i is the loneliest letter

Are you feeling lonely? You’re not alone.

*laughs maniacally*

Wow, that’s gallows humour.

I was about to do anything within my power to stop myself from writing this article as I figured it would be career self-harm to advertise potentially stigma-laden, conversationally icky, street-cred sapping factoids such as the inconvenient truth about my present emotional state – but then I remembered I’ve already released the song “ I’m So Lonely ” as The Bedroom Philosopher. Well, when I say released I mean left a CD sitting on a bus shelter in Canberra and slowly tip-toed away with fingers crossed behind my back assuming there would be some miraculous, inevitable groundswell in exponential interest for my niche style of pseudo-earnest comedic folk-rock after some local ANU tastemaker pocketed the diffident second album and rushed home to burn copies for her mates.

In any event, the song pertains to themes of loneliness and doesn’t shy away from naming names and kicking concepts into high gears of truth and revelation – as much as any largely pun-based alt-country song not played to a click-track can.

I think it does an okay job. A fan once wrote it was her favourite as it had “clever lyrics.”
It’s true. It does.

The other memory from the release of this 2008 era song is an unfortunate incident in my sharehouse kitchen. My best mate was crouched down, looking for some plastic bottles for the homebrew ginger beer we were ensconced with. I nudged upon the subject of some of my edgier new material for the forthcoming album Brown & Orange. He did something he was prone to doing every now and then. He ‘called me out’ on my more self-indulgent artistic tendencies. He told it how it was, eye of the tiger / final countdown style, ensuring all terms would be free from any skerrick of uncertainty for the remainder of our days.

“No one cares that you’re lonely.”

To be fair, to my friend’s credit, I’ll now muster every ounce of generosity that my twelve-odd years of distance can afford and extrapolate some context to give you an idea of what he meant by that. I’m compelled to include a sudden thought that he may have actually worded it as “we don’t care that you’re lonely” which isn’t exactly any less harsh.

To him, like several other serious kinda snooty male art friends – The Bedroom Philosopher project was executed by a comedian who happened to play music. To me, it was the other way around. I was a songwriter who took advantage of the fact I could be lyrically amusing, to compensate for any shortcomings in skill while drawing as much attention towards my craft and arming myself with a tractor beam of charisma to win over live audiences in slumped universities and dodgy bar situations.

Please note that when I receorded this song I was still making endearingly naive syntax errors. For example, I actually thought it was ‘euphanism’ for some reason, and committed the error to tape. (If you want to really drill down, I was also corrected for using ‘excrete’ instead of ‘secrete’ on Swan Song when referring to ‘mothers milk’ – in this case the lifegiving fluid my dream partner was producing to nourish our newly sprung swan offspring. as you do. (as you were)


To me, I’m So Lonely was a perfectly good song that did have a bunch of jokes in it already (especially compared to What About Me.) I suppose what threw those closest to me was the eroding line between my in-song persona being serious and (wink-wink) funny. Jeepers, from certain angles a dude could construe I might be l i t e r a l l y trying to convey something quite heavy to the audience – or worse, revealing something deep and personal, trudging along the broken cobbles of thousands of troubadours before me. In this instance it seems I could be interpreted as being in some kind of genuine emotional (*vom*) anguish – the kind that couldn’t possibly be expressed, except via the economical goldrush of three-chords-and-the-troof.

How insipid.

Thing is, it was true. I was doing this. I was writing a song no other musical comedian would go near. Because, well, I wasn’t like any other musical comedians. I wasn’t (in this instance) parodying earnest folk musicians crying woebegotten tales (that would have made more sense and been a bit more above the belt) – no – I was – (for some reason) – genuinely delivering a serious statement, albeit wrapped up in more glib, darkly comic wordplays than I knew what to do with.

The results were, well, at best commendable, on average, confusing and at worst….according to my best friend and comedy partner in crime since we’d bonded at university….kind of…(as far as my interpretation of what his vibe was at the time)…pitiful. Srsly chocoblock with PIT.  

Jus’, Mate. What are ya doing?


“No one cares that you’re lonely.”


By that I’m quite certain he meant: “People only like The Bedroom Philosopher because he’s funny and we come to listen to the jokes and that is what you need to give the people and while it seems that you are trying to circumvent this transactional relationship with an offering of deeply personal, authentic sentiment, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that as a currency it doesn’t really have any value whatsoever compared to the skyrocketing arrow of your predetermined hilarity.”

Gee thanks. I could have gotten that advice from my Nan. How surreal when it comes from those closest to you; fellow edge-meisters and taste balloons with your favourite face drawn on.

The face that sent the stripey shirted indie nerd babes wild in 2007 – the same couldn’t be said for my best mate matt who was all like ‘why so serious?’
As an aside I hung out with Sarah Blasko in 2007 after she sidled up to me at Purple Sneakers – (this was in response to me scuttling up to her and giving her a copy of my album ‘In Bed With my Doona’ backstage at Falls Festival Marion Bay – she was on her way out but was gracious on all fronts. We ended up having a drink and a chat for half an hour and then she went off. I’m glad I didn’t go on about the column I’d written about the big crush I had on her which was published in street press, to which her PR team at the time wrote to say ‘we don’t normally encourage stalking, but we think you’re pretty funny.

This wasn’t the first time we had softly butted heads over my creative philosophy. When my promo photo came out the year before featuring me in a cardigan, western shirt and tie doing a smouldering pout to camera (which I dubbed ‘my best Sarah Blasko impression’) my friend was quietly appalled. ‘How are people going to know you’re a comedy act?’  

You might say my friend was in a conservative place when it came to what my act was. It was funny or it was nothing.

Meanwhile, I was in a psychedelic, experimental, warcraft of wildness, trying to make art that was nothing like my last offering. I wanted my next album to be an over-the-top magical mystery tour. Lots of emotions – angst – self-reflection – trumpets and, well, you know…sitar.

Matt’s ( – oh yeah – there’s his name – and chill out everyone concerned he’s not even the only problematic friend called Matt I had at the time) comment was presented as a piece of constructive criticism about my art. The problem was that as an only child who took most things deeply personally – he had (surely, purposefully, on a subconscious level if not conscious) managed to assemble a verbal fuselage that made it impossible for me to localise it purely as feedback on my songwriting and/or relationship with my audience and not as a general attack on my personality at a most fundamental level that would almost certainly reverberate through several semesters of forthcoming counsellor subroutines.



A shrapnel bomb, delivered like a packed lunch.

There were the ego injuries sustained at the initial point of impact, but, more insidious, was the cryptic, below the radar spread of nano-damage as the loaded sentence slashed its way through the protective shell of my cocoon and nestled its needles amongst the membrane of my supple, unformed wings.



You have the right to remain informed. Any action you choose to make in future of this message shall only reflect directly upon your ability to interpret its core structure as a warning. You present yourself as someone at risk of committing serious damage to your social rapport within the community. Should you continue down this course of wantonly self-aggrandizing, emotionally manipulative time-wasting we will no longer be able to offer you the protection that our goodwill currently affords.
There are very few people who can generate and sustain as much humour as you. To cannibalise this for garden-variety navel-gazing, even if it is presented in a self-knowing or light-hearted way, strikes us as a flagrant violation of the social codes for which much of our affirmation and support for your career is conducted (in the good faith you will abide). How else can we trust that as a performer you have our best interests at heart? How else can we spare you from the wrath of our pass-angst as we try you for the greatest of all Australian blue collar crimes – self pity.

A message from the universal Australian populous to one sole citizen Justin Marcus H


Well, I did what anyone else would in that situation. I took it to heart and quietly stewed for ten years.

I’m kidding – as if for a hyper second I could entertain the notion that any element of this is even remotely transferable. Gadzooks, it seems I had shimmied, crab-walked, tip-toed and side-swiped my way into an absolute evolutionary cross-roads for the artistic and personal development of myself as a whole.

Again.

I was 28. I was Saturn returns.

I was 20 years overdue counselling. I was heavily in debt.

I was unstable. I was growing darker by the month. I was drifting as an artist. I was wobbling as a boyfriend. Crucially, most emasculatingly, it appeared that in the petty court of sharehouse kitchens, I was now tanking as a bloke. Alienating my fellow Aussie larrikins with my sheer-bloody-minded outlook, deference and resolve.

I went on to record I’m So Lonely. (Part of the I’m So quadrilogy: post modern, over girls & hungover). Look it up. Borrow it from Blockbuster on laser disc.

I’m So Lonely gained positive comment among some serious music journalists. It felt like a comforting addition to my newfound repositioning from comedy rooms to music venues. But how the song was received by industry isn’t really the point, is it reader?


The point is…sharp.



A needle – not of the knitting variety.


HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLP HELLO HELLPO HELKLO HELLP HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLP HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLPO HELLO HELL HELLP HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLPO HELLO HELLPO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLP HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELOO HELLOH HLELOP HELOPP HELPO HELOK HELLOO HELOOLE HLOE HELLO HELO HLEOO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HHELLO



I know loneliness. I feel it in the ashes of my past lives.

I can be lonely in a crowd – I can by lonely on my own.


I can be lonely in a relationship.

Now I sound like a cancelled Dr Seuss.

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate based on how well you are doing or how talented you are. Amazingly, neither is it particularly concerned with how many people you have around. (Or is that melancholy? I get them mixed up.)

It’s just, well, there. Along with oxygen and water and sun and reality tv and biscuits and time-stretched songs on youtube. Loneliness isn’t a special occasion. It’s not a pamphlet in the doctors waiting room. It isn’t a capital ‘L.’ word. It isn’t any word. Not one in our language. Loneliness doesn’t get said aloud. It isn’t part of conversation. Loneliness is a secret. One you don’t even know you’re keeping

you’ve been keeping it so long.

So whateth the deal?

I’m lo*ely. So wha? ( l o v e l y )


I was lonely then. I’m lovely now. Most of the time it’s comfortable, enough. An itch you scratch with a kind, furious thought. A beautiful familiar longing, as your child self gazes out to sea – transmitting a conversation with the clouds only an ocean can answer.

Is there a crime being committed? Have I trespassed upon any of your personal freedoms? Will my frank admission contribute to shortcomings in your day?

Have I enormously fucked everything up by not only experiencing this foible but also having the deranged audacity to share it with my social peers? Surely I am not already aware that such unsavoury, ungainly, corrupt and corrupting truth-sabre-rattling should be done only under the close supervision of professionals in a secluded setting.

I n c o n c l u s i o n

Loneliness isn’t a world that gets shared often (enough).

It’s a fantastic, desolate, magical mixed bag of thought coma and silent dance.

It’s not a house built with a door. Only an escape slide and a half-roof to park the occasional rocket ship. But it’s there and it’s real and it’s yours to warm your spine on if you wish to nestle for a second in the curvature of my beanbag.

There’s a loneliness epidemic, you know. It’s interesting to see it on the public agenda along with depression and anxiety. It’s like watching your favourite punk bands sign with major labels and have chart-topping hits. I’m not sure if it’s liberating or alienating. Isn’t it ironic? ZOMBIE ZOMBIE ZOMBIE

FURTHERMORE, NOTWITHSTANDING AND YEAH NAH

Brown & Orange is out now in 2009.

shoutout to ratcat

downtempo daryl & ossie

Whaddaya get if you cross my favourite childhood duo with my most revered pair from adulthood? A friendly ghost mash of Hey Hey and Boards Of Canada, naturally. This was whipped up live in Triple R studios a decade or so ago at five in the mornin.’ DJ dickie knee pluckin the vinyl and mixing up a melodrama.

get up mum is a play 🎢

Yeesh, not long to go now till the super dupe Get Up Mum show at Theatre Royal Hobart. There’s a piece in TasWeekend in the Mercury today. As well as an interview situation on ABC HOBART i guess.

Check out the ad below.
Disclosure: I am a brand ambassador for Ansett and received a promotional trip to 1992.

And what else – the latest version of my gazette!

Enjoy the full Get Up Mum promo video playlist series….

GET UP MUM LIVE SHOW = 2022

Forgotten what it’s like to be twelve? Hey hey it’s a-ok – Heazy’s remembered for ya.
It’s not back to the future but we can fast forward the past. Climb aboard the cassette space machine as it rewinds an ocean of time. It’s 1992 and Mum’s up and down like a yoyo. The problem is ” Justabout ” can’t do tricks and his getaway skateboard’s caught in the gutter. Oh well, guess it’s spag bol & Beyond 2000 in the beanbag while patting Blossum.

A one of a kind, twice in a lifetime, triple-threat theatre show is watersliding to a dreampool near you. Premiering in Hobart in March. Based on the acclaimed memoir and radio series. This is the show and tell extravaganza where a never ending story finally gets the beginning it deserves.

Get set 🥉 it’s gonna be GOLD !!!

Stay tuned for updates via the fuzzy logic gazette.

“It’s not a bad sort’ve day.” Pop

“Don’t put your cards out in the wet, that’s what ruins a pack.” Nan

Get Up Mum – Brought to you by Microfreeze Thickshakes.

Lucky I’m With Aimee

I first heard Aimee Mann’s I’m With Stupid in grade ten. The year was 1996, the town: Burnie; the shop: Soundwaves Record Bar. I had just started my first job as a death-cook for KFC, earning my own money – albeit $4.70 an hour. I think two hours of slave labour may have covered the heavily discounted double fluro price tags on this particular Cee-Dee. (One cannot underestimate the victory of actually finding something you liked on special, given that the average album price was $31.50 – today’s equivalent of paying for six months of Spotify to hear the same ten Pearl Jam songs, one of them skipping.)

I’d only just gotten my first CD player, characteristically late to the go-go-gadget party. While other kids were playing NBA Jam on Mega Drive I had a second-hand Amstrad green screen with Bombjack loading on tape. On our modest pensioner budget I was the Piping Hot polar fleece to my best friend Billy’s Billabong jacket. Musically enforcing my insider/outsider status; while other boys were ensconced in Gunners and Green Day – I was investing in techno cassingles like Here’s Johnny and/or discounted quirky songstresses from LA.

Another plot-point in the meeting of the Mann’s was that it was only the previous year that the North-West coast of Tasmania had started receiving Triple J. (Pair this with the fact Burnie got MacDonalds in 1993 and you can begin to appreciate the colossal injection of excitement for a teenager in the back-sticks. If Tassie had scored its own AFL team maybe I’d’ve gotten the cultural trifecta.) Triple J had upgraded my stereo to that of ham radio. Via its social subscription I was a two-way team member of my generation, doors opening to reveal Jane Gazzo pied-pipering us through a bandwidth banner as my imagination ran onto the hallowed mainland astroturf of alternative anthems by King Missile, Faith No More and Cake. Romantically, I was single, yet my relationship with this cool cosmos community was a fascinating defacto funfest.

(I rang Calamity Jane up a few times, determined to tell her how I was going to break the school’s 50m freestyle record, that my nickname was Phonze and could she please play ‘Bentley’s gonna sort you out.’)

Justin (FRONT) probably only giving the thumbs up to air off some recent third-degree burn from the chicken vats or industrial ovens

Meanwhile, ‘Long Shot’ by Aimee Mann was on medium rotation. I can confirm this as I have a tape of it being back announced by Michael Tunn (admonishing the previous caller for ringing up from their mobile phone while on a domestic flight. “They say you shouldn’t ever do that”). There’s also an interview with Gibby from Butthole Surfers and a segment where callers phone in with the flaws they’d spotted in Independence Day. The whole thing couldn’t be more 1996 if Fran Drescher was covering Lump by Presidents sponsored by Stussy.

If anyone asks you if there’s a newfound nostalgia for CDs – the format we long swore we’d never feel anything but bemused, obligated indifference towards once the shiny holographic promise of their ‘unbreakable’ marketing gave way to the snake-oil-charlatan reality of two years wear resulting in every second song getting a remix by Fatboy Slim –  backed with the retina-stretching liability of deciphering liner notes in 7-pt; the answer is a resounding, mid-life, bellowed into a pillow: “yes.”

Yes, I played Long Shot, nay, BLARED IT in Surround Sound™ which my Sharp 3 CD changer afforded me, noting the spatial clarity compared to the head-under-the-bed compression of the Taped Off The Radio sound. Oh, to be sixteen again, plonked on the edge of your single mattress, pouring over the dynamic fridge magnet artwork and hazy artist portraits (all lyrics from I’m With Stupid are broken down into individual words and listed alphabetically)!

Hormones coursed through my gangly system like a technicolour forest of beauty and woe – crystallising my mood inside the lonesome wilderness of adolescence. Sparkly, intimate signals emanated from the padded black grills of the speaker box – entertainment as art absorbed in a halo of intelligence, curiosity and satisfaction. Beneath the alternative ambience of an after-school afternoon I afforded myself a double-value victory lap as my mechanical friend lurched the album around its carriage and back to the loading position. Helped by the odour of a Peter Jackson Super Mild smuggled out the window. I was revived and thriving, anything but alone in my teenage control room.  

I was pleased to have a new inclusion in my modest CD collection, (comprising of RATM’s Evil Empire, Guru Josh’s Infinity, Spacehog’s Resident Alien, Butthole Surfer’s ‘Pepper’ single and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’.) Aimee was my first musical girl. I knew nothing about her at all. I didn’t mind in the slightest. I was her prince silly, rescuing her from the discount bin in a small town that for multiple reasons hadn’t connected with her blend of Alternative pop-rock and whimsical lyrics about heartbreak and selfless relationships with damaged people – a theme it would take me another few years to fathom and two decades to perfect.

Justin's very decked out room on residence at University of Canberra, 1999. You can make out the Sharp 3 CD changer and CD collection.

Justin’s very decked out room on residence at University of Canberra, 1999. You can make out the Sharp 3 CD changer and CD collection. I don’t know about you but I can also clock the timeless spines of Pearl Jam’s No Code, Beck’s Mellow Gold and George’s Holiday EP – err how did that get in there. Fair dues Holiday by George always has me tearing up. Is that tearing up, as in the healthy emotional response or tearing up as in tearing up my paper mache chain mail as I walk slowly backwards through IKEA? Much like what the chap says at the end of Radiohead’s Just, it’s best we never know.

In my first year at University in Canberra, my emotional world was blossoming outwards and inwards, not dissimilar to the flower motif depicted in Magnolia. Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterwork was a timely injection of Aimee Mann wonderment which sent the cultural value of I’m With Stupid climbing the rungs of my CD tower ahead of recent hotshots Garbage, Ben Folds Five and my failed experiment with Counting Crows. Released in 1999, Magnolia was the first real arthouse film to connect with my generation (that wasn’t Romeo & Juliet or Young Einstein.) Indeed, it was so good that it was actually hurting my new best friend Matt, literally depressed that he’d never make anything that good in his lifetime.

Aimee Mann’s song ‘Deathly’ single-handedly inspired the entire movie. If there’s a higher honour that has been paid a songwriter in recent times I’d be interested to hear about it. In the liner notes to the soundtrack Paul Thomas Anderson writes: “She is the great articulator of the biggest things we think about: ‘How can anyone love me?’ ‘Why the hell would anyone love me?’ and the old favourite ‘Why would I love anyone when all it means is torture?’”

It would make sense that a director would be drawn to Mann’s songs as they play like lyrical storyboards. There is a sense of narrative, of place. The language is visual and immediate. As PTA goes on to say “Aimee is a brilliant writer” and these are ‘story songs’ – which is perhaps a quality that could be dismissed as being a little, dare I say it, daggy. By that I mean to say that Aimee Mann’s compositions are disarmingly, wholesomely forthright when compared to contemporaries such as PJ Harvey or Tori Amos – fuelled by an edgier riot-grrl poetic abstraction.

That isn’t to say Aimee’s lyrics or compositions aren’t edgy. Any cabaret-esque over-spelling is under-written with smarm, juxtaposition and wit. S**t yes, Aimee Mann is witty! A rare quality in female artists that don’t toe-dip in pseudo-novelty such as Jill Sobule’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ or Diana Anaid’s ‘I Go Off.’ Aimee’s an off-kilter, off-broadway eccentric, like Rufus Wainright or Suzanne Vega – or, more closely to my discographic heart; fellow LA misfit troubadour Eels.

Eels is also a bit ‘daggy’ in the indie-cool scheme of things, (Well, maybe I’m speaking out of school and drawing too much attention to my own internal crisis of confidence about what is relevant – but Pitchfork have slagged off most of his releases for being musically two-bit and lyrically hokey, which is code for ‘the kids aren’t comfortable with artists, (especially men) wearing their mentally ill minds on their sleeve and being intentionally vulnerable unless it’s done ‘authentically’ by a mentally unstable artist such as Daniel Johnston. Read: ‘If you’re going to be troubled, either strip it right back by singing your breakdown on a warbly acoustic, or, have the courtesy to dress naked lyrical honesty with full-tilt production al la Nine Inch Nails – self-pity is way too unpalatable to be presented as musically laid-back and self-aware as Eels does. Anyway, I disagress. (Disagreeing with my own digression.))

And, didn’t rage play Eels surprise new single only last week? (Oh good he’s going back to his Souljacker days.)

Pitchfork gave Aimee Mann’s complicated 2000 album (which she released independently after record labels were bamboozled by its lack of singles – who is she taking career advice from, Fiona Apple?) 9/10, so what would I know. Answer: heaps. Buy me a milo.

I’m told the case is now closed

So I can come to my senses

But when the question is posed

I’ll have this meagre defence

Aimee’s songs are riddled with metaphor. Everything’s a set up. Love as a heist, relationships as a court case, boyfriend as a fallen superhero. There are twists on words. Plays on devices. Ducking and weaving and jabbing and hooking – Mann is the lyrical shadow boxer – floating like a butterfly tattoo and stinging like a worker bee.

As Paul Thomas Anderson pontificates: “She writes lines that are so simple and direct, you are convinced that you have either A) heard it before B) said it before, or even C) thought of it before (and just never wrote it down).”

I was hoping you’d know better / I was hoping but you’re an amateur

Songs are mostly about breakups. Odes to the calamity men who’ve wooed and screwed her every which way to dinnertime. I read that she had battled depression – there is a defiant dramatic tension that offsets any long stays on glib island.

I’m a superball / If you bounce me once I’ll ricochet / Around the room

So row, row, row your boat gently down the stream / I hope you drown and never come back

Anger marinated in eccentricity basted with irony. This recipe sets Mann apart from her contemporaries such as Sheryl Crow or Alanis “irony” Morissette. The lyrics are immediate, conversational and visual. Mouthfeel of the mind with heart aftertaste. They never drift or waft, rather announce and elucidate stakes of the highest order from a dulcet energy palate.  

I’m so relentless / And you’re defenceless

Oh, and she rhymes her socks off. 🧦 Ms Mann’s like Dr Seuss meets Karen Carpenter.

You may wonder what the catch is / As we batten down the hatches

A double syllable rhyme worthy of Kim Carnes’ precocious / pro-blush.

But of course, the central thread that carries me from creation to memory and back is the voice. Aimee Mann owns my devotion through the gorgeous timbers of that velvet chamber.

And I don’t even know you / I don’t even know you anymore

She can hit the high-notes that fall you to the floor. She can glean the low-tone that floats your nose to the ozone. She whispers friendly and dangerous – truths disarmed in confident softness. Mann has approximately the best voice in history. Like none other in the canon. A god-standard Chrissie Hynde / Harry Nilsson masterclass in originality.

Hers is the vocal equivalent of a fresh pressed ruby velvet jacket. Sinking deep into a shady orange corduroy lounge, sipping an expensive bottle of French-Canadian merlot, reaching for a soft pack of Stuyvesants.

Comfort chords. Gold vibrations. Choc-coloured cotton socks.

An Aimee Mann album feels like a special occasion. No, I don’t listen to her regularly. (Perhaps the richness of her voice means that one becomes fuller, sooner.)

But when I return I am always uplifted, reminded, surprised.

I’m With Stupid was one of the last holdouts on Spotify – outlasting Bill Callahan and Beyonce. (Mysterious, as the rest of her catalogue was there.) I lost my original CD and recently purchased a new second-hand copy, for approximately the same amount I paid in ’96 – in some satisfying twist of capitalist consistency. I was mesmerised by how much more alive the songs sounded. My ears used more muscles; heard extra instruments. As my friend Conrad once said “CDs sound better than streaming, even burnt ones. It’s something about the preamps in stereos.”

That said, in my current station; no longer the new sensation and far from the legacy veteran, it would not be in my best interests to bore you with rhetorical implorations to go out and buy your first CD in like, 15 years. All I’ll say ROCK FANS, is that there’s never been a better time to revisit this obscure slice of mid 90s Alternative and find a comforting voice in these abrasive times.

Dig?

 
I saw Aimee play live in 2009. I’d heard she was notoriously shy and awkward, especially about banter between songs. So much so that she’d hired a comedian to act as MC at her US concerts. Over-compensating for this by a long-shot – she proceeded to jabber nervously for up to ten minutes while taking photos of the audience before playing a single note. I am churlishly in awe of my idols when it becomes obvious they are consistent in their vulnerability.

At the end of the set she was taking requests. I was too insular to yell but I would have requested Long Shot. It is still one of my favourite songs of the nineties – conspicuously absent from any themed playlist.

Whatever.

A. Mann

And the award for best swearing in the opening line of an album:

You fucked it up / You jumped the gun / I swore you off / but You climbed back on.

Aimee Mann does this bright/melancholy, sweet hook, minor chord-twist dark pop thing that just fucking kills me. In a good way. It’s weirdly too rare in rock music. Any band that can do this as good as Aimee Mann, you’ll make me emotionally crumble and feel like life’s beauty is indisputable.

Adam Gropman (via youtube)

Aimee Mann – I’m With Stupid (1995, Geffen)

Key tracks – Superball, Long Shot, Sugarcoated, Choice In The Matter.

RELATED READING (SMH Interview 2009)

Fun Fact: Aimee dipped her toe into acting by playing one of the German nihilists in The Big Lebowski. (Continuing her love affair with indie-darling directors).

Gigs: Aimee is touring Australia in 2021/22 with appropriate folk oddball Ben Lee!

Know something I don’t?

Keep it to yourself.

Justin’s CD inventory as catalogued by then girlfriend Tammy at their sharehouse ‘The TAJ’ (named after occupants Tammy, Adam and Justin) in Totterdell Street, Canberra, 2001.

A very 2001 looking, CD orientated sharehouse wall. Note the square metal CD holder display which I bought from a mail order catalogue in grade 12. BTW that is the Beatles poster I mention in Megan the Vegan. (CD display features Waikiki, Skunkhour, Supergrass, New Buffalo, Sleepy Jackson, Dandy Warhols, Divine Comedy, a fairly rare single from Radiohead’s Amnesiac and Starsailor!)
I guess you could say I have an intimate knowledge of indie releases from 2001 because of my job at the Uni magazine Curio. We were getting sent lots of review CDs and it kept me across awesome female singer-songwriter sneaker singles such as Airport ’99 by Phillippa Nihill of Underground Lovers and Like A Feather by Nikka Costa (one of Mark Ronson’s first hits as producer). Not to mention a promo copy of Aimee’s Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo – now THAT’S how you title an album.

T H E E E N D E

READER SERVING SUGGESTION

Justin, hello, it’s reader here. I enjoyed your column about Aimee Mann.

Thanks!

You write in a very original, thoughtful manner. I remember my first CD by a female that I bought in my country town and there’s a great story about it. Shall I share it with you?

Please.

Where can I read more of your writing like this, in this style or whatever.

Oh, there’s the “MUSIC” tab under ‘Columns’ which has a few similar proto-pretentious fine-arts deep-drives. Or just keep scrolling down the page as I’ve recently gone on about the film Love Serenade and my love of synthesizers.

Okay, thanks Justin, I really appreciate you sharing your writing here on your website.

Thanks! I appreciate the feedback, even though there is no comments field because WWPD (what would Pitchfork do)?

Cats are in lickdown

A new study by James Cook University has found about half of cat owners reported feeling their cats were "put out" by their increased presence during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The study surveyed nearly 400 people living alone during lockdown and looked into how pet ownership interacted with reported levels of mindfulness, depression and anxiety.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-08/study-cats-felt-owners-were-invading-their-space-during-lockdown/100275392

The Comedy of Dimity: Remembering Love Serenade

Love Serenade is a quirky Australian comedy from 1996 starring Miranda Otto.

I first watched it in 2006 when my then-girlfriend was championing it as a cult sleeper hit. It comes from a fine vintage of Australian quirky comedies featuring Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle but made up also of lesser knowns such as Jane Campion’s Sweetie.

This was a time when Australian comedies were oddball, understated and devastatingly rural. It’s a flavour that has not been seen for twenty years now, when Baz Luhrmann brought in the ‘more is less’ acting bombastics and writer/directors opted to ‘shirk the quirk,’ investing in bleak, gritty dramas and high-gloss middle-class comedies. Perhaps The Castle capped the golden age of the quirky Australian comedy – with a nod to Two Hands rounding out the decade in ‘99.  

A last celluloid gasp of an Australia on film that hadn’t quite been nebulised by an American cultural assimilation powered by the globalisation of social media and the echo chamber of the reality-tv decade. 

Sound complicated? Well, by contrast Love Serenade is a simple film. It’s about two deadbeat sisters who work themselves into a craze when the star of the Brisbane radio scene Ken Sherry rolls into town and moves in next door.

This film may receive the all-time lowest score in the The Bechdel Test (aside from Mary Magdelene) as the entire lives of the two girls revolve around a man. This is fine and I really do try hard not to reverse engineer films by today’s political standards. Rather, I get a hotshot of bemusement from nineties films referencing themselves as the ‘here and now.’ (For example, Cameron Crowe’s Singles from ‘92 was unexpectedly humorous as the hip twenty-something dude stayed at home hanging on a very important fax.)

In our case, Ken Sherry is disappointed that the local radio station of Sunray hasn’t evolved to CD technology. Instead, he must play his records and wax philosophical into the microphone (allowing the movie to date in a more timeless, graceful, needle-in-the-groove manner) in one of cinemas most relentless presentations of ‘mansplaining’ (which along with the Bechdel Test atrocities might make some millennial viewers anxious and perhaps should come with a label warning) which would probably be worthy of some kind of academic stoush if the film weren’t written and directed by a woman, Shirley Barrett.

The highlight of this film is Miranda Otto. She is very funny. For someone who might be known as the shieldmaiden from Lord of the Rings or a steadfast character in a low budget indie – it’s something of a revelation that she plays the all-slouching, all-scowling, amateur seductress and fish enthusiast Dimity Hurley. Some of the best scenes come early, in which Dimity is the embodiment of teen angst and low self-esteem, trying to carry on a conversation with Ken Sherry. It’s as if she’s so riddled with disappointment at her own answers that she can’t convince her face to arrange itself in any position other than forlorn contempt.

There is something fiendishly anti gender-type and bountifully funny about a severely disappointed looking girl delivering lines matter-of-factly – as if absolutely everything in the world is a bother to her. (To quote Joyce from American Splendour “why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?”) There is something so familiar and believable about Dimity. She is so devastatingly…plain. Yet, also in possession of a defiant, non-conformist attitude that surely deserves some cultural positioning alongside the ‘riot-grrl’ movement of the 90s. Perhaps certain elements of the Australian ‘calling bullshit’ country attitude crosses-over with the aforementioned punk-grunge aesthetics of the big cities.  

Dimity is the embodiment of the sociologically suppressed endearingly oddball ‘misfit girl’ – an archetype that isn’t exactly over-represented in TV and cinema. I think of Tora Birch in Ghost World, but she is positively glamorous compared to the washed out polar-fleece suburban world that Dimity dwells within. (And say, Mattie in True Grit is brash as a way to overcompensate for her non-lady likeness – as if the writer is thinking we’d better give this girl some redeemable qualities or the audience will never embrace her, similar to Daria and Darlene from Roseanne.)

People find you a bit odd. That’s all. It’s only because they don’t know you like I know you admittedly but you just have that effect on people.

Well, maybe if they get to know me like you know me they won’t think I’m so odd.

No actually I think you’re odd too.

Dimity in contrast is a strange and daring understatement of quirkiness and low-stature. To find a closer example one would do well to stick closer to home – and enjoy the whimsically understated performance of Karen Colston in Sweetie (or perhaps Mary from Mary & Max?) and Magda Szubanski’s immortal Sharon Strzelecki from Kath & Kim. The only American attempt that comes to mind is Martha from the sitcom Baskets (played by comedian Martha Kelly) – a veritable masterclass in deadpan comedy.  

Love Serenade’s underhanded approach means that by the time Dimity is throwing herself at Ken Sherry, the sight of her teeth bared in a dorky smile is positively confronting. A scene which could have been positioned as glib or throwaway is given considerable gravitas as the actor and director demonstrate a commitment to the idea, Otto flipping the tone from bumbling comedy to surreal arthouse in what must be one of cinemas most idiosyncratic depictions of female nudity.

Films like this are a time warp for Australian culture. Not to say that sleepy old country towns don’t still exist and resemble the fictional Sunray (located on the Murray River), but more to the point of how we used to represent ourselves on screen. Muriel, Priscilla and The Castle spoke to an affinity with our innate sense of dagginess. Rather than pump itself up to be seen as America’s cool little brother, we used to double down on how isolated and underdog* we were (perhaps a final shudder of low self-esteem from being Britain’s punching bag?)

* the underdag, if you will – screw you auto-correct, I had to type that three times.

Think of The Late Show’s ABC parody Still Number Four. A quarter of a century sounds like a long time for a cultural shift, especially when you’ve had twenty years of the world wide web. In the 90s we had ‘battler pride’ infused in the cultural lifeblood of our creatives – not just something cynical politicians pulled out to seem relatable. Australia celebrated being the little guy and more importantly (and accurately) the outsider. It feels a world away from the high-camp high-gloss meme-toting in-your-face brashness of the kinds of millennial comedies that seem to pop up and manifested itself in Working Dogs’ 2012 mainstream comedy ‘Any Questions For Ben?’ in which the lead character was a marketing guru.

I’ve often argued that dagginess, in its purest form, no longer exists. The internet has simply made us too self-aware. It’s a ‘genie out of the bottle’ level of consciousness that can’t be rolled back. Films from the 90s, like music videos from the 80s (unhinged American dancing makes me uncomfortable), confirm this theory – their authenticity and blind confidence making them nostalgia darlings for future generations finding their footing amidst a cultural melting pot of cold cuts and fragmented references.  

Love Serenade has a clear and present soundtrack. (You can find it on Spotify. I’m a very big fan of Rock Your Baby.) 1996 was a time when Barry White was played. The 70s tribute was a characteristically 90s thing to do, which now feels like a double throwback as I can’t think of the last time I heard Barry White used to earnestly represent something sexy. It’s gone the way of The Stripper, Wipeout, theme from Psycho and other scene-setting loony tunes I first heard played on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. (I mean, did Paul Thomas Anderson use Barry White in 1998s Boogie Nights? No. That was probably first on his list of last songs to use.)

Ken Sherry is WAY older than the girls, which gives the film a layer of menace and dramatic tension that I’m sure wasn’t around even ten years ago. He’s positively sleazy and reprehensible, in a way that was a lot easier to doze off in front of in 2006 (even right next to your feminist partner), but now feels like an invisible finger in the room poking you regularly. Modern day real-time comedic-value depreciation aside – it’s a mesmerisingly even performance by George Shevtsov who I haven’t seen since. (Incidentally only the day before I watched the Seinfeld episode in which an actor (Larry Hankin) plays ‘Tom Pepper’ playing Kramer in the meta-fictional version of Jerry’s sitcom Jerry (you following me?) – the similarities between the two actors felt oddly familiar).

They both look like they could be half-fish half-man.

This theme is explored in a delightfully unexpected way as Love Serenade deploys one of the rarest of all ingredients in Australian film – surrealism.

A linguist would note the integrity of the 1980s Australian accent as archived in films like Muriel’s Wedding. It’s a commodity that is rapidly diminishing as the Americanisation of our dialect continues unabated. In fact, it’s not just the absence of mobile phones that makes films like this a surreal dream of an experience, but also the omission of the word ‘like’ and inclusions of dinki-di Australianisms like…casserole.

Miranda Otto is the star of this show. Right up to the end, goofily grinning in the background as Ken Sherry delves into one of his exterior monologues atop the silo. I found myself laughing out loud at the performer who has no lines in the actual scene. In fact, so much of Otto’s comedy is conveyed through the silent mannerisms of Dimity, that it feels like requisite viewing to go back and appreciate the subtleties of her face winding its way around from content to troubled and back again as she waits at a park bench – or the good twenty seconds spent tying and untying her t-shirt around her waist as she waits for her sister.

Much like Otto’s performance, Love Serenade is a film that looks deceptively simple to make on the surface, but sails an understated and consistent line that requires great craft and forethought. Watching the director / actor pair up again for 2010s South Solitary, one can appreciate that cracking a frequency of laconic lowkey charm (and making it gripping and refreshing and amusing) is a lightning in a beer bottle exercise. I wish this film were more available as it might restore some battered pride in this country’s ability to produce comedies that are not only funny but unique and original – it seems that baton got passed over to New Zealand and Taika Waititi in the late 2000s.

NOTE: There is a sex scene featuring a less than animated Dimity underneath a workmanlike Ken Sherry that is amazingly similar in tone and framing to a similar scene in Amelie, which came out five years later. A sly tribute perhaps?   

Love Serenade is a film about sex and loneliness and the lengths people will go to for comfort. What could be more timeless, human and lung-wrenching than that?

FURTHER CULTURAL DEEP-DIVES ON JHs FUZZY LOGIC:

The World of Synthesisers

The World of Books

The World of Childhood References