IN my new novel, Vinyl Tiger, I explore the world of Alekzandr.
He starts out as a bit of a musically challenged 80s disco act who needs to rely on his looks and his charm to get ahead.
His short term goal is to overcome the stigma of being a disco act or a one hit wonder. But his long term goal is that of being taken seriously as a pop act and making music that is true to his artistry.
It's an arc that a lot of acts have to go through. Especially if their roots are firmly lodged in dance or pop music.
Some of you might be familiar with Tina Arena.
For those that aren't, she's a Melbourne gal who got her first break as a child via Young Talent Time. She's the show's most successful alumni, even if Dannii Minogue also graduated from the weekly variety show.
Tina has a pristine, powerful voice. She's capable of bending more than the odd note, and in the mid nineties she worked hard to overcome the stigma of having been both a child star, and a pop act whose biggest (and only real) hit to date had been I Need Your Body. (Search it out on Youtube).
After being dropped by her label, in the late nineties she moved into adult oriented pop-rock. And in Australia at least, it was a move that proved crucial in her becoming the most formidable female artist on the scene, thanks to songs like Chains and Sorrento Moon - and their ENDLESS airplay on Australian radio. Her album, Don't Ask moved close to a million copies there alone before it became a hit in a lot of other territories.
Back then I was working in the record bar of a department store. Because we were in the city centre we were a bit of a target for the visiting record company reps. I remember one of the old Sony music reps coming in one day when Tina's follow up album In Deep came out and being a little blase about it not doing as well as hoped. In Deep was another smash hit, but was on track to sell about a third of what Don't Ask managed to. Speaking with the rep I had to read between the lines a little. While it was clear In Deep wasn't going to be another million seller, Tina was on her way internationally: rerecording her songs in Italian, Spanish and French. That meant she'd proved her worth to the label. But more importantly for Tina herself, she'd unshackled herself from the chains of the idea that Don't Ask had been a fluke, or that Tina no longer needed to be taken seriously.
Tina's subsequent albums never sold anywhere near what those two albums did, but they've kept up her profile over the years, and routinely sell well in Australia.
She's onto her eleventh album - Eleven - and although it went straight into the Aussie charts at No.2, she's not the radio staple she once was. In fact, she's seen by some as being something of a legacy act. Why? She's released a couple of cover records (which did pretty well), but for the most part, she has focused on releasing new material. Her previous album, Reset was being touted as a bit of a Ray of Light moment, and although it went platinum, I think the majority of the public wouldn't be able to recognise any of the songs on it. The voice, yes. The songs, no. Why?
Well, there's much to be said about the music industry's ageism. While they have no problem championing a 25 by someone as young as Adele, getting behind a project by a woman in her 40s is a tough proposition. We saw the debate about older actresses play out in recent years, but, because pop music is usually a no go area for almost anyone over 40, the theory hasn't been pushed and provoked enough.
Last night Arena was inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame - and inducted by another 40 something Aussie - Kylie - but it's likely that you haven't heard anything that Kylie has done in years either. Yep. Tick tock, tick tock. Radio is not a place for women in pop after a certain age. WHY?
In my novel Vinyl Tiger I play with this idea. I take a look at what it would be like for Alekzandr - who's gay, so therefore his treatment in the industry is in a category on par with that of women - to age in the face of the music industry and in the pop world. It's a bit of a pisstake of the hipocrisy that exists, but the problem is it is very real.
But last night, Tina ripped the Australian industry a new asshole. In a fifteen minute speech which earned her a standing ovation, she called out their ageism and noted that Australian radio, despite its local music quotas, still won't get behind her or her ilk. Nor will it get behind other international acts like Madonna, Annie Lennox or, erm, J.Lo, who she name checked - and who are upwards of 40.
Sad fact is that, as she noted, it should be the ladies themselves who should decide when the gig is up not fat, balding radio programmers.
Tina may have firmly come out on the other side of the pop arc, but, girl's got a whole other battle to fight.
Congrats on being inducted. And let's all just get over ourselves regarding age.
We need to respect 'older' acts: male or female. Because the best music is timeless.
Does art still have the capacity to heal? I'd like to think so. But as always, it still has the ability to reflect the world that we live in, the world that we want, and the mistakes that we make that separate these two spheres.
This image is perhaps one of the most powerful I've seen by an artist in a long time.
It's by Imranovi, a Syrian artist who has been displaced by the ongoing conflict and who is now based in the UAE.
Imranovi and the upcoming pop up exhibition in London of his work is covered over at CNN.
More of his work over at his tumblr page.
Who doesn't love Adele?
She's the kind of lass you'd want to share a pint with and basically hang out with. She has an amazing set of pipes and could sing the phone book. And, there's the bonus that she's likely a bit autistic about numbers. Don't believe me? 19? 21? 25!!! Bingo!
Speaking of numbers, Adele has, in the space of three days, sold so many copies of 25 that she has the week's best seller, 2015's biggest selling album - over 2.4 million in the US alone - and, the biggest opening week sales in history. And it's like not even hump day yet.
Will be interesting to see how far 25 goes sales wise- but it's good news for some parts of the music industry. They've got their Christmas best seller locked and loaded.
Event Horizon, a city wide installation in Central, Hong Kong by Sir Antony Gormley has got more than a few Hong Kong residents hot under the collar.
What's the issue? Is it that the 31 lifesize and anatomically correct bodies are basically like illegal immigrants? No, that's not the case: they've been commissioned by the British Council and paid for with the public purse. And they'll be around until May 2016. And the statues have all been modelled off of Gormley himself, so technically it's just one person we're talking about. Sculpture I mean. Sheesh.
Is it that the placement of a few of the statues atop of tall buildings set off a spate of panic from some residents who feared they were witnessing people who were attempting to plunge to their death from great heights? No... Well, that happened in the sense that police allegedly received calls but these boys are a bit too stable to do anything rash. And besides before arriving in HK they were temporarily resident in Rotterdam, NYC and in Brazil. They're way too street smart for that nonsense.
Hong Kong is full of sophisticated people and more and more is becoming seen as one of the main artistic centres of Asia- not just the financial one it has long been.
That said, culturally there isn't much of a precedent for these kinds of works in this area. So they're pointing out the statues - 31 of them in a city that's home to 7 million people (?- fact checker?) are variously creating a nuisance, an obstacle or other health and safety issues. Basically that the presence of these figures is interrupting the bustling nature or Central.
Remember this is Hong Kong, not Rome or Rio. People move faster in HK, they've got things to do, don't you know? As much as the idea of these sculptures has to be a little confronting for some, I've a feeling that Gormley's goal of having residents reassess their setting, and looking at the urban environment they live in with a sense of wonderment will win out.
The idea that they attract the eye up and down and all around the city, with each statue being visible to another, sounds like a winning city walk in the making to me.
It's not that I'm sorry. I'm not.
But its coming up to six years that I've been writing this blog, and as a result, there's room to revise some ideas from time to time.
Not for example on selfie sticks, or on anything Vatican-y (except Ratzinger and Padre Georg: I loved them: such a cute couple!).
But a while back I posted about how Taschen and Gisele Bundchen had teamed up for a Gisele coffee table book.
A very expensive, don't head over to the bookshop if you're having trouble with the rent or your mortgage payment kind of book. I mean, I didn't say it was going to be a flop or anything, but I guess I was questioning the whole Why? of it all as Tim Gunn would say.
Well, we needn't worry for GB. Girl's gonna have no problems paying her rent and in selling out her ludicrously overpriced book she has proven that there are a lot of people with some warped priorities. Like your coffee table book could feed a village kind of shit, but what would I know?
But really, was there really any doubt its run was going to sell out?
Supermodels are recession proof!
Someone needs to bottle their essences and study that stuff at the Harvard Business School to better prepare us for when there are no arms sellers left in the world to keep the economy spinning.
(I know that sounds a little Silence of the Lambs but I don't mean it in that way).
Anyway, while I'm at it...
Almost six years ago I moved to Rome. And I was immediately struck by how street art was still in its infant stages even though graffiti per se has existed in Rome since, well, Roman times. Back then when I posted about the burgeoning scene I thought it was going to take a while for Rome to get to a point where its edginess as a city was matched by what you see on its walls.
Well, lo and behold. I sit corrected. When the Huffington Post calls you out for being the emerging European capital of street art, you can start to believe it.
It's not really mentioned in the article, but there are a few reasons why certain parts of Rome are becoming open air galleries. On the one hand, galleries like the Wunderkammern in Tor Pignatara and the colletive Laszlo Biro - (hi boys) - have had a huge hand in this. They paved the way for much of East Rome's street art/urban renewal by encouraging large scale projects in conjunction with residents and the local municipal offices. Or by simply producing great, very graphic friendly work (as in the case of the LB crew).
In addition, a lot of Roman suburbs are the subject of wear and tear. Asking a tenants committee if an artist can have an external wall in exchange for its repair and adornment is a no brainer in cash strapped Rome.
Keep an eye out though for other emerging hot spots in Italy. Palermo and Genova are the cities to watch for if you ask me. They've got some great up and coming scenes and artists that rival what's happening in Rome and Milan.
In the meantime, you can find Laszlo Biro here and the Wunderkammern here.
Very pleased to announce that Vinyl Tiger is now available exclusively via Amazon's Kindle store.
Even if you don't have a kindle, you can download Vinyl Tiger (and thousands of other titles) to your PC/tablet or mobile using Amazon's free kindle software.
Vinyl Tiger is the story of Alekzandr, an eighties club/disco act who is a little musically challenged. But he's got a strong look, loves a bit of kohl and knows what to do in front of a camera. And with the arrival of the music video, which revolutionizes the music industry, he might just be able to be something more than a one hit wonder.
Vinyl Tiger is a reflection on how much popular culture has changed since the 1980s. Alekzandr may well be a new romantic, but he's also a heart breaker. His story is the story that so many of us share: the one where we try and reconcile our desires and ambitions with the world around us and the people in our lives...it's just that his plays out against the backdrop so many of us grew up in: that of 80s and 90s popular culture.
And yes, he's a gay male pop star, because every great male pop star should be, but, as we discover through the course of the story, that's just a categorization: another obstacle that he has to overcome...and one that's ultimately irrelevant. Because a pop icon's job is to push the culture forward and to make waves, not just music.
Vinyl Tiger is available now via Amazon kindle.
KindleUnlimited and Prime members have access to special/free offers.
AS a lifelong fan of Keith Haring, I love stumbling across his ongoing influence, even now that he is long gone from this place.
In the past I blogged about the mural in Melbourne that Keith produced in the early eighties and the attempts at conserving it for future generations.
Keith made it to rarefied territory for a contemporary artist. His unique view at the world and the way in which he made it accessible to people made him one of the most loved figures of modern popular culture. It didn't hurt that he came up during New York's eighties renaissance.
But there's something about Keith's work which has always resonated across the generations and the cultures. And the Keith Haring Foundation continues to spread his message through its partnering with all kinds of initiatives around the world. There have been events in Latin America, Europe, Australia among others that have kept his legacy alive for new generations.
That makes me, as a fan of his, happy. So, I was really quite chuffed to see that the local chapter of the Arcigay association, Arcigay Salento, has partnered with the Keith Haring foundation for their second annual Viva La Vida contest.
The idea behind the contest is two fold: it is designed to highlight contemporary art and issues which affect the LGBT(QI...) community. This year's theme is tied to Keith: artworks inspired (not necessarily mimicking his style) that highlight the main elements of the project. Selected works will then be voted for via the group's Facebook page and possibly be selected for inclusion at the exhibition which will be staged at the contest's end.
I imagine the emphasis is on local artists, but I love the idea of this kind of project. It's inspiring and heartwarming. I'm happy that there will be a little piece of Keith for me to enjoy in the new year, and my little black heart is unexpectedly warmed by the whole thing.
I'm calling it c*ckgate.
Or should that be c*ckgrate.
Lecce, where I currently reside, is famous throughout Italy. It's a Baroque jewel which with each passing year becomes a little more appreciated and loved by Italians and visitors.
Its old town is a gleaming, cobbled town full of sandstone buildings that shimmy in the light here. It's a sophisticated Southern Italian town. But it has its own salacious past.
For the most part, people from around here are considered to be laidback by most other Italians. But, there's been a lot of fuss here over the past few days.
Well, most of your guidebooks won't point it out: they're too busy pointing out the jewels of the city's crown: Il Duomo, Piazza S. Oronzo and the Santa Croce church. Refined and elegant examples of excellent workmanship and the mastering of the local limestone (pietra Leccese) if ever you'll see them. And those places along with the ampitheatres attract a lot of camera happy visitors.
But there are other sites to behold in the city, that go beyond the religious history of the city. After all, it's become a city synonymous with aperitivos, live music and the booming university crowd that has added a much younger and playful dimension to the city.
One place in particular offered up a window into the soul of the old town.
If you stalked or crawled the city's back streets you may have been fortunate enough to stumble upon the most phallic window dressing that you'll see this far south from Amsterdam.
In Via Palmieri one of the city's most unlikely icons has been sitting and attracting its own subcultural visitations. You see, the building on which the pleasure grate is positioned was purportedly once a pleasure quarters. A place of fun. Of...oh you know what I'm talking about. Well actually, no one is so sure of that, but it's the going theory.
And at its peak, the house of fun commissioned a local blacksmith to create a protective window grate for the street facing window. And, to do the place justice, the craftsman created the wonderful phallic window grate that sat in front of the window, where it stayed, seemingly forever. It was a rare example of purpose built architecture and design dedicated to fun. Quite a departure from the more conventional religious expression which while wild, was always used to express religious ecstacy and not the joys of the flesh or other more playful aspects of life - but one that was immortalised in art and poetry.
The window grate, like much of the city's other attractions, attracted its fair share of visitors who liked nothing more than to photograph it and move on, sometimes incredulous, sometimes simply ticking another thing of their lists. So what's the problem? The problem is that the building that the window sits on is now privately owned. And although the windows are reflective, the owners found it intrusive that their building was under 'constant' siege by camera wielding maniacs. Or something like that. So, they took it upon themselves to have the window grate replaced (during the night?) so that their privacy wouldn't be compromised any further.
Enter huge social media shit storm. Leccese (if you're from Lecce you're Leccese) were up in arms over the owner's decision to remove a layer of the city's otherwise intangible history. And in subsequent days the city has been abuzz about city hall's reluctance to do anything about the removal of a prickly part of the city's history.
Leccese, being Leccese, were up in arms and there's nothing like a bit of social media upheaval to get logical decisions made. Turns out that the heirs of the original owners had decided the grate was of dubious moral value and she didn't care much for the unwanted attention her window awning attracted. But the moral of the story? She's been instructed, by order of the city, to restore the original grate back to its original place. Because it's an important symbol of a vanished part of the city's history? No. Because she didn't have the necessary approvals or paperwork to remove it in the first place.
Thank god for heritage protections. I'm gonna go snap me a shot of that grill as soon as it's back up (and as soon as I know the new owner's home and my popping camera flash can annoy the hell out of here.)
I spent the weekend in Rome catching up with some of my nearest and dearest. And while I did that I had the chance to meet some friends of friends.
They're currently working on a really cool project at Rome's biggest exhibition space, Palazzo Delle esposizione, which is on Via Nazionale. In recent years the multifunction site has become one of Rome's most important and has hosted some major blockbusters (some of which I was tasked to write reviews for). But the site is also home to a little known cinema which runs some of the most amazing retrospectives and mini film fests- often for free or for a pittance.
Anyway, FOF (that's a new acronym I've decided I'm going to use; Friend of friend) was telling me about his rather ingenious project that he's currently involved in there. Way back in time, and I'm talking silent movie time, people, les vampires had tongues wagging. It was a kind of silent series with a crime bent that just had cinema goers going nuts.
Musician by day and crim by night teams up with a reporter as they take on the dark, noirish (I think I just invented that word too) Parisian nights and the inbuilt criminal element. It's the kind of stuff that inspired a million copy cats and that continues to do so.
Well, the PDE is currently running a brilliant series of events based around Les Vampires- using ten of the original episodes but partnering them with musical and visual interpretations. A series of musicians and groups have been invited to play alongside the footage and basically add their own interpretation to the old classics.
What I love about the project is how it seems to be built around adding an appreciation to three different mediums, and bridging time as well as the visuals and sonics together. I think it's a really inspired idea which of course has been done with other things but, adding such an element to the silent films is effectively bringing them back to life in the face of a million other reincarnations and references.
Sounds pretty brill if you ask me- and runs until November 15, so if you're in Rome over the next week or so, visit the PDE site which has a full run down of events in English in addition to the other things on at the complex.
There are certain things that we all consider necessary in the big smoke. Transport, medicine, sanitation, utilities...these are the kinds of essential services that our cities tend to revolve around. Some get it right- and that's often a matter for Monocle or whoever to decide as to how well- and others have problems with even the basics.
Having spent a really long time in Italy (and Rome in particular)I can tell you that some cities here get it right and that some...um...don't. Or can't. But if it's any consolation nobody seems to be happy about how things are run: those in service and those who use service are all often miserable.
The most noticeable thing that goes wrong in a place like Rome is the transport. Let's face it. It's really shit. If you were to set your watch by the next due bus you'd be the new Marty McFly. Honestly, it's the worst public transport system I've seen in Europe, but whatevs. One of the annoying layers of transport in Rome is that you often have to factor in strikes on a Friday (or Monday). Because transport is legally deemed an essential service though, even on a strike day there has to be a minimum service on offer and a minimum notice period advising of the upcoming disruption.
Rome's traffic is like those annoying accordions that you get held hostage to on the metro. It expands, gets noisier and becomes more unbearable on any day there's a strike when services are limited to the essential.That happens on days when things have been reduced to a bus an hour or, as often happens in Rome, morning and evening peak with a limited service and the rest of the day with virtually zilch.
Why the long talk about the minimisation of services to their essential? Because in recent days a new law has been passed in Italy. One which now deems cultural sites- or rather, access to cultural sites- as being essential.
Going on strike in a country like Italy where working conditions can be testing to say the least is something that happens in nearly every sector. Last week supermarket staff were on strike. But what made the news was a day a few months back when the staff at sites like Rome's Colosseum also went on strike, making the city's landmark symbol off limits to tourists. Workers in the arts and heritage sector here have it rough. There's very little money invested in sites and their upkeep, the average Joe works for a pittance and pay is often backpaid in many cases. But in going on strike, the cultural industry workers did something that not even the transport workers can. They literally robbed visitors of the opportunity to visit a site that many would have purposely made the trip to Rome for.
And in doing so, at least in this version of the interpretation, they harmed Italy's international reputation more than the endless train, airport and sanitation service strikes ever could.
The Italian government has decided that this is unacceptable. And as such, a very clear majority decided to pass a law that now renders cultural sites as part of the network of essential services in the country. This means that workers, regardless of how their issues may differ to those in the transport or other sectors, will now be required to file notice of their intention to strike, communicate that, and allow for some contingency which will allow the sites to remain open even on a strike day.
Is it a good thing? Tourists may argue yes. Nothing like a certainty when you're doing the greatest hits tour. But for workers in a field where competition for roles is fierce, remuneration is poor and there's a murkier distinction between public and private operation, does singling that sector of the tourism industry out as being essential really count as being fair or lawful? Enshrining the erosion of their bargaining power into law seems a little heavy handed in my books. Particularly because for all the wealth tourism brings into a city like Rome, I would hazard a guess that most Romans wouldn't see access to those kinds of sites as being part of the essential services the city needs to offer- particularly if the end benefit goes to foreigners rather than the locals who, for better or worse, manage the sites.
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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