Dude stepped up to the plate armed with his musical bat and a mouthful of truths. The daytime spotlight. The resting curious faces. What do you have for us, they challenged? Oh, how he’d dreamed of introducing himself to the rest of his generation. “I……….” he began.
It’s 20 years since I kicked things off winning ABCs Heywire competition. At twenty one I freestyled into the foyer of the AIS and had a national microphone pointed at my heart. I’m freestyling a release (in its honour). Here is an EP from an urgent, colourful time in a gangly, smart/anxious life. May it elicit the same stereosyllabic electricity I conducted from my battle pyjamas.
Most of the things I do are misunderstood. Hey, after all, being misunderstood is the fate of all true geniuses, is it not?”
Howard Stern, Private Parts
I have decided to clear up a few finer points about the condition my condition is in by holding a depress conference. This has been triggered by a reverse microaggression on social media in which I share a more experimental, personal creative piece and the only feedback I get is someone asking me if I’m okay.
Oh, don’t think this is the first time. There was a period in the mid 2010s where I was appearing on Dave Graney’s show on Triple R and it would always follow the same pattern. For twenty minutes I maintained my riffing vibe of Bedroom Philosophy central with gags, self-deprecation and kitchen sink kookiness people have expected / tolerated from me for the past fifteen years.
Then I’d fatigue. No longer able to maintain my irony forcefield, I’d open the Trapdoor about how things were hard and how vulnerable I probably felt. In the shadow of such stark honesty my self-deprecation tended to…say…depreciate in value. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be pretty witty – especially compared to the earnest world of online ‘confessionals.’ As far as I was concerned I was just mixing it up a bit by dropping a freestyle monologue from my inner self. I was in control of my domain. I wasn’t blacking out and reading animal poetry in fur voice.
The audience never seemed to hear it that way. Once the segment was over the producer would declare “i’ve just had three people call up asking if you’re alright.”
Sigh. I’m sure this didn’t happen to Dan Sultan. He got like fifty numbers from girls and sold about a hundred albums from sneezing out a soundbite. I was Tony Martin crossed with Steven Wright but with low energy and no one in on the joke.
I was still a bit cursed from Melbourne Comedy Festival 2oo4 in which my manager forced me to hand out flyers on the street before the show. The display of a withdrawn, round-shouldered nerd scowling at their own leering mugshot on a glossy pamphlet while mumbling ironic reviews of their untested show was enough for ticketed customers to march off to the box office and swap my subscription out for Lawrence Leung’s puzzle flashmob.
Was I alright. Really Triple R?
What kind of alright? Like did I need milk and eggs before popping home? Had I recently experienced a head trauma? Was I aware of the cultural ramifications of my starsign and like to align myself with Cancerians before a live séance at Ceres? Had I been diagnosed with ‘gloominess’ and in need of crisis uppers from the doctor off Channel 10s breakfast show?
Awareness of the nature of these calls coincided with a sharp downturn in spirits. Say, if someone had rung up to pass on that I was hilarious and honest and where could they get tickets to my show or the GPS coordinates to my bedroom, then I guarantee my mood would be emboldened. But no, I was faced with the embarrassing reality that I was (once again) personally responsible for someone’s day being objectively worse than it was due to my double robbery of stealing jokes from under their noses while leaving them with the upturned mindset of having to worry about me.
All those honours in the sick milky afterglow of having just revealed myself in public.
A) I was kinda fine (by my standards).
B) I hadn’t asked them to.
C) I was just being me.
(Christ, imagine if I really WAS out of sorts. Fantasise darkly what manner of entertainment crimes I’d be committing….oh wait, except I wouldn’t – you know why – because I wouldn’t be within like, a 10km radius of a studio microphone which I’d be avoiding like the proverbial emotional plague of depression being ridden out from the safety of my rumpus den AKA the cardboard box with blankets I keep in the garage.)
“Gee…” I thought. (Then and now.)
“…if I’m being myself (the real one – as in, the one Joni Mitchell warns you not to show anyone in Both Sides Now) and people are ringing up with a level of concern that feels completely out of step – the conclusion to this emotional maths equation is that I must be…wait for it…(depressed…..NO, something far more permanent with no known cure… misunderstood.)
Shit. Please don’t.
Perhaps I didn’t spend enough on publicists over the years with the press releases I’d written myself prepping people on how to receive my art. And here I thought I was in control of how people saw me. Oh no, wait, that’s right. I did technically spend thousands of dollars I couldn’t afford on publicists and media managers while coming to the slow, creeping realisation that it didn’t really matter how much I yelled and flapped my hands – people were going to stick me in whatever category they saw fit and at times (surely) have little to no idea who I was or what I was on about.
May you not feel the injustice of your myspace genre dropdown box.
Yes, just like Boards of Canada feeling short-changed in the mid 2000s that they were ending up in the ELECTRONICA section of the record shop when they saw themselves as a group that should sit alongside Badly Drawn Boy and Blur – so I saw myself as a legitimate artist who happened to play music, or a writer who told jokes or things of the like. When (and to this day it still rings true) the majority of people saw me as ‘Rodney Rude’ (rhyming slang for funny dude) of Triple J who sang one of two songs full of one liners and caricatures.
A point being that even under the name The Bedroom Philosopher I recorded and released heaps of songs that hinted at a darker, deeper side to myself and laced these sentiments of alienation and melancholy throughout my banter as well. Thing is: this material, exclusively, sat at the bottom of my itunes sales tallies. A macabre metadata diorama of the way in which society judiciously and meticulously edits out, overlooks, bypasses, supresses and ignores any negative references to emotions or anything that might make them sad or uncomfortable.
Fair enough – paying comedy punters and Triple J listeners are well within their rights to be fickle.
In the same way, I, as the independent artist, am obliged to be wilful in persisting with my ideals. In my defence, I’ve parked myself under my own name and regularly release things that have nothing to do with BP and everything to do with Justin Heazlewood. Confused? Compromised? So you should be – I haven’t even mentioned the fact that my own name was a Siamese twin the entire time I was trying to establish a comedy persona under a moniker, a stunt that upset a belt of rusted on gen-x stand-ups who would narrow their eyes and give me advice after the show that ‘perhaps you should start wearing jeans and use your own name and people will warm to you a lot more’ – the only warmth I felt was the defensive puddle of urine I was spraying on their legs in the obligatory post Comedy Festival psycho-sexual anxiety dream. (But who’s counting Charlie?)
END OF PART ONE
Bookers prefer to go through managers and agents rather than deal with the artists themselves. Artists tend to be confused and emotional.
A manager, circa 2010
Hey, here’s a thing™. And I know this might sound a bit harsh or controversial but….when people write ‘are you okay’ messages on new work I’ve posted on social media, I find it quite patronising.
Now, I’m not saying for a second that the whole ‘r u ok’ movement isn’t legit. (That particular campaign is problematic for how reductive it is, but I guess it’s a start.) If someone in your life appears to be struggling in their mental health or going through traumatic stuff, then I am literally trying to position myself as an advocate encouraging folks to check in on the isolated and overwhelmed among us. It’s just that, and you might find this ironic or darkly ‘fitting’ or just plain appropriate; high achieving mr so & so here is not immune to having it asked of him – but I have to make the point that it isn’t the message I take issue with but the timing and manner in which it’s ‘deployed.’
If I did a post that said something along the lines of ‘I’m really struggling with stuff at the moment…’ then sure, ask me if I’m okay. But, if all I’m doing is posting a link to a youtube of some startlingly honest sound art / performance podcast I made as a tribute to my 40th birthday, (c’mon Justin, why didn’t you think to take a photo of yourself every day for ten years and then you could have two hundred million views like this instant epilepsy) well, look, here’s a suggestion – if you feel compelled to give some feedback then perhaps make it about the material itself.
Sure, the lines are blurred when I make something personal and honest, but if you’re a follower of what I do, especially the work under my own name, is it really such a stretch or a surprise or a shock that I would be putting it all out there in this way, with a clear-heartedness I have chosen to watermark my work with for many years?
A video of me slurring to my belly button with title in capitals (and misspelled) – perhaps a cause for concern and out of character; (says the guy who gave us Pup!) But a nuanced twenty minute audio track with sound edits and guitar laced through? If that isn’t the creative outpourings of a lovingly ‘mad’ larrikin then sure, but an actual, legitimate cry for help – I mean, anyone who knows me (which is last count, about three people. no wait…..two), knows that if I actually did need to or want to reach out for help – the last source of wellbeing, inspiration and support would be Times Square of my anxiety and self-loathing, or as you might know it ‘facebook.’
I’d be just as likely to run to a Fitzroy bar, scrawl HELP IM HORNY and fly a paper plane towards a barrel of hipsters.
(Don’t worry, I’m getting to the helpful section where I give you examples of things you could write which wouldn’t compromise proceedings) – you could say things like ‘I reckon I prefer your comedy songs.’ Or ‘not quite sure where you are going with this Justin’ – except um…don’t, because I guarantee it will make me feel shit and that’s why I don’t read the comments anymore.)
Sigh. I really felt like we were getting somewhere.
Oh Justin, but aren’t you supposed to be able to handle anything we say once you put your art out there – isn’t that the unwritten contract of artists and audiences that has been going on since Geocities?
Well, maybe, but I adhere to the principals that suggest the only law I follow is that of my own personal boundaries and what I’m willing and not willing to subject myself to as an underpaid emerging song & dance legend. In this case, as someone who has had a hundred people take a thousand pot shots at them over the past fifteen years – forgive me if I really don’t feel like absorbing another lukewarm, subpar bit of review shrapnel to clog up my spiritual innards.
It’s not that I have low self esteem. It’s just that my high self esteem does an alarmingly good impression of low self esteem, especially while being hypnotised by the high grade anxiety I’m filtering at any given time of my life.
I saw an ad on TV a couple of years ago raising awareness about anxiety.
I was taken aback. I’m someone who thought he was well educated in mental illness. Yet, even in 2017 I hadn’t put two and two together that anxiety wasn’t just about the prickly, electro static in my guts – it was also contributing to the negative self-talk in my head and almost medical grade paranoia that a lot of people, including my own friends, didn’t really like me.
I’ve been battling that for….ever? I have a memory right now of sitting at the lunch table in grade twelve in the cafeteria at Hellyer College and wondering if my cool band of alternative friends would notice how quiet I was. (As in, I was letting them down and the pressure of that mounting like radioactivity from a malfunctioned sun.) I have a similar memory of ‘hiding out’ in plain sight while panicking about my stagnant ocean of worry from say, university until uh, f u c k i i i i n, every year after that. It’s not all the time, sure, but once you experience that level of anxiety it’s not something you ever forget.
Not only do I have this panic-static, which is almost certainly corrupting my world view in its own insidious way (as we speak), for which I am as diligently self-aware and combative of as I can be, but I also have an unfortunate collection of actual, concrete evidence that I have offended people with my art – largely via the great Tall Poppy Backlash of 2010 when everyone seemed to flip a switch from ‘Justin is alright that sexy nerd scallywag’ to ‘Oh look at bigshot hitting the bigtime and thinking he’s so good’ – and even if that was say, a smaller percentage of my audience or friends (and the entire Mess+Noise message board), the loaded arrows fired were so laden with toxic barbarity that my supple, (I assure you) mostly defenceless sensitivities are not only still healing, but will, I must confess – simply never recover.
I wasn’t built for that shit. And yes, a lot of people were mean to me. Online or real life. Ex girlfriends accusing me of being arrogant. Friends accusing me of name dropping. Photographer frenemies painting me as a prima donna. (Oh wait, he’s Asperger’s, scrap the last one.)
Maybe half of it was true. Maybe half of them were joking. Maybe half of it should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe I’m half wrong. It doesn’t matter which half. Which half of the grenade blew half your leg off? Hearts are slow like snails. Salt is poison.
END OF PART TWO
When you go on a long rant on your computer now Microsoft word eventually pulls up a dialogue box and asks you if you’d like to save. Awwww, thanks technology – at least someone’s looking out for me.
When you ask me if I’m okay. Ask yourself, what are you really trying to communicate? Are you sure you’re not saying ‘change your behaviour Justin.’ ‘Don’t post lo-fi abstract recordings of yourself, we only like you when you’re shiny and glamorous and obvious.’ Are you absolutely certain it isn’t you who isn’t completely okay, with me, in that moment?
If your intentions are good and you were genuinely concerned and are now quite taken aback bordering on offended that you’ve elicited such a jovial backlash, then at least sit back comfortable in the knowledge that you are part of the rich tapestry of misunderstanding that has strip-mined the wellbeing and context of thousands of convict descendants, bitter nerds, white types and men throughout the millennia.
And as far as being misunderstood. Are you sure you know who I am and what I’m about?
I think I have a three pronged chip on my shoulder:
I’m a child carer of a Mum with a mental illness. The fallout from the trauma is my baseline emotional makeup. Sure, I’m strong and intelligent and talented and funny – I’m also – a flat packed house of cards covered in coffee rings and tear stains.
I feel a bit ripped off by fame. Bear in mind no-one is more aware than me of how bemusing anyone complaining about fame is – in fact it’s arguably my favourite genre of documentary – (I think Naomi Osaka is the benchmark, I especially love the bit where she’s just bought a new mansion but can’t sleep because it makes noises.) Thing is, I’m famous enough in certain circles to have this perceived power which makes others act a bit different around me (or jealous of) and puts me on a pedestal I never asked for and can lead to a sense of alienation (let’s call this, the worst part of fame) but not enough to have a huge following that lifts everything I do into the sky and makes me cash money to afford to live in my favourite suburb of Thornbury (let’s refer to this as the best part of fame).
Just doing a quick life maths add-up – I, Justin Marcus have accumulated most of the worst parts of fame without virtually any of the best parts. That’s my beef. Organic, sure, grass-fed – but still beef. La beef if you will – (Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger in one of my favourite movies True Grit. (Which is definitely spelt LaBoeuf.) Not that I would ever coat my steak in spelt flower no matter how gluten free I was. (Not that that is the correct spelling of flour even though last time I went to Naturally On High they were charging $8 for a punnet of edible flowers.) *
The third and final exciting genetic anomaly in the Escher staircase Rorschach test of my ouroboros Never Ending Story Being Justin Heazlewood movie within a movie postmodern psychedelic only child Gemini ego freakout? Oh yeah, I can’t really stand the modern world. It’s too bright, too loud and everyone is addicted to their smartphones and I have no meme game and I’m not a dog person or that into hip-hop and that’s before you factor in the fact Melbourne is a bit of a shitshow at the moment I just turned 40 and my knee is playing up.
Fair dues, review and recap the above trifecta of complexity and perhaps the most warm-hearted and emotionally generous of you will conclude that any ONE of these chiperoos would be enough emotional fuel to power ones angsty disposition and / or make them particularly sensitive to blow-in, deconstructed, thinly-veiled sideswipes and criticisms leeching into the comments field of your internet feed. I mean, I’ve seen how others do on Instagram – one breakfast shoutout and cute husband humble brag and the lovehearts and hand claps are raining down like alphabet soup on LSD. Good ol’ silver fox Heazlewood takes to the stand to offload his perpetual musings from the safespace of his off-grid autobiotocracy and suddenly it’s like a horse and carriage has been plopped into the middle of a Grimes concert. HOW DARE YOU IMPRISON THAT ANIMAL! As I am dragged and chastised in a slightly sensual manner by a sea of millennial girls donned in cullotes and shapeless cardigans.
WHY ARE YOU ALL DRESSED LIKE MY FRIENDS MUMS IN HIGH SCHOOL?
I cry, backwards.
Being in a popular band, there’s such a lot of garbage that goes with it. People pissing in your pocket and saying stuff they don’t mean. I don’t enjoy that side of it. The bullshit around limited fame is so hollow. It doesn’t even give your ego a boost.”
Andy Kent, You Am I, Juice, 1998
You did that book, the one about where you complain about being famous.”
University friend Deb at my ex’s wedding in 2020, referring to Funemployed
It’s not fair. For your work you have an audience literally clapping and laughing and supporting what you do. For me I have to sit in a dark room on my own with no-one around in complete silence.”
Argument presented to me by a girlfriend, near the tail end of her PHD (and our relationship)
If you don’t know me by now, you will never never never know me.”
* NOTE: Yes, the worst parts of fame as I’ve just mentioned is technically the best part because that perceived power dynamic surely instigated icebreakers that led to every sexy encounter I ever had in my twenties and thirties BUT – um…ok this is going to be a hard sell…imagine, say, I’m going on a date now as my humble writer self and people think I’m this Northcote hipster bigshot and to be honest the last girl I dated was so self-conscious about showing me her book collection because she thought I’d judge her that I became offended because, as I keep telling anyone who’ll listen, I see myself as a bit of a bogan from Burnie who’s punching above his weight. Anyway….this is a postscript to a footnote in a rant about fan engagement, not my hinge profile.
“CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS CUNT!”
Heckler cogging around my desk in a micro machine. (Also the sound of my anxiety – I think his name’s Glen)
DEPRESS CONFERENCE 2022
For the next seven days I will be taking questions in the comment fields of all social media with the exclusion of ‘Are you okay’ and ‘Have you seen Nanette?’ You are welcome to email anything through and I shall update this post in time. In the meantime, here’s a couple of easy training questions to get you started.
Q. Yes yes Justin very good but dude, seriously, are you ok?
A. If I can answer a question with a question young buck, I would ask – are you ok with my artistic direction lately? Are you so very anti-war that my truth bombs have you feeling existentially compromised? No wait, don’t answer that with your words, do a meme or gif of Shirley Temple twirling infinitely or Steve Urkel falling down and getting up again or whatever contextless shit you infantilised avoidance enablers communicate in. 😊 xx
Q. Why are you Justin Heazlewood sometimes and The Bedroom Philosopher also. It’s confusing.
A. Here a rule. The Bedroom Philosopher is for the humorous songs I do and comedy material and so forth. Justin Heazlewood is for all my writing and pretty much every single other thing – especially the stuff that isn’t comedy.
Q. Not good enough, I’m going to tear you a knew one like that punk Oliver Mestitz from The Lifted Brow did when he reviewed Funemployed.
“But who is Justin Heazlewood? Is he the same person as The Bedroom Philosopher?
There are at least seven Justin Heazlewoods in Funemployed. First is Justin Haezlewood [SIC]* the “full-time writer” who, through writing, is attempting to “unpack the layers of ceaseless adrenalin and ruthless self-management … to back my memories up”. He’s written articles for frankie and had a long career in the arts and wants to take some time out to become self-sufficient. This may or may not be the same person as the second-year student who, years earlier, “spewed like a volcano of self” in an opinion column for the campus magazine, CUrio (the name of his article was “Being Justin Heazlewood”).
* as in FULY SIC
Next is Justin Heazlewood the comedian and musician, who most people know as The Bedroom Philosopher: when talking about this review with my friends, I told them I was writing about a book by The Bedroom Philosopher. As the introduction states, this Justin Heazlewood “represents the category of ‘mid-career artist’” who has come to think of The Bedroom Philosopher “as a character”. This Justin Heazlewood is obsessed with his career, his audience, and himself. He reads all of his reviews and the YouTube comments on his film clips and agonises over the fact that, as a comedian and a musician, his art is often too cutting-edge for a mainstream audience. He’s the kind of person Steph Brotchie has sympathy for when she says, “if you use your name on stage, then you have to talk about yourself like you’re a bottle of milk”. He’s often reflected upon and scorned by the first Justin Heazlewood.
The other Justin Heazlewoods play minor roles. There’s “Little Justin”, who plays as many open mic and poetry nights and comedy and folk festivals as he possibly can; “Mr Puzzles”, who peddles jokes and word games in the campus newspaper; “Captain Freelance”, who publishes stories in Voiceworks and writes reviews for BMA and MUSE; “Mr Heazlewood”, the self-employed performer’s “boss who doesn’t know what’s going on”; and “Indie Justin”, who books his own national tour and pops a button on his cardigan when someone refers to him as “emo”. Add to these the metaphors that are used to describe an artist’s ego (a “little creature living inside their chest”), depressive moods (“The Black Dog”) and jealousy (“The Black Cat”) and you begin to understand what Jean Cocteau meant when he referred to Victor Hugo as “a madman who believed he was Victor Hugo.”
That’s pretty great Oliver. That might be the most accurate thing anyone has ever said about me since the random online commentator: “He seems a lot more comfortable onstage when he’s playing a character.”
“Heazlewood’s decision to focus on how art is used rather than how art is made paints a skewed portrait of what the book’s subtitle promises: Life as an Artist in Australia. While I was reading Funemployed I assumed that its subtitle was “My Life as an Artist” (I once wrote a song with the same name) and it wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised the mistake. Either way, Heazlewood’s life as an artist is far from the definitive one.”
If I can just say like a couple of things in response to that…..*becomes bob dylan in that press conference where he snaps ‘would you ask the beatles that?’*
Yeah but I interviewed 100 other artists and feature their quotes throughout the entire book.
If the memoir was just my voice for 60, 000 words, then ‘my life as an artist’ would make heaps of sense. I conducted 100 interviews for the sole purpose of getting other perspectives and voices in the mix. Okay?
Well, cool beard and how is the girlfriend now and I hope your band The Finks is going okay and honestly, I’m pretty honoured by how thorough your review is, even if I don’t understand most of your arguments and would probably dismiss it as overly pedantic which is the skinny white inner-north of Melbourne equivalent to walking up to you in a bar and shoving you and saying ‘what did you say c_nt?’
Last week I dreamt that my girlfriend left me. In the dream she said that Neil Young had convinced her to do it. To be a great artist, he’d told her, there has to be great heartbreak.”
Oliver Mestitz reviewing a book while leaving his ego at the door
If we’re going to take the ‘media’ element of social media seriously, then the audience are by default, citizen journalists. If the artist (or as some might call them these days, the truly dystopian ‘content creators’) are going to buy into the perceived right that by putting themselves out there they must then be prepared for whatever ‘constructive’ criticism blows back their way, then so to the fans or ‘consumers’ may want to uphold a certain respect and integrity for the dialogue box of the comments field – in the same way that journalists have certain morals and ethics which they must abide by.
Remember in school when you’d be just sitting there and you’d have ‘sad resting face’ and someone would bound up and go ‘What’s Wrong?’ and they would literally make you feel a bit worse by even asking that? Truth is, nothing was wrong, you were just doing a bit of contemplative day dreaming, utterly disconnected from the vanities and self-consciousness of your facial muscles for a few delicious seconds.