How NOT to write about music – 102. Mabel


Can’t keep up.

Love it when I can’t keep up.

I’ve never been able to keep up. I have always been overwhelmed by the volume of alternatives available within my own limited spheres of music. I don’t even listen much to anything outside of pop music these days (define that how you like) and I still can’t keep up. No, it ain’t my age. No, it ain’t my distance. I have a distinct gender bias to the music I listen to, have had for years now – and I still can’t keep up. My sources, my connections, are frayed and splitting at the ends but still I can’t keep up. Sure, I no longer am paid to listen – but honestly? You reckon that was ever the motivating factor? People like to argue among themselves which was the best year for music. Is it 2019? they ask themselves. Is it 2018? Will it be 2020? Most certainly. The bewilderment, the profusion of riches and charm and seduction grows with each passing month, as does the backlog. I am continually surprised, seduced, captivated by music new to me – the most intoxicating drug of all, it lifts you to a far greater high than alcohol or friendship or heroin. Not that I’d know – right? That new Taylor Swift single, OMFG! Like Taylor Swift with some Miley, some Mazzy, some Lana Del Rey rolled in. Who doesn’t love music like this? I cannot keep being fixated on the same thousand or so artists though. (Why not?) These years, I have to Google to discover whether I’ve even written about someone or not.

Mabel. I haven’t written about Mabel yet. Johnson fuck, what am I thinking? Here she is. Quick! Better than ANYTHING I’ve heard before. No, really. I hear so many harmonies, so many echoes, so many anxieties, so many possibilities, so many futures and pasts, futures and pasts in her music. Mainstream shit, right? Man alive. Just the odd 120 million listeners or so ahead of me.

How NOT to write about music – 101. Melody Maker


Inspired by Allan Jones’ tremendous collection of rock’n’roll war stories Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down – I have no idea how he recalls such detail: my life is like black marker pen has been scrawled across it – I have decided to reprise one of my own. This is taken from The Electrical Storm, a copy of which can still be had by sending £12.99 to me ( via PayPal.


University of London Union, London 1990

The trouble starts earlier, when Carol’s intern turns up holding his draft card.

“I’m not having that!” she commands. “Everybody down the pub – NOW!”

So off we dutifully trot – it’s 11.30 so I’ve just got in – to our new drinking haunt, having been banned temporarily from our regular. Strong American beers are ordered, and tequila. Much bluster is had on our part, railing against the injustice of an American system that can allow poor honest hard-drinking student interns to be called up for military duty. I wave my walking stick at the imaginary foe: “You cannot take our Daniel! We will not allow it!” In the middle of this hubbub, Daniel grabs a lighter and – with a minimum of ceremony – sets light to his draft card.

An awed silence falls on our assembly.

A few hours pass. Someone suggests we should go to a gig. My friend Don’s new band is playing at ULU near Goodge St. At the venue, he’s nowhere to be seen but the main band is playing – old friends from my Creation years. I clamber on stage and ask the singer where Don is. He looks at me oddly – and points in the direction of the dressing rooms. “Thanks,” I say. “Nice show.”

I discover Don and his band-mates drinking the last third of a bottle of whiskey. I grab it, affronted that it took so much effort to find them. “Oh, sorry,” I say, as I finish it. “Was that your only bottle?”

“Not to worry,” Don replies. “I have another one here.”

I drink it.

Later, outside, a new Melody Maker writer is excitedly telling her friends that Everett True is at the show – she’s never met him, but she’s looking forward to it. “And, um, here he is now…” she says as her group leave the venue, pointing to an inebriate crawling on his hands and knees in the gutter. A friend – half my size – rescues me and gets me on and off three buses back to his place.

I wake in a room I am unable to recognise and realise I’ve lost my battered copy of Anna Karenina, and I howl.

How NOT to write about music – 99. pnygrl


Several years back, when I was teaching at QUT, I was casting around for material for a week 12 lecture in Sex Drugs Rock’n’Roll when someone turned me onto the following (not all at once, but cumulatively):

And so forth…

So I wrote a lecture entitled “the Appeal of the WRONG in Pop Music”, with a certain amount of focus on Bobby and Chris Brown, Led Zeppelin and the like, arguing that it is the deviance from the norm – especially if it means transgressing boundaries of acceptable behaviour and/or behaving like misogynistic assholes – that often makes artists appealing. I say “wrote”. I trawled and found a dozen videos and talked around them in class, pulling in a little contemporary commentary (Hopper, Herron and the like) to help support my somewhat dubious analysis. All the above videos are challenging, could cause more than a couple of raised eyebrows if viewed over your shoulder by colleagues at work: these may only be performances but these are performances that push at the boundaries of hetero-normative behaviour, that challenge conceptions of how woman (in particular) should be seen to behave in public, that use sexuality to help promote the product (unless you want to argue the video not the song is the product itself – and that is an argument I am happy to listen to) but it is a deviant sexuality and all the more alluring for that.

I devised a great (paid) column out of the lecture that ran for a considerable length of time on Australia’s The Vine website – my brief diversifying to include Tiny Tim (‘Earth Angel’), Outsider Music, Katy Perry and … well, many. Sadly, the website went belly-up several years back and so you can no longer find the column.

I am reminded of all this today by unknown artist and blogger pnygrl – she comes from the fetish industry, as her videos make apparent – but not only is her music sinuous and sensual, laidback and intoxicated R&B that smells like someone somewhere has smoked at least five too many spliffs, but her videos (fuzzy, blurred, direct, slow motion, intimate) are equally as strange and appealing.

I say videos. I have only seen one to date.

This is certainly to be encouraged, for damn sure. Her music feels unfinished and only partly formed, like some half-remembered sleepy sex dream, but this only adds to its charm.