So long and thanks for the fish heads (the last review I will write as Editor for Three Thousand)
Saturday December 24, 2016·
Gold FM was playing 'Linger' by the Cranberries as we drove out onto the Midland Highway towards home. It's an old (and really really bad joke) but I made it anyway: “you know this song is about farts?” I said. No one laughed of course. But it didn't matter. Just like farts, you can only make jokes that bad when you're in a car full of people you really love.
Speaking of farts. I walked up into the Silence Wedge on Friday night and couldn't sleep. Chiara Kickdrum had just patched together this incredible sci-fi techno fantasy and I was totally wired. I ended up in my tent at like 6am, lying on my back, reading my book. Here's a poem I read. It's by Richard Brautigan:
At 1:03 in the morning a fart
smells like a marriage between
an avocado and a fish head.
I have to get out of bed
to write this down without
my glasses on.
I read those words, snorted out a laugh, and relaxed into sleep. I'd made my first ever serious New Year's Resolution: don't bother with writing that can't be fucked getting of bed to document it's own farts.
Speaking of digestion. I found this ALDI-brand Fruity Filled Bar in my backpack the other day.
It's one of several Fruity Filled Bars our photographer Matt Neumann gave me during Meredith 2016. Mind you Matt doesn't call them Fruity Filled Bars, he calls them granola bars. On Saturday morning I woke up to the sound Matt's deep Canadian voice outside my tent (I swear sometimes he sounds like a cartoon safety bear designed to warn Saskatchewan kids about forest fires): “Yo Sam!” he said “You had breakfast!? You want a granola bar?” I didn't really get time to answer (I was still trying to process the words 'granola bar' through my amphetamine-scorched valium fog) when one just thwacked against my tent door. I unzipped and assessed my breakfast. “This is a Fruity Filled Bar”, I said.
“Yeah, a granola bar”, Matt insisted.
I wanted to make a joke about the grammar on the snack's packet. The weird placement of the adverb makes it read like the bar is made from a substance called 'Filled'.
Maybe they did this for legal reasons because the snack doesn't actually contain any fruit (I checked the back, it doesn't). But it's also possible a team of ALDI scientists in lab coats have developed a new substance and named it 'Filled' – a carbo-loaded super-staple they're hoping will help them monopolise the market once world food shortages get real bad. I imagine the substance squelches into industrial-sized vats and rests under heat lamps until it sets into a kind of jelly. Another machine probably carves the jelly off into smaller chunks. The chunks plop down onto a system of conveyer belts that disperses them out to different areas of the factory. Some travel to a new machine to be toasted and broken up into cereal; some land in a meat mould and get injected with steak flavour; some end up pumped with 'Fruity' flavouring then shipped off to the ALDI in Northcote Plaza for Matt to find when he's stocking up for Meredith.
I wanted to tell Matt this joke. I knew he'd probably like it and start riffing with me. He'd get going on a tangent and I'd end up learning some obscure fact about the history of the supermarket duopoly or something. But my mouth was too dry to say much of anything. So I just sat on my lilo washing my cottony tongue with flat soda, forcing down bites of my 'Fruity Filled' breakfast.
Mixed berry. Not bad, really. Essentially just a cold pop-tart. Maybe not good enough to warrant a mention in the TOPS list based on taste alone. And maybe the gesture itself isn't that special. People share food all the time at Meredith. But I've been covering music festivals with Matt for a few years now and he never really brings much food. He'll share his beer with you no problem but he's definitely not the kinda guy to spend the night before premixing cocktails and tearing fresh basil into a pasta salad. He's also never bothered to make sure I'd had breakfast before.
And I didn't actually think much about the gesture at the time. I was concentrating too hard on chewing my Fruity Filled Bar into a digestible Fruity paste. But, later, when I found this tattered and squashed packet at the bottom of my bag it made me smile. I told my girlfriend Kiloran about how Matt gave it to me and she wasn't surprised. Apparently she'd asked Matt to make a special effort to look out for me this year. I see now that this special effort must've partly manifested in a steady supply of Fruity Filled Bars.
Kiloran was pretty worried about me and I don't blame her. The day before I left, she found me slumped against a brick wall near my house, heaving and spluttering. I was having a melt down on deadline day and she came to my rescue while (Three Thousand Assistant Editor/renowned legend) Nick Buckley built the rest of our newsletter.
It's by no means the first time Kiloran has saved me when the work stress has gotten too much. I remember hating the Broadsheet Restaurant so much last year that I went into a kind of blind rage. I spent an entire afternoon detailing the exact reasons the place was nothing but a soulless marketing exercise designed to warm up Gertrude Street for property developers (who'd inevitably build apartments only wankers could afford). I showed it to Kiloran and she said “Sam sorry if this is hard to hear, but you sound really self-serious. The place is clearly ridiculous. Why don't you rewrite it so it's funny?” So I did. It was the first time my writing gained any kind of tangible momentum. I sat down at my computer and the first image that popped into my head was of a waiter wearing a crisp linen shirt, letting out a putrid fart from beneath their immaculate apron.
Still, momentum can only take you so far. And on the Monday before Meredith my boss called me up to say I was through: three more weeks and I was going to be unemployed. Redundant. I suppose I'd known this was coming for a while. I probably should've quit when my team moved to Broadsheet and Vice. Still, the timing surprised me. They'd only just finally hired me an assistant. I remember the meeting. They took us to the bowls club and gave Nick his employment forms. They even bought us a lemon-lime-and-bitters each and a packet of Twistys to share (a quirky snack for two underdog roustabouts, ready to speak some truth in 2017!).
Oh well, fuck it. We'd had a good run (actually, no, I had a good six-year run, Nick only got a month or two of regular work). In any case, I spent all week ploughing through my tasks. My bosses took a chance on me to do this job. They pretty much let me write and publish whatever I wanted. It's rare and special thing. I owed it to them to finish with style.
Then Thursday came about and I just couldn't handle it. I remember I was trying to concentrate on getting some last-minute calendar listings up and my head just started throbbing, my face got hot and my eyes welled up. I tried to swallow the feeling. But it just made my face hotter and my eyes wetter. That's when I rushed out of the office and ended up slumped against the brick wall.
I haven't had panic attacks like this since I was a teenager. My new therapist says I was having some kind of grief reaction. Still, it does't explain how I evolved into this person who takes their job so bloody seriously. Lucky I took mushrooms on Friday night, lost everyone and had plenty of time overthink everything.
Here's the running theory I came up: most people who work in a service industry job will tell you that too much time with a professional smile plastered on your face isn’t good for you (and here's a big fuck you to anyone who's being a rude Christmas shopper right now). Then, after a hard week, maybe that worker might go to a movie or have a drink at a bar to wind down. They might even check their local content provider for leisure advice. And we'll be happy to give it because being a “cultural gatekeeper” is such a huge part of our identity. It’s why we got into this measly-paying business in the first place.
So when someone asks: where should we eat? What should we watch? What should we listen to? What should we do with this precious free time? If we have the correct answer we’ll get a genuine thrill. This thrill is often just as important as the actual experience of the thing we've recommended. We’re the kinds of people who'll happily watch the same film twice just to know you enjoyed it too – constantly glancing over at you all expectantly (like in that Amy Schumer skit). Most of us have been doing this shit our whole lives.
Problem is, if you spend too much of your time converting your experience into content you can start associating your sense of self-worth with the popularity of your posts. This happens to all Facebook users anyway. But once you get in charge of tens-of-thousands of followers, weird things can happen to your ego (especially you end up in a position where you're writing a big percentage of what your publication puts out each week).
Once this happens, you risk the genuine thrill of a good recommendation solidifying into it’s own kind of professional smile. This isn't copywriting after all. This is supposed to be your advice with your name and personality attached to it. It blurs the line. And if you're overworked you can reach point when it becomes difficult to tell whether you actually like something, or you're just manufacturing enthusiasm to hit a content deadline. At this point your professional smile can clench so hard it cracks your teeth ($600 for a mouthguard my dentist tells me).
And as I sat sat slumped and heaving against that wall, a terrifying question starting whirring like a conveyor belt in my head: what if I've finally reached the point where I'm manufacturing enthusiasm for the greatest music festival on Earth?
Then within an hour of setting up my tent I was standing in a circle, stoned as as hell, kicking a hacky-sack and feeling better than I had in ages. I know it's a hippy cliche and everything but there really is something truly TOPS about kicking that rice-filled sack. I defy anyone to get lost in abstract worry while your eyes are darting around the hack circle hoping (and fearing!) that the sack will come your way.
We were having a so much fun that a novice got curious and asked if they could join. She was obviously a bit nervous and when someone threw her the hacky-sack a few times, she kept kicking the air. This made her so nervous she wanted to leave. “I need more practice” she said. But the group convinced her to stay. “Don't worry about it,” someone said “this is practice. It's just for fun”. So she stayed, and she kicked the stupid sack. And everyone in the circle cheered.
Speaking of circles. On Saturday afternoon I witnessed a Quintessential Meredith Moment. It happened just after Angel Olson added a perfect imp-eyed synth flourish to her resumé, when Fee B2 had the inspired idea of dropping 'Champagne Supernova' interstitially.
Granted, it’s not that often you associate Oasis with truly inspired ideas. In fact it’s generally acknowledged that ‘Champagne Supernova’ has the stupidest lyrics in Britpop history. I mean the Beatles wrote some flowery bullshit in their time, but at least their psychedelia has some kind of internal logic. Like, it’s not actually that difficult to picture yourself on a boat on a river surrounded by tangerine trees and marmalade skies. But the idea that someday someone will find you caught beneath a landslide in a champagne supernova in the sky? It’s almost aggressively idiotic – the lyrical equivalent of a random acid casualty wandering into your campsite at 3am, pushing your legs off the esky and rummaging around for a long-lost bag of plums.
Speaking of stone fruit: Peaches rapping “catch the whiff comin off my midriff / wake up bitch and lick lick lick this” – now that’s a rhyme that leaves no room for misinterpretation. Especially since she strutted out to the stage with a vagina strapped to her head, flanked by mutant-sized dancing vulva muppets (a sight some of the plum-foragers in the crowd will probably never recover from). And, yeah, she’s better at electroclash punk than rap but she totally left the Sup gasping on Saturday night. Only maybe Cher could rival her for costume changes per set and Cher has a dressing room, Peaches was just doing backwards summersaults into a new look, kicking off hot pants and getting them caught around her ankles like some kinda sex-crazed teen.
Still, once the whiff had drifted, questions were left dangling: what’s the endgame when you flip the script of gangsta rap misogyny? Is this level of vagina worship a relic of an outdated mode of feminism that excludes trans people?
Then again she did spend a whole song bouncing across the crowd in a giant inflatable penis so maybe I'm wayyy overthinking things again. At this point I mainly just want to know if it’s scientifically possible to fuck pain away.
Here’s a question I’m probably better equipped to answer: where were you when we were getting high?
I was right there in the Sup, arm-in-arm, forming a big circle with all those dickheads who popped the cork too early on their supernovas. It began with friends grabbing the shoulders of friends, but by the second verse – just about the time we were were wondering “how many special people change” – friends were linking with up with strangers who were linking up other strangers until a giant wobbling circumference had somehow cleared a Sup-sized hole; everyone swaying like flower power soccer hooligans, projecting our most sincere Gallagher-rasp into the middle of the madness.
And you know what? We can all agree ‘Champagne Supernova’ has stupid lyrics. But the beautiful thing about anthems is it doesn’t matter. Noel Gallagher once said:
“This writer, he was going on about the lyrics to 'Champagne Supernova', and he actually said to me: 'You know, the one thing that’s stopping it being a classic is the ridiculous lyrics'. And I went: 'What do you mean by that?’ And he said: ‘Well, Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball — what’s that mean?’ And I went: ‘I don’t know. But are you telling me, when you’ve got 60,000 people singing it, they don’t know what it means? It means something different to every one of them'.”
Well said Noel, but what does it mean to you mate? In answer to that question he replied:
“It's about when you're young and you see people in groups and you think about what they did for you and they did nothing. As a kid, you always believed the Sex Pistols were going to conquer the world and kill everybody in the process. Bands like The Clash just petered out. Punk rock was supposed to be the revolution but what did it do? Fuck all. The Manchester thing was going to be the greatest movement on earth but it was fuck all. When we started we decided we weren't going to do anything for anybody, we just thought we'd leave a bunch of great songs.”
And there you have it. The Quintessential Meredith Moment of 2016 and it wasn’t the art school wit of Pulp or Blur catalysed it. It was pure laddish cynicism – an empty psychedelic vessel, hollowed out by music scenes promising those Gallagher boys revolution and delivering them a childhood on a council estate in Thatcher’s England.
Pretty interesting that that’s the specific energy that got everyone swaying. Take Beatles-era optimism, rewrite it as (barely coherent) psychedelic disillusionment, and mould the meaninglessness into the best time possible. Pure Meredith, all the way.
And all this went down before shit got really crazy. Because as the foam from the supernova evaporated, Fee B2 did the only thing she could do: she amped up the ridiculousness by dropping ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And, at this point, the swaying circle devolved into a full-on prog rock circus. A man in a Riddler-style jacket backflipped through the middle, someone drank a beer from a shoe, a woman did some of the most impressive hula theatrics I'd ever seen; someone just kinda stood in the middle of crowd and raised their eyebrows a few times. It didn't matter how stupid or uncoordinated the move was everyone in big wobbling circle cheered. Because, in that moment, that person in the middle was the star of Meredith. Life outside the gates meant nothing at all.
Christ, what else even happened at Meredith 2016? Sometimes the memorable stuff only comes back in strobe-like flashes.
Sheila E heel-spinning into a drum solo with unmatched pizazz.
BADBADNOTGOOD swimming through the piano-twinkles and posi-vibes.
Sheer Mag's Christina Halladay scowling into the mic like an unbelievable badass.
Ben UFO giving me my first ever DnB epiphany towards the end of his set (I thought I hated this genre! Am I high or is this the most beautiful, rhythmically complex music in existence!?).
A storm trooper a Hawaiian shirt cheersing a munter.
The Goon Sax waking us up with the smart, melodic jangle (I tell ya what, dole-wave is sounding better and better since I lost my job).
Cable Ties with the most electric opening set I’ve ever witnessed.
Miss Destiny with the most electric closing set I've ever witnessed.
Judith Lucy being Judith Lucy.
The moment a dear friend of mine finally abandoned his bag of scroggin and started hooning on two bags of chips.
The Japandroids screaming about how they “don't wanna think about dying”, they “just wanna think about those sunshine girls” (their amped-up scrap got a bit lost in the open air tbh, but I was right there with them for that line).
Kelela with the spaced-out RnB – I've heard her tell that story about working in call centre before, but it's just as good the second time. Sometimes it's comforting when things go around in a big wobbling circles.
Archie Roche declaring spiritual love to be the greatest love of all (and for a second, just a little glimmering second, me wanting to believe he was right – until I remembered god is empty just like me).
King Gizzard belting out infinite psych-wank (probably would've enjoyed it more if I wasn't so jostled).
Matt Neumann getting in an altercation with some telephoto-bro who chastised him for dancing in the photo pit (he said something to me so sincere and great only a Canadian safety bear could get away with it, something along the lines of: “this isn't a festival you document, it's a festival you live”, right on Matt).
Dancing on piles of cans, getting pushed around by dead-shits and genuinely despising festival culture.
Seeing ecstatic performers take photos of the crowd and genuinely loving festival culture.
Archie Roach telling a story about the stolen generation (which I couldn't hear properly because a bunch of white dudes were talking real loud behind me, classic).
That bad joke and that perfect Cranberries song on the Midland Highway…
The sickening crunch as that back of our GoGet crumples.
The panic when I hold my fingers up and Nick Buckley doesn't seem to know where he is.
Toxic-green antifreeze puddling on the bitumen.
A woman slumped on her steering wheel.
A kid wailing on the side of the road.
The incredible, brisk professionalism of medics.
The relief of learning no-one's seriously injured.
The train ride back from Geelong, trying to stay awake.
Accepting it's over.
Three days at a sequin-and-dirt encrusted fantasy camp.
Six years binding my sense of self to a publication.
One more day of work.
No idea what to do.
Lost like a fish-fart on the wind.
Why would you ever want to read anything negative in a city guide?