Saturday, May 31, 2014

NZMM Day 31 – Dave Dobbyn

In the first post in this series, I called Dave Dobbyn “a music icon”. When I posted one of his songs in the second post, I said “I’ve often said that if modern New Zealand had a musical soundtrack, I reckon Dave Dobbyn’s music would be a major part of it.” All of which makes him the obvious choice for the final post in this series.

Dobbyn has been part of the New Zealand music scene since he was part of rock band Th’Dudes (1975-80) as guitarist. He went on to write and perform some of the most iconic pop music of the past 35+ years.

Dobbyn and guys from his high school formed Th’Dudes not long after they were out, but he suffered so badly from stage fright that he used to stand in the back and close his eyes while playing. However, by 1978, Dobbyn took to the front as lead vocalist on their single “Be Mine Tonight” (above). The song peaked at Number 36. The album it was on, Right First Time, reached Number 17. The song won Single of the Year, and Th’Dudes won Group of the Year, at the 1979 New Zealand Music Awards. It was just the start: So far, Dobbyn has won 22 Awards.

Th’Dudes broke up in 1980, just before the release of their second studio album, Where Are The Boys, which didn’t chart. That album had their single “Bliss” (below), which turned out to the their biggest chart success, reaching 25. Dobbyn played guitar on that one (and co-wrote it), but wasn’t the lead singer. The song was written as a satirical take on the drunken audiences the band had played in front of, and, ironically, went on to become an iconic NZ drinking song. Still, this also means that the song was far more popular than chart positions would suggest.

After the breakup of Th’Dudes, Dobbyn went on to form pop/rock band DD Smash. They released three albums: Cool Bananas (1982) hit Number One and was 3x Gold; Live: Deep in the Heart of Taxes (1983) reached 11; The Optimist was also Number One.

The band had eight singles, the highest charting of which was “Outlook for Thursday” (below) which wasn’t on a studio album, though it was on their live album. The song reached Number 3.

DD Smash broke up in the mid-1980s, as Dobbyn started doing more solo work, including work on the soundtrack for the animated movie, Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale. His song “Slice of Heaven” which he recorded with Herbs (the video is part of my Herbs post), went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia.

Dobbyn’s next single, also from Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale soundtrack, was “You Oughta Be In Love” (below), which featured Ardijah, one of the many NZ groups that didn’t get a post in this series. The song reached Number 2 on the NZ chart and Number 63 in Australia. I always thought it was a sweet song, and a good pop song.

It’s extremely difficult to choose what other songs among Dobbyn’s 25 singles (so far) to feature. I can’t limit it to only Top Ten singles—he’s had seven of them (two of which I shared earlier in this series)— because not all of my favourite Dobbyn songs were Top Ten.

Like “Loyal”, for example (below). The 1988 song reached Number 19 in New Zealand (and 70 in Australia), and was from his album of the same name, his first solo studio album (it reached Number 9). I liked the video as much as the song. The song took on a new life in the 1990s when it became a rallying song for supporting Team New Zealand in the Americas Cup yacht racing in Auckland. At the time, a black Team Zealand flag used the Team's silver fern logo and had one large word as part of the design: "LOYAL".

1994’s “Language” (below) has always been one of my favourite Dobbyn songs. It reached Number 4 in New Zealand, and the album it was from, Twist, reached Number 8. Neil Finn, who'd attended the same high school as Dobbyn, worked with him on the record, and Dobbyn himself has commented on how important Finn was to the album's sound. To me, it’s a pretty perfect pop song: Meaningful lyrics, strong hook, totally sing-alongable (when no one else can hear, in my case…) and with a well-made, relevant video.

In addition to the 25 solo singles, Dobbyn has so far released eight studio albums, all but one of which was Top Ten. He’s also released three compilation albums and one live album. In 1995, he was one of first performers in the world to attempt an international simulcast over the Internet. He’s been busy.

In 2001 the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) awarded Dobbyn a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 2001 New Zealand Music Awards.

Of all of Dobbyn’s music, the one song that stands out as my favourite is “Welcome Home”, which is the real reason it got its own post. I said it was “a song that spoke to me personally probably more than any other pop song in my life” because it was about welcoming immigrants like me. There have been very few songs that I’ve felt connected to in that way.

All good pop music will make us feel something, even if it’s just happy and having fun. This series has been about highlighting some of the New Zealand music that’s done that for me, or others. I wanted to show some of the breadth and variety of New Zealand music, and to give readers a chance to discover some music they might not have otherwise.

I’ve discovered a lot, too, ranging from performers and groups I wasn’t aware of, to songs I hadn’t heard or facts about artists that I hadn’t known before: I learned a lot from doing this series. I also had many pleasant memories rekindled, and some new ones made.

But this series was also a bit of a mission: Blogging every day for a month on a single theme is hard enough, but that also meant a lot of research, all with time pressures. It was also surprisingly difficult to choose what to include, so I missed a lot of fantastic acts and songs. I suppose I could always do an occasional “Weekend Diversion” post to share some of the others.

I won’t be doing this again next year. In fact, I only did it this year on a whim: If I’d planned it, I’d have organised it better. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end without giving up. I’m glad I made it.

This blog has always been about many things, but its core subject area from the beginning has been my take on life in New Zealand as well as sharing some things about it that are significant for me. This series of posts has really been about all that, too. Mainly, I wanted to help people get to know and understand New Zealand a little more. I hope I succeeded.

Friday, May 30, 2014

NZMM Day 30 - Best of the rest

Here we are: The penultimate post is this series. Yeah, I never thought it would end, either. Today I’m showcasing a few of my favourites that, for whatever reason, never got a post of their own.

First up (and these are in no particular order) is the Mutton Birds “Dominion Road” (below). The song was their first—and, I think, their best—single, but it peaked at Number 31. They had a Number One hit with “The Heater” (1994), but I’ve never heard it. I like the sound and lyrics of “Dominion Road”, and even though I have no idea which of New Zealand’s many Dominion Roads the song refers to, I like to think it’s Auckland’s, which I worked near for several years.

Next up, New Zealand’s top New Wave act, Mi-Sex “Computer Games” (1979, below). I never heard this song until I heard some compilation or other, but I liked it: It is SO much a part of its time. What I like even more is that they played a role in New Zealand politics. From Wikipedia (the Mi-Sex link):
Mi-Sex gained considerable publicity during 1980 thanks to then Prime Minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon. The New Zealand government had slapped a 40% sales duty on records, much to the objection of the New Zealand Arts Council, record retailers and record companies. On 21 April, Muldoon claimed that popular music was "not culture", stating that "The records sold in this country are not Kiri Te Kanawa's, they are 50 to 1 those horrible pop groups and I'm not going to take the tax off them."
Mi-Sex were due to start a major New Zealand tour five weeks later, and—sensing an opportunity for publicity—invited Muldoon to attend their Wellington concert, an invitation which he accepted. The Prime Minister attended the concert and met with the band after their performance, but the sales tax remained.
Any group that took on Robert “Piggy” Muldoon is okay in my books. Fortunatley, I like the song, too, which hit Number 5 in New Zealand, Number 2 in Canada and Number One on Australia—by far their biggest hit. Lead singer Steve Gilpin died from injuries in a car crash in January 1992.

The Exponents returned to New Zealand charts under this name (formerly The Dance Exponents) with the hit “Why Does Love Do This To Me” (1991, below). It reached Number 3 and went Gold. It’s still a part of NZ popular culture, 23 years later (especially at rugby matches…).

“Counting The Beat” (1981, below) by The Swingers continues in NZ popular culture as the music in Pak ‘n Save commercials on NZ television. The song went to Number One in both New Zealand and Australia, their highest-charting single.

Chris Knox is next with “Not Given Lightly”. It was a song that didn't gain much attention in its initial realease in 1989. But it gained renewed attention years later, not the least because it was used in a Vogel’s Bread commercial. It was also the final video played on Max TV, a free-to-air music channel whose frequency had been bought by TVNZ to get rid of competition, which we know because they never really did anything with it. In any event, this love song to "John and Leisha's mother" is pretty awesome in my book. Chris suffered a stroke in 2009, and hasn’t been heard from much since then.

And finally, not a video (since it isn’t one): “Nature” by The Fourmyula. This 1969 single reached Number One on the NZ chart and was later revived in a commercial for Meadowlea Margarine, not that it needed it: It was part of Kiwi pop culture history by then. The song was the Number One song on APRA’s list of the “Top 100 New Zealand Songs of All Time”. I’m not sure I would have placed it at the top (okay, I wouldn’t have…) but the ranking shows the regard that many people had for this song.

And, that’s it: This post has included some of the many New Zealand artists and bands that didn’t get posts of their own in this series. I included what was suggested to me and, especially, what I liked. This post tied up some of the loose ends, but by no means all of them: There are plenty of songs and acts that didn't make this list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them.

This post includes some of the best of the rest, the stuff I like but didn’t get to blog about. There’s so much more. I can only hope that people will explore NZ music without my guidance.

We still have one day to go…

A crime in the neighbourhood

A woman was murdered in our neighbourhood last Saturday night. In some places, that’s nothing unusual, but in our neighbourhood, and in this country, it’s shocking.

The bare details of the crime are that a woman worked late on Saturday, catching a bus in the city around 7pm and never made it home. She got off the bus at her stop in our neighbourhood and started walking down the street, where something happened to her (the police haven’t said what), and she disappeared. Her phone and shoes were found near the footpath on the street she was walking down.

We never heard a thing. That’s not unusual, since we usually don’t hear noises from that street. We’re down hill from the area where the stuff was found, and there are many houses between us and there. That particular night, we had some people around to our house, so there was absolutely no chance we’d hear anything.

The first we knew anything had happened was Sunday morning, when our niece stopped by and told us parts of the street were cordoned off and there were police all over the place. That afternoon, police specialists in search and rescue came by our house and had a look around. They’d already had police dogs in the nearby park, and they looked in the bush not far from our house, too.

The next day, Monday, another cop came by to ask if we’d heard anything. He said they were exploring all possibilities, including that she’d been hit by a car and had crawled off. I helped them get access to the underside of houses around us so they could have a look (many of the houses in our complex are built on hillsides, so have big spaces underneath). We both knew there was no way someone hit by a car could have, let alone would have, crawled so very far, but it needed to be checked all the same.

Tuesday, another constable came by and asked who was here that night. I didn’t have everyone’s phone numbers (I keep forgetting to update contacts on my phone), but I was able to tell him who was here and at approximately what times. More or less. Who pays THAT much attention to ordinary life, like what specific time guests arrive or leave?

By the time the constable came around, police had already found the woman's body less than 2km away, in the bushy area of a cemetery, of all places. They’d also made an arrest.

Wednesday, the constable came back asking me to reconfirm with folks who were here, to make sure that no one had seen anything that night, and I worked on that so I could email him. This gave me time to get the contact details I didn’t have before.

It’s weird, and even silly, but being able to help the police in even these teeny, tiny ways felt like I was, well, helping—and, of course, in a way we were: Information like ours helps to flesh out the story of what happened that night. What seems insignificant and trivial to us can help police form a complete picture of the chain of events that night.

The whole neighbourhood was freaked out when the story broke: This sort of thing just doesn’t happen here. In fact, murder in New Zealand is so rare that when one happens, it makes the nationwide evening news, usually the top story.

I looked it up, and, per 100,000 population, in 2012 New Zealand had 0.9 murders, while Australia had 1.0, United Kingdom 1.2, Canada 1.6 and the USA 4.8. As compared to the USA in particular, it’s easy to see why a murder is such big news here.

As always happens at a time like this, gossip is taking on a life of its own. Part of that is because so little official information has been released, so people tend to make up their own stories, or elaborate on what is known, etc. But it can also have consequences: The judge issued a blanket suppression order, forbidding the publication of any details about the alleged murderer. People who are taking to social media to talk about the case are being rather careless about what they say—spreading not just gossip but also sometimes facts about the accused. They could be prosecuted for doing so.

The judge issued the order to ensure that the accused has a fair trial. I have no idea whether the suppression order was justified, but the goal of a fair trial is a worthy one, so maybe it was a good idea, even if people are reacting in anger to this crime—actually, maybe because people are reacting that way.

We need to have a full and open discussion of the issues of crime and punishment, the criminal justice process, as well as crime prevention, but that discussion shouldn’t be based on one particular crime, but on general principles, instead. I don’t think that sort of discussion can happen right now.

One thing we can all agree on, though, is that we shouldn’t even have to debate all this because of that one crime that happened nearly a week ago. The victim and her family deserve the attention right now. The rest can wait.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

NZMM Day 29 – The Runga sisters

Okay, this IS a bit cheeky: Today I’m featuring two sisters, Bic and Boh Runga who, apart from being sisters, also have the fact they’re singers in common. Their styles, however, are different. I’m putting them together because, quite frankly, I’m running out of time.

The sisters were born in Christchurch, Boh in 1969 and Bic in 1976. Their mother, Sophia Tang, was a Chinese Malaysian singer in Malaysia when she met Joseph Runga, a Māori soldier on leave from Vietnam. They moved to New Zealand to live and Sophia gave up her music career.

Boh Runga moved to Auckland to form Stellar* (the asterisk is part of their name), a pop/rock band, in the early 1990s. Their first album, Mix (1999), went to Number One and was 5x Platinum. Their second album, Magic Line (2001), also went to Number One and went Platinum. Their final album, Something Like Strangers (2006), went to Number 9.

Their biggest hit was “Every Girl” (2000, below), the final single from from Mix. The song went to Number 3.

An earlier hit, and a song I particularly liked, was “Part of Me” (1999, below), also from Mix. It reached Number 4. It was the band’s first Top Ten single.

Without a doubt, their best-known song is “Violent”, below, and also from Mix and released in 1999. The song reached number 11. I liked this song in particular for mentioning “nihilistic tendencies”. Don’t get that in pop music every day…

One of my favourites by them is also their least-successful charted singles, “Star” (2002, below). It was from their second album, Magic Line. The song peaked at Number 40 and was their last charted single.

The reason I like, however, is that in 2002 I went to the official launch of the Labour Party’s campaign and Stellar* were the entertainment. One of the songs was “Star”. As Boh sang “Baby you’re a star” I looked over and saw then-Prime Minister Helen Clark at the back of the hall, determined look on her face, ready to be introduced to the party faithful. She was a star.

Bic Runga (her name is pronounced “beck”, not “bick”) is a singer/songwriter, and quite different from her older sister.

I didn’t like her first two singles, “Drive” and “Bursting Through”, which I thought were somewhat ponderous and unlikely to take the pop charts by storm. In fact, “Drive” reached Number 7, and “Bursting Through” hit 33.

However, her next single, “Sway” (1997, below) was different: It hit Number 7 in New Zealand, 10 in Australia and 93 in the UK, her fist single to chart in those countries. It was also from her first album, Drive, which debuted at Number One in NZ and was 7x Platinum.

She had several minor hits after that (including “Good Morning Baby”, a great pop song with Dan Wilson on the American Pie movie soundtrack – LISTEN), before hitting Number 3 with one of my favourites, “Get Some Sleep” (2002, below). The song was 92 in Australia and 78 in the UK, but was also her first charted single in those countries since “Sway”.

Bic’s next single, “Something Good” (2002, below) hit Number 4 in New Zealand and 107 in the UK. Both it and “Get Some Sleep” are from her album, Beautiful Collision, which also debuted at Number 1 on the NZ album chart and was 11x Platinum. The album also hit 41 in Australia and 55 in the UK. When the song came out, I was carpooling with a workmate, and we used to repeat each “ya” whenever the song came on the radio on the way to work. Good times.

Bic’s most recent charted single was “Winning Arrow” (2005, below), which reached Number 23. She’s released five singles since, but none have charted. It was from her third studio album, Birds, which debuted at Number One, as Drive and Beautiful Collision had done. Birds reached Number 26 in Australia and 154 in the UK. It also was 3x Platinum in NZ. “Winning Arrow” features Neil Finn (mentioned as part of Split Enz and Crowded House) as well as Anika Moa on backing vocals. Both are in this video.

Bic released her fourth album, Belle, in 2011. It reached Number 5 in NZ and 97 in Australia, despite having no charted singles in either country. It also went Gold in New Zealand.

Boh, meanwhile, has continued a solo career, releasing the album Right Here in 2009. She also designs jewellery.

I said at the start that I decided to make one post with both sisters because I’m running out of time for this series. That’s true, but I also figured I could get away with it because the performers are—ahem!—related.

And, I like them both.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

NZMM Day 28 – Herbs

Herbs is another group that’s been important to New Zealand music, and for a long time. They’ve also done some of my favourite songs.

Herbs has been around in one form or another since 1979, though it was in the 1980s that they became popular. Since then, there have been numerous changes in band members, but the group still performs in New Zealand and Australia.

Herbs are considered pioneers of the Pacific reggae sound, paving the way for many acts, including Fat Freddy’s Drop. An important thing to know about them is that the name is pronounced with the “h”, not like the American “erbs”. Second, there’s no “the” in front of their name.

The video above is the 1995 version of their first single, “French Letter”, which is a protest song. The original version was on the Light of the Pacific album (1982) and protested French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, and reached Number 11 on the NZ singles chart.

In 1995, they released the special single version and video to protest renewed French nuclear tests (which was also addressed by DLT and Che Fu in “Chains”). This is the version I know best, since I arrived in New Zealand in 1995. This version reached Number 9 on the NZ chart.

Their biggest hit was with Dave Dobbyn on “Slice of Heaven”, below, which was part of the soundtrack for the movie, Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale (1986). The song was billed as being “Dave Dobbyn with Herbs”, and he specifically wanted them as part of the song. There was so little time to record that the video featured their live performance, not a recreation. This was one of several successful collaborations the band had. “Slice of Heaven” reached Number One for eight weeks in New Zealand and for four weeks in Australia. It’s also sometimes called New Zealand’s other, other National Anthem (unofficially, of course).

“Sensitive to a Smile” was originally intended for release in 1986, but was delayed due to the success of “Slice of Heaven”. It reached Number 9 on the singles chart, and the album it was from, also called Sensitive to a Smile, reached Number 10 in New Zealand. The video was directed by Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori and was shot in Ruatoria to give support to Rastafarian protests in the area. I came to know it mostly when it was used as music in a TV ad urging people to train to be teachers.

The second-highest charted single Herbs were part of was also a collaboration, "See What Love Can Do" (below), by Annie Crummer with Herbs. It was on her 1992 album, Language. The song reached Number 3 on the NZ singles chart.

Two of the songs I’ve included have been theirs, the other two them on other people’s songs. Part of that’s because I like these songs (full disclosure…), but also because there just aren’t that many videos of Herbs songs (most are audio-only). Nevertheless, they were successful: Out of 15 singles released, nine were Top 20 singles, including six Top Ten singles. Four of their eight albums were Top 20. And that's not bad at all.

Cold morning

It was unusually cold in Auckland this morning. That’s enough to make the rest of New Zealand laugh and tell jokes at Auckland’s expense. Which is silly and pointless. You’d think they’d know that by now.

Last night was the coldest in May since 1976—nearly 40 years. It fell to 0.9 last night at Auckland Airport (about 33.62F). Other parts of Auckland recorded different temperatures, some a little higher and in some low-lying areas it could have reached -4 (24.8F).

This is unusually cold for this part of the country and, in fact, heavy frosts hit parts of the country north of Auckland, too—and we seldom get heavy frosts, let alone four days before the start of winter. It was wintry cold, not late autumn cold.

Other parts of the country get much colder, of course, which is kind of irrelevant: We don’t live there. One supposes (or hopes) that people in colder parts of the country are prepared for cold because it happens there every year. Aucklanders are not prepared for it because it rarely gets so cold here, and certainly not in May. Unlike other parts of the country, we’re not used to it, and have no reason to be.

It’s too bad that some people in other parts of the country take such great delight in ridiculing Aucklanders, and that they’re so quick to do so. But the joke’s really on them: We simply don’t care what they think or what they say, though we may sometimes think they’re being dickish.

I’m used to this. All of Illinois hates and mocks Chicago, but Chicago couldn’t possibly care less. Having lived in both camps, I have a different perspective than the partisans of either, something like indifference. This served me well when I moved to New Zealand and found a similar situation.

Because, really, what any of us thinks or says doesn’t matter: It was bloody cold last night. I can imagine what the actual winter will be like.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NZMM Day 27 – Opshop

Today’s band, Opshop, has made some of my favourite pop songs of the past few years. As this series winds down, that’s a good thing to focus on.

The video above, “One Day”, was the third single from their second album, Second Hand Planet. It peaked at Number 4 on the NZ singles chart and went Platinum. It’s an example of one of their slower songs, and was a favourite of mine at the time. I bought it on iTunes back then.

Their first album was You Are Here (2007), which reached Number 17 on the album chart and went Platinum. The highest-charted single from that album was “No Ordinary Thing” (2007, below), which reached Number 22.

Their second album, Second hand Planet, went to Number One on the Album chart and was Triple Platinum. The first single from that album was “Maybe” (below), which I also bought on iTunes. It hit Number 3 on the singles chart and went Gold. “Maybe” took the band to #1 on iTunes New Zealand, the first New Zealand band to hit that position. Apparently, I helped them achieve that.

Their third album (and most recent) was 2010’s Until The End of Time, which reached Number 1 on the NZ album chart. It produced three charted singles: “Pins and Needles” (Number 20), “Madness and Other Allergies” (29) and “Love Will Always Win” (11).

Their most recent single, released in January (below) is “All I Ask”. It didn’t chart.

Opshop is fronted by Invercargill-born, Christchurch-raised Jason Kerrison. We saw him in real-life when he attended a Star Trek benefit premier screening we attended back in 2009. I knew who he was—I recognised him from his videos—but I could NOT remember his name. So, as has nearly always been the case when I’ve run across well-known people, I said nothing.

A few years later, Kerrison got in the news because he planned on building an underground “ark” in preparation for the end of the world with the end of the Mayan calendar. Yeah, I know. He later said he never said it was about that calendar, or even the end of the world, but rather the end of time and, anyway, most people aren’t prepared for disasters. Which is true. But the whole thing made him seem, well, kind of flaky—or, maybe that’s what the media wanted to portray?

At any rate, I’ve enjoyed Opshop music. That’s enough for me.

All the videos in this post, and ones for the songs I mentioned but didn’t include, can be found on Opshop's YouTube Channel.

Goodnight, Kiwi

The animator of “Goodnight Kiwi”, Sam Harvey, has died at the age of 91. The clip above is the version that was on TV2 from 1989 to 1995, and is probably the best-known version of it. The music is an instrumental of the Māori lullaby, "Hine e Hine", composed by Fannie Rose Howie (1868-1916, also known by her stage name, Te Rangi Pai) in 1905 and arranged by Bernie Allen.

Goodnight Kiwi had a few different versions, but this one signalled the end of the broadcast day on TV2 (called “Channel 2” at the time), before 24-hour broadcasting on the channel started in 1994. This means that I didn’t see the clip when it was in use, and mostly only heard people talk about it. It popped up on nostalgia TV shows in the pre-YouTube days, and I finally saw it. I always thought it was kind of sweet.

However, there’s a conundrum that NZ On Screen mentions (and their copy of the video is better, though not embeddable):
“For a generation of kids Goodnight Kiwi became a much-loved symbol of staying up well past your bedtime. Viewers never questioned why our nocturnal national icon was going to bed at night, or sharing a bed with a cat.” [emphasis added]
I’ll admit, I did kind of wonder about that, but I was in my late 30s the first time I saw it. In any case, Goodnight Kiwi became part of New Zealanders’ contemporary shared memory, and is definitely Kiwiana. To learn about modern New Zealand, this is the kind of thing that is good to know about.

And I even slipped in a little NZ Music Month history, too…

Monday, May 26, 2014

NZMM Day 26 – Tami Neilson

And now, a change: "Country, Soul, Rockabilly" artist Tami Neilson is today’s artist. Up until now, I’ve posted pop, rock, hiphop, etc., but no country. This choice sort of fell out of the ether.

Tami was born in Canada, part of a performing family, and now lives in New Zealand. She fell in love with a Kiwi man, moved here, and they’re now married. Yes, it’s a similar story, apart from the fact that I don’t sing, of course, for which the world is grateful.

The song above, “Whiskey & Kisses”, is from Dynamite!, her first album to be recorded solely in New Zealand. The song, a duet between Tami and Ben Woolley, was just named “Best Country Music Song” at the New Zealand Country Music Awards in Gore this past Friday.

The video below is a special double video of the songs "Texas”, with a bonus performance of "Cry Over You”. The non-performance parts of the video are pretty cheesy, and not really in a good way, but her performances are solid. “Texas” was also a finalist for “Best Country Music Song”.

Finally, a completely different sort of song, "Walk (Back to Your Arms)". It’s more bluesy/souly sort of song, kind of reminiscent of Adele, Peggy Lee, among others. These days, artists don’t have to stick to one style only.

I’ll admit that country isn’t one of my favourite genres, but, neither is hiphop, reggae or hard rock, yet all have been part of this adventure in blogging. This one fell into my virtual lap when I saw a Tweet from NZ On Air, and, well, why not? After all, this whole project started with a Tweet, so why not start to wind down with a post inspired by one?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

NZMM Day 25 – Benny Tipene

Today’s artist is singer/songwriter Benny Tipene. He is another suggested to me.

Benny was a contestant on the first season of New Zealand’s version of X Factor. He came third. Since then, he’s spoken disapprovingly of the premise behind such contests.

His first single was "Walking on Water" (LISTEN), which was released digitally last July. It reached Number 2 and also went Platinum.

In December of last year, Benny’s second single, "Make You Mine", was released. The video for the song (below) was released in January. It reached Number 15 on the singles chart and went Gold.

In February, Benny’s debut EP, Toulouse, was released. It contained “Make You Mine”, and the digital version contained “Walk on Water” as a bonus track. It also contained his third single, “Lonely” (at the top of this post), which was released last month. The song has reached Number 26 on the NZ singles chart. His debut album is due to be released in September.

This month, it was announced that in July Benny would tour the North Island with Anika Moa (who was the artist on Day 13). The tour is called So Good They Named It Twice, and they’re playing in “double name” towns: Mimi, Kihikihi, Matamata, Ramarama, Hora Hora, Poroporo and Katikati. I think that’s a clever idea, in addition to bringing live music to towns that most artists don’t visit.

I didn’t watch the NZ X Factor, so I really didn’t know anything about Benny before this project, though I do remember seeing people talk about Benny on social media. I also remember hearing “Walk on Water” on the radio, which is significant considering how little I listen to the radio. There much more to come from him.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

NZMM Day 24 – Broods

Today’s band is Auckland-based, Nelson-born, brother and sister duo, Broods. They were also suggested to me.

Broods is Caleb and Georgia Nott, who were born in grew up in Nelson as part of a performing family, getting their start, really, while in high school. The band name was suggested to them by their manager, and they apparently liked the double meaning—being part of a family and the brooding feeling in their music.

Their first single was “Bridges” (above), which reached Number 8 on the New Zealand singles charts, Number 57 in Australia and Number 26 on the Alternative Chart in the USA. It also went Gold. Not bad for a debut single from a new group.

“Bridges” was included on their EP Broods, which was released this past January. That EP went to Number 2 in New Zealand, Number 30 in Australia and Number 164 in the USA. Their full-length debut album is due to be released in August of this year.

The next single, also on their EP, was “Never Gonna Change” (below). It reached Number 40 on the New Zealand singles chart.

I’d never heard of Broods until they were suggested to me, but I like their stuff—so far, at least. Their brooding sound sounds perfect for after a night out, or on a quiet day. It’ll be interesting to see what else they do.

Friday, May 23, 2014

NZMM Day 23 – Fat Freddy’s Drop

Today's band, Fat Freddy’s Drop, is a suggestion. That actually means something, but more about that later.

Fat Freddy’s Drop is a seven-piece band from Wellington and, as Wikepedia puts it, their “musical style has been characterised as any combination of dub, reggae, soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, and techno.” The entry doesn’t say who characterises their music that way, but I think it’s reasonably accurate. It’s certainly an eclectic sound.

All three of their albums have gone to Number One in New Zealand. Their highest-charting single, “Wandering Eye” (2005, above), reached Number 6 on the NZ Singles Chart. It was from their first album, Based On A True Story, which went 8x Platinum.

Their second album was Dr Boondigga and the Big BW (2009). It went Double Platinum. The charted single from the album was “The Camel” (2008, below). It reached Number 14 on the singles chart.

The second single from that album was “Pull The Catch”. It reached number 17 on the singles chart [WATCH/LISTEN].

Since then, they’ve had a charted non-album single, “Clean The House” (2013, below), which reached Number 30. It’s on their third album, Blackbird, which went Gold. The album was released after the single.

At the beginning of this post, I said that Fat Freddy’s Drop was suggested to me, and what that means is that I’m including them even though I don’t actually care for their music (and that means that I might not have thought of including them). The whole point of this series had been to share a variety of New Zealand music, especially music that’s been popular in this country or overseas, so whether I like it or not is irrelevant. While I haven’t actively disliked the music of anyone I’ve posted, this post has music I’ve probably liked the least.

But musical taste is an entirely subjective thing, and there are plenty of people who like what I don’t (as well as those who dislike what I like—Arthur’s Law again). That makes some of these posts a bit of challenge for me, because it would be easy to say something negative about songs or groups that I don’t like. So, I’ve tried to stay out of the way and let readers (listeners?) decide for themselves. That’s as it should be. But it’s also only fair to say that even I don’t like everything that I’ve posted, but that, too, is okay.

Happy beagles

I ran across this video today, and it’s from the Beagle Freedom Project, which is “a mission to rescue beagles used in animal experimentation in research laboratories and give them a chance at life in a loving forever home.” This particular video, posted earlier this month, is, as the YouTube description puts it:
On May 6, 2014, Beagle Freedom Project rescued nine beagles from a laboratory in Nevada. Until this day, these beagles had never known a kind touch, been loved or felt safe. Their lives are about to change forever.”
I think this video is heartwarming, and having once shared my life with beagles (“lovable rogues”, they’re often called), it makes me happy seeing these particular ones having a chance at a happy life as loved furbabies.

However, I always feel the need to say that I’m not absolutely opposed to all animal testing, though I do think that it shouldn’t be done unless it’s the only possible way to get the data necessary to save lives—and there are very, very few instances in which that’s actually true (testing the safety of “party pills” or “legal highs” is absolutely not one of those legitimate reasons for testing on animals). And that’s all I’m going to say about that—it’s way too fraught a topic!

In any case, this video just made me really, really happy, and I wanted to share it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

NZMM Day 22 – Avalanche City

Featured today is Avalanche City, a folk/pop band from Auckland.

Avalanche City was originally a solo project of Dave Baxter, who later recruited bandmates after he released his first album, Our New Life Above The Ground. He originally released the album as a free download (sound familiar yet?), but after 10,000 copies had been downloaded, he took it offline in order to sell it.

The first single from the album, “Love Love Love” (2011, above), debuted at Number One on the New Zealand singles charts, even without much airplay. The next week, it was top of the airplay charts, too. Within four weeks, it had gone Gold. It also went to Number 49 in Australia.

The next single from the album was “Ends in the Ocean” (below). It’s the first video in which Dave Baxter appears, though it was posted to YouTube before “Love Love Love” (which may not mean anything). The single didn’t chart.

The third single from the debut album, “Sunset” (2012, below), also didn't chart.

Our New Life Above The Ground reached Number 4 on the NZ album chart, and Number 97 in Australia. Since the album was released, Avalanche City has been touring and, from the photos posted to their website, they appear to be working on a new album.

Their songs sound kind of summery to me, though I can’t put my finger on quite why that is. Maybe it’s because I heard “Love Love Love” on the radio a lot while I was driving around. It is a good road trip song, come to think of it.

Here’s a little trivia: I know several people who misheard the lyrics on “Love Love Love”, thinking it said “I heard your heart saying/blah, blah, blah,” which is really kind of funny, as such things are.

So, this happened

From the YouTube description:
Singer-songwriter Lorde dropped by UNDP headquarters in New York City while on tour to meet Helen Clark, fellow New Zealander, and former Prime Minister of the country.
And I was just talking about Lorde

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NZMM Day 21 – Lorde

My last few posts have talked about successful New Zealand acts, and that means that today’s has to be about the New Zealand artist with the greatest chart success so far, Lorde.

The video above is her global hit, “Royals”, which is also the first NZ song this month that I actually posted already (back in July, 2013). Since it’s her biggest hit so far, it’s the obvious one to lead this post.

Lorde, real name Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, was born in Takapuna and raised in Devonport, both suburbs of Auckland’s North Shore (and areas I know very well). She’s the first New Zealand solo artist to reach the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the youngest in 25 years. She was also the first female to top Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart since 1996—the year Lorde was born. She’s been rather successful.

Her first EP, The Love Club, was originally posted to SoundCloud as a free download in November 2012. When it hit 60,000 downloads, the record company decided it was time to stop. The official digital release was in March 2013 (and the CD was released in May).

“Royals” debuted at number one on the NZ chart in March 15, 2013 and stayed there for three weeks. On May 8, the EP debuted at Number 2 on the NZ album chart. “Royals” was released in the US in June 2013 and peaked at Number One, where it stayed for nine weeks.

The Love Club reached Number 2 in NZ and Canada, and 22 in Canada and 23 in the USA. “Royals” was Number One in New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the USA (and technically Number 2 in Australia). The song was 4x Platinum in NZ, Gold in Britain, 6x Platinum in Canada and also in the USA.

Lorde’s second EP, Tennis Court, was released in June 2013. The title track (below) debuted at Number One on the NZ singles chart on June 14. She also became the first New Zealand artist to have four songs in the top 20 tracks of the New Zealand Top 40 simultaneously. The song also reached 20 in Australia, 78 in the UK and 71 in the USA. It went double Platinum in both New Zealand and Australia.

Her debut full-length album, Pure Heroine, was released in September, 2013 and it included tracks from both The Love Club and Tennis Court. The song "Tennis Court" was basically the first new single from that album, and the second was “Team” (below). It reached Number 3 in New Zealand and Canada, Number 19 in Australia, Number 29 in the UK and Number 6 in the USA.

The album Pure Heroine reached Number One in NZ, and Australia, Number 2 in Canada, Number 4 in the UK and Number 3 in the USA. It went 4x Platinum in New Zealand, Double Platinum in Australia, Gold in the UK, Double Platinum in Canada and Platinum in the USA.

I mention all the chart positions and selling status (Gold and Platinum) on this post, as on all the others so far, to give some idea of how successful and popular an artist, song or album is. But with Lorde, the success tends become a bit of a blur.

However, there was also controversy. Some Americans declared she couldn’t possibly be 16 (her age when “Royals” was released), then others decried what they deemed to be the “sexualisation” of a teenager. Lorde has crafted her image the way she wants it, but it seemed to me the people “sexualising” her were often the people most likely to complain or, perhaps, exploit it.

The prime example was a major US gossip website that published paparazzi photos of Lorde and her boyfriend at a beach, then they made a lame video where the “staff” sat around and talked and joked about it and what the two supposedly could and couldn’t do sexually (by that time, she was 17 and he was 25). This was, at the very best, creepy, and certainly in very bad taste, but it was also so colossally ignorant that I started a blog post about it. Then I wrote a longer one. In the end, I killed the whole project because I didn’t want to help them victimise Lorde, and because I thought their whole slant was deeply offensive as well as pig-ignorant (no offense to porcine readers intended). A part of the original version that wasn’t about Lorde did survive as its own post, though, so it wasn’t all in vain.

The thing is, the people who seem to be complaining the loudest about Lorde, whether about her look, her age or some other issue, always have seemed to me to be projecting onto her. Maybe her pretty laid-back demeanour makes that easy.

In any case, I quite like Lorde. I bought The Love Club, then at Christmastime 2013, iTunes NZ gave away the song and video for “No Better” as a teaser for their annual “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway. That song was included on the extended re-release of Pure Heroine. But, so far, that’s all I’ve actually bought. I’d bet that will inevitably change.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NZMM Day 20 – OMC

If I'm talking about BIG New Zealand acts, I have to mention OMC, the first New Zealand act to reach the Number One spot on a Billboard chart.

The name “OMC” is short for “Otara Millionaires Club” which is a pisstake: Otara is one of the poorest suburbs in Auckland. The group was originally formed in 1993 by Phil Fuemana who basically gave the band to his younger brother, Pauly. He, in turn, suggested shortening the name to OMC. The Fuemana brothers had grown up in Otara.

The video above is their big hit, “How Bizarre” (1995), from the album of the same name (which wasn’t released until 1997). It was Number One in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, and Number 5 in the UK. It went Platinum in Australia and 3x Platinum in New Zealand. The album hit Humber 5 in New Zealand, 44 in Canada and 40 in the USA.

Their next single, “Right On” (1996, below) was from the same album and reached Number 11 in New Zealand, but didn’t chart in any of the countries I write about. Nevertheless, it went Platinum in New Zealand.

The following year, 1997, they released the last single to chart, “Land of Plenty” (below). It reached Number 4 in New Zealand, but didn’t chart anywhere else. This song was very New Zealand-centric, which may have limited its appeal, but that’s also what made it popular here. I liked it and the video, with its iconic New Zealand scenery. It was released in my second year in New Zealand, which meant I was especially drawn to it.

Pauly Fuemana died of respiratory failure on January 31, 2010, following a long battle with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. He was eight days shy of his 41st birthday. Older brother Phil died of a heart attack in 2005.

And that’s where this particular story ends. Unlike most of the acts I’ve written about, there’s no chance there’ll be any new music from OMC. Still, they live on through the history they made, and that’s kind of the point of these posts.

Internet Wading for May

This month, I have all sorts of odds and ends, ranging from an odd Internet site, through to history and art and more.

Oddest of the lot this month is the site 11foot8, which is “A site that points cameras at a railroad overpass in Durham, North Carolina, which has a clearance of 11 feet 8 inches, and then films trucks crashing into it—over and over again.” While it is odd, it’s also oddly fascinating.

History can be shown many different ways, and The Guardian is juxtaposing history with Google Street View, as in their latest, “Second world war in Google Street View”, which places historic photos from World War 2 in position on top of Google Street View images. Kind of amazing, really.

Speaking of history and World War 2, “Hitler's Jewish neighbour looks back in horror in new book”. It’s not yet available in English.

History of another sort is on view in “Ogle the Woolworth Building's Stunning, Rarely Open Lobby”, which looks at in a series of photos. I’ve never actually seen it before.

Speaking of art, “A Couple Of Anonymous Students Sneak Into a Classroom Every Week And Blow Everyone’s Mind”. Okay, then.

Ah, university days! Roger Green remembers his time in student elections. I never did anything like that, but it reminds me that someday I should talk about what I did do back then.

Also at university, researchers think that lab mice may have anxiety toward males, and that could have skewed years’ worth of studies. Whoops!

Remember that gay-inclusive Nabisco Honey Maid “This Is Wholseome” ad that got the frothing rightwing extra frothy? Well, “A Gay Dad Recognizes His Real Life” in the ad: “The minute I saw that simple scene, I burst into tears. That was me. That was my family. While the Coke commercial may have made history for the Super Bowl, Nabisco made history for me. It was at that moment that I realized I had never, ever recognized my real life in a commercial before.”

Finally, given my recent dental dramas, this popped out of the screen at me: “Teeth the new benchmark of inequality – expert”. I don’t know about that, but I do now notice people’s teeth more than I ever have before.

That’s enough wading for this month.

Monday, May 19, 2014

NZMM Day 19 – Crowded House

I debated with myself about whether I should include Crowded House as part of New Zealand’s music history. Those who say it doesn’t belong point out that it was formed in Melbourne and had two Australians. Those who say it does belong point to frontman and principle songwriter, Neil Finn, formerly of Split Enz and native of Te Awamutu. I say they're important to both countries.

I first heard of Crowded House, like so many other people did, with the release of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (1986, video above), which is from their debut album, Crowded House. The song went to Number One in New Zealand and Canada and Number 2 in the USA and Number 8 in Australia. It was the band’s biggest international hit, and was included on APRA’s list of the 100 best NZ songs (number two) and also the 100 Best Australian Songs (seven). Kind of shows they were pretty bi-national.

On the other hand, that song was one of only 6 Top Ten singles the group hand in Zealand in the period 1986-1996, and that’s out of 27 released; in Australia, they had three top ten hits and in the USA, 2. So, they were clearly more popular in New Zealand.

Their next single, “Something So Strong” (1987, below) was from the same album and reached Number 3 in New Zealand, 18 in Australia, 10 in Canada and 7 in the USA. They’d never crack the Top 40 in the USA again, though they had three more Top Ten hits in Canada, plus two additional Top 40 hits. Even so, the album the singles came from reached Number One in Australia, 3 in New Zealand, 8 in Canada and 12 in the USA.

They followed this with another single that was a hit in New Zealand (2), Australia (2) and Canada (8): “Better Be Home Soon” (below), from their 1988 album, Temple of Low Men. The single also hit Number 42 in the USA. The album was Number 1 in Australia, 2 in New Zealand, 10 in Canada and 40 in the USA.

This was, frankly, about the time I stopped paying attention to the band, but I wasn’t alone: It was three years before they hit the Top Ten again on the NZ charts, for example. But that didn’t make any difference for me, since I was still living in the USA, and I never heard any of their songs between 1988 and 1995, when I moved to New Zealand and heard songs from those years. That was when I learned that Neil’s brother Tim had performed with the band many times, too. I hadn’t known that.

Their final single before breaking up was “Not The Girl You Think You Are” (1996, below). I’d never heard the song before this project, and it’s kind of meh to me, and I guess that was kind of a common feeling: It reached Number 37 in Australia, 41 in New Zealand, though it hit 20 in the UK.

The band broke up in 1996 and they went their separate ways. Neil had success with his solo projects and work with his brother, Tim. Drummer Paul Hester had quit the band in April, 1994 for family reasons. He committed suicide in 2005 after a long battle with depression.

Neil reformed the band the following year, and they’re still around, though they haven’t had any new singles since 2010.

Crowded House was, for a time, a big and successful act with a strong New Zealand influence. Given that, and the totality of Neil Finn’s influence on New Zealand music, I think the band should be included in this adventure in blogging. But, if it makes my Australian friends feel better, think of them as an “Australasian” band. It doesn’t really change anything.

Almost posts

Every year, I have many posts that never make it out of draft stage. This month in particular, it seems, there have been a lot that never even made it even that far.

I’ve written repeatedly about how much I’ve come to abhor the negativity of political commentary on the Internet. There’s so much venom scorched with fire and smelling of brimstone that sometimes I don’t even want to turn on my computer. Okay, that’s not actually true, but it nearly is.

Every single say I see things on the Internet that I want to say something about and I think, “what for?!” Yeah, I have my opinion and viewpoint, but does it really add anything to understanding or debate? Usually, these days, I say it doesn’t and I never even write the post.

The surprising thing, maybe, is that this extends even to things closer to home. I’ve written about my periodontal adventures, but even there I don’t talk about everything. Some of it is time—not enough of it—but a lot is similar to political discussions: I just don’t want to dwell on the negative.

Last week, for example, was not a good week, as I talked about (lightly) in my most recent tooth post. The truth is, each treatment was more uncomfortable than the one before, and so was the recovery in the days after. Also, my teeth have become quite sensitive to cold, which is uncomfortable on an ongoing basis (so far).

I haven’t dwelled on any of that because I don’t see the point. Yes, things were “bad”, but let’s get real here: I’ve had weeks and fortnights that were far, FAR worse. And, the whole point of this ordeal was that it will make my life better in the long run, quite possible simply by making it longer than it would have been without the treatments. I can endure quite a lot for that sort of payoff.

I’ve come to understand through all of this that it’s not about whether the glass is really half empty or half full, nor even which we perceive it to be. Instead, for me, it’s about whether I want to exist in a place where those are the only options. Sometimes, the glass is empty-ish, and other times it’s full-ish. But life, our politics and our challenges are almost never even nearly as binary as our rhetoric would suggest.

I choose to exist mainly in the moment, looking for the way forward, rather than whining and moaning about all the things that I don’t like or that I find challenging at that moment. There’s a time and place for challenging one’s adversaries and difficulties, but that time is not every day and that place is, these days, not always here.

Naturally, I’ll have more to say about this in future posts, and I’ll elaborate on the things that have made me reconsider. Those posts will be the ones that actually make it into draft stage and beyond.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NZMM Day 18 – Split Enz

NO discussion of New Zealand music could be complete without mentioning Split Enz. They’re also the most difficult because they had distinctly different eras.

The band formed was in 1972 by Phil Judd and Tim Finn. Tim’s younger brother, Neil, joined them around 1977. In the early days, the band was all over the map stylistically, including art rock and punk, as well as vaudeville, among many others. By 1977, with the arrival of Neil, the band’s sound began to shift more toward New Wave and pop.

The video above is “I Got You”, the band’s first single from their 1980 album, True Colours. The song went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia, 13 in Canada, 12 in the UK—but only 53 in the USA. To me, that’s really quite funny, because I knew this song back then and really liked it. I remember seeing True Colours in a record store, though I didn’t buy it, and I saw the video on TV. I also remember fancying Neil Finn (he’s a few months older than me, and at the time we would have been 20 or 21).

The album went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia, Number 10 in Canada, Number 38 in the UK and Number 40 in the USA. Prior to this, their highest charting song was 1977’s “My Mistake” from the album Dizrythmia. That song peaked at 21 in NZ (and 15 in Australia). That album, however, went to Number 3 in NZ (and 18 in Australia).

The other pre-1980 charted single was “I See Red” from the album Frenzy, which was only released in New Zealand and Australia. The song only hit 43 in NZ and 18 in Australia, and the album was 13 in New Zealand and 24 in Australia.

Both songs give an idea of what the band was like before 1980, so here they are:

The video for 1981’s “History Never Repeats” (below), from the album Waiata (called Corroboree in Australia), had many visual references to the previous version of Split Enz, and seemed to be implying people should move on from expecting that. The song reached Number 5 in New Zealand, 4 in Australia and 63 in the UK. The album was Number One in both New Zealand and Australia and Number 45 in the USA.

The band released two more albums, Time and Tide (1982) and Conflicting Emotions (1983). They took a break between the two and when they came back to record Conflicting Emotions, Tim Finn had had enough, and left when it was finished. This left Neil as leader of the group, which now also included Paul Hester, who would be the drummer in Neil’s later group, Crowded House.

Time and Tide hit Number One in New Zealand and Australia and Number 17 in Canada. The album did less well in the UK (#71), partly because of controversy over the single “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” (WATCH: I couldn’t find a decent copy, and, anyway, I’ve rather a lot of videos in this post), which some in the UK thought referenced the Falklands war (it didn’t and, in fact, was recorded before the war). That song reached Number 7 in New Zealand and Canada, and Number 2 in Australia, but only 83 in the UK.

The final Split Enz album was See Ya Round (1984), a title which many interpreted as a farewell album. It reached Number 5 in New Zealand, but only 29 in Australia, the first time in 15 years that a Split Enz album didn’t make the top 20 in that country (all their albums were Top 20 in New Zealand).

Their final charted single was “I Walk Away” (below), which reached Number 13 in New Zealand and 45 in Australia. Their final single was “One Mouth Is Fed”, but it didn’t chart in either New Zealand or Australia. Maybe that's just as well: If See Ya Round is a fitting name for final album, then “I Walk Away” is a good name for a final single.

Split Enz was an important band in New Zealand’s music history. The principle members continued careers in music, with Neil Finn’s Crowded House being the biggest success post-Enz. But that’s a story for another day.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

NZMM Day 17 – The Naked And Famous

The Naked And Famous is a New Zealand alternative rock band from Auckland. They’re also sometimes called a “post punk revival band”. So far, they’ve released two studio albums, one compilation album, three EPs, five singles and 10 music videos. They’ve been busy.

The video above is “Young Blood”, and it was their biggest single in New Zealand. It debuted at Number 1 on the NZ chart on June 14, 2010, the first New Zealand act to do so in three years. It reached number 64 in the UK, 26 in Australia, Number 10 on the Canadian alternative chart and Number 9 on the USA alternative chart. It went Platinum in New Zealand, Australia and North America.

The song was the first single from their first studio album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, which reached Number 1 on the NZ album chart and went Gold. The album also reached 25 in Australia, 25 in the UK, 91 in the US, and 12 on the US alternative chart. “Young Blood” is what got me to buy their album on iTunes.

The second single from the album was “Punching in a Dream” (below), was also from 2010. It hit Number 11 in New Zealand, Number 56 in Australia (and went Gold). It was also Number 16 on the Canadian alternative chart and 18 on the US alternative chart.

“Punching in a Dream” was their last charted single (so far) in New Zealand. Their most recent single, “Hearts Like Ours” (below) reached number 83 on the Australian chart and Number 26 on the US alternative chart. It’s from their second studio album, In Rolling Waves, which was released on September 13, 2013. The video is of their live performance of the song on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson on September 30, 2013.

In Rolling Waves reached Number 4 on the NZ album chart, Number 12 in Australia, Number 48 in the USA (and 14 on the US alternative album chart).

The band is currently touring, finishing up gigs in Auckland, and then heading to the USA for a tour for the rest of May and through mid-June before heading to Europe for the rest of June and July.

The band’s music has been used in a lot of TV shows. The bad has also released a live film, One Temporary Escape, that can be watched on YouTube or downloaded for free from their site.

They’re clearly busy.

Update: Public Address'"Capture" photo blog has photos from TNAF in Auckland.

USA in my supermarket

I’ve often talked about first arriving in New Zealand and looking for American food products, or equivalent local products. Now, my local grocery store stocks American products they never have before. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

The photo at left (click to embiggen) is of my local Countdown’s selection of strictly US food products. Other more international products are available in their normal sections (like, Coke and Pepsi, Kellogg’s cereals, those sorts of things*). The stuff in the new section isn’t normally or easily available in New Zealand.

On the one hand, I think this is great: When I want something American, it’s nice to have it a few minutes drive away. However, I have no idea what some of those products are, and I know that most of them aren’t healthy at all.

Among the “good to have” things, though, is the tinned pumpkin (photo below). A while back, someone Tweeted a photo of the tinned pumpkin at their local Countdown, and I've been on the look out for it ever since. Countdown charges $4.99 for a tin, while the only other place I could get it, American products store Martha’s Backyard, sells it for $6 (all prices subject to change, of course). Being able to get that easily will come in handy, and I may actually make pumpkin pie more often (I’ve never made it for my mother-in-law, for example).

The availability of these products means, I guess, that there are enough North Americans living in this area that the stuff will actually sell. It’s in the international foods area of the store, right next to South African products, and I know there are many South Africans living on the North Shore.

However, it won’t replace Martha’s Backyard. Part of the attraction of that store for me is the immersion it offers—kind of like going back to my homeland without enduring that long flight. A small section in my local grocery store just can't offer that kind of experience.

So, this is a good, but not great thing. Sometimes, that really is enough.

*I should note that most of those products are actually made locally, like Kellogg's cereals, for example, that are made in Australia. Coke and Pepsi products are made here, but differently: They have sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Other products actually made in North America are available in the store and have been for a long time, things like Best Foods mayonnaise and Canadian maple syrup.

Friday, May 16, 2014

NZMM Day 16 – The Exiles

Until I began this NZMM journey, I’d never heard of The Exiles. Once again, I heard of a band precisely because of this blogging experiment.

I came across The Exiles when I was putting together my post on Eye TV. It turns out, Sean Sturm, lead singer of Eye TV was also part of The Exiles. The band formed in 2003.

The single above is “The One”:
"The inspirations were Metropolis, Tim Burton's first short film Vincent, the colour red, and the idea of desiring machines. Our mate Steve from the Misfits of Science sat in on drums and we CGI-ed our drummer Grahame in later (shh!).
Sean Sturm - Feb 09"
The reason this song is so significant is this: “'The One' [is] the first independently released NZ track to reach the Top 30 on radio play and digital sales alone.” This was a significant thing, marking a shift in the way music was sold.

Beyond all that, I know nothing about this song or the band. But, as I’ve said, discovering new things is part of what this who experiment has been about.

Final tooth

Today I had my final periodontal treatment. Good. But, it was a bad week.

The truth is, this week was worse than last week. On Tuesday, my discomfort was the most it had been, only to be eclipsed by today. And my post-treatment feeling after Tuesday was the worst yet. And yet, it was all okay.

Tuesday’s treatment had discomfort—not pain, exactly, but it wasn’t nice. At one point I thought to myself that some people might endure the discomfort because they thought they “deserved” the pain for having led to the situation. Yeah, well, I’m not one of those people, and I thought it was bloody annoying.

The next day, I felt some discomfort—chiefly throbbing—in the treated teeth. That had happened every time before. But then it reappeared in the next day, which was unusual. In fact, I felt kinda bad for the rest of the week—not sick, exactly, but also not 100%.

Today’s treatment was the worst of the four. I was asked if my lip was numb, so I asked if it was supposed to be (it was). Another shot and they got under way, little time lost. Teeth sorted, I was out (and paying more that a couple grand more), and on to schedule a hygienist appointment six weeks later and a re-check six weeks after that (more or less). Both of which cost big money—let’s be honest here.

The second dose of Novocaine (or similar) was intense: My lip didn't stop being numb until around 3pm or so, which meant I hadn’t had any food for over six hours. I was REALLY hungry by then—and thirsty, because I wasn’t able to drink, either. I was also—FINALLY!—able to take some pain relief, because my jaws were hurting by then.

The truth is, the overall process was far less traumatic or painful than I thought it would be. This week, uncomfortable as it was, was still far less painful than any cavity I’ve had fixed. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider the health risks I faced until I took care of this.

Bottom line: Yes, it was an ordeal of sorts, yes it was uncomfortable and inconvenient, BUT—and this is important—it may very well have prolonged my life. How can I complains about THAT!?

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

NZMM Day 15 – Eye TV

Eye TV was an Auckland-based pop rock group that began in 1990 as an Indie rock group, The Nixons. They had three albums and 15 videos funded by NZ On Air, which is pretty impressive in itself.

The video above is “One Day Ahead”, their biggest single. It was from their third and final album, 2000’s Fire Down Below. The song reached Number 9 and was on the charts for 18 weeks, which helped the album reach Number 10.

According to the site 5000 ways to love you, the video for “One Day Ahead” was “shot with the song sped up and then slowed down in edit, giving the everything a dreamy feel.” I actually always wondered how they got that effect. I always like the song and video.

The other single from the same album was “Just the Way It Is” (below). It has a completely different sound, and it’s also a song I never heard before this project. Not the first time that’s happened.

Eye TV broke up the year after Fire Down Below, and the band mates went their separate ways. All of them still make music. Interestingly, Sean Sturm, the lead singer (and a spikey-haired blond in the video up top) completed a PhD in English and became a lecturer at Auckland University—not exactly the way a rocker’s story typically goes.

A kiss is just a kiss

Most of us have at one time or another turned to someone we love at a moment of happiness or joy and given them a kiss or a hug. It’s a very human thing. But to hear the USA’s rightwing, one kiss threatens to destroy civilisation.

The one kiss the rightwing is bleating about is, of course, the one when Michael Sam, who’d just learned he’d been drafted by the St. Louis Rams NFL team, turned to his boyfriend, they kissed and held each other. It was a touching moment.

The professional anti-gay industry cannot let anyone think nicely about anyone who’s LGBT, of course, so they flew instantly into their typical spittle-flecked rage. Actually, that’s their normal state of existence, but I digress.

The usual parade of professional anti-gay bigots declared the kiss was “perversion”, one said she was “revulsed” (whatever that means…), several said that Sam should be “persuaded” to undergo “ex-gay” torture and one notorious bigot really did claim the kiss would lead to the end of civilisation.

Obviously, most of these radical nutjobs are playing to their base so they can continue to get ever more money from them. But there are still significant numbers of people who say they’re uncomfortable about gay people being people—fully formed, fully functioning human beings who hug and kiss and even—gasp!—have sex. The radical rightwing anti-gay industry’s leaders think that if they can demonise gay people (that whole shrill “Gaystapo” bullshit) and make us seem “icky”, then just maybe they can stop the march of progress toward equality for LGBT people.

So, it’s not merely about raising money, much as they covet that, it’s also a political tactic to smear and denigrate LGBT people, to portray us as inhuman monsters. The irony is that this is exactly the sort of thing that the real Nazis did to their victims.

I think it’s now impossible to tell what commenters on the Internet are real. As I wrote recently, “Lately, I’ve had the strangest sense that I can’t tell who is a troll and who is expressing sincerely held (and sincerely batshit crazy) opinions.” Boy oh boy, was that ever true for THIS story!

Professional anti-gay bigots aside—we expect them to be all bigotty and to say bigotty things—I saw a lot of comments complaining about being “forced” to watch the kiss. See, I didn't realise that Obama’s Secret Army was being used to force people to watch ESPN at gunpoint. The things you learn on the Internet! Anyway, a lot of the other comments were about how it was “gross”; some even claimed they’d be just as offended if it had been a man kissing his girlfriend (fortunately, such comments always had links for buying the Brooklyn Bridge, which apparently they were also all selling). And many asked why they had to be subjected to such a thing.

Because, dear clueless more-or-less heterosexual, we have the same right to human expression that YOU do. Let’s be clear: We’re talking about a kiss—it wasn’t a porno movie they were making, it was a damn kiss!! Every single day we see heterosexual kisses—and far, far more—on television shows. Gay characters are chaste by comparison, even to the point of being totally sexless near-eunuchs (like on Will and Grace, for example). So, dear clueless more-or-less heterosexual, if you have to see the occasional genuinely affectionate kiss between two men or two women, well, TOUGH!

Sometimes clueless more-or-less heterosexuals seem so freaking delicate, as if having to face the humanity of their fellow humans who happen to be LGBT will cause them to suddenly lose molecular cohesion and slosh down into a puddle of ooze. Here’s the real shocker: That’s never actually happened. The clueless more-or-less heterosexuals who claimed to be so shocked or “revulsed” by one kiss were still there the next moment, and the one after that. They may even have kissed a loved one at some point (after government gunmen were done pointing guns at them and forcing them watch the kiss…).

The negative—and often flat-out insane—reactions to this kiss are what leaves me “revulsed”. It’s not enough that the professional anti-gay industry is working night and day to prevent people like me from having the same civil and human rights that they do, and it’s clearly not enough for them that they’re trying to pass laws to make it legal to discriminate against LGBT people if it’s based on supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”. No, keeping LGBT people as less-than-citizens isn't enough: They also demand that we never—EVER—express any sort of public affection for the person who means the most to us. Never mind that they’d think nothing of doing that themselves, us gay people are never to have the same freedom because it makes them “revulsed”.

The fact is, in most of the USA, apart from LGBT enclaves in major cities, it’s not safe for LGBT couples to express any affection publicly. Doing so can lead to violent attacks and even murder, and we all know that. In most places, we won’t hold hands in public, or have a hug, let alone a kiss. THAT is our daily reality, and that’s what the bigots of the anti-gay industry want us to experience.

And that’s why CNN was so infuriating—yet again. They thought it would be a jolly good idea to—yet again—have an anti-gay bigot on their channel to preach about how awful it is for two gay men to be seen expressing affection. This is a disgusting habit the network has, and I’ll continue to condemn CNN for its promotion of anti-gay bigots. Here’s a deal: I’ll stop condemning CNN when they routinely have a KKK member on to talk about the rights of African Americans and a neo-Nazi on to talk about Jewish people—because there is NO difference. By including an anti-gay bigot in a “discussion” of the kiss, CNN, as Media Matters put it in the link above, “helped legitimize and mainstream the kind of homophobia that keeps gay people afraid to be themselves in the public.” Exactly.

So, yeah, we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 45 years or so, but we have so much farther to go. Actually, if one damn kiss can get our adversaries and enemies in full froth mode, it’s little wonder that we don’t yet have full equality.

It’s not enough to be able to marry or to be free from discrimination based on who we are or who we love. We also ought to be able to have a simple affectionate kiss with the person we love most in the world. And to all the bigots in the anti-gay industry who claim to be “revulsed” by such a thing, I say with utmost love and affection, FUCK YOU! Smooch!