Monday, April 18, 2011

Existentialism in Amherst

I've dodged bullets before. Figuratively, not literally of course - the right to bear arms has had absolutely no effect on my day-to-day I'm happy to say. However, despite the lack of sleep and the liver-pickling effort I put in the night before, I managed to make my 9AM class without the tiniest bit of illness. It wasn't a bullet I dodged, it was a cannonball.
Fact: the Red Sox are terrible this year.

Thursday's effort was the kind of memorable that leaves very little to the memory bank. Smart-arsery, photobombs, false accusations towards strangers and being a general prat were the order of the night. I crushed a plastic cup on Evan's head for reasons I don't recall, and duly received the same treatment in return. I had planned on a few quiet ones, but when I was getting special prices and the occasional free Bacardi, the plan crumbled like a sandcastle falling victim to poor tidal judgement.

What's worse, when the bar shut the night didn't end. I persevered to an hour more familiar to bakers before finally calling it quits in favour of an educational promise to myself and a few hours kip. I woke up for class the next day in the same clothes as the night before, but with shoes swapped out for a pair of colder and infinitely more comfortable thongs. Early morning summer delusion was the call of the day as my feet froze.

We planned the Saturday night with a run to the liquor store, and on the return journey a man with the undeniable look of crazy greeted us at the bus stop. It could have been the paper bags, or the funny voices, but from the moment we got there he began to eye us off, slowly stepping towards the group. When he finally broke his silence, he began a micro-schizophrenic verse that ended with me being called a "snake in the grass" amongst other things. He continued with the crazy for a while and in between his complaints about missing the Red Sox game due to a lack of television I waited for him to either pull a knife or steal our 40oz PBRs. Alas, a bus arrived, and as we left we happily responded to his query about any of us owning a television with a polite "no".

Thursday had been fun, and Friday was relatively calmer by comparison. Sam and I discretely headed for the Spoke, but it appears our course of direction threw us away from the action. At a party that followed the bar visit, Josh tried to escape with a beer in his hand. Once spotted by two bicycle police, two squad cars were called in followed by a transportation van. He was hauled to jail for a few hours in what is a remarkable misallocation of tax-payer spending for the sake of an open container law that is laughable to anyone not from America. Oh well, at least he gets a souvenir mugshot, and for that I'm a little bit jealous.

For some reason, Friday left me feeling absolutely battered on Saturday. I felt like I had the life and motivation to do anything sponged from within while my head was left to throb an incessant bass drum beat in my brain. Fortunately, Amherst's Cannabis Reform Committee had decided to provide some soothing weekend entertainment.

While the police will happily arrest you for holding an open drink, they turned a blind eye to the 'Extravaganja' event that took place on the town common. I was late to arrive, but already things were proving entertaining. A stream of poncho-wearing red-eyed stumblers were heading the other direction as things were beginning to wrap up. In town, Antonio's pizza shop had a bigger line than any I'd seen there before and the doorway next to it was occupied by a group of four gentlemen who proceeded to stroke the glass window up and down for a while. The giant sandwich mascot of Subway was to stoners what a light is to a moth. The visit was short, and I though I didn't actively participate, I saw enough to want to return the next day, camera in hand.

And so I did. The previous night's rain made me sink into the ground as if I'd doubled my weight overnight. Years ago, some structuralist ideology determined reggae was the preferred choice of a marijuana smoker, so that played loudly over the stage and speaker system at the other end as people lit up without a care. Naturally, there were people in Bob Marley shirts playing hackey-sack next to girls with hula-hoops. There were stalls all over, but only three products being sold - over priced food, phallic smoke ware and lots of tie-dye. One entrepreneur was offering hand-painted lighters for sale, but had simply written 420 on them in black marker and it seems most people had caught onto the act.

Tents were scattered all over the area, and dogs and children joined chemically challenged owners and parents. Bros were as equally welcomed and hippies of all ages mingled like it was a social mixer. I saw two bicycle police the whole time, and they were situated on the outer of the commons, clearly not needing to be utilised.

a more seriouser photography man

I left the scene in the same state as I arrived. Hippies, festivals and stoners are the same the whole world over. It's all bad smells, bad dancing, slow talking and not giving a single fuck. I could have been anywhere else in the world and been witness to similar scenes such is the generic nature of stoners, but to have it in Amherst, where I had previously criticised a bored and overbearing authority, was pretty nice.

I had planned on heading away for the long weekend, but some medical bills (which I finally paid) and exorbitant Boston accommodation put an end to that (PS, if anyone has a couch/floor available in Boston or around after school finishes please let me know). The long weekend was highly unproductive, with work falling even further behind. I'm having a minor existential crisis in Amherst over my degree and journalism. Things for one of my classes have gone extraordinarily pear-shaped, and for the first time since high-school, I feel like I'm willing to settle for the bare minimum. It's a horrible feeling, and even though I'm working hard to rectify the academic issues, I feel like I'm trying to climb a mountain that is in the middle of a landslide. I love university and the opportunity I've been given, but the next 3 weeks will determine how hard I'm willing to work to get what I want. Here we go.

The Cure - Friday I'm In Love
That last paragraph was a massive downer, so I figured I'd share MY FAVOURITE SONG OF ALL TIME! Yeah, it's official. There's no facebook announcement, no lyrics tattooed on my forehead or any of that - just a few words and an embed code typed into a blog. Still, I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I do. I remember hearing on it on commercial radio when I was a kid, before downloading it when I was a teenager. It survived everything since, and even today it still gets me. Everything from the opening riff to the weird noises at the end is just perfect.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Record Store Day

*This is another post that has very little to do with living and studying in America, I just wanted to steal your time for a few minutes and write about another thing I love. Ta.

I really cannot wait for Record Store Day. For all the protests by major labels and certain recording artists about a dying industry, the passion and innovation of people in love with music says otherwise. The fact that I do not currently have a record player does not seem to matter, the special edition releases proliferate through the popular culture at a rapid rate, and within hours are available online. Still, it hasn't stopped me from buying them before, and with download codes and all other assorted bonuses, the initiative to do so again has increased.

It's remarkable that wiping clear the rear-view mirror and reviving analogue music has been one way forward for music distribution. We've seen with Radiohead's distribution of their last two long players, TV On The Radio's new film/album on YouTube and The Flaming Lips' remarkable gummy skull as creative ways to embrace fans and still line their pockets. However, it is Record Store Day, the event first conceived in 2007, that has grabbed my attention with a vice like grip. For the third Saturday of April every year, artists and stores spoil fans with new releases and events that celebrate everything great about the modern way we look at music.

See, I love vinyl records. I can remember going through my parents collection and playing their slightly warped version of Sgt Pepper's at wrong speeds for a giggle as well as being amazed at how the grooves of Dark Side of the Moon could be transmitted in quadraphonic. I was rapt when I started picking up assorted punk rock 7" singles on my own a few years back, and though their record player and amplifier had seen better days, even not playing them had perks. The discs were coloured, the artwork and packaging was elaborate, and rather than wanting to store them on a shelf like a CD, I wanted them displayed where everyone could see them.

That's the thing with vinyl records, they're elegant in and of themself. Looking past the packaging and multitude of colours they now come in, the mechanics of their playback are a work of art. Tiny grooves that physically display the music representing the sound that comes out the other end are cut finely into one long path. The playback is organic, each time you spin a disc under a needle the groove is altered, offering a slightly different sound each time. There's decay, but it's a beautiful thing.

Then there's the semiology of vinyl. There's a great line in High Fidelity that goes "...I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films -- these things matter. Call me shallow but it's the fuckin' truth". It's one thing to draw conclusions about what someone has on their iPod - and believe me I do, but when I see someone fishing through the vinyl section of a store, or better yet, seeing their own collection, I know I've come across someone who thinks of music as something beyond background noise or something to talk about with friends. It's more than that, it's become a part of their personality, demonstrating obsessive compulsive collecting entwined with a dedication to music and it's delivery as art. To some they're 12 inch black discs that technology rendered obsolete, but to a particular brand of music fan, they're a totem of taste, individuality and personality.
My 2 purchases from America, so far.

So with Record Store Day approaching, there are of course a number of titles that have taken my fancy. My new love for Superchunk has whet my appetite for their 7" Misfit covers release. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals have a double 7" that will beautifully accompany my double 12" of III/IV that I bought for xmas. There's a new release by Owen, a reissue of Nirvana's Hormoaning and Wild Flag's debut. It's all very exciting, and doesn't even include the existing vinyl releases I'd love; Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart singles, Off!'s first four eps packaged together, Kid A on double 10" and Coldplay's single collection. It's greedy, but it's also not practical for someone who is moving back to the other side of the globe in a few weeks, and as such, I'll have to pass up on most of these gems.

While those releases are all wants, and will probably remain so, there is one thing I'd love to do with vinyl records, and that is start my own label. I've seen firsthand how small, independent labels are innovating music distribution, and I want to be involved. I've seen the resurgence of vinyl, and how download drop cards have made them as practical as a CD, but satiate a collector in a way that no digital format could.

There's issues of practicality that have placed my plans in quick dry cement though. I'm beyond broke, with the Australian taxpayer putting a roof over my head and food in my stomach while I dive further into the red with student loans. Even when I do start earning money, there are other fiscal priorities that tower above releasing a few hundred vinyl discs. That doesn't matter though, I know there's no financial white-knight that's going to make banks look at me for investments instead of repayments, because when I do graft hard enough for some money (that's what this university degree and year abroad is all about right?), I understand that running a little label is not a business for profit, or sometimes breaking even, it's all about a labour of love.

When my parents were working on my genetic make up the part about creativity passed me by. I can barely write my name with a pencil, let alone sketch anything that brings a skerrick of aesthetic pleasure and though I've been playing guitar for 12 years, there's very little to show for it. That's why I want to have this label. I want to contribute. I want to help create something I'm proud of. It's grabbing the coattails of other people's talents, but I still want to play my tiny part in adding to human culture. Today it's a pipe-dream, but it's a reason to go out and work hard.

Record Store Day has turned into a remarkable thing, and I'll be doing my best to celebrate this Saturday. Provided Friday hasn't ruined me, I'll be on a bus to Northampton to see what is on offer. Beyond this weekend, in a few years I want to play a different role on that 3rd Saturday in April. Music is something that people will always feel passionate about, and even if the old monarch is struggling, the initiatives of the people who care most about it are a heartening glimpse into the future. We're told the music industry is dying, but the reality is there has never been a better time to be a fan. Record Store Day, with all of its rarities, special-editions, concerts  is proof of this. The future might not be in a brick and mortar store, but there's still a bright one out there, and I am desperate to be a part of it.

Biffy Clyro - Machines (alt version)
This was originally only found on vinyl, so it shows how important it is not to ignore the format. It's an angry man version of their pussy-rock classic, Machines, and it is infinity times drop D awesomes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Well I ain't that much worse than the rest, just that much further west.

Apologies in advance, I'm going to say the word 'cunt' in this post a lot. A few years back I went to my first Rangers F.C. game - where they lost away to Dundee United 2-1 (I left raging, but absolutely smitten), I was surrounded by a crowd who used the word as liberally as any other in the English dictionary, I've slowly added it into my rhetoric. As of Tuesday night, I really feel I've capped out my ability to drop it in everyday conversations and/or karaoke.

And that's where the story begins. For whatever reason, and clearly not relating to talent, there had been notable absences at Stackers on a Tuesday for karaoke. I'm not entirely sure what changed that, but the layoff had seen everyone trying to play catch-up on frivolities.

Having just successfully smoked a cigarette under a table, Becs and Adam serenaded the room with a Chicago ballad. While standing around them offering my support, the microphone came my way and I managed to address the entire room as 'cunts'. Needless to say they didn't win the night's prize, but I don't think that had much to do with my interjection.

Still, I'd have my own chance to win a prize, as Dicky Peach and I volunteered to sing some Kaiser Chiefs under the stage name "The Benders". It took two hours before we would eventually grace the stage, and Peach was well and truly toasted (he has no recollection of the event). The time rolled by, and I swear Elle was topping up my beer with whatever fruity vodka drink she was having, but by that stage I could barely notice.

Eventually, 'The Benders' were called to the stage, and after a brief practice run, we started sing 'Oh My God'. Before the song had started, I'd already called the audience cunts, and when the line about being far from home came up I couldn't help but yell "Wollongong, cunts!". Fortunately, the song ended after three or so minutes, and I managed to add in a few more expletives before the microphones were turned off. We were the last to perform that night, and unbeknownst to us the winner had already been determined. Cunts.

Now I know it's not nice to use such language, especially not in public when assisted by a microphone, but there was an almost instant payback the next morning. My struggles to get ready for my afternoon class culminated in a spew that found its way on the bathroom floor, sink and toilet. Undeterred, I still made it to class, despite a what I imagined to be a horrific trailing odour. Sometimes, the Wollongong cunt in me shines through too much. 

Noho hipsters about succumb to urban outfitters


Chinese whispers is a fascinating concept, and Sam and I received first-hand experience on how the same thing can be interpreted differently. Northampton's finest $12 hairdressers received the same directions from the two of us (tidy up the back and sides, a little off the top and keep the front longer), yet we both walked out looking completely different. While he looks like Jonathan Creek, I look more like K.D. Lang.

I felt the haircuts were fairly representative of Northampton, a lesbian and an eccentric hippie type. With new mops, we returned to the town that night to catch Sebadoh play at Pearl Street's basement. It was immediately apparent that we were the youngest members of the crowd, and for me personally it was a feeling that has become increasingly unfamiliar. The older crowd was in excellent voice and humour, as the opening band called out for requests and numerous grey-haired revellers called out for 'Freebird'.

Richard Buckner and his friend were the next band, and though they dressed like they were somewhere between Neil Young and homelessness, they put together a fascinating sound with only two members. There was lots of feedback, guitar loops and a man who dressed like a vagrant acting like a nomad by constantly switching between guitar and drums. The two are older than most parents of UMass students, but they were excellent and a refreshing change from the usual bands you see live. It was like imagining Bon Iver, but if fame found them 30 years too late.

Sebadoh were great, and even though it was a reunion tour of sorts, they played like they hadn't stopped jamming in their garage. From the start they were there to have a laugh, joking about how they had seen two guys making music on their computers at a cafe, and calling it 'jamming'. When Lou and Jason swapped instruments and vocals it was like a different band, going from an older man slowing down in his rock and roll days to an angsty punk band. They shifted dynamically, and though they played my favourite song of theirs early in the set, the remaining two hours were like getting a lesson in what it is like to be a 90s band on the cusp of success. Given the members of the band, their connection and the show's location, I really thought tonight was going to be my best chance to run into a member of Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr but it didn't happen. I've only got 4-5 weeks left, so I'll have to improve my stalking skills.
Jonathan Creek

With the sun shining the following day, a few of us parked our arses on the grassy lawn outside my building for a few hours. There was beer, wine, cigars and songs provided by Sam, as we sat around getting our fill of vitamin d. In an act of instant karma, the results of heckling the frisbee players came back to haunt when one flew towards me. It spun through the air and was graceful as it approached. I thought five years of junior cricket had prepared my hands to catch it, but I was very wrong. I put out my left paw, and as it came closer began to close my fingers. The timing was all wrong (possibly due to the wine, but mostly because I'm rather uncoordinated) and as my missed catching the flying disc it deflected off my fingers and straight into Jessie's face. Classy, real classy. I felt incredibly bad, and clearly a frisbee to the face is no way to spend a nice afternoon in the sun.

That wasn't the only bit of violence to occur that night, as Max and I took advantage of our free tickets to the MMA fight at the campus' entertainment centre. Though we'd been assigned free seats, the small number of paying audience meant we could get close to the ring. As everyone stood for the anthem, I took off my jacket to reveal my American flag shirt, put my hand on my heart and got ready for what I was hoping would be a scene right out of the end of 'Bruno'.

Before the first fight an announcer came into the ring, and this is not exaggerated, but she actually told all the ladies of the crowd that sleeping with the fighters was a safe thing to do, as they get tested for sexual diseases all the time. With that bit of class out the way, terrible hip-hop and angry man hardcore came over the loudspeaker before two guys began kicking, punching and hugging each other for a few rounds.

It was a repetitive display, with a few fights being award via points, the other through knockout. The revolving door of tattooed up guys in shorts trying to murder one-another gets old pretty quickly, and when they're straddling each other on a mat my attention drifts away at a rapid pace.

We waited out until about halfway through the event, joining a heckling lady in sharing our opinions about a fighter named 'Sam'. While she yelled "stop hugging" and "knock him out", Max offered such brilliance including "there's no I in Sam", and I did my best to recite phrases from Green Eggs and Ham.

There was no crowd fights, and no overly obnoxious or hilarious behaviour. My opinion on MMA didn't change, but I was disappointed that everyone was so well behaved. After all, I moonwalked my way into these tickets and expected a great show of in return.

The rest of the night was spent barhopping, and solving rubiks cubes. That bottle of wine from earlier on came back to haunt me, and again I decided to bring up the contents of my stomach as a reparation for having too much fun the night before.

Frightened Rabbit - Poke
Well after all my talk of using the word 'cunt' in everyday discourse, again I've been usurped by the Scots. This song, beautiful as it is, also has the most amazing use of the word I've ever heard.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm not looking for a new England.

On the day I arrived in Amherst I was warned, "if you don't like the weather in New England, wait 10 minutes and it will change". "Whatever" I thought, I'd spent a week in Malaysia where it went from blistering hot all day, to a daily one hour drenching back to blistering heat. On top of that I'd lived in Scotland over winter. My skin turned blue as my watch tan receded and the kilograms poured on from a pint-fueled indoor lifestyle. I felt adequately prepared for whatever New England could offer.

I was very wrong. The cold dragged on, and in some moments of forced indoor refuge it did begin to effect me. Still, I was positive a change was never far away.

It was over two months ago when Sam and I bought cigars in New York City. We were more like schoolboys sneaking into their grandfather's collection than grown men vying for the next level of maturity, but we stocked up and had big plans for when the sun decided to reappear.

Though it was later than a Sydney train, on Wednesday at 5:30PM, following a brief kick around of a ball on the lawn, we finally got to reenact that Jewish hobby, and cut the tip off a cigar. Making up for lost time, the sun didn't want to go down, and for the next hour we did our best to stink out our clothing, philosophize, and celebrate the victory that comes with a well intentioned, though poorly timed plan.
It was a short-lived victory, and as the welcoming quote reminded, the weather here changes rapidly. The cold set in, the sun retreated back to Australia and the weather service had put out what I believed to be an April Fools alert about a snowstorm.

That night I had to forego a night with excellent company at The Pub for a journalism assignment in South Hadley. Inside the town hall was the kind of flooring more akin to a 1960s kitchen and a town meeting vibe straight from episodes of the Simpsons. A sign for the ensuing event was missing the letter 'o', and before anything kicked-off everyone in attendance was given a warning to avoid the town's stray cats as they may be rabid.

The meeting, though not the scene I envisioned when I applied to study journalism, was an excellent experience. The nerves of interviewing people and asking uncomfortable questions were there, and to the person being interrogated, those nerves were more than likely extremely apparent. My accent got in the way too often, as when I was repeating questions the direction of the interview shifted to my own background. The attention about the way I pronounce words like 'tomato' has been flattering in certain contexts, but was unwelcome when I was trying to demonstrate a modicum of authority.

Sigh. I survived, and when the lights of the town hall were turned out, the weather outside greeted us with falling snow. I was flabbergasted, it seemed like only yesterday (and was, boom!) everyone was enjoying the sun and frolicking about on the grass.

I got back to my room, and for the next 4 hours went through 2 hours of recordings and notes and tried to churn out a story as quickly as possible. I knew my friends were having a grand time out in town - their text messages told me as much, but I had to put on a professional face and try to get this work done. I emailed in my story at 3 in the morning, with snow still falling and my eyes fighting a losing battle against gravity. I was shattered, and my 9AM class the next day was the victim of the story.

Though I missed out on a night of fun, I was going to attempt to make up for it the next day. Despite the hitch of being refused service because of my identification, (I'm almost 25! I may be immature, but I'm the owner of enough grey hairs to consider myself a poor man's George Clooney), Dicky Peach and his passport stepped up to the plate and delivered.

That old American past-time of pregaming began at Chateau Peach et Jones, and before a can had been opened we (me) were dancing around the room like idiots and throwing stuff out the window. Peach's johnny collection was blown up and exploded in a variety of manners, while I received a pen-ink tattoo in a tribute to his.
new meaning of Dicky Peach

We headed to Hobart for a party, and Sam and I enjoyed another smaller cigar each as we lost the pack on one of Amherst's few actual streets. Once inside the party, the recollection of the night turned smokier than the smell of my hoodies and jeans. There are all sorts of rumours and hear-say, but I've been told I poured beer on an undeserving Elle.When dancing on a couch the curtains behind me came down. I'm not saying it's my fault, but everyone else who saw it say it is. There was also the issue of the mysterious red stains on the shirt my brother made for me, which turned out to be jello shots...on my back. After leading a singalong to some Oasis, and their poorer, but somehow earlier clones, The Beatles, it was time to walk back. Max had tried to call a cab, but for some reason, the company, based in the UK's Leeds, his adopted town, had no idea what Amherst was. As if things couldn't get stupider, a policeman had pulled up Dicky Peach for public drinking not long after a few of us had jettisoned a random hubcap (possibly stolen, maybe found).

To say I felt rough the next day is an understatement. The clothes on the floor around my bed from the previous night were the easiest to put on once I got up, and in a tramp like manner, I again sat outside my building and smoked a cigar with Sam. This time, we had decided to add some class, and a Sinatra soundtrack accompanied each puff of New York City's finest $4 cigar.
Hipster vicar

The desire for more had become insatiable, to the point where we stocked up on little ones for the day with big plans on returning for more in the night. We achieved that goal, and the girl that served us earlier in the day in a more state of greater dishevelment remarked that just because we were foreign and smoking cigars it didn't make us classy. I disagreed, being foreign has nothing to do with not having class, I can achieve that at home just as well.

When Stackers wasn't turning down tunes (CHOON!) by The Clash and The Cure, they were offering up all sorts of goodies. First there was promoters from an upcoming Mixed Martial Arts fight, who despite their best effort to get me to a buy a ticket to, ended up giving Max and I one for free in exchange for moonwalking. I have no fascination with the sport at all, but the crowd members should provide the same laughs the ending of 'Bruno' gave us. It got better too, as my friend was working for Bacardi that night, through her generosity and courtesy gave out a number of free t-shirts among my friends and I. Bonza.

No matter how hard we try, how bad we sing, or how drunk we let Alex get, we never seem to get turfed from Stackers, and it's absolutely brilliant.

Max, Dicky Peach, Ian and I walked off in search of a party until Ian left the group upon realising his card was still behind the bar.Through some of Amherst's back streets, Peach and I puffed our way through more cigars as Max asked for, and was ignored protection while he drained his lizard. A cop car drove by as Dicky Peach and I just laughed at what great friends we aren't. Alex was off somewhere in our vicinity, but had passed out in a random house.

We visited sunset to find a group of fluorescent painted people and a girl already passed out on the couch. After a few more cigars it was time to call it a night, and end what was another shady and shaky weekend in Amherst. They're running down, but we're doing our best to make them memorable enough that we can't remember how much fun we actually had.

Billy Bragg - A New England
The bard from Barking is an exemplary Essex gentleman. With all the talk of New England I couldn't help but think of this choon. Also, there's a bonus one underneath because I love him that much.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bombs and Us. A love story.

*Note. This has very little to do with my year living in America. I just thought I'd share a musical experience with you. The internet has let me relive one of my favourite concerts, and even if the words around it bore you, it really is too good not to share.

Seven years.

That's how long it took for my ears to hear a song my eyes read about it.

It was January 2003 when I first encountered Sparta. It was a blistering hot Sydney day and I was at the Big Day Out festival for the first and last time. I'd made my way to the smaller stage out of curiosity. I was at the tail-end of a heavy metal romance, and At The Drive-In were a band that bridged the gap between angry man music and the rest of the world.

Sparta came out with their five members and for 45 minutes their soundwaves broke through the heat and were the most amazing things my ears had ever encountered. As a band they were raw, they grafted their way through songs and they had an unmistakable ambition to step out from the shadows of ATDI. They were a new, young band, and there was a youthful exuberance that hid the 10 years experience and reputation that was shackled to them.

Jim Ward, the frontman, is one of the most remarkable people I've had the pleasure of seeing live. He is rakish to the point of frail. Seeing him live you wonder how he conceals such a huge voice in a tiny frame. That doesn't even factor in the size of this heart, as his transformation from At The Drive-In's utility man to the engine that drives Sparta exemplified artistic bravery. As a 16-year-old I could not have found a better musician in the world to look up to. An average guy, with extraordinary talent and determination.

On a Monday night a few weeks after the Big Day Out my sunburn had since settled Triple J's live at the wireless was playing the same set from the show. It was the first recording I'd found of a show I'd been to and better yet, it was one I was honoured to attend. I recorded it onto a translucent orange 90 minute TDK cassette tape and played it back twice that night.

The tape was what I listened to before bed until I bought their debut album, Wiretap Scars. I listened to the album so much that if it was a vinyl record, the needle would have ground it down to the point of nothingness. As for the tape, I still played it a lot, and when I eventually learned to drive it followed me into the car. Unfortunately, the Australian summer got the better of it. The greenhouse that is the Toyota Lexcen warped the tape to the point of inaudibility (I've since found downloads and videos from the show, phew).

A year or so after, murmurings of the follow-up album came around. I ascertained a leaked copy and loved it even more than the debut. The band had grown, Jim had learned to sing better and 'While Oceana Sleeps' became one of my favourite ever songs.

When Porcelain was eventually released I bought it on cd and vinyl. I already knew it inside out, but such was my regard for the band I felt they deserved the money I earned working at a discount store...twice. I bought the 7" inch single for Breaking The Broken and managed to track down an mp3 of the non album track "Farewell Ruins". However, there was one song of their's I couldn't find.

In interviews Jim had mentioned he'd written a song about Elliott Smith, a musician I was learning to love, and one who had taken his life a year earlier. The song 'Bombs and Us' was a bonus track on the Japanese edition of Porcelain, and with the 2004 exchange rate and my lack of funds, there was no way I could afford to pay so much for four minutes of music.

The internet couldn't provide an mp3 of the song, and seeing Sparta play in Wollongong and Sydney only made me want to track it down even more. By the time their next album came out I still couldn't find it, and was resigned to the fact that I'd probably miss out on hearing it. To use an exaggerated literary metaphor, I felt like Captain Ahab chasing a white whale.

I saw Sparta play one more time before they went on what is still, an uninterrupted break. It was in Indianapolis in 2007, and as much as I tried to deny it at the time, the band looked tired, and the enthusiasm that made them stand out to me 4.5 years earlier had seemingly passed them by. They played their final song, Jim dropped his telecaster on the stage and walked off. It wasn't the worst way I've seen a band finish a set, but it was the worst way I'd seen this band, one I'd grown to love, close out for the night.

Jim played a solo show in Sydney in late 2008, and again it was an amazing experience. Without a doubt, like his 2003 set with Sparta, it was one of the best shows I've ever been to, brimming with enthusiasm and the overbearing feeling that he was still  an ordinary guy, doing extraordinary things.

Now, after seven years of a life that's included mixed achievements and experiences, I can finally hear the song I was so desperate to get my ears to. Through coincidence YouTube was also formed in 2004,  and through user 1824Ayacucho,they provided the avenue for me to tick off a musical box that had lingered way too long for someone as impatient as me living in an age of instant gratification.

Now, that race is run, and the result is beautiful. It may have taken seven years for me to get here (late bloomer eh), but it makes things feel brand new again. Elliott Smith left the world, and it seems Sparta have too, but it's not all bad. As the song points out "we can hold on to what we have, and what you gave us".