It has been a few weeks now since David Bowie's passing, and I have to say that I'm still caught up in my own form of mourning of him.
I'm celebrating the fact that we got to share the planet with him by listening to his songs all over again, and at the same time, grieving the fact that there will never be anyone like him again.
In many ways, David Bowie was my ultimate, favourite artist. The consummate mix of artistry and pop sensibility.
I remember when I was younger, people used to ask me who my favourite singers or musicians were. I could always fall back on Madonna, because I think culturally, she has excelled at every level, but she wasn't ever really a musician. I admire her musical talent, but I would never put her in the same league as Bowie on that level.
I think a lot of gay/bi men have issues identifying with male artists. It's a theme I touch on throughout my novel, and one that I have experienced myself.
I can rattle off a million names of female artists who I've really, really loved, but really, when it comes to male musical acts there are few who have touched me as deeply as the female acts. Even by the nineties, Bowie was still my male touchstone when I fumbled for an answer. Even back then, there was still no equal to his greatness.
His influence is writ large all over my novel, but thankfully I wrote it at a time when we still had the security of a living, breathing Bowie.
The Vinyl Tiger is an androgynous, pop/performance artist who arrives years after Bowie has already started to craft his magic, but the Vinyl Tiger hits his mark in a new age and a new era.
Throughout the book, Alekzandr, the main character, experiences loss, and reflects on the fact that he manages to outlive many artists who he deemed himself inferior to.
And re-reading a passage about grief today that I wrote, I felt that it would just be timely to point it out, because grief comes in all kinds of forms. Sometimes its everything, you know. Other times you can deal with it.
Clearly, the following paragraph is not in relation to Bowie, but rather, the very human feeling that supposedly makes us different to everyone else.
Perhaps you'll agree with the sentiment.
Grief is an all-encompassing thing. It ticks away under the surface and from its veiled position it attempts to derail anything and everything that stands before it. Grief is the only trace of the things that will forever be denied to us. The future moments, possibilities and promises that we are forced to accept will never eventuate. And the past glories from our own histories that we always thought we, at some point, would be able to relive, regardless of where circumstances may have led us in the meantime.
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AFTER Countdown's demise in the late 80s, music as we know it became more splintered and fragmented. Audiences and record companies championed the idea of genre more than ever, and if you were growing up in Australia in the 1990s, then the most powerful voice for music became the Triple J radio station - a national 'youth' network run by the ABC (responsible for Countdown's enduring run over the industry via television from the mid 70s to late 80s).
If you've ever been to Australia you've probably noticed that there is a really strong indie scene that exists there - although these days that is being challenged by the ever growing electronic/dance culture.
I've always loved jumping between the two with a dash of pop to keep myself level and adjusted.
Since the 1990s, Triple J has invited its listeners to vote for its favourite songs of the year. They offer up a track list, a kind of voting guide which was once very alternative/indie heavy, but is increasingly more EDM and pop friendly.
The 100 biggest selections then get counted down on Australia Day (26/01) and if you're not an Aussie you can not underestimate how significant this is on a cultural level in Australia.
One of the assets of Triple J is that it has an amazingly varied playlist: it's a respected music channel and its Unearthed and Like a Version series in particular are incredibly popular with the Australian public.
With Unearthed - Triple J hoists unsigned local bands onto their network with a nation wide Battle of the Bands. Numerous past winners have gone on to bigger and better things as a result. One of the earliest winners were Silverchair. Recent winners were Rubens.
Like a Version is a sensational program in which artists are invited to cover their favourite songs, the best of which are released on an annual compliation. Again, a brilliant initiative designed at looking at music as being something beyond a 4 minute genre exercise.
This year's Hottest 100 has just been counted down and the winners are the Rubens. Australian acts took out 55% of the chart, though some of the years biggest EDM hits did very well.
The mainstream media have noted that pop, rap and EDM are taking an increased share of listener's votes. But the list is a great list of music across all genres which is great news.
The year's controversy was based around a betting agency taking bets and targeting young, economically vulnerable listeners. No Taylor Swift being banished from the votes this year to get everybody's knickers in a twist. Just maddening private business policies that stand to make a quick buck at everyone else's expense. More on that here.
Some of my favourite songs of 2015 weren't even eligible for voting. But, in keeping with all this countdown inspired rhetoric, here are five of my favourites of 2015 that I would've voted for.
Sarah Blasko Luxurious
Sarah is one of Australia's most important artists. She hasn't had an international break yet, but she's someone to seek out.
Jack Garratt Breathe Life
Love him. A newcomer who is mixing genres in a brilliant way.
Foals A Mountain at My Gates
Totally loving these Brits and their short arms!!
Great driving music!
Last year's big pop injustice was that this wasn't huge. Amazing.
Benjamin Clementine Condolensce
What a revelation.
If you're an Aussie there are arguably only two terms that you ever needed to use in reference to the music industry and music journalism in general - at least up until the nineties.
Molly or the Pop Guru.
Despite his tendency to mumble, stutter and basically get all his words mixed up when he speaks, or perhaps precisely because of this, Ian "Molly" Meldrum endeared himself to Australia, and to the music industry from early on.
He got his start in the sixties as a dancer, columnist and emerging figure on the Melbourne and London scenes.
But his ability to endear himself to so many was his calling card and soon enough he was approached by the Australian ABC to come up with a youth oriented program. From there, the phenomenon that was Countdown was born.
It was an hour long show in prime time which was a sort of a Top of the Pops scenario. It had a huge hand in making Australia, one of the least populated countries in the Western World, one of the ten biggest record buying markets around the world. Aussies today remain some of the biggest record buyers worldwide.
Molly opened the doors to the Australian market to anyone that was remotely pop oriented, and although he tended to be on the supportive side, he rarely championed artists or acts that he didn't believe in. He broke artists like Madonna to their first mainstream audiences and a performance or appearance on Countdown would routinely drive record sales up by up to 400%. In fact one of the criticisms of the show was that it completely dominated the record industry in Australia, its playlist often defining the following week's charts.
Countdown from its 1974 inception to its 1987 demise was a national institution and although it didn't make into the nineties and beyond, Molly endured.
He's just had a fall in Bangkok, but Australia is not having any difficulty in jumping all over his enduring legacy. His long awaited autobiography The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story is currently a best seller and a TV miniseries on his life is about to hit the airwaves, preceded by a 3 disc compilation album which has already reached the Australian top ten.
I read the 500+ page tome on the plane ride home. It was lightweight, nostalgic and very Countdown centric (it's focused mostly on his Countdown years). But there were a few really lovely moments such as the quote by Jim Keays of The Masters Apprentices.
I used to have a go at Molly for always pushing lightweight pop stuff. But one day he told me that acts such as Kylie are the catalyst that got young kids in music. For a long time, I didn't see it, but he's absolutely right. And now I realise how important that is. He is fostering the acts that will get people involved in music.
Molly and Countdown were huge influences on me growing up in Australia. I initially wanted to be a music journalist when I was younger and back then some of my friends used to joke that I was a pop guru in the making.
I never pursued that path, but I made sure to make numerous references in Vinyl Tiger to Molly, Countdown and the state of the music industry in Australia in what were my formative years.
Get well Molly! You're a stumbling, bumbling national treasure.
I just spent the last month back in my hometown of Melbourne. I have to say aside from having the chance to spend time with family and friends, and to soak up the Australian summer amidst the backdrop of events like Midsumma and the Australian Open, being back in Australia was like a breath of fresh air.
This is my sixth year in Italy, and getting on the plane to come back here was difficult, not just because I was coming back to winter, but also because it meant re-entering the fraccas that is the never ending polemica.
Today is Australia Day and there are some major ongoing issues that need confronting in Australia including the divide between rich and poor, ongoing racism and a growing anti Muslim stance, but for the most part I think Australians are a tolerant and respectful bunch. Differences of opinions are rarely the source of deep divisions in society and in the media. It's not often a case of us versus them, let's just say.
Here in Italy, things are different. Italy, in my mind, has to be one of the capitals of divisive thought. A fractured, splintered media makes a huge contribution to this, as does the existence of organizations like the Catholic Church. There are so many entrenched, vested interests in this country that it feels as if Italians are stuck under a net so intricately weaved that if they ever make it up to the surface, the only thing they are capable of doing is taking shallow breaths.
I'm Australian and my partner is Italian. We've been together for more than five years. The thing is we come from two opposite spectrums of the world: I'm from the new world and he's from one of the historic centres of the world as we know it. Yet, as an Australian and an Italian we both share one thing in common. We both come from the last Western countries in our cultural worlds that don't offer equality marriage. Italy is the last major Western European nation that doesn't recognise same sex unions, and Australia is the last major country in the Anglosphere that hasn't enshrined things in law.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's not like I want to get to married. In Australia, my long term relationship with my partner is technically recognised to some extent by the existing de facto laws there. But not wanting to get married and not even having the choice or right to choose really infuriates me.
What do you care? You might think. You're happy - you've been together for five years, what will a piece of paper change?
Nothing. Not on a daily basis. But not all people marry because they want to feel different about each other. Some people marry for practical reasons. And married friends who have been together less time than I've been with my partner have a host of financial, employment and medical rights that we can only dream about.
What do you care? Well. Let me illustrate how this works. You see, I come from a state in Australia called Victoria. Although Australia doesn't offer same sex unions or marriage, Victoria at least recognises same sex unions from other countries, has just passed same sex adoption laws and at the moment offers a register (although as it is purely symbolic why would I bother?). And if something happens to you, you need the protection of the law. As a human being, if something happens to me or my partner, I would like to think that either one of us would have the support and the right to decide what happens, what needs to be done, and that the other will be protected.
For those who aren't able to comprehend what this means on a human basis, Iet me draw your attention to this recent and shocking set of events that occured in South Australia, Victoria's neighbour state which doesn't recognise foreign same sex unions.
This is the senseless, inhumane setting in which same sex couples exist in many countries. Even with the protection of the law it's not a fun and games scenario.
So, having travelled over 30 hours to get back to where I am now based, two hours after landing at my local airport, I found myself in a piazza in Lecce at a demonstration.
And why was I there on Saturday? Because this week, the Italian parliament is due to debate the Renzi government's bill to introduce same sex civil unions. The bill is likely to be defeated? Why? Because of a provision for same sex couples to adopt which has courted the ire of the Catholic Church which is deeply entrenched in the Italian political system (and surprisingly, also incredibly powerful on the Australian political right- hence the failure to legislate despite overwhelming public consensus).
Now I am all for everybody having their own opinions. I believe it is your right as a persoon to choose not to agree with certain aspects of a wider society. I get that. I don't agree with it, but you as a person are entitled to your opinion. But in my books, what nobody is entitled to is the denial of an identical set of rights to another group of people or individuals. I respect and value your life and I expect you to do the same with me. And as a result I am infuriated by news in recent days that the Catholic church speared Family Day demonstations (as cynical a name as possible for an event which seeks to diminish any idea of a family that doesn't correspond to what the Catholic church defines as 'normal') are privvy to yet more rights at the expense of others. This time, transport group Italo is offering discounts to those in Italy who would like to attend the Family Day demonstration this coming Saturday in Rome. This on top of local churches who are offering a 50 euro picnic+demonstration package to parishioners who agree to attend the marches. Even the city of Rome's public transport group is offering discounts.
I made my own way to the demonstration on Saturday. I didn't get offered a discount for that, and I attended in part because I demand the right to be treated equally under the law as anyone else. What I don't appreciate is that aside from the ridiculous hipocrisy of the organisers of Family Day (the idea of a twice divorced, philandering politician and priests who have no idea what modern life resembles), their push to ensure that the GLBT community continues to live on the fringes of what is acceptable in society and by law is being backed by both public and private organizations. I won't even go into the idea that some churches are even offering a cash handout to those who are willing to head to Rome for the day.
All that is left to ask is, is this the kind of world that we should be living in today in 2016? How is this acceptable in any place in the world? Appalling. I'm not anti Catholic, but I tell you what, living in Italy really makes me wonder whether common sense simply suggests I should be.
M.I.A made what was probably 2015's most powerful music video with Borders.
It was powerful, sleek and one of the most humanist moments of her career to date.
It's no coincidence that it has been listed as one of 2015's finest videos - no one else hits as hard for the international community. And no one else is as out there and willing to court the ire as much as she is, which makes anything she does a natural target for criticism.
In the video for Borders, which you can see below if you haven't already, M.I.A forces us to look at borders and boundaries from a human perspective. It's populated by a choreographed mass of male refugees who disperse and reform to great effect - the naval arrangement is mind blowing - and powered along by M.I.A's amazing graphic touch. She was after all, a visual artist before she became a genre hopping music act.
But M.I.A's graphic touch is what often gets her into trouble - and it's the case here. In the past her mimicry of symbols, slogans and icons have done a lot to help her take her place as one of the current era's most switched on and tuned in artists.
But in Borders, she briefly dons a pirated football jersey - the Paris Saint-Germain jersey - adapted as only M.I.A knows how.
The video, which has been flowing around for months has outraged the football club. They're convinced that M.I.A's appropriation of the jersey is somehow linking them to the inhumane aspects of the refugee crisis that the world hasn't ever seen the likes of.
In a rambling kind of cease and desist letter, they note that as a football team they do so much for the community, that they are confused about how they can be seen to be responsible for the crisis and a whole lot of other blah blah blah - it's all about me - nonsense.
It seems that M.I.A's track record with the football industry in general looks to keep continuing on its trajectory.
Now that she's outraged the NFL and now the European leagues, what else can we look forward to? As an Australian I hope she can pull of something to get those smug AFL and Rugby leagues to come down off their perch a bit. Then she could probably make it global with a bit more uproar in Asia and South America.
Seriously. Does nobody understand irony anymore? Do overpaid legal teams have nothing else left to do?
It's M.I.A actually wearing the top that has got people all hot and bothered.
I get that we're moving into seriously paranoid waters but can we just get over it? Can we actually celebrate an artist without threatening her with a law suit? Seeing that jersey made me chuckle when I saw it. But clearly I'm an idiot because I should've interpreted it as likening the PSG squad to human barbarians. And how its inclusion in a clip that the mainstream shamefully have been ignoring has the potential to strip and crumble that poor little organisation, sending it into the ground and burying its... oh I can't even be bothered.
Watch it here before all the paralegals at Youtube start panicking and start stripping its presence from the web. They may well do that, but they certainly can't strip it of its eloquence.
Hugh Jackman is stirring up those 007 rumours again. I love me a bit of Hugh Jackman - he's a great guy and very talented, but I think we all know who the next Bond should be.
Sean Penn is going to save the world. One impossible issue at a time. Once he is done with that, I reckon he'll be able to knock out a Bond role with a difference. It'll be Oscar worthy, though he won't accept his trophy at the ceremony. He is softening up, so maybe he'll send in a video message from somewhere in the company of drug king pins or from one of his projects around the world.
And once Sean Penn is done doing all of that, maybe Madonna is going to take him back.
That is, if she can get past the barrage of criticism about her mothering skills.
At least someone is here to stick up for her.
Devastating news today.
We've all just learned that David Bowie has tragically passed away after an eighteen month long battle with cancer.
It's a heartbreaking piece of news that seems to have come out of nowhere. Perhaps because despite all his decades of envelope pushing and transgression, Bowie was an elegant gentleman who never really courted celebrity or coverage.
For so long, he seemed to be so busy inhabiting the many alter egos and brilliant music he created, that he seemed less a man and more a creative force who projected so many larger than life entities into our world.
So it has come as a surprise - a heartbreaking newsflash as rigid as that old lightning bolt that our evergreen Thin White Duke, our Ziggy Stardust is no longer with us.
How very sad that we (and of course his family and friends) have lost one of the greatest artist/entertainers the world has ever seen.
There are so many things to love and admire about Bowie.
He was a pioneer; bold, creative and the one person who designed the blueprint for all the non conventional artists that followed. After all, Bowie spent more of his life setting and ignoring trends than he did chasing them and yet managed to maintain his influence longer than most.
I'm an eighties boy in nearly every sense of the word, but the 80s and the music world as we know it today wouldn't have been the same without the presence of Bowie.
What a ground breaker! A remarkable singer/songwriter, a performer who blurred every line that was possible even in an era when artists didn't have access to mass media, nor instant media as they do now.
In my novel Vinyl Tiger, there are numerous references made to him or inspired by him because I truly believe that the most engaging, challenging pop artists from the eighties onwards, like the main character in Vinyl Tiger, owe a huge debt to him.
The main character in my novel is someone who engages in reinvention and androgyny, but what separated Bowie from most of the artists that followed him was that those transformations were genuine and inspired. They were part and parcel of his artistic process and not about pre-calculated moments but more about bridging the gaps between traditional musicianship and conceptual/performance art.
Space Oddity is where it began, back in 1969. And the journey he took along the way - always seemed to be about following his integrity and his artistry even if it didn't always connect with audiences or bled into other artistic mediums.
He maintained that commitment right through to Black Star, his last (and recently released album) including for Lazarus - the video and song whose symbolism will be seen as Bowie's last testament to an artistic life of conviction.
May he Rest in Peace.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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