Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Duntroon - Rocks!

Time for a brief stop on our trip south. Elephant Rocks, about five kilometres west of Duntroon is one of North Otago’s best kept secrets. It is, however, also a recognisable location for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Next door is a still standing, but surely crumbling, set for the seemingly-doomed Kingdome Come. It’s an incongruity, sitting as it is among sheep-tracked hillocks, and with a sealed road metres from its boundaries; but utterly vacant and telling a sad tale of bankruptcy, is threatening no-one and impressing few. Much more interesting are the rocks themselves. Limestone shapes erupting from the ground, formed by the movement of earth and water and shaped over thousands of years by wind into grey and cream clouds of calcium carbonate. This far from the Highway 56 they’re wonderfully silent sentinels in some still green pastureland, and an instant reminds of climbing games with friends from years back.

Jet Junior took great delight clambering over the smaller ones, and it was encouraging to see on a late afternoon that the tourists passing through on the Vanishing World fossil trail were content to leave things as they were, to take photos and sit happily atop the giants, becoming part of the landscape for a spell. There’s something restful about being enclosed by so many soft, organic curves of hill and stone face, with only the open air above and quietly grazing sheep nearby. I’ll return here again as soon as I can, I reckon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark(ness)

Before I launch into my 'Manic Phases' thread of too-earnest political Welsh rock, a brief word about:

The Darkness. A band I enjoy.

When I was seventeen I knew everything. I was confident in the beliefs I’d held for the majority of my teenage years, my world view was broadening and my knowledge increasing. I took to school debating with aplomb; and I knew what I liked when it came to music. I liked Alternative Music, whatever that was. The irony wasn’t lost on me at the time, but the sheer exclusivity of my musical tastes were. I’d scoffed at a school mate who once answered my question of what music he liked with “everything”. No, Malcolm, I insisted. What genre of music do you like? His answer was the same. Years later I finally caught up. My tastes have also broadened. I may not like “everything”, but I’m sure I can find something in most modern forms, a few old forms, and, well, so long as there’s a good beat to tap my foot to, I can probably accommodate the rest. Music is supposed to be universal, isn’t it? It’s supposed to find a common ear?

It’s also supposed to entertain. No, really. It was another couple of years and well into my University age that I discovered for myself what really bugged me about the NMEs, Melody Makers and Rip It Ups I’d fussily collected and studiously pored over. Even the Rolling Stones, which, after a brief period of adoration were swiftly consigned to that great Malcolm-styled pile of ‘pointless’ in my still-developing adult brain. What I realised was that every one of these titles were to a man JOYLESS. Indexed and categorised with fickle detail like the Top Gear Wall of Cool, and just as useless. The UK music press was the worst, trapped in a routine of hype-and-destroy with a new indie band the front cover darlings for up to five months before they were met with the indignity of relegation to the sarcastic humour page, buried under the gormless faces of the next indie front page darlings. It was, I found, a depressing cycle to which I had no desire to subscribe or contribute. And I returned to buying comics.

The best thing about all of this, and liking bands like Iron Maiden and The Darkness is that I no longer feel I have to justify my liking them. There’s no cool-sheet to follow when you reach middle age (God help you if you actually find one. Run away!), and the older I get, the more that derisive label Dad Rock(tm) allows me the freedom to exercise that right. It's a win-win for me, and it appeals strongly because the alternative is the inevitable: free jazz. Shoot me if I ever go there, somebody.

I love The Darkness because they eschew those rules, that music can only be of value if it's earnest, boundary-pushing or somehow 'worthy'. Music shouldn't always challenge, and along with moving the heart, the feet and the mind, dammit, it should also move the corners of your mouth from time to time. Their self-funded debut is an absolute cracker. Their follow-up is disappointing, suggesting they'd instead bought into the arguments of their critics and actually produced a novelty album of silly juvenile songs. Their break-up produced two different but also alike bands, Hot Leg and Stone Gods. And - if this is important to some - they've walked a difficult road of overnight success without major label backing, critical scorn (accused a novelty act) sibling fallout, break-up, drug rehab and osteonecrosis (yikes). And now they've re-formed with their original lineup and are touring and recording. It makes me happy.

All music fans owe it to themselves to follow at least one act or artist who isn't there to validate some self (or worse) appointed notion of 'cool'; and remind them why they got into music in the first place. The Darkness are mine. Who's yours?