehension
no deviation
from the chatter and the chase
of the meaningless
the pointless
and the gratuitous

two days sanctuary
two days away at home
make it last forever
the peace
the silence
the music
the kind words
the love
the laughter
I want these two days
to last forever.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Tied Up by Jessamae St James, Review

Tied Up | Jessamae St James

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Cabaret is cabaret – life experiences told through song and spoken word – but each show has its own schtick. Tied Up's schtick, as you've probably guessed, is sexual fetish.

Clad in heels, stockings, corset and ropes, Jessamae St James makes her entrance with a Tori Amos song (Leather) unless I am mistaken. She doesn't care about the weather, she just wants her leather. It's a smouldering entrance and the audience is immediately struck by our star's commanding presence and that powerful, pitch perfect voice. And she looks stunning, like a slightly darker version of Cabaret's Liza Minelli.

It was hard to tell, at this stage, which way the show would go. Was it going to use fetish as titillation? (Judging by the very mixed crowd I'm sure some audience members hoped so). Or were we in for something a little darker?

At the conclusion of the intro song, Mistress Jessamae decided her seat had not been prepared and dragged an obliging male onto the stage, commanded him to get on all fours, she sat on him and, and it seemed it was going to be a show of titillation and giggles.

Not so, as it transpired. A quick audience quiz about what we think about when we hear the word 'fetish', and bondage was the general consensus. BDSM, and indeed these are common fetishes, or commonly recognised ones. St James walked us through some stories of BDSM, but what followed were some lesser known but well-documented forms of sexual fetish.

St James tells us stories of suffocation; the fetish of dolls; of being aroused at the idea of one's partner being with someone else; the need for a partner to cry to be aroused... the list goes on.

St James inhabits these stories convincingly so that you don't doubt these are all very real fetishes and she has done her homework. So engaging is she as a story teller that I think she could have thrown a few made-up fetishes in there and you'd believe every word she said. Who knows? Maybe she did just that. I doubt it though, having just done some of my own homework about fetishes. It's a big, wide, weird world behind closed doors.

As St James struts up the aisle and makes eye contact, sizes you up and down, oozing superiority, you can't help but squirm as you think of the chair-guy at the beginning. Is she going to drag me up on stage and make me do humiliating things? You quickly realise that maybe you've made the rookie mistake of sitting in an aisle seat. So does she drag hapless males onto the stage? Not telling.

The four piece jazz band works perfectly to create varying moods, from the melancholic to menacing to the uplifting with the Weimar sounding section towards the end – although here the band totally drowned out the vocals in parts.

The music never worked better than when St James dragged out her harmonium and played the darkest song of the show. This was perhaps the show's titular song, a song about being tied up and neglected, and it was slow, haunting, disturbingly real, lush and beautiful. It was, for this dark soul, the highlight of the show. The piece Pussy Got Your Tongue? was a close second with its manic anger. Loved it.

Some humour would have been welcome, and after chair-guy it was, I think, expected. But overall there were very few laughs, with St James playing it straight, so to speak. And that was fine; the focus was on her stunning voice and the subject matter.

Jessame St James is the alter-ego of singer Jessie Upton. Jessamae has been around for less than a year, but with her smouldering confidence she has already made a herself right at home in the cabaret and burlesque scenes. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more of her.

July 6th & July 7th at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne

 Edit: I actually had no idea the opening number was by Tori Amos. Thanks to Lola Lopez for the heads up.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Confessions Of A Control Freak by Belinda Raisin, Review

Confessions Of A Control Freak/Belinda Raisin

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

First up, The Butterfly Club at its new(ish) address in the CBD retains every bit of its quirky charm and magical weirdness. Can't wait to go back.

As for the show... it opens with some very pretty piano and our star, Belinda Raisin, unexpectedly going through a ballet routine. Well, perhaps not so unexpected given that she is a trained ballerina. As fluid and graceful as her movements are, she has a bit of a breakdown, and the comedy begins.
Belinda plays Frances, a modern woman obsessed with making lists and making confessions to an audience she manages to keep enthralled from start to finish. She will also keep you laughing, possibly make you shed a tear, and she keeps the booze flowing whilst roller-blading around the intimate theatre. It's okay though – she has an RSA. It's a show of perfectly orchestrated physical chaos and angst and sweaty yoga because we have to fit yoga into our busy life because Frances wants it all and she wants it now. And lists – did I mention lists? It's a show of engaging story telling, music and song.

There is lots of song, not the standard cabaret fodder – although if Raisin went down that road I don't doubt it would be just as wonderful an experience as this was, such is the quality of her voice. She can play it soft and seductive as effortlessly as she belts out the loud ones. The whole show is a completely engaging marriage of graceful, gangly physical humour and moving honesty.

There was teamwork at play between Raisin and pianist Jamie Teh. Perfectly on cue he would hand a prop to the songstress without missing a note on the piano... but why did he look so earnest throughout? Why was he concentrating so much. And where were his music sheets.

Perhaps I'm a bit slow but I had no idea until the end, until the wonderfully talented Belinda Raisin lead her cohort in cabaret comedy to the centre of the stage to take bows, that he is completely blind. When he broke out in that smile of appreciation at the applause, the applause grew even louder. Wonderful stuff. So much talent on such a small stage.

When I asked my plus one, The Dreaded One (because of the coloured dreadlocks) what she thought of the show, she said simply. “I love her.” Uh-huh.

3rd & 4th of July at The Butterfly Club.