Monday, January 26, 2009

Geezers III

Ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Cohen.

Fifteen years since his last tour, and 24 years since I saw him in Perth on the Various Positions tour, Leonard Cohen opened this Australian tour at the Rochford Winery for Day on the Green. Think of it as the Big Day Out for the over 40s.

His band was simply magnificent. The arrangements were all about respect for the songs and the singer. Virtuoso players were kept on a firm leash by the musical director Roscoe Beck, himself deftly working over a five-string bass throughout. But the stand-out (besides Cohen obviously), was Javier Mas. You can see Mas here playing 12-string with Sharon Robinson, Cohen's collaborator and vocalist on this tour. 

There is something European and decidely non-rock and roll about Cohen's songs. The language of his music often seems to be the cast-off idioms of gentle waltzes,  cabaret and torch and in this he was brilliantly aided.

Leonard Cohen has forty years of songwriting and he picked the eyes out of them in a perfectly paced set. Highlights were a wonderful reading of Bird on a Wire, the spoken word If it Be Your Will, the sweet satisfaction of Democracy and I'm Your Man. But there were so many highlights that I'm merely lining up my own. I don't thing I've ever seen an artist receive so many standing ovations. It was just spontaneous and sincere. (Also, no Bono!)

The tour is all about recovering the financial losses inflicted by a shonky manager. Five million short in the retirement fund is a compelling reason to perform live again. That may well be so but I wonder if there is also something about showing off the tapestry of a long and interesting career. As I type this I can almost hear Neil Young at the real Big Day Out where my stepson has gone. Ragged glory was never Cohen's way. 

And yet this wasn't merely about trotting out the big moments. He wasn't doing cover versions of himself, a victory lap for the benefit of baby-boomers. (Even though his appeal is mostly to the boomers, there is plenty for everyone.) Yes, the show was slick and the set list in the Yarra Valley is the same as in Amsterdam or Auckland. But even at 74 he pushed his voice hard, gave the songs all the care they demanded and showed that he remains a rare and valuable artist. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning slopes

Tonight I fronted the 'preparing for French 2A/2B' class. "Third floor, room 310 on the left" said the burly guy at the desk. So I go in. A little late. Sit at the back of a crowded classroom. 
Olivier continues talking. At some speed. I can keep up. Just. Sort of.

He then begins to read speedily text about the film Amelie. We are asked to write down any verbs we hear. It's a little idiomatic. Not much is making clear sense. I lean to woman sitting beside me. "This is 2A, yeah?" 
"No, this is 3A." 
Me: "Oh."

I persevere. It becomes clear that some people have a very sound grasp of business and some are a little shaky. I stick it out and contribute as much as one can in a class of 25.

Afterwards another student tells me what text book was used in previous classes. Voila! It's the same one that we used with Anita.

It's much faster, more down to business, but hopefully enjoyable.

PS, Later Iris asked: "What were your favourite low-key moments in Paris?" For the record, hers was driving home at night in a taxi. "It was like having New Years's Eve at your fingertips."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Le rayon vert

Last week my good lady wife and I went off to see Il y a Longtemps Je T'aime (I've Loved You So Long), the Kristin Scott Thomas film, which I much enjoyed for its restraint and nuance. This is the kind of film one despairs of seeing in these days of Miramax market-researched movie making. In one scene, the belligerent host of a dinner party begins a tirade about the death of French cinema and how Eric Rohmer is the successor of Racine. We're not inclined to take him at his word but the movie is not without its Rohmer-esque moments.

Which caused me to leave left cinema determined to watch Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert. Talk about delayed gratification. When I was a callow youth of, ooh, 23 or 24, Le Rayon Vert screened at the Perth Institute of Film and Television. I remember the reviews leading up to it. The story of a young woman on holiday who can't make up her mind where to spend it, who to be with or what to do with herself. The review took on board Rohmer's low-key cinema and urged people to go along and see for themselves. I don't exactly know why (I was broke?), but I didn't see it. And kept on not seeing it for about 25 years. 

A friend who did see it then was of the opinion that Le Rayon Vert was a bit of a waste of time. "She wanders around and can't make up her mind and then, pffft!, she looks at the sunset and that's it", was her opinion. So hardly a ringing endorsement and really I was none the wiser. That was probably my first brush with ER. I think the first Rohmer film I saw was L' ami de mon amie (My Girlfriend's Boyfriend), probably at the Windsor Cinema in Nedlands.

Suffice to say that the wait to see Le Rayon Vert was worth it. This is the fifth film on the Comedies and Proverbs sequence and is attended by the couplet: 'Ah, for the days/that set our hearts ablaze'. 

Ah, for the days. For this what Delphine seeks and yearns, to have her heart ablaze with a true and unique  love. But it seems that she is bent on ensuring only her own unhappiness and frustration by a kind of neurosis of place and self, played out in Paris, Cherbourg, the mountains and then, finally Biarritz. However Delphine's avoidance of others, of family, of social friendship and casual affairs, has a purpose that gradually reveals itself through the film. This sympathetic, subtle and skillful film-making. Surprisingly most of the dialogue is improvised. Maybe this is why Marie Riviere has such a command of the role: she is creating it as she goes. The ending of the film is exquisite, a mystery, a possibility, an answer and a question. 

In thinking about this film and remember how first missed it I went for a little search about PIFT. I didn't find quite what I was looking for but did turn up a highly detailed portrait of film culture in Perth in the 1960s and '70s. By the time I was ready to go the movies in the 1980s, (a time before Miramax) Perth had a fertile film agenda and a curiosity about the wider world that belied its remote location, its conservative nature, and the difficulties of getting the best world cinema to the screen in a timely way. Tom O'Regan's article, Film societies and festivals in Western Australia, told me quite a lot I didn't know and didn't suspect, about how a band of dedicated folk brought the world to Perth's screens. People of my age benefitted from some challenging programming at PIFT and the Perth International Film Festival, which took place (and still does I presume) in the pine trees at the University of Western Australia. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blighter's rock

The Russell Hoban community online celebrates the author's birthday every year in a unique way. You see, Hoban is rather attached to yellow paper. Writing on the stuff. Has been for years. He turns 84 on 4 February.

Russell Hoban is the author of more than sixty books for children (including The Mouse and His Child and the Frances books) and more than a dozen novels for adults.  His best known novels include Riddley Walker, Turtle Diary and Kleinzeit. There is even a YA novel, The Trokeville Way, squeezed in there. He still writing and still being published. But back to the yellow paper.

Russell Hoban's birthday is marked simply, quietly, by readers leaving quotes from his work printed on to a page of yellow A4 paper. Why yellow paper? Hoban writes on yellow paper, he says, to ward of "blighter's intensify the blankness of a blank sheet of white paper is to run to meet trouble considerably more than halfway."

You can catch up on past SA4QE events at the spiffy new blog. Prepare to be surprised 4 February. 

What other ways do readers celebrate the birthdays of their favourite authors?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Youth novels

If you have seen the earlier entries of What Swerves you may have noticed a fondness for geezer rock. Last night I think I broke the mold, getting my zimmer along to the Prince Bandroom for a sold-out dance party of the mind with Lykke Li.

Soup to nuts, the Swedish singer/songwriter/performer played for an hour. Including encore. She hit the stage like a demented Muppet and just went from the there. Needless to say, the crowd went with her every twist, bump and grind of the way. It was a great show. A dance party with a jagged edge. A popstar with a post-punk tilt. She is a thesis, a thesaurus of influence and attitude. Vulnerable, a little bit Betty Blue, a little bit early Blondie.

Her three piece band, all lads who looked like escapees from the Ikea School of Design, rock. The set list was tight, all from her first album Youth Novels, plus a Kings of Leon tune. I was taken by the way the guitar player was kept at the back of the stage, the drummer to the front. This arse-about arrangement kept the focus on Lykke and emphasised the rhythm. Lykke herself occasionally blew hard on a kazoo. And sang through a loud hailer. And prowled the stage like she was brought up by Public Enemy. When she wasn't purring like a young Eartha Kitt. Or belting the bejeezus out of a cymbal.

No wonder I was bleary eyed this morning.