Family and Friends and Nuclear Apocalypse

White people in a white room…

At 80’s end did Channel 9,
A brand new drama show decree,
With plots to rival Ramsey Street,
Knock Summer Bay from off its seat,
Atop the ratings tree,
And there was Abigail there, and Rachael Beck,
And Alyce Platt to act did try,
And starlets eyeing record cheques,
To catch the viewing public’s eye…

Back in the year 1990 Australia’s Nine Network was getting a bit miffed about rival TV stations capturing all the ratings with their popular soap operas Neighbours (Channel 10) and Home and Away (Channel 7). So they did the only logical thing and decided to launch their own soap, a saga about rival Anglo and Italian Australian families with a Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance named Family and Friends.

(Channel 10 also had E Street, but more about that later)

The advertisements for Family and Friends mostly consisted of the cast standing in a white room gurning at the camera, but they managed to capture my attention nonetheless by the simple expedient of playing Kate Ceberano’s Brave over the top, which was – and still is – a fantastic song, as you discover for yourself below.

They did not of course incline me to watch the show, teenaged me having far more interesting things to do with my time, and it seems their effect was similarly poor on the rest of the Australian population as the series turned out to be a ratings disaster, surviving only three months before being axed – its cast dispersing to roles on its rival soaps and leaving the saga of the Rossi and Chandler families forever incomplete.

This impressively stark failure however sparked an idea in my mind, an idea that has lurked in the deepest caverns of my memory for over 30 years. An example of what the young people today would refer to as ‘trolling’ although back in the ancient days of the 90s we would have simply called ‘a prank’, and it is this idea I share with you today.

Create a brand new soap. Hire staff and writers and a cast, get production underway, and start a major advertising campaign about the hottest new drama series to hit the airwaves – possibly using a Kate Ceberano song to catch people’s attention if you think that’ll help.

Premiere the series and let it run with the standard kinds of plots you find on the streets of Erinsborough or the sands of Summer Bay. Build up an audience (hopefully) and get established as a part of the TV landscape.

Then after four or five months, with absolutely no warning, have – in the space of a single episode – World War III break out, the town get nuked and everyone die, followed by an announcement that that was the last ever episode.

Yes, it would be an incredibly expensive prank to pull, and – particularly in our modern age – difficult to keep a lid on before it happened, but can you imagine peoples’ reactions? The viewers’ heads would implode!

Anyway, the reason I mention all of this is because I recently became aware of the final episode of British TV series Byker Grove, a teen drama set in the northern English city of Newcastle, which finished up in 2006.

This man is a Geordie

(I was vaguely aware of Byker Grove prior to this thanks to occasional online references to the startling facial hair of one of the characters, but couldn’t have told you anything else about it. Oh, and it’s apparently the origin of Ant and Dec, who I understand are like a British version of Hamish and Andy, and equally as annoying, for whatever that’s worth.)

Anyway, it seems that someone at the Byker Grove production offices back in 2006 was having thoughts about TV finales similar to my own, as the final episode of the show featured the cast realising that they’re characters on a fictional TV show, an attack by a tyranosaurus rex, a Neverending Story style nothingness consuming the world, and a last ditch “save the youth club from the developers” plot which culminates in said youth club blowing up, killing everyone who hadn’t yet been eaten by the dinosaur or consumed by the void. Now THAT’s television!

I don’t think anything on Australian TV has ever come close to that level of blatant and wonderful insanity, although the final couple of seasons of the aforementioned E Street had their moments (see, I said we’d come back to it). In an attempt to prop up falling ratings the writers introduced such elements as werewolves, angels and a psychic serial killer named “Mr Bad” – which shamefully just isn’t the kind of thing you see in Neighbours these days. I mean what’s Harold up to? Is he even still in the show? Could they bring him back as a Vampire? Now that would get me watching!

And to finish off with here’s the song Wait by Gyan which I include because it came out about the same time as Kate Ceberano’s Brave and I always used to get the two confused, and it’s a great song, and I have no other idea how to end this post.

Wasp

The shape of the Australian continent and its position on the globe means that Perth summers are plagued by hot winds from the east.

A high pressure system halts its drift eastwards over the shallow waters of the vast bight that cuts into the continent’s southern edge. Its anti-clockwise winds sweep out across the Tasman Sea, swing north, then west, crossing the Queensland coast laden down with heat and moisture from the tropical waters of the Coral Sea.

Continuing west they encounter the ancient line of the Great Dividing Range, whose complex ridges and plateaus wring out the moisture like a fist squeezing a sponge. The warm, dry air rolls down the far side of the range into the vast plains of the interior. As the wind continues westwards the land becomes dryer and drier until it transitions into the red-dirt deserts of the continent’s dead heart.

The wind races across the Tanami desert of the Northern Territory and crosses the Western Australian border into the Gibson, soaking up heat from the burning land and blazing sun. It starts to swing southwards, passing out of the deserts and across the Wheatbelt, rattling the kernels on their stalks, and ascending the gentle rear slope of the Darling Escarpment before finally cresting the ridge and falling upon the city, bringing all the heat of the central deserts with it.

As long at the high pressure system remains in the bight the easterly wind grows stronger, hotter and more northerly until the city – buffeted by scorching gales – bakes in temperatures in excess of 40 centigrade. But eventually the pressure behind the high grows too great and it grinds back into motion, resuming its eastwards course. The winds shift dead north, fading away to nothing, then return from the south, cooler but laden down with moisture from the Southern Ocean, and the city perspires until the humidity fades, a new high moves into the bight, and the cycle begins again.

My primary school (elementary school for Americans and other aliens) stood on top of a hill with the parish church at one end of the block, separated from the years one to three classrooms by a narrow gap, leading to the grotty old toilet block and the long grassy slope down to the school oval. A concrete pathway hugged the school side of this gap, the rest was theoretically grassed, but the baking summer sun and the regular passage of hundreds of juvenile feet meant that it was usually a morass of hard baked sand and stone shards. The gap was oriented south east and when the summer easterlies got going it formed a perfect wind tunnel, scouring the bitumen assembly yard at the school’s front with gale force furnace blasts, laden with grit from the exposed ground.

So it happened that one baking summer day my best friend Gerald (stress on the second syllable please) and I were perched on the low wall surrounding the church, just in front of the gap. We were about nine years old and the easterly was howling through, pelting us with sand – but sitting in the wind felt slightly cooler than sitting in the still, baked air of the verandah or lunch area. We were discussing whatever it was that nine year old boys discussed in the mid 1980s when I felt a sudden, intense, stinging pain in my left foot.

Looking down I beheld a tiny wasp – no more than five millimeters long, pinned by the wind against one of the leather straps of my school uniform mandated sandal. As it struggled to free itself it raised its abdomen and plunged its stinger into my foot for a second time.

I swatted it away and – not being a particularly robust child – immediately burst into tears, crying and wailing at both the pain in my foot and the brutality of the universe in general.

Gerald helped me limp across the assembly yard to the school office where we expected to find Mrs Marsh – the school secretary – who could always be relied on for a sympathetic ear no matter how ridiculous our problems. Instead we found Mrs Billington the school principal, who on being informed of my dilemma immediately lowered herself somewhat in my opinion by asking if I’d got the sting out, despite my clearly stating that I had been stung by a wasp.

Entomological ignorance aside I was soon furnished with a cold drink, some anti-inflamatory cream and a bandaid and was allowed to lie down in the sick room for a while, which is really all a healthy nine year old requires when stung by a microscopic insect.

So that is the story of the only time I have ever been stung by a wasp.

Don’t Say Suicide

NOTE: This post discusses issues of suicide and self harm. If this may be triggering or upsetting for you, please feel free not to read any further. If you feel like you need help in this area then please contact a crisis line for assistance

OTHER NOTE: I AM FINE! This post is about stuff that happened at high school many (far too many!) years ago. While I am certainly no paragon of mental health, I am not in any kind of distress and am not contemplating any kind of self harm. I just feel like discussing some high school memories in my usual irreverent manner. Thank you for any concern, it is appreciated but I assure you quite unwarranted!


One particular year back in high school everyone suddenly seemed very concerned about suicide. I don’t know if there was a particular event that triggered this concern, I certainly can’t recall any of my fellow students attempting self harm, although to be fair it was not the kind of thing that would be openly discussed in the early 90s and I was not sufficiently connected to the school’s gossip network to pick up any rumours. Possibly it came down as a dictate from the Catholic Education Department, perhaps triggered by an incident at another school or as some kind of reaction to the rising popularity of Grunge music. In any case, without warning all our Religious Education classes suddenly switched to telling us why trying to kill ourselves would be considered a very bad move, both personally and spiritually.

Now, this in itself was no bad thing. No one could seriously suggest that trying to prevent teenagers from harming themselves is problematic. What puzzled my friends and I at the time however – and continues to puzzle me to this day – was the very strange way the anti-suicide message was presented. Whether this was due to the powers that be having to quickly come up with materials, some odd strictures of the Catholic church, or simply someone in an important position suffering from a chronic case of Dunning–Kruger is a mystery that will probably never be solved.

According to the information presented to us, teenagers attempted suicide for one of two reasons…

1: As an attention seeking strategy

2: As a means of revenge against people who (they feel) are mean to them

…and as such all the anti-suicide material we received was aimed at showing us how self-harm was an ineffective method for dealing with either problem.

For instance, in the first case, we could end up dead! Think about that! Our attempts at drawing attention to ourselves by taking a bottle full of pills, or cutting our wrists, or jumping in front of a train ran a very real risk of killing us! We didn’t want to end up DEAD did we? Of course not!

The second case was best illustrated by an anti-suicide video apparently obtained from the United States. It started with an angsty looking teen standing in a black void angrily making statements like “That’ll show them! They never appreciated me! Well now I’ve got the last laugh! Hah! They’re going to feel so bad now!” And then a deep voice, trying to sound – I seem to remember – like James Earl Jones but not quite succeeding, came out of the void and asked “Well what now?”. The teen, still seething with self-righteous anger, asked “What?”. The voice asked again “What will you do now?”. The teen looked shocked and stuttered “I… I don’t know…”.

While we considered the metaphysics of this, the video continued into a documentary about a second rank hair-metal-band who felt they had to do something about the ‘suicide problem’ among teens, so recorded a song called Don’t Say Suicide. They talked at length about how important the song was and how it would help prevent kids from self-harm – they even went into detail about how a teenager rang up a radio station and asked them to play his favourite song because he wanted to hear it before he killed himself, and the DJ played Don’t Say Suicide instead and the teen called up afterwards to say the song had changed his mind, and the band felt really great about that!

The tone of the piece was very strange. It seemed to veer between suicide prevention, a band-promo and a whole bunch of humble-bragging. At the end it cut back to the teenager in the black void, realising that he’d made a mistake and was now stuck in the black void forever. Whoops!

All of this education about why killing yourself was not a good way to get either attention or revenge was capped off with a reminder that suicide was a mortal sin, so if you did it you’d go to hell for all eternity – which is presumably that black void where not-James-Earl-Jones would question your choices until the end of time. So don’t do it kids!

The inanity of all this was best summed up by a friend of mine who sitting in art class after one of these R.E. sessions posed the question “What if you want to die just because you’re really tired?”. Our carefully administered regime of suicide-proofing provided no answer to this at all.

I guess out teachers did their best to address a difficult subject with the materials presented to them, but even at the time we students could see the inadequacies of the program. I sincerely hope that no student across the education system suffered because of them – although it’s almost certain that they did. And I presume that today’s schools recognise that self-harm and suicide are complex issues requiring more than sitting students down in front of a video of a hair metal band and threatening them with eternal damnation to solve.

(The friend who posed the question in art class is still with us, and turned out fine, just in case you were worried.)


When writing these kinds of posts I generally make it a practice to write down what I remember first, then check the actual historical details. As such I have now determined that contrary to my recollections, it was not an obscure hair-metal band that recorded Don’t Say Suicide but (apparently) well known Christian rock musician Rick Cua.

The song is simultaneously catchier and more religious that I remember, neither of which is surprising considering I only heard it once almost 30 years ago.

‘Tective Man a Say, Say Daddy me Snow me What?? – The Tales of The Geek Underclass Soundtrack Part 3

And so finally we come to the third and last volume of the Tales of the Geek Underclass soundtrack. You may wish to check out Part 1 and Part 2, or just plunge onward and try to figure out what’s going on from context alone (good luck…)

21: The Stutter Rap – Morris Minor and the Majors – 1988

Religious education was of course a major component of our time at high school – probably no more so than in year eight when we were still young, impressionable and generally dazed and confused from our transition out of primary education. As such the year eight RE curriculum was focused very heavily on Catholic doctrine, aiming to get as much of it as possible wedged into our brains before we could get oriented enough to develop some kind of resistance. One unit in particular concentrated on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude… uh… Splendour… errr… Industry and… Pierre Barthès?

In any case towards the end of this unit we were broken into groups and ordered to prepare a song highlighting said gifts for performance later in the week. Ryan and myself found ourselves teamed up with Abraham Blemmy, and – for lack of any better idea – the three of us got to work rewriting the lyrics of the previous year’s smash novelty hit Stutter Rap by Tony Hawks MBE.

It was not the greatest thing ever written. Much of it consisted of swapping words out for more religious ones – “Church” for “Club” and “Bible” for “Bottle” for instance. Then we whacked three hastily composed verses about the Holy Spirit onto the end and called it a day, assuming the success of our performance assured by the fact that Ryan had the song on cassette single, allowing us to play the distinctive intro riff before hastily hitting the STOP button and launching into our own version.

I don’t recall much about the performance, but have a feeling it was well received, probably because three nerds humiliating themselves by doing a piss-poor parody of a pretty good parody of the Beastie Boys was likely the funniest thing anyone had seen all week.

22: Girl’s Life – Girlfriend – 1992

It was rule that all of our schoolwork had to kept in a large lever-arch file. In something that was either a bold statement of rebellion or – more likely – sheer laziness, I would rarely if ever actually clip my papers in, I’d just shove them between whatever papers were already in there. I also never bothered to add any kind of protective or decorative cover on the folder – it remained bare, increasingly distressed, cardboard. As such my file become a notorious menace.

In English Lit one day Lauren Alighieri decided to take matters into her own hands and made me promise to add a cover to it. To get me started she pulled out a promotional flyer for Australia’s proto-Spice Girls, Girlfriend. “Do you like them?” she asked.

On the basis that, a) I thought they were kind of hot, and b) I would have said I liked fresh dog turd on toast if Lauren had suggested it, I replied “Well, they’re OK“. Lauren immediately grabbed a glue stick and stuck the flyer to the inside of the file.

I had a fair bit of explaining to do to my friends about why I was suddenly walking around with the least credible and least manly pop group since the Backstreet Boys decorating my schoolwork – at least until I ripped it out and covered the entire file with riveted metal plating made from olive oil tins instead.

I still have that file somewhere. I also still have a deep seated dislike for Girlfriend’s insipid pop music, but here there are on the soundtrack nonetheless.

23: Everything About You – Ugly Kid Joe – 1991

I found Ugly Kid Joe’s novelty ‘hate song’ very enjoyable, particularly the first verse where Whitfield Crane explains that he despises every possible location a person could visit – which was a pretty good summing up of my attitude to family trips at the time. Ryan however seemed to prefer their grunge influenced cover of the Harry Chapin classic Cats in the Cradle – or at least he’d randomly screech “MY BOY – WAS JUST LIKE ME!!” for years afterwards.

24: Infomer – Snow – 1993

Like everyone else in 1993 we were captivated trying to figure out what the hell Canadian rapper Snow was talking about. Something about Nana Mouskouri going ‘blam’? And ‘lecky boom boom’? Anyway it was catchy as hell no matter what he was jabbering.

Mark actually bought me a copy of the cassette single, which I suspect was a low key attempt to convert me to whatever slightly odd variety of Christianity his family practiced. As a result I am not only familiar with Informer, but with the B-Side Lonely Monday Morning, which is basically just Informer slowed down with a different chorus. Such variety!

25: The Grease Megamix – 1991

‘Megamixes’ were a thing in the 90s. They were a cheap way to manufacture a hit song by taking all the good bits from a bunch of vaguely related tracks and slapping them over a drum machine. The genre was pioneered in 1981 with Stars on 45, but it was the success of Jive Bunny and the Mixmasters and their 1940s themed Swing the Mood in 1989 that resurrected the idea for the ’90s.

As such it was inevitable that the release of Grease on home video would see the creation of a megamix. And what a megamix! It dominated the charts for weeks and was the third highest selling Australian single for the whole of 1991.

It was fun, it was catchy, and most of all it meant you could enjoy the music of Grease without having to actually suffer through watching Grease.

26: Joyride – Roxette – 1991

I make no apologies for Roxette being one of my favourite bands of the 90s. Their songs rocked then, their songs still rock now, and I will fight any man who says differently!

(Well, maybe apart from The Big L, I mean that one’s not great…)

Strangely I remember Joyride as their first big hit, but research indicates that it was just about their last. Maybe I was just very late getting on the bandwagon.

27: I’m Free – The Soup Dragons – 1990

While we generally held dance music in disdain we could recognise a good jam when we heard it. This track definitely qualified, probably because it was originally a Rolling Stones song.

28: Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers – 1991

You couldn’t get away from this track back in ’91. It was another that we composed a parody to, this one about one of our less effective teachers. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a teacher, I just sit here and talk to my best friend…

The Chili Peppers toured Perth the following year and numerous girls in Justin and my physics class were quite excited to see them, particularly since they were known for performing wearing only a single sock each. “Where!?” commented a scandalised Justin. “Where would you put a sock if that’s all you had to wear, man?” I asked him by way of explanation.

29: December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) – The Four Seasons/Ben Liebrand – 1993

This remix was a huge hit in our final year at high school. I particularly remember it being played on the year 12 retreat at Jarrahdale – presumably on cassette since radio reception down that way was notoriously horrible.

30: Last Train to Trancentral – The KLF – 1991

It is difficult to convey how much we geeks idolised, nay, worshipped the KLF. Their smash hit album The White Room was like holy scripture to us. We sang it. We quoted it. We ascribed strange powers to it, like the time the sign at the Home of Peace retirement village lit up one evening just as the line “…war and peace…” from Church of the KLF came sliding out of the car stereo. I memorised the rap (inaccurately as it turns out) from the Stand By the Jams version of Justified and Ancient and would recite it at such speed that it resembled speaking in tongues to try and impress girls (this never worked). We pondered the mysteries locked within Justin’s unplayable copy of History of the Jams, made efforts to obtain a copy of the aborted White Room movie and even christened Justin’s land rover The Justified.

We regarded Last Train to Trancentral as the greatest of the Stadium House Trilogy, not just because of the music, but because of the awesome model train layout (or in Justin’s case Wanda Dee) in the video.

– THIS IS WHAT KLF IS ABOUT –
– ALSO KNOWN AS THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU –
– FURTHERMORE KNOWN AS THE JAMS –

 

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

31: Two Princes – The Spin Doctors -1991

The Spin Doctors had a sizable hit with Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, then followed it up with this even bigger hit. It cropped up repeatedly during our high school years, Mark discussing the lyrics in art class, Justin arguing that the video clip mocked overweight people, and being played towards the end of the graduation ball, during which we geeks mostly sat around a table slamming back cola and watching everyone else dance.

32: Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – 1975

The Geek Underclass soundtrack would not be complete without Queen’s classic rock-ballad-opera-anthem-epic.

Everyone was a bit unsure about Queen. I mean, they were a gay band right? If you listened to Queen you might be gay – or be thought to be gay, which was something we geeks suffered through on a daily basis anyway and didn’t want any more of. We all changed our minds however in 1992 when the combination of Freddie Mercury’s passing and the song’s appearance in Wayne’s World rocketed it back up to the top of the charts for weeks on end and we all realised just what we were missing.

Apart from Satanic Shaun Bettar of course. He didn’t care if Freddy Mercury “wanted to break free”, he simply refused to acknowledge that anything lighter than Metallica could be considered rock music. But hey, that just meant there was more Queen for the rest of us.

And so we come to the end of the Tales of the Geek Underclass soundtrack. Thirty Two songs (assuming I’ve counted them right) that sum up my weird, strange, horrible and awesome high school years. There were many more tracks that could have been included, but I think these ones provide the best impression of that crazy half decade. Peace out, be excellent to each other and make mine a 99!

All the Russians Wanna Rock – The Tales of The Geek Underclass Soundtrack Part 2

Welcome to the second part of the theoretical soundtrack to the Tales of the Geek Underclass! If you haven’t read it already you may want to head back to Part One – otherwise, enjoy!

12: Sacrifice – Elton John – 1989

About halfway through our high school careers the elderly and hardly ever seen school Chaplain was replaced by the young and dynamic Father Jack. He was about as cool as any Catholic priest could hope to be, which was probably down to him being a Franciscan (all Franciscans harbour a touch of anarchy in their hearts) and his taking his dog with him everywhere, even up on the altar at school masses. We geeks ended up sharing a cabin with him on the year 12 retreat, which was certainly better than having to bunk down in the dorm with all the jocks.

One thing he did seem to miss the boat on though was the meaning of Elton John’s song Sacrifice. He played this incessantly at school religious events, linking it with Jesus’s crucifixion. Unfortunately it’s actually a song about infidelity and relationship breakdown. Not such a great choice there Father!

13: Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight – Body Count – 1992

Mr Feverson, the school art teacher, liked playing music in class. This generally varied between classical works such as Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and tracks from a ‘self-esteem’ CD he apparently thought suitable for the edification of teenagers rather than kindergarten children who might actually feel encouraged rather than talked down to by a song titled My Magic Brain.

I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances that lead to him authorising a student to play Body Count’s Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight. He stood by the CD player with an interested expression as the song began, an expression that became increasingly troubled as Ice-T rapped about discovering his mother was a racist. By the time Ice was beating his mother to death with a baseball bat Mr Feverson’s face was drawn and pale, and when it got to distributing her body parts all over the United States he looked ready to either burst into tears or pass out.

Personally I found the song to be so ridiculously over the top as to be hilarious. I can’t imagine seeing one of his students laughing hysterically at this sordid tale of matricide made Mr Feverson’s day any easier.

14: Jesus Was Way Cool – King Missile – 1990

Similarly bought in and played by a student was this meditative piece by King Missile. It was in Mr Eggar’s Religious Education class in 1993, our senior year. At the start of said year Mr Eggar had informed us that he didn’t believe in forcing religion down people’s throats so he would teach us whatever we needed to pass any tests and otherwise we should treat his classroom as a place to hang out, catch up on any study or homework we were lagging behind on, and generally just do whatever we wanted as long as it didn’t disrupt our fellow students. Forget Jesus, Mr Eggar was way cool.

One day someone bought in King Missile’s album and asked to play this song. Mr Eggar allowed it and we listened. We all agreed that it was pretty cool, and then asked Mr Eggar if we could play King Missile’s other well known track Detachable Penis.

Mr Eggar jumped up like he’d been shot and grabbed the CD player, stating that with ‘Fruitbat’ Romero as Principal there was no way in Hades he could allow us to play such a song. He maintained this line firmly despite much begging and my own explanation that the song was “just another way of looking at life” – a statement even I found puzzling as soon as it left my mouth.

15: So Far Away – Dire Straits – 1985

For reasons I can only attribute to the fact that their music is so damn good, Ryan and I became massive Dire Straits fans in high school. This was decidedly uncool – while the other kids were listening to Nevermind and Blood Sugar Sex Magic we were grooving to Brothers in Arms and swapping pirated tapes of On Every Street (my sloppy handwriting making My Parties look like My Panties was the source of great merriment, particularly as I’d filled up some left over space on the cassette with Single Handed Sailor). We’d challenge each other to identify Straits songs by their lyrics – Ryan notably baffling me by quoting The Blues (a rare track that I didn’t rate so much).

Dire Straits were also called into action when a couple of our geeky comrades forgot to bring in examples of ballads for English class. I happened to have Money For Nothing on me that day so Adam was assigned Tunnel of Love, while I managed to come up with a somewhat convincing argument for Walk of Life for Mark.

As such the soundtrack would not be complete without a contribution from Mr Knopfler, and what better than this classic tale of loneliness?

16: Jukebox in Siberia – Skyhooks – 1990

By 1990 glam rockers Skyhooks were looking rather worse for wear, but they managed to pull themselves together enough to commemorate the thawing of Russian relations with this hit novelty track.

We geeks had a somewhat mixed relationship with it – it should have been terrible on every level, but the the lyrics were pretty clever and the tune was really annoying catchy. We compromised by singing along with slightly altered lyrics – Jukebox in Siberia! A pain in the posterior!

17: Just the way it is Baby – The Rembrandts – 1991

Every time I hear this song it takes me back to the summer of 1991-1992, lying on my bed in my newly cleaned bedroom, listening to the radio and reading a graphic novel adaption of Dragons of Winter Night with the sun streaming in the windows and the entire school holidays in front of me.

18: You Could Be Mine – Guns n’ Roses – 1991

Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II both came out in 1991 and were regarded as almost holy artifacts when one of the bogans bought copies of them with him to the year 11 retreat at Jarrahdale. The obvious track to feature would be the awesome November Rain – particularly after Fabian spent hours and hours transcribing the violins by ear to reproduced them in a tracker program, but I’m instead featuring the decidedly second rate You Could Be Mine simply because Satanic Shaun Bettar almost punched me in the face when I mistakenly attributed it to Metallica during a discussion about Terminator 2 in art class.

19: To Be With You – Mr Big – 1991

Desperate efforts were made during the year 11 Jarrahdale retreat to try and pick up a Perth radio station for some decent music (the bogans refusing to yield either Use Your Illusion for general consumption). Fiddling with the aerial eventually picked up a crackly and distorted signal long enough to listen to Mr Big’s To Be With You and Zucchero and Paul Young’s Senza una Donna before it faded back into static.

20: What’s Up? – 4 Non Blondes – 1993

The current generation tend to know this as the HEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA song, but back in 1993 we were blown away by the astonishing vocals (and most impressive hat) of Linda Perry.

So there we go. Be sure to check back soon for the third and final installment of the Tales of the Geek Underclass Soundtrack!

I Wanna be Just Like You – The Tales of The Geek Underclass Soundtrack Part 1

Back in the day when I was writing the Tales of the Geek Underclass I had the idea of putting together a soundtrack of songs that featured in the stories or evoked (for me at least) that particular period in history. I never did, mostly because I got a job, which cut down on the time I had to spend on writing, and I went on antidepressants which – although making me feel much better generally – affected my ability to write anything at all. The Tales stalled and getting perilously close to twenty years later I’m not sure if I could pick them up again. A lot of memories have faded, and not only am I no longer the kid who went through it all, I’m no longer the young adult who wrote what exists of them.

I’ll never say never, but the prospects of a Geek Underclass revival are – at this point – fairly dim.

The soundtrack project however is something that’s been hovering in the back of my head for close on two decades, and now that the data sucking behemoth that is Google hosts just about every song ever recorded by mankind on YouTube it’s a lot easier to accomplish than having to locate the tracks on Napster, spend a week downloading them across dial up, burn them to CDs, design and print covers and then distribute the finished items to people who probably don’t really understand what the whole project is about in the first place.

So, let’s get on with it…

(Yes, I could make a YouTube playlist but I am averse to willingly providing Google with even more info than they have already no doubt amassed on me. If they want this data they’re going to have to scrape it damnit!)

1: The King of Wishful Thinking – Go West – 1992

As a lovelorn teen I was very keen on the name of this song and adopted it as a personal title in relation to my long running crush on the girl I’ve glossed in the Tales as Lauren Alighieri. This was in spite of the fact that the song – as was repeatedly and vociferously pointed out to me by Ryan – was clearly about a guy unable to get over a breakup and there was no way I could “miss the way that [Lauren] used to kiss me” because we’d never even so much as held hands.

2: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers – 1988

This was played on the bus to year 8 camp resulting in the entire year singing along with the “da da da da” bit – probably to the intense annoyance of the driver.

3: Enter Sandman – Metallica – 1991

No Tales soundtrack would be complete without something from Metallica, the favourite band of Satanic Shaun Bettar. He much preferred this to the other major cut from the Metallica album – Nothing Else Matters – which he described as a “soppy fucking love song”.

4: Just Like You – Robbie Neville – 1991

I clearly remember Ryan declaring this to be his favourite song ever. He equally clearly remembers hating it with the heat of a thousands suns. It’s funny how memory can mislead us.

5: Get Ready for This – 2 Unlimited – 1991

The early 90’s were when electronic dance music crossed into the mainstream. Most of it was appalling, and this major hit from the Netherlands was no exception. We hated it. It became for us a symbol of everything that was wrong with popular music. Its ubiquity throughout ’91 and ’92 and our burning hatred for it means that it cannot in honestly – despite its dreadful mediocrity – be excluded from any musical summing up of the Tales.

(Two additional notes: In a moment of random computer class insanity I re-coded the into music for a game where two giant gorillas threw explosive bananas at each other to the song’s synth riff, and I’ve never been able to shake the mental image that occurred to me when I first learned that 2 Unlimited were Dutch – that of two skinny old men in suspenders and flat caps with scraggly beards hanging down to their belts strutting up and down and performing dance moves on top of a canal boat.)

6: Winds of Change – The Scorpions – 1991

It’s probably difficult for anyone who grew up after the whole thing was over to appreciate just how momentous the end of the Cold War was. We’d all grown up with the fear of nuclear annihilation hovering over us, the world could end at any moment with only a few minutes warning and there was little to nothing we could do about it. Then, suddenly, in the space of a few short years it was all done. The Wall was down, the Russians were our friends and it was time to party! Paging David Hasselhoff!

Looking back from our post-9/11, Putin-on-the-warpath world the carefree days of the 90’s seem like another planet. But such has always been the way of the world.

The Scorpions’ anthem also makes it onto the album for another reason. I don’t know how the secondary school system runs nowdays, but back when the Geek Underclass were being forced through it the final two years – Year 11 and Year 12 – were optional. You generally only did them if you intended to go on to university. If you had an apprenticeship or job lined up (or if you just didn’t give a monkey’s) you could finish school at the end of year 10 and never come back. And if you stayed on, things got dead serious with only two years to prepare for the dreaded Tertiary Entrance Exam.

So for me at least, the end of 1991 was much more of an end of high school than my actual graduation at the end of Year 12 in 1993 was. It was the last time our class was complete, with a swathe of friends, enemies and bit players vanishing from the school stage. Our carefree childhoods ended and we became professional students, knuckling down and packing our brains for the TEE. Winds of Change felt like a commemoration of that transition, a graduation song a full two years early. I still remember sitting in a pew at the chapel down at Saint Brigit’s with it playing, although I can’t quite remember why we were there rather than at the school’s chapel/gym – maybe there was a volleyball game or something that day?

7: Friday I’m in Love – The Cure – 1992

There were two reasons we hated the Cure.

First of all they were Goths. Or at least they were listened to by Goths, which in our addled teenage minds pretty much added up to the same thing. Goths – strange, dark, and pale inhabitants of the GPO steps in Forrest Place – were the subject of much disdain, both in our day to day conversation and on Radio RTR’s letter request program Steregoround. We mocked them mercilessly, I even made up a Goth joke!

Q: How do you know when there’s a Goth in your freezer?

A: Face prints in the vanilla ice-cream.

I can’t think of a single reason why we despised Goths so. Possibly as close to the lowest members of the social heirarchy  we just needed some group to look down on, and Goths were a convenient target. Particularly so in that there were no Goths (obvious ones at least) at the school, and hence we had no fear of reprisals.

The second reason we despised the Cure is that they were the favourite band of one of our enemies, a girl I shall call Carisse Halter. While most of the school’s female population saw fit to simply ignore us, there was a small contingent who went out of their way to harass and belittle us, and Carisse was one of their leading lights. We would exchange insults and invective on a regular basis, and one of the most effective ways to rattle her was to mock her beloved Robert Smith. In particular I used to do a Robert Smith impression consisting of spreading out my hands, affecting a look of weepy confusion and making what are probably best described as high pitched wookiee sounds towards the sky.

Friday I’m in Love being the Cure’s biggest hit made it – in our minds – the most Gothic song ever written, and we were scathing in our disdain of it!

The irony was I actually thought it was a fantastic song and just pretended to hate it. And as the years went by and I shed the more gregarious idiocies of my adolescence I came to realise that the Cure are an amazing band with dozens of other fantastic songs. Sorry Carisse! Sorry Robert!

(I also developed a bit of a thing for Goth chicks, but that’s neither here nor there…)

8: Mistadobalina – Del tha Funky Homosapien – 1991

This was probably the first piece of hip hop our white arses ever heard. It was so catchy that we even rewrote a version about Sarge, the Chemistry teacher (for the record it wasn’t very good…).

9: The Globe – Big Audio Dynamite – 1991

We were huge fans of both The Globe and Rush by Big Audio Dynamite, so one of the two would have to feature on the soundtrack. I was particularly proud of having memorised the lyrics behind the chorus (Tryin’ to – get out this rain…).

10: Runaway Train – Soul Asylum – 1993

As a moody teen there are times when you simply have to wallow in self pity about how awful your life is and how no one cares about your feelings. One of the best songs for this during our school years – in my opinion – was Soul Asylum’s mega hit. Even today it still stands up – particularly when you realise it’s not about how your parents just don’t understand you, but about depression.

11: Heart in Danger – Southern Sons – 1990

Another song I enjoyed sulking to, Heart in Danger has not stood up anywhere near as well. The tune is still pretty rockin’ but the lyrics read like every moody teenager diary entry ever penned – which is presumably why it appealed to me so much at the time. Now it’s just pure cringe, and as such must be included in the soundtrack to remind us all of what free-wheeling, artless fools we once were!

So that’s it for today. Tune in soon for more 90’s goodness in the Tales of The Geek Underclass Soundtrack Part 2!

Books they Made Me Read at High School

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Pretty good!)

The Legends of King Arthur by someone who I can’t quite remember  (Plenty of fun to be had here)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (Two words – Kick. Arse!)

The Collected Poems of Bruce Dawe (Moving along…)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Awesome!)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (OK, but a bit long winded)

Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy (Not bad)

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (The Simpsons did it better)

The Go Between by L. P. Hartley (The past is a foreign country. They write fucking terrible novels there.)

Reflections

One of the most important things a parent can provide to their child is consistency.

I recall an incident from many years ago, back when I was a kid and still living at home. It was a Good Friday, and as good Catholics my brother, mother and I were fasting and abstaining from meat. Doing so makes for a pretty miserable day, but there was one thing that made it bearable, which was having a decent feed of fish and chips when dinner time came around.

So we phoned through and placed an order (nice and early, Good Friday being the peak day for fish and chip consumption nationwide) and Dad went off and picked it up. He bought it home and in the kitchen he and Mum divided it up onto the plates. I grabbed mine, and reached for the tomato sauce, only to be prevented by mum who in a very serious and pious voice declared that fancy condiments were forbidden on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, and that the only salt (representing the world’s tears) and vinegar (like that offered to Jesus on a sponge and hyssop stick) would be permitted.

So I doused my food with salt and vinegar and went off to watch TV.

A year or so later Easter again rolled around, and again we fasted and abstained until dinner time when Dad went off to pick up the fish and chips. Once again it was divided into portions and as I waited to grab the suitability pious condiments of salt and vinegar I was somewhat shocked to see Mum smear tartar sauce all over her fish, then reach for the tomato sauce bottle. In puzzlement I suggested that we should only have salt and vinegar on Good Friday, and Mum looked at me like I was insane.

It was one of very few occasions when I lost a bit of respect for her.

My brother and I had quite a strict Catholic upbringing. I didn’t actually realise this for many years, not until my brother mentioned it – ruefully – at a party. My imediate response was to laugh and declare “as if!”, but on thinking about it I realised – to my surprise – that he was right. We were sent to Catholic school. We attended church every Sunday morning and all through Easter. We were both enrolled as altar servers and inducted into the Guild of St Stephen. We received all the Sacraments when they came around. We said prayers every night, and instead of bedtime stories we got read the Bible from end to end. It would be hard to imagine a more Catholic upbringing without involving a drunken Irishman whipping us with a belt for the Sin of Disobedience.

Skipping church was, of course, a big deal. The only excuse was serious illness. I recall one Sunday towards the end of my schooling when I had a big exam coming up and I declared that I couldn’t go to church because I had to study. It took a good twenty minutes of arguing before Mum backed down, and even then she was in a foul mood all day and had Dad keep checking on me to make sure I was actually studying rather than goofing off.

In spite of occasional incidents like the former, my upbringing never really rankled with me. Call it autistic, but I accepted this state of being as the only possible state of being. I was born already having drunk the Kool-Aid. My childhood was one of earnest piety, and religious conviction followed me well into my teens – even as I modified my beliefs to deal with irreligious friends and raging hormones. I tend to think of myself as a rational being, and remember myself as a rational teenager, but I can also recall thoughts that seem quiet strange and alien to me now. Worrying about the immortal soul of a girl I had a crush on who was known to be sexually active, or being both shocked and saddened when my friend Ryan stopped going up to Communion at school masses.

Religiosity also affected my social life, or lack thereof. For much of my teens I tried to avoid romantic entanglements on the basis that they could only lead to temptations that couldn’t be fulfilled, sex before marriage being a dreadful sin and something I would never do. The lack of dating and social experience resulting from this philosophy turned it into something of a self fulfilling prophecy – by the time I revised my views it was too late to be the gawkish, shy, inexperienced guy, a problem that still has an effect on my romantic endeavors to this day.

My brother, I think, had it worse however. Where I was happy to spend much of my teen years as some kind of contemplative monk, he rankled under the rules and restrictions.He was social and outgoing, having his behaviour tested and scrutinised through a religious lens must have been excuciating. On top of this, coming to terms with the fact that you’re gay is not easy for any teenager, let alone one raised in a Catholic household and attending a Catholic school. Discussion of feelings and emotions is just not done in our family so I don’t know the full scope of his suffering, but I knew at the time that he had some kind of problems, and looking back I see that they must have been awful. I don’t think that I was much help either, floating along in my self assured little cloud. The depression and anxiety that I’ve been bedeviled with since my early twenties really makes me despise some of the ignorant attitudes towards mental suffering that I had – and expressed – as a teenager.

So, here we are at another Easter. I no longer consider myself a Catholic, I’m more of a sort of agnostic-pantheist who believes in a Deity but will happily admit that no hard evidence for such a Deity exists, and therefore I could very easily be completely deluded. I’ll more than likely attend church at some point this weekend, if only to hold up the traditions and to keep Mum happy. Then I’ll eat my chocolate and wish good to all those who wish good unto others.

Happy Easter!

The Court of Ancient Grievances

Order! Order! The Court of Ancient Grievances is now in session!

It is hereby alleged that on or around the 9th of October 1998 the music reviewers of the Sunday Times newspaper stated that the song Thunderbirds are Coming Out by TISM contained “speculation about the sexual proclivities of the Thunderbirds puppets”, indicating that said reviewers had either not listened to the song, or when listening to the song did not pay even cursory attention to the lyrics.

It is furthermore alleged that on or around the 26th of February 2001 the music reviewers of the Sunday Times newspaper stated in relation to the song Heat Seeking Pleasure Machine by Paul Mac that “Paul Mac has a sexy voice”, indicating that said reviewers did not carry out any research or even bother to read the back of the CD case – both actions that would have uncovered the publicly available fact that the vocalist on said song was Tex Perkins of the Cruel Sea.

It is also alleged that on or around the 12th of June 2002 the music reviewers of the Sunday Times newspaper stated that the song Satisfaction by Benny Benassi was a cover of the Rolling Stones song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, indicating that said reviewers either failed to listen to the Benny Benassi song, failed to listen to the Rolling Stones song, or equally likely failed to listen to either.

Therefore, it is the opinion of this court that the music reviewers of the Sunday Times between the years 1998 and 2002 were a bunch of complete fart-artists labouring under the weight of a total and systemic contempt for music, the music listening public and their responsibilities as employees of the Sunday Times.

How plead the defendants?

(Note: The Court of Ancient Grievances acknowledges that this all happened a long time ago, and that it might in fact have been the music reviewers of the West Australian Newspaper who carried out these crimes against fact. If so, the Court apologises unreservedly to the music reviewers of the Sunday Times who presumably did not have their heads completely up their arses.)

A Televisual Feast

As inspired by Reddit, some TV shows from my childhood…

The Goodies: Kitten Kong, Frankenfido, Apartheight, Clown Gas, Black Beauty, Timita, The Funky Gibbon, Rolf Harris – back in the 80s every Australian kid watched these guys religiously.

Monkey: If you were an Australian kid in the 80s, then you watched “Monkey Magic”. No exceptions. The nature of monkey was… IRREPRESSIBLE!

Catweazel: Electrickery and Telling-bones! Twelve are they that circle round, if power you seek they must be found, look for where the thirteen lies, mount aloft the one who flies

The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Awesome! Until the Olmecs turned up, anyway. And some of those documentaries at the end were a bit dodgy. But even today I’d kill to have that boat!

Worzel Gummidge: Worzel Gummidge scared the shit out of me! He could take his head off! No!

Secret Valley: Kind of naff, but we still watched it, even while claiming that it sucked. And who didn’t want a cave base like the Spider Gang? The sequel/spin-off on the other hand was an abomination whose name I shall not even repeat. Just note that the theme song (somewhat ironically) used the word ‘poop’ a lot.

You Can’t Do That on Television: Somehow both the origin of Alanis Morrisette and Nickelodeon’s green slime.

Fraggle Rock: I particularly like the episode where they stopped eating the Doozer’s buildings. We had the version with the old inventor and his dog.

Peter Russel Clarke: Cook a shark or make a damper, feed your ego.. pack a hamper.. on a farm or out at sea, learn a recipe or threeeeeeeee… Come and get it! With Peter! G’day! Russel! G’day! Clarke! How ya goin?

Chocky: Weird and creepy! I used to spend hours drawing that picture with the spheres and pyramids.

Astroboy: OK, but more something we watched just because it was on rather than because we loved it.

Grange Hill: We thought this was kind of uncool and boring, but we still watched it because it came on in between other good shows.

Battle of the Planets: Naturally I had a crush on Princess. Nonetheless I really wanted one of those badges the bad guys wore.

Into the Labyrinth: Rothgo… Rothgo… Rothgo… Every episode was filmed in a cave, and looked like it.

Ulysses 31: Anime version of the Greek Myths. I drew picture after picture of that annoying little robot. That said, the Odyssey is one of the best spaceship designs ever!

Watch This Space: Cheaply made and pretty stupid, but they featured some amazing bands.

Kaboodle: Awesome theme music!

I am so old! 😀