with illustrations by Leigh Rigozzi.
In February 2011 I performed a lunchtime gig at Monash University, Clayton Campus in Victoria. It was my one day off during a two week Adelaide Fringe run. I had to get up at 4am to catch the flight over. I was in a fruity mood.
I arrived to find a DJ playing that ‘Barbara Streisand’ song at full volume. How audacious are DJs to think their violent beats are welcome at 10:30am on a Wednesday? I don’t care if you have been booked by the organisers. Either play some Neil Young or forfeit your set out of goodwill. Dance music has its territory – nightclubs, raves, commercial radio, must it encroach on the traditional timeslot of the acoustic muso as well?
Happiness is scoffing a nutrient water ten minutes before you go onstage for a gig you know for a scientific fact isn’t going to be remotely inspiring. Additional happiness is having used the same kind of bottle to wee into backstage at your Fringe venue the night before because the toilet was down two flights of stairs and life is too short to perform with any kind of wee in you. Nutrient water bottles are handy as they have a wide mouth. Ladies.
My solo gig started out routinely. I left my sunglasses on, as an international sign of ‘I do not care. Do not mess with me. I will crush you with my professionalism’ as oft-modelled by E from Eels at his rockier shows. There ain’t much banter, it’s a four to the floor setlist burner.
I can’t believe how much universities have sold out. Not only are they condensing their art faculties and burning off specialty subjects, but they are gaily renting out prime clubs and societies real estate to any evil multi-national who’ll plonk five figures in their off-shore account. Today I was lucky enough to have the Lipton Ice Tea cult, dressed in aggressive lime green, passionately defending their patch of Astroturf across from me. Their capitalist compound was a cross between a miniature golf course and child’s playhouse. The lynchpin was a green tunnel you could crawl through. After enquiring of the fun-factor I was matter-of-factly informed “the tunnel doesn’t go anywhere.”
I was amused by the human screen saver of sporadic traffic walking back and forth on the concourse. Entertainment came from commentating mid-song on the gaudily dressed youths sporting balloon hats, cow print onesies, orange superhero capes and an Argentinean flag. After spying a procession of students pushing food trolleys I declared “you know all these people are stealing stuff – there’s no barbecue, it’s just that easy to wheel stuff out of here. Look, there goes a bloke with a television, stolen straight out of a classroom.”
Things turned mock-ugly during Northcote. A Korean photographer in an orange vest crouched down and I exploded like a gas barbecue.
“Nah man you can’t take my photo, that was in my contract, seriously, put that away!” I snarled in hipster accent. He glanced at his camera and put it back to his eye.
“What are you doing, seriously dude you take that photo and you’re in breach of contract. I’m very specific about this.” I was Chris Lilley doing Anton Newcombe. A beefier Asian dude pulled up and got out his smart phone. I gave him the same tirade, receiving the finger as he walked off. I threatened to throw a cart of glasses at him, being pushed by the nearest lunch lady.
“He’ll have to get it off me first!” she told no-one in particular. I simmered down and returned to the song. A verse later sneaky orange vest was sitting back with his crew drawing the camera up to his face. I threw down my pick in disgust.
“Just because you’re in the distance doesn’t mean I can’t see you. I’m not blind. What do you think I’m like eighty years old with cataracts?”
Part of doing a lame-douche character is coming up with lame-douche taunts.
The thing about performing at these Uni O-week things is that in the same breath that you’re introduced by the MC, he’s also telling people to get over to the Uni Bar for the breakdancing competition in ten minutes. It’s a great leveller. At no other time are you more reminded of the fact that all you are is an entertainer, providing a service like everyone else; from the union staff serving sausages to the skiing club president drinking shots off a ski.
During a quieter song I was annoyed by the Popcorn People next door. They were promoting something – a Chlamydia swab app? – with free popcorn in a cone. I knew I couldn’t compete with that. It doesn’t take a sociologist to calculate the aggregate net worth of a free cone of popped corn versus a word-heavy novelty b-side no-one asked for. Even if I played Northcote on loop and put out a bowl of Clinkers I’d still be breaking even. When the Popcorners started playing ‘Barbara Streisand’ over their tinny speakers I ripped out my guitar lead and marched over for a considered yet friendly neighbourhood chat.
“Can you guys turn that off? I’m trying to entertain!” Said the pale yet muscular sad/angry busker clown with clip on sunglasses and undone fly.
The Lipton Ice Tea brigade watched it all through nineteen year old irony-free eyes. As soon as I’d finished my set, three girls got up to do a Sparkle Motion-esque counter attack. I wanted to set fire to myself, but instead took a free Schick razor from a stand and put it in the bin on the way to the toilet.
Later I played a second set with my band The Awkwardstra. We approached the stage to sound check but were blocked by the All-Female All-Japanese self-defence society putting the demon in demonstration. Happiness is being trapped side-stage looking out over a crowd 800% bigger than the one you just had watching two girls scream like tennis players and roundhouse kick each other in the noonday sun. I considered hijacking the event, stripping down to my boxers, karate chopping my guitar in half and screaming “It’s good for my self esteem” before hiding in the Lipton tunnel until the Vice Chancellor dragged me out by the fringe.
As the crowd dispersed we started our folk-rock show. The dynamic between performer and audience was not dissimilar to that of religious nuts on street corners and Friday night shoppers. Still scorned by the Lipton Girls’ degrading display, I turned to Nature Boy and whispered “tell them The Bedroom Philosopher is going to do a presentation for Birds Eye Chips.” I stood on the concourse and after receiving Nature’s introduction, lifted my shirt up and waddled from side to side in a sexually childlike way while reciting a sordid poem.
“Ooh birds eye in my grill / ooh I want more I know I will.”
The doe eyed students seemed far more understanding of my marketing parody than any material I’d presented thus far. The mentioning of a consumable was an audio pacifier for the Gen-I media-mites, happy to save time by not questioning the things that made them and the world surface happy. It’s wise to criticise those below us. They are our replacements.
Song song. Band Band. Underrated genius. Underrated genius. In a desperate attempt to connect with the possibly good looking clump of girls wearing promotional aprons and Viking hats in the gazeboed horizon I tried an acoustic version of ‘Barbara Streisand’ but felt the cool blade of Mad Dog holding a free Schick razor to my throat. Gordo doused him with a Lipton Iced Tea and we regained our composure.
During New Media, the Skiing Society made their third noisy entrance to the concourse for the day, displaying a row of shots on a ski and proudly declaring it a “Shotski.” I instantly despised everything about this, and told them as much.
“Nah man,” they protested, “we’re doing this for you.” I could see the underlings had brought the exotic liquors and paddling stick as a sacrifice, but could not condone the flamboyant idolisation of these damaging drugs in a day that had already been suffocated by corporate greed and intellectual apathy.
“Oh yeah,” I bellowed, removing my guitar. “Let’s celebrate the miracle drug of alcohol that’s been linked to over 50, 000 deaths in this country each year and kills more people than cigarettes and drug use combined. It’s all fun and games now but where are you in twenty years when you’ve lost your wife and kids, sitting bloated and pock-marked in the corner of your one bedroom flat crying into your warm can of Tooheys Red at ten in the morning?”
A smattering of applause (my band mates trying to get the attention of the mental health officer) fuelled me on and I took refuge on the drum kit, playing a We Will Rock You beat on kick and snare while ranting about the fact my Uncle Nigel died from alcoholism in his forties.
AHORA QUE ES ENTRETENIMIENTO!
We finished our set as the supercheese MC shimmied on stage. The 40 weak crowd clapped with the intensity of 50. “How about an encore from The Bedroom Philosopher!” He enthused. I checked my watch, flipped my dark glasses down and strolled to the mic.
“The Bedroom Philosophers are not contractually obliged to perform any more entertainment.” As we packed up, Nature Boy told me he’d heard a couple of students walk past, watch us for a bit, say “I really like this guy” and keep walking.
After selling no merch, I found a Mentos lolly on the ground, padded over to the Lipton compound and crawled into the tunnel entrance. I could see what they meant. The tunnel didn’t go all the way, it was sealed off after half a metre. The idea of a tunnel. I came out and sat next to a rock on the corner of the lawn. The surface looked scuffed and shiny. It was plastic. Over the speakers came the smooth compressed thump of ‘Barbara Streisand.’ The bulk of this song is a Boney-M sample from the 70’s, the beat too slow and thin to have impact today. On the ground was a smattering of trodden popcorn. The ultimate puff food. Next to it, a puddle of Liptons – tea made more consumable with the extraction of heat. A girl handed me a Schick razor, a device intended to gentrify the human form; airbrush it from its course, savage features.