Retro Tuesday

Retro Tuesday And The Definition Of “Smooth”

SOME OF US spent the New Year celebration doing better things than getting plastered and passing out; a chance discussion with an old associate online, at 2am on New Year’s Day, revealed that “smooth” remains cool: and with an exchange of music videos revealing similar tastes in “smooth,” the question very much went begging. What is “smooth?” How do you recognise it when you hear it? And can it be defined, or is it simply a matter of preference?

I wish readers a Happy New Year and, of course, a great year ahead; in the aftermath of the passing of George Michael last week, it seems another Tuesday has come around in record time, but today I’ve got a couple of absolute corkers to share — to say nothing of a question to pose.

Put simply, where music is concerned, what is “smooth?”

There’s a rather excellent fellow who has crossed my path three times now in the past 15 years out in “media land” in Melbourne, and he knows who he is; quite a bit younger than I am and obviously with a different story to tell, for some reason we hit it off — and these days, now different career trajectories (to say nothing of family life) has taken us in divergent directions, catch-ups are usually via social media, rather than random reunions when one of us shows up for a new media job.

In any case, I spent New Year’s Eve (after re-watching The Godfather for the quintillionth time) listening to old music videos on YouTube, which (as readers will have ascertained by now) is something of a late-night pastime I love, hunting out the old and obscure, or the latest thing etched in my mind from the day’s events, or just going on a YouTube cruise (you pick a starting track, and from there, you proceed ONLY by choosing from the “suggested options” to the right of the viewer…and every time one track finishes, you pick from the options to the right again, and so forth).

Anyhow, a random glance at Facebook at about 2am on New Year’s Day revealed a post from this fellow, proclaiming that the track embedded below is, in fact, the smoothest song of all time, and while I don’t know if I agree entirely, it’s a cracker of a hit anyway.

Turn it up…

At the very least, it instantly went without saying that we would be talking about this today.

But it got me thinking: what makes a “smooth” song? Is it the vocal delivery of the artist? The penmanship of the lyrics? The finish and polish on the music track? Or is it an amalgam of all of this and more, as the (musical) planets align to deliver something timeless, tuneful, and memorable?

It certainly isn’t heavy rock, or material based in metal or the classics; it could be jazz (and for that, I recommend this to readers as a pleasant little diversion to boot) or it could be something out of the disco era (like…this…which should be played very loudly) — but is whatever makes smooth “smooth” tangible, quantifiable, and able to be described?

Or is it simply what people, based on their particular characteristics and outlook, like to listen to?

Over the years, there have been those who have almost certainly released material one would suspect was at least in part deliberately fashioned to corner the “smooth” market; this is a prime culprit in terms of what I am talking about — and beyond the confines of the early 1990s (which were an embarrassment in their own right, musical or otherwise) it is safe to say that Kenny G and “smooth” don’t belong in the same sentence.

It probably isn’t most of what is on the playlists of radio stations that have become fashionable these days, billing themselves as “smooth:” to be sure, these media outlets do play some material that passes the test, but most of what they broadcast (like all commercial music radio stations) is crap.

What about those who practically shout from the rooftops to herald the “smoothness” of their work? The ultimate example is Sade Adu, with her intoxicating silken voice, and the song that presented its bona fides upfront.

Even with a little thought, the names of several artists who could be described as “the king of the smoothies” spring to mind: Rod Stewart. Mick Hucknell, a la Simply Red. Neil Finn from Crowded House (or Crowded House, full stop).

And any discussion of “smooth” would be incomplete without at least a mention of this bloke.

But really, is all of this just personal preference?

In my own case, I love most music: “from AC-DC to Mozart,” as I have always answered whenever asked what I like. But I make no bones about being a total 70s and 80s head — perhaps in large part because I’m a child of those times — but thinking forward and backward, the early rock’n’roll hits of the 50s and 60s were, whilst very listenable, more noise than art; and whilst the 90s and later still yield classic hits (which may even fit the bill where being “smooth” is concerned), I find it very hard to go beyond those two decades where music was made to be listened to, rather than noise for its own sake, bubble-gum pop to extract money from screaming teenagers, or drug-fuelled grunge bullshit.

And this brings me to the second track in my “double shot” today — notwithstanding the fact I’ve included bonus tracks everywhere once again this week.

I don’t know if this out-smoothes “the smoothest song of all time,” but you would have to think it comes close…

…but whether it does or doesn’t, there are similarly hundreds of songs that would vie for the title in their own right, but for that I leave readers to their own choices. What do you think?

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Retro Tuesday: George Michael And The Last Christmas

BACK IN JANUARY — just 19 days into what has evolved into a wretched year for celebrity deaths — this segment pondered whether 2016 would be the year celebrity died; at that time, the names lost to the entertainment world and its audiences included David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Alan Rickman: now, dozens of deaths later and still with four days left in 2016, we add 1980s pop superstar and creative genius George Michael to a horribly burgeoning list.

If there is one thing I am thankful for, at least, in being so time-challenged as to prevent me posting in this column for most of 2016, it is that with the benefit of hindsight, I have been spared the need to turn Retro Tuesday into a perennial virtual obituary page; so many entertainment identities loved by millions have been lost this year, and here we are — again — lamenting the loss of another in the aftermath of Christmas.

News yesterday (Melbourne time; late Christmas Day elsewhere) that 1980s pop sensation, creative genius and troubled enigma George Michael had succumbed to heart failure in his sleep aged 53 came as a shock; his passing continues a long, long list of celebrity passings this year — most of them from the Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 — that reads like a kind of macabre Who’s Who of the music, box office and wider entertainment industries: and at the risk of being grotesque, it seems appropriate to note that 2016 still has four days left to run.

With Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher critically ill, and rumours swirling about just how ill Queen Elizabeth II really is, it goes without saying that nobody wants to add any more names to the sinister roll call of global icons 2016 has presented to date.

But as one of the millions who spent the bulk of their teenage years in the 1980s, I must note that George Michael’s music made a big contribution to the soundtrack of my generation; and just like some of the giants who have preceded his passing this year — David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, among others — Michael’s presence in our lives was more permanent than just the 1980s, and evolved with us beyond the bubble-gum tunes he pumped out with Wham! as we grew with him, and he grew with us.

It is fair to say, of Generation X, that a lot of us grew up with George Michael.

For some reason, the first track that popped into my mind yesterday (when I realised the retro set for today’s column could only come from one place) was the ultra-commercial, รผber-chic dance track from the early 1990s, Too Funky: it brought back not-unpleasant memories of well-misspent nights in riverside clubs in Brisbane like Friday’s and City Rowers, that in the latter case at least no longer exist: and, ridiculously, I have one very specific memory of bopping away at City Rowers, close to the 5am closing time one December Sunday morning, with that track blaring as the sun began rising over the Brisbane River and bathing the “night” club in unwelcome natural light.

But the track that first brought George Michael to our collective conscience was the early smash hit he scored with Andrew Ridgeley back in the Wham! days.

It was fun, its was infectious, and — being about 12 or 13 when it was released — it was early evidence to this body at least that music could really make you move: not that I could (or can) dance, mind; any attempt by Yours Truly to do such a thing is a hideous mishmash of left feet and that awful pedestrian, half-marching, awkward shifting shuffle whose practitioners are (rightly) pilloried and laughed at for their ineptitude. My excuse was that, just like John Lennon’s story in Helter Skelter, I “might be a singer but I ain’t no dancer.”

Happily these days, that is another story.

But Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was one of those songs that etched itself in your brain and stayed there; and Wham! itself provided so many of those mental snapshots for a generation that spring readily to mind many years after the duo’s dissolution: cruising around in the jeep and chilling out by the pool in Club Tropicana. The tale of adolescent rebellion that was Bad Boys. The melancholy, wistful reflections of Careless Whisper. Even before Michael parted company with Ridgeley, it seemed he had it all.

George Michael was, of course, a complicated, enigmatic and to some extent tortured character; never far away from trouble with the constabulary, he led a double life of denial for decades where the question of his homosexuality was concerned, eventually “coming out” after being busted doing something “lewd” in a public toilet block late one night in London.

Busted at one point for possession of drugs, what had been an open secret for years in the form of a marijuana habit took on more sinister — and worrying — overtones when Michael was arrested with a quantity of crack cocaine on his person, raising questions of a more serious problem with drug use that threatened to spiral out of control.

It was, regrettably, an all-too-familiar storyline where entertainers of his generation were concerned. Amy Winehouse’s name comes to mind. Robert Palmer’s, too. Again, the list is as endless as it is tragic.

And Michael had a well-publicised brush with death a few years back, narrowly surviving a bout of pneumonia that might have seen his papers stamped far sooner; 2017 was slated, according to reports, as the year he was set to roar back onto the global stage with a new album and a tour — perhaps remaking himself, and his music, as he had done multiple times already.

For all the catchy, glitzy, showy pop tunes Wham! yielded, it’s hard to argue with the idea that Michael’s music matured — and came into its own — when he set forth as a solo artist: a journey that was marked with the arrival of his Faith album in 1987.

In an age when having music videos banned by the BBC was almost a rite of passage for the pop artists of the day, Michael obliged with the release of the video for I Want Your Sex, and came close to scoring a trifecta on that dubious measure with Father Figure: it was a time when the censorious Beeb, and its sanctimonious, don’t-say-shit-for-a-shilling morality crusades, seem as ludicrous and as laughable now than they did even at the time; other victims of this silly charade included Samantha Fox (Touch Me!) and even our own Wa Wa Nee (So Good), and it seems a badge of honour in hindsight that these relatively innocuous film clips were treated with such a heavy hand.

But Michael’s solo career proved, more than anything, that there was so much more to him than mere schmaltzy popcorn and infectious jingles; his was a talent that stood on its own merits as serious entertainment, and it is another track from Faith! that brings up the double shot in our Retro Tuesday set today: a showcase of the vocal purity and musical genius that proved that when it came to the finest entertainers of his generation, George Michael stood head and shoulders with the best.

There are lots of bonus links today; this piece in no way attempts to serve as an obituary — plenty of those have appeared, and will appear, in other places — but as a celebration of one of those entities that I, and so many around me, grew up with.

None of us were bothered (or surprised) when Michael came out as gay; just like the Pet Shop Boys and others, he was simply a vessel through which great and enduring music filled our lives and frankly, what he did in his own time was nobody’s business.

But this troubled and complex character, like so many of his contemporaries, met with an untimely end on Christmas Day, dying peacefully in his sleep from heart failure, according to official releases from his inner sanctum: a reminder, perhaps, that the rumoured drug use with which he had struggled for decades came at a terrible eventual cost.

Next week, hopefully, we can return this segment to a simple celebration of great music that simply intersects with some aspect of daily life — free from headlines of untimely deaths and the outpouring of grief that accompanies them.

But in closing today, I leave readers with a bonus video, even beyond all the extra links and the clips I have embedded here: and in furtherance of the connection I had with Michael’s music over the years, I should note that about 15 years ago — before screaming at football matches wrecked my voice — I won a hefty prize at Crown Casino in Melbourne singing this song at one of its ubiquitous karaoke pageants.

I include it now not to be jingoistic about the fact Michael’s passing came on Christmas day, but simply to include yet another of his timeless classics in today’s trip down music’s Memory Lane.

After all, there are literally dozens of others we could have included here, but haven’t: and for that, I point people to YouTube if their CD collections, unlike mine, are devoid of George Michael’s excellent releases over the years.

 

Retro Tuesday: On Dreams You Can Depend

THERE ARE TIMES when music captures the mood and the spirit far better — and more spontaneously — than idle banter or spirited conversation ever could; in the great soundtrack to our lives, this week sees a perfect match between events and…well, we can hardly call it melody. But like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well: and like any good music, this week’s picks are worth playing very loudly indeed.

Ever since I got back from Canberra on Thursday night, there is a CD that has been played, on high rotation and at top volume, in my car.

There are those people who look at cars driving around, with music blasting out of every open window, and either laugh or shake their heads; I feel very sorry for those people, because whilst the imposition on them is a temporary one, they have no idea or appreciation for what the person (or people) listening to their very own personalised wall of sound is feeling or thinking, or the head space — good or bad — in which they find themselves.

I must confess, of course, that I have been guilty of this too; an anecdote springs vividly to mind of the hot pink 1970 Torana that followed me through the drive-thru at Hungry Jack’s in Taringa in Brisbane one Saturday night, 25 years ago, as a mate and I decided to get a late-night feed after an onerous night’s work at the Sizzler restaurant up the road in Toowong. What made that encounter so ridiculous was that the song blaring from the Torana was the theme from Ghostbusters — by Ray Parker Jr — and the ridiculous atmospheric was heightened even further by the fact the bloke driving, and his girlfriend, were both wearing leopard print toga-type outfits of the Fred Flintstone/Barney Rubble variety.

It must have been a full moon in Brisbane that night…

But I have been spending an inordinate (and increasing) amount of time this year on aeroplanes, in airports, talking to airline staff, and going places by air travel; it isn’t just my weekly FIFO day trips to Brisbane 22-24 weeks of the year, but an increasing degree of business travel that has taken me to Sydney and Canberra twice each in the past eight weeks alone.

That volume of air travel will only increase next year, and it seems that Canberra — with its ghastly circular roads and indecipherable street system — will be a place I see a great deal more of as some of the projects I’m working on at the moment gather pace.

Sydney too, regrettably, although that’s another story.

But I flew out of Canberra on Thursday evening in tremendous spirits (despite the ugly date with the surgeon that awaited the following morning): the trip had been successful, and the final meeting I had on Thursday afternoon especially had put me, so to speak, on cloud nine.

This, of course, demanded loud music for the 45km drive home, and I had just the thing.

My car is equipped with its very own CD library — in truth, as many old CDs as I can cram into the glovebox, with many more at home that might someday get rotated into the mix — and on Thursday night as I left the long-term car park at Melbourne Airport, the Greatest Hits collection from Van Halen was all cued up.

I love Van Halen, much to the surprise of some who know me; but despite the harder edge than a lot of what I grew up with, that band (like Bad English, or Whitesnake, or so many others we could name) were emblematic of the trashy, flashy 1980s some of my teenage years coincided with: the big hair, the contrived extroversion, the overperformances, the big-statement “production” music videos…you get the idea.

I always thought Van Halen was better in its second incarnation, after David Lee Roth left; if anything, his replacement on lead vocals by Sammy Hagar gave the band a harder sound than the flashy, trashy David Lee Roth, although some of the latter’s solo efforts — Just A Gigolo and Just Like Paradise — count among my favourite 1980s tracks too (and yes, I have Dave’s Greatest Hits CD in my car somewhere as well).

The first of my Van Halen double shot tracks today, aptly enough, is Dreams; there are a number of “official” videos that go with this track, although the original series — featuring the US Navy’s Blue Angels squadron is still the best, as the aircraft cross each other’s paths, fly in formation, and fly in sync with one another.

Check this out.

For those who know Melbourne, the range of locations to listen to this stuff — at cracking volumes — is terrific; in my own case, heads turned at the traffic lights on the way out of Tullamarine Airport. I was rockin’ heading around the Western Ring Road, and climbing higher! higher! as I went up and over the West Gate Bridge. At the Kingsway exit, with its mandatory wait to get onto Kings Way (and again at the endless stops at intersections along that thoroughfare and on St Kilda Road), it was patently clear that the blast of Van Halen I was broadcasting on my way through Melbourne’s inner south was making a figure of some ridicule, but I didn’t care.

After all, who would recognise me? Even if they did, what could they possibly say that could bother me? Let them gawp. Let them gape. I didn’t know about them, but I was having a mighty fine time — thank you very much!

And this brings up the second take in today’s double shot — which also just happens to be the very next track on the CD — and speaking of big, flashy, epic 1980s music videos, this one holds its place with the best of them.

I’m going back to Canberra next month, and I have to say that I am looking forward to it; the good burghers at Qantas will likely see a fair bit of me on that route in coming months, and I am finding — despite myself — that the place is beginning to grow on me, although I certainly wouldn’t ever want to live there.

Short of a political life, which I doubt I will ever have, Melbourne will do me just fine.

But as they say, “when you’re on, you’re on,” and I found myself exhilarated this week as a trip somewhere I wasn’t really keen on going turned out to hold great promise, and those readers in Melbourne who encounter a car heading toward the airport on the Tullamarine Freeway one morning at 7am, Van Halen blaring at top volume, can probably hazard a guess who it is driving it — and where I might be off to.

Enjoy today’s double shot and the bonus tracks I have linked in as well; I will see you again later in the week.

 

Retro Tuesday: Looking Back To Look Forward

NEAR THE END of my busiest year in decades I find myself contemplating, again, the question I posed a year ago when I started this column: “Why begin a new blog?” After nine months of silence here (and sparse content appearing in my “legacy” column over the same period) I’m having another go at maintaining a forum looking at what makes our lives tick, and hitting “restart” today with the segment that was gaining traction before…well, before life intervened.

At first blush, the selections I’ve made for a “double shot” of video clips might seem unduly sombre, and we’ll get to those shortly; but rather than some introspective moment of insanity that’s seen me hit the keys for the first time in this column since March, let me assure readers that whilst Retro Tuesday is an ideal segment with which to launch back into this project, it is merely a moment to reflect that I am taking.

And then we will move on.

I sometimes think I must be a complete glutton for punishment, you know; my CV as it stands today boasts a full-time job, a part-time study load, a media production business I’ve occasionally picked at (despite having officially called a hiatus to), and two online opinion columns that have suffered great neglect. One, the political one we don’t talk about here, has had about a quarter of the attention it usually receives, whilst this one has had none at all in months.

But these early to middling years of my 40s are a time of change; like so many of my generation — sandwiched between our baby boomer parents to whom the world literally gave everything they ever wanted, and more, and the upstart Gen Y types some bitterly resent for their direction, drive and resolve — I turned 40 in 2012, not so much with an epiphany as with a wake-up call: if I didn’t fix things I might not just never achieve anything I wanted to achieve, but I might be dead before the penny dropped.

A stint in hospital with pancreatitis at 39, probably caused by a stone in my bile duct (visible on the first scan, but not the second) was nevertheless a clarion call to the fact I drank a bit more than I should, and that unless I reined that in, a second attack could be fatal: in the five and a half years since, I haven’t had enough “alcohol days” to even fill six months on a calendar. But even if you’re drinking below “problem” levels but still in excess of “safe” levels, and you stop, you suddenly find there’s an awful lot of things you can pack into the time you forgot existed every day — and that all of a sudden, your directions in life are that little bit divergent from the objectives you had thitherto been pursuing.

I was galvanised into action. Even if I have since packed a bit more into all that extra time than was ever realistically going to fit.

Either way, I have come a long way since the small child who, in 1980, listened to Paul McCartney’s childlike exhortations not to go jumping waterfalls: I have been doing a lot of looking backwards lately, just taking stock; that bonus track I’ve linked today is one that leapt out like a gleeful scrap of childhood when I went to find the McCartney track I actually wanted to feature, and it stopped me for a moment. It was a fleeting reminder of a time much simpler, less complicated, and more pure than the burdens we take on in adulthood will ever allow.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. I loved my childhood, but I love my adult life more. And as time-poor and compromised as we all get with the rigours of life, there’s only one thing more important than today — and that’s tomorrow.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m being too heavy on this subject, I should point out that I relish the workload I have taken on these past few years; they are my ticket to somewhere different — toward career paths that should have been pursued 20 years ago, but weren’t; toward the free indulgence of particular talents and passions that were stifled, when they shouldn’t have been. Despite being the most capable person I know (and I mean that objectively) I am also one of the least successful among that cohort, and the reason for the huge workload is to redirect myself along the paths I should always have walked, but until recently didn’t: for where ability and passion lie, so does success.

Even so, nobody tells a story in song like McCartney, and in turn, a flicker of childhood reminiscence over the Waterfalls song has elicited one from me.

But in looking back, it was the masterful work he released in 1987 that I really wanted to kick today’s retro set off with.

Why begin a new blog? The easiest answer — then as now — was the instinct to just write; it’s the one thing I have always been good at, and as 2017 largely replicates 2016 in terms of the volume and breadth of workload that has hobbled my online columns this year, it will surprise few to learn that by this time next year, I’ll be a qualified journalist and PR. I don’t intend spending a single day working as a journalist (although working as a public relations practitioner might be a different story), but the undergraduate degree I started in 1990 and stomped out of in 1992 with a little over half of it complete…to avoid being railroaded into a desperately unwanted career as a journalist or English teacher…will finally, belatedly, be mine.

And then we will see.

I’m only taking a week and a half off over Christmas; even to get that far, there’s some fun to navigate: tomorrow and Thursday in Canberra, two days in hospital on Friday and Saturday (nothing major — coughing too much from the bugs kids bring home from daycare causes hernias, you know), and then what might be an interesting week in my office recovering from it.

It’s embarrassing that readers won’t need to scroll too far back to hit the pieces I posted at and around Christmas last year: and any that choose to do so should go straight to the turkey recipe article and get ready for Boxing Day… ๐Ÿ™‚

But what I am going to try to do — both over the festive season, and through the new year — is to not only maintain this column, but to set some balance between this and my political comment page, where I used to average six articles per week, week in, week out, attracting 100,000 visits per year in its peak years.

How long is a piece of string? If we can maintain Retro Tuesday, and perhaps an article or two per week beyond that, then hopefully this forum will grow into something that can really engage with and build audiences. Funnily enough, readership by the time I had to stop posting here had already built a head of steam, and took months to peter out even from the dozen or so articles I’d posted.

Let’s hope I can do a little better than that from here…and that brings up the second track in this week’s retro set.

If we’re having any kind of discussion involving looking back, reminiscing, or otherwise taking stock of years past, there’s a certain timeless track that simply must be included. Refreshingly, it hasn’t been as overplayed and/or abused as so many anthemic pieces of its kind. (It is also a sad reflection on the drug-fucked artist whose life and career spiralled out of control in later years beneath a chemically induced stupor, although that’s another story).

Anyhow, this is the first piece here in some time, and the flakes of rust are probably evident. I will be back, but if my little field trip to the Alfred Hospital knocks the wind out of my sails more than I expect (or am prepared to allow), it may be Retro Tuesday before I next have something to say.

In the meantime — enjoy. And remember…

 

Retro Tuesday, And Back To The Grind

THIS WEEK marks the recommencement of a sporadic, purpose-centric need for me to hop on a plane for a day per week, most weeks, for a couple of months; not frightfully onerous — albeit a little frightening late last year — the opportunity presents to revisit Retro Tuesday with an aviation flavour, and to elicit (I’m sure) some groans and cringes from the depths of readers’ memories: if, that is, they are old enough to remember at all.

Last year — as I continued a process of rounding out the Communications side of my CV — I recommenced a university degree I abandoned more than 20 years earlier; not wishing to be pushed into careers in either journalism or teaching, and annoyed at being stopped from transferring to a law degree (a story in itself, although in hindsight I’m glad I never became a lawyer) I dispensed with the further incursion of fees, and set out in a different direction altogether.

The problem was that with two-thirds of a degree complete, and on account of the passage of time since getting that far, the only place that would recognise what I had already finished was the same university I’d been an undergraduate at in the early 1990s: and so, in a highly unorthodox arrangement, I started flying in and out of Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland one day each week.

At least, that was the theory: three weeks into the 12-week semester, I had a stroke scare on my flight back to Melbourne very late one Tuesday night; and whilst it turned out I hadn’t had a stroke (or a so-called TIA) at all — I eventually became the 24th confirmed diagnosis worldwide of the perfectly harmless ear condition Baroparesis facialis, in which air in a defective Eustachian tube expands at altitude to crush the facial nerve, looking like a stroke but in fact having no connection whatsoever to such a frightening affliction — and after a diverted flight to Sydney, a night in the Prince of Wales Hospital, and a visit to a cardiologist the following week in Melbourne, I was cleared to fly again a fortnight after that terrifying mid-air event.

And it was a good thing I was, for had I not gone near another aircraft for a while, I might still be walking around thinking (wrongly) that I had had a stroke: at exactly the same point in the climb out of Melbourne Airport that the first incident had occurred at during the flight coming the other way two weeks earlier, the same thing happened: it was the big clue my doctors needed to go looking for a non-stroke cause, and after a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket and myriad tests later, we quickly identified the unusual culprit.

Even so, a certain airline predicated on white aeroplanes that may or may not feature red tails depicting airborne marsupials refused to let me fly again after the second incident until a further medical clearance had been obtained (which took six weeks) and after my day at the Uni on that occasion, I spent two days driving back to Melbourne down the Newell Highway, and was not a pleasant encounter by the time I got my car out of the car park at Melbourne Airport 1,150 miles later.

I have always loved flying, but traditionally, it has scared the hell out of me.

I don’t know why: when we were kids, there were several family trips to visit relatives who used to live in Sydney, and I was never frightened on those; I have always attributed the later fear of flying to a 13-year gap between the last of the family trips and the first one undertaken on my own, by which time it seemed in many respects I’d never been on an aircraft.

To say I routinely fronted up at various airports across Australia (and occasionally, across the world) in a rare old state is to undersell the matter; on one occasion, after attending a wedding in Brisbane, there was some suggestion check-in staff contemplated calling security on me — such was my state of agitation.

Even trips to the UK (including landing into Hong Kong in the middle of a typhoon) failed to cure me of this totally irrational phobia.

Yet ever since the events of last August — and I’ve taken another half-dozen return trips since then — I’ve suddenly found myself so preoccupied with monitoring the state of my facial muscles that I don’t even worry about flying any more; perhaps that sounds perverse, given my observations are basically aimed at ascertaining whether half my face collapses or not, and if it does to accost flight staff for an oxygen bottle (which arights the symptoms by imitating ground pressure).

But I got through one semester unscathed in the end — and two of the nine missing subjects for my degree to the good — and it starts again on Thursday, with eight days spread over 13 weeks until the end of May, and another two of the now-remaining seven (from 24 in total) lined up to be knocked over.

My six-year-old daughter loves aeroplanes (and has already had a couple of trips to Tasmania to see my parents) and when she was very little, we used to watch a YouTube clip together just before she went to bed each night; music — and colourful images — have always been a big hit with her, so the idea of watching something together was an obvious one that was instantly popular.

One of the first was this piece…

 

…which must surely rank as one of the most uber-commercial pop songs of the 1960s; I always used to give my daughter a choice of the “air balloon” version embedded above (which, helpfully, has the words dubbed across it so you can sing along) or the “aeroplane” version, which you can access here featuring a collage of all the planes Trans-Australia Airlines used to fly before it was absorbed as the domestic arm of Qantas.

And that brings up today’s Retro Tuesday double shot: not another aviation-themed pop song this time, or something else by The Fifth Dimension, but a thoroughly cringeworthy voyage down memory lane to what once used to pass for the the very best output from the Australian advertising industry: the same industry in which I’ve spent most of the 20+ years since departing from the Uni in the first place.

Get. A. Look. At. This.

Seriously!

 

Needless to say (dating as it does, I believe, from about 1972) it looks like the archaeological relic it is; quite aside from the poor image quality (to say nothing of the quaint black-and-white format) it contains things that wouldn’t be tolerated (or permitted) these days for an instant.

The dirty businessman perving on the stewardess’ derriere as she walks down the aisle, for instance.

And it goes without saying that today’s Boeing 737s, A320s and A330s offer far more comfort and a smoother flight than TAA’s manky old DC9s and Boeing 727s ever did.

“Up, Up and Away” was also used by the now-defunct US airline TWA in television commercials back in the early 70s — which makes sense — and the TWA version made very different use of the audio track; readers can check out one incarnation of the TWA advertising here. (I believe the aircraft featured is a Douglas DC8, although someone might be able to verify that call made with not-a-very-good-look at the thing).

For mine, I’m going to ensure my kids experience regular air travel as they grow up (which, thanks to tickets today costing a fraction of what they did decades ago, is very possible) in an attempt to ensure neither of them develops a silly phobia about flying.

And for my part, another semester — which will be over before anyone can blink — has given us a perfect opportunity for a trip down memory lane today, and I hope people have enjoyed it.

For a little extra bonus, check this out: one of the best airline advertisements I can ever recall, this predates the marvellous “I Still Call Australia Home” campaign by Qantas that endured for more than a decade, and sits in the period between TAA closing and Qantas Domestic taking off (no pun intended) as an entity in its own right. I was 14 when that campaign was launched, and I still think it deserves its place in anyone’s retro call of old Australian television advertising.

It just goes to show what’s possible when the creative for an airline commercial is really, really well executed. After all, here we are 30 years later, watching it all over again…

 

Retro Tuesday: The Year Celebrity Died?

FROM DAVID BOWIE to Glenn Frey, the first days of 2016 have seen an extraordinary number of well known, much-loved international celebrities pass on; the trend concurs with the ageing of the Baby Boomer generation — on whose watch the phenomenon of “celebrity” first appeared — and most of those who have succumbed in recent days are part of that generation. Is 2016 the year celebrity died?

I had intended to publish this piece very late last night, in time to catch readers over their coffee, but time beat me to the punch; in some respects I am pleased it did, although not for particularly pleasant reasons, for the day has brought the news of the passing of former Eagles singer and guitarist Glenn Frey at the age of 67.

2016 is shaping as one of those years — for all the wrong reasons — when it comes to high profile entertainment figures taking their final curtain; just nine days ago the world was shocked by the passing of David Bowie (or “Ziggy Stardust” as he was wont to be called) and since then British actor Alan Rickman and former Grizzly Adams actor Dan Haggerty have passed on as well.

All of them died in their late 60s — the generation of my parents — and indeed, some of these gentlemen were older than my own father, who will turn 68 in April. Frey is six months younger than my father. A very dear friend of mine who I unfortunately don’t see much of these days thanks to the tyranny of distance lost his own father a few weeks ago at just 66. It’s a sobering thought, and a reminder that as wonderful as life is there are some horrible certainties that come with the deal: and as those who know me often hear me remark, we’re not 18 and invincible any more. I’m 43. You never know when the supply of “tomorrows” will finally run out.

Of the four, Frey provided me with what I thought, in the flush of youth, was a song that might have been written for me: setting aside another personal epithet in the form of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (and no, I’ve never been known for an abundance of subtlety), a more positive anthem arrived in 1986 in the form of “You Belong To The City” — and I am, by my own admission and the ready assent of those around me, the ultimate “big city boy.”

The point of the passage of time is underscored by the barely believable realisation, as I write, that that smashing 1986 hit is 30 years old this year; old enough to stand on its own two feet if it were human, to vote, fight in a war, get married and have kids. Perhaps the analogy is a little silly, but the 14-year-old whose life revolved around the weekly Top 50 chart, relishing the ridicule that accompanied reading the political section of the newspaper every morning before school in full sight of school buddies to stay abreast of the world’s events, watching reruns of Doctor Who, and illicitly following the Carlton Football Club in the rugby league town I grew up in (to follow Australian Rules football in Queensland back in the 1980s was to risk a belting) seems like a kid I embodied just the metaphorical five minutes ago.

It’s hard not to make the link between the big names who have departed this month and the Baby Boomer generation, whose eldest members grew up watching the very earliest rock and roll acts in the late 1950s just as they were hitting their teenage years; these were the people whose adolescence and early adulthood coincided with phenomena such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys — all now gone or, to be unkind, going — and whose relatively early years spanned the disco age of the 1970s and saw in the mad, greedy 1980s with its big hair, big sounds, and have-it-at-any-cost consumer culture and Yuppiedom.

In fact, it isn’t a stretch to suggest the whole contemporary cult of celebrity is a construct of, and a (dubious) legacy from, the Baby Boomer generation.

But I can’t recall the last time so many big name stars died in such rapid succession; certainly, none of these passings is in the same league as, say, Princess Diana, and the best precedent that springs immediately to mind was the passing of Australian identity Steve Irwin and motor racing legend Peter Brock, four days apart, a decade ago this September coming.

People will have their own reflections on some or all (or maybe even none) of the figures who’ve taken a bow this month, but what makes these people special — and they are just people, we must remember, before anyone ascribes immortality to any of them — is the way their work provides bookmarks in our own lives where the two overlap, in the way we remember a moment we watched a movie “with” them, or how one of their songs accurately and uncannily mirrored a certain phase, good or bad, as we went about our business.

Certainly, these people (and any who follow them into involuntary final retirement) will live on; and just as those closest to them will remember them personally, the rest of us will ensure their public faces continue to be seen and heard even after they have left the stage.

But is the cult of celebrity dying? Hardly, for I believe it’s one of the least desirable bequests our parents have lumped us with. But perhaps this is the time when a disproportionate number of its earliest practitioners disappear from the land of the living.

It’s a salutary reminder that time is marching on; and it brings up today’s double shot — giving the final word, no less, to Bowie.

It seems fitting — even as everyone seems to have their own perfect Bowie song of the month this month, and so many of them are called “Major Tom” — to put one of his more thoughtful works in motion on the subject of change; Bowie’s pithy, wistful reflections on the tribulations of life seem apt, and without further comment today, I’ll leave readers to their own thoughts as they listen to it now.

 

 

Retro Tuesday: Marriage And New Beginnings

A CLOSE FRIEND of mine got married yesterday, and not for the first time; coming soon after Christmas, with its messages of new beginnings — to say nothing of the lovely girl he’s married — hopes are high that this time, it will last a lifetime. A simple garden ceremony provides the impetus for Retro Tuesday this week, but in case anyone is worried I’m going to force them to sit through a video of someone else’s wedding, there are bigger fish to fry.

Simultaneously, the greatest problem and the greatest joy about us as human beings is that we’re all different; there are those narcissists who think the world would be just fine if everyone agreed with them all of the time, and if nobody ever dared to dissent or object to what they said or did or wanted. The overwhelming majority of us, however, would quickly grow bored, no matter how comfortable we might feel in our own skins.

Personally, the idea of 7 billion clones of me running around the place is enough to make me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a spoon. Just for starters.

The friend of mine in question (and I won’t identify him — and being a rather private individual, neither will virtually every reader of this column) begins his third marriage today with great hope and optimism with a lady he’s known since the two of them were children; over the years and interspersed between marriages, international relocations, and all the other changes in life that just happen, they have passed in and out of each other’s lives time and again, but it has only been in the last few years that they finally got together.

As the immortal John Lennon once said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Ne’er a truer word was spake, so to speak.

My friend’s first wedding — which preceded my acquaintance with him — was the stereotypical white wedding; lots of people, big church, big to-do with the obligatory realm of attendees…the sort of thing that nowadays costs the same as a small apartment to put on, and one would have to say the purchase of an apartment as the gift of a head start in such circumstances is probably the better way to spend the money, old-fashioned notions and aspirations of romance and chivalry notwithstanding.

Sometimes love — and marriage — just dies; it doesn’t have to be with a bang, or in tempestuous acrimony; it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, or because someone did or didn’t do something; sometimes things change and evolve as we mature as people; and sometimes things just end. So it was in this case.

His second was to a certifiable lunatic (not that anyone realised it) whose mother — unquestionably — was in charge; anyone who harboured any misapprehensions about that point was either involuntarily set to rights or involuntarily discarded in whatever manner could be engineered to be as malicious and vicious and destructive as possible.

Watching on, I could always relate where #2 was concerned, for I once narrowly escaped a fate that in retrospect I’m certain would have been virtually identical; the pliable, obedient, acquiescent daughter and the domineering mother who would brook neither opposition nor challenge, backed by a formidable familial machine of bitches, arseholes, fork-tongued manipulators and other cretinous specimens with the morals of alley cats on heat and the aspiration merely to exercise malevolent control over the lives of others. There are good reasons that people who know me hear me describe the individual in question as “the wrong girl.” It is simple shorthand for a creature and the rabid litter whence she came that collectively rank beneath contempt.

Unfortunately, most of the people I know, when they look around, know of more than one relationship within their social ecosystems that almost exactly mirrors these examples, if they’re not in one themselves; I was lucky: I was jettisoned before there could even be a marriage, and after the initial indignation and shellshock subsided (despite knowing, deep down, the realities of the situation well over a year before it ended) the relief at avoiding a fate almost literally worse than death cannot be overstated.

My friend, however, played the whole regrettable storyline out to its inevitable conclusion, and if a situation ever defined the stereotype of a horrific marriage breakdown, this was it.

So — after four years of assuring my friend that “it’s safe to marry this one,” for his third wife really is a great girl — yesterday, finally, he did, and whilst the cacophony of bullshit emanating from #2’s bunker did its best to drown out the goodwill and bonhomie and merriment that marked the occasion, it couldn’t compete with the sentiment of the track that opened proceedings in a simple but dignified civil ceremony in the hills about 70km south of Melbourne.

Horror stories and happy endings aside, the point today — apart from providing an excuse to introduce Lennon into the retro circuit in this column — is that nothing lasts forever; everything changes, and even people apparently perfectly suited in every way at one end of a liaison or marriage can, at the other, have grown, changed, or been manipulated to surrender the things they once held dear.

Some people can live together for a lifetime. Some can move silently, unknowingly and in the most congenial spirits in different directions to the point “together” is no longer a feasible word in the lexicon. Some people can implode, taking some of the surrounding countryside with them. And some can just be the kind of people whose selfishness, for whatever reason, makes them happy only if they are able to destroy the happiness of others.

With seven billion stories on planet Earth and our little human penchant for pairing off, it’s no wonder the range of outcomes is infinitely different — and the means by which they are arrived at, however variously splendid or acrimonious they may prove.

I wish my old mate many years of happiness as he embarks on the life he was probably always destined to share with his new wife: and this brings up our double shot today.

A proper British Christmas tradition each year is the contest between its major retailers to see who can come up with the funniest or cleverest Christmas commercial, or who can produce the one most adept at getting everyone misty-eyed and weepy; last year the chocolates went to John Lewis for its Monty the Penguin number, and whilst Monty doesn’t feature today, a variation of the audio track from the John Lewis offering of 2014 does.

 

20 years ago — in what must rank as one of the greatest musical bastardisations ever committed — Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, “handed over” to Paul McCartney two demo tapes of unfinished songs that were found among his effects after his assassination in 1980; Beatles enthusiasts (of which I am one) went mostly apeshit for the new “Beatles” songs Free As A Bird and Real Love that were eventually released, dubbed and modified and treated with effect by McCartney et al to the point Lennon’s lyrics and voice were almost indecipherable.

I thought they were a disgrace, and should instead have been released as part of an “unplugged” or “lost tapes” type compilation of unreleased work under Lennon’s own name, but I had (and I think, still have) the minority opinion on that.

The version I share with readers today doesn’t feature a pretty video for commercial release; rather, it is a restored version of Real Love as it existed when first recorded by Lennon, sitting at his piano; apparently, a tambourine Lennon was playing with his foot has been stripped from this version, and an earlier version that featured it (and which was originally embedded into this post) was taken down by YouTube because the guy who posted it was a bit of a dab hand for copyright breaches.

In terms of our subject, it’s a pity, but the indecipherable “Beatles” song is presented for what it was when Lennon first wrote it: a simple expression of love.

It seems a noble and fitting wish as two good people set forth on a new life together.

All the very best to them both…and a “happily ever after.”

 

Retro Tuesday: The 90s, And…

IF THERE’S A DECADE that isn’t exactly noted for the durability of its music, it’s the 1990s; even so, a little gem — masterfully reworked in an almost-contemporary context — roared back onto my radar a couple of weeks ago, and whilst my “retro preference” is to focus on the 70s and 80s, today we’re going to indulge that awful decade for a couple of great gets.

But first, the good news, or I hope it is: with a little more time on my hands over the next few weeks — just until things go off with a bang again once the silly season is out of the way — I should find the time to post a little more regularly on this new site, finally, in addition to Retro Tuesdays, which (at least) are already becoming a regular feature; first cab off the rank will be something for those heading to London at any time soon, thanks to a chance conversation I had at the weekend.

British food is wonderful — if you know where to look for it — and I’m going to share a few tips to help keep people travelling to the UK well fed and stodge-free (and yes, for those who know me, Marcus will get top billing, but that’s tomorrow’s, or maybe even Thursday’s, story).

But with the 90s on the radar today, I realise I came very, very close to committing a sin I assured readers I wouldn’t; in thinking through some of the possibilities for today’s feature, one of the first acts that came to mind was La Bouche: a dance band I was introduced to by the beautiful and free-spirited black girl I was sometimes found in the company of in Brisbane during my early to mid 20s in Brisbane, and which (even if it had been crap, which happily, it wasn’t) would have still scored highly on my scale at the time simply because it was a favourite of hers.

La Bouche, of course, is another German group, and having already featured Nena and the Scorpions in the past few weeks, I didn’t want to make it a habit; even so, before we move onto today’s double shot, treat yourself to a a retro bassline and a bit of boom and shake.

 

I guess it becomes relevant to today’s selection, for there are crossovers everywhere; since I moved to Melbourne 18 years ago next month, I have seen the lovely lady to whom I allude just twice: once back in Brisbane, and once here. It was something fated never to be, although as is the way of such things that do not end acrimoniously, I know that if I were to run into her tomorrow, the warmth and friendship — e’er dormant — would still be well and truly alive, and we’d just pick up where we left off, and have a good old catch-up. (Last time I saw her, in Melbourne, we sang karaoke at a beachside cafe in Port Melbourne — badly — with a few other friends and some cheap fried food, but it was one of those impromptu social events that “just happen” and remain fondly remembered for many years afterwards).

In fact, everything about this unorthodox girl was impromptu.

When I lived in Brisbane (and remember, this is a girl I was supposedly dating) I got a phone call at about 9am one morning; still working rotating hospitality management rosters back in those days and having been out partying the previous night on a day off — a Monday, from memory — I wasn’t really with it when the phone rang, and it took some time for the disbelief to dispel once the call was finished.

Hung over, sleep deprived and struggling to do much beyond providing simple but cogent acknowledgement of her sentences, this girl — the ultimate free spirit — had rung me up to tell me, without a hint of malice or irony, that she was going to Thailand that afternoon.

I had seen her on three of the previous seven days: not a word of it. But do you know what? She did go to Thailand that day, and it was another month before we saw her again. She said she needed a rest and to let her hair down, and to catch up with her cousin, who was also having a holiday there as well.

Most people in my shoes would have been offended, to say the least. I was. Until, years later, I realised that that was just the way she was. No plans, no ties, just whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.

The restaurant I was managing at the time had one of those $2 per play jukeboxes in it that were all the rage in the 90s; it featured a “Top 5” countdown (sometimes topped by Mariah Carey’s Hero) that generally featured a track from precursor British boy band East 17. From time to time, if no money was inserted into it, the jukebox would randomly blurt out whatever song was in the number one spot. All too often, this was it.

 

It’s funny how you associate songs and music with events in life, be they good, bad or excruciating; after a period of being sporadically informed by the jukebox that “everything’s going to be alright” when I not only didn’t think it was but found the contrary assertion rather provocative and not dissimilar to the effect of a red rag being waved at a bull, I started feeding it $2 coins to push another song — that was neither the East 17 number nor the God-forsaken arpeggio-fest of Carey’s — to the top of the countdown and keep it there.

At least a burst of something disconnected would stop me brooding.

Of course, my lovely black girlfriend and I didn’t last, didn’t make it, and didn’t walk off into some mythical stereotype of ochre sunsets and flying horses; a benignly anarchic, liberated, ethereal free spirit of the most unruly and unpredictable kind and a city creature as thoroughly urban as I was were never going to last. I used to liken her to the girl in The Sound of Music (you know, “how do you solve the problem of Maria? How do you catch a cloud and tie it down?”) to which my best mate, the redoubtable Mr Oxford, retorted that if I ever bought the 3-Series I had been casing out at Brisbane BMW (I didn’t — like any good Scotsman I jibbed at the price tag, even though I could afford it once upon a time) I might find it a bit hard to load her, and her cloud, into it at the same time.

When she announced she was moving to England (again, at extremely short notice, although more than the few hours’ warning I received about the field trip to Thailand) I hastily concocted a scheme to race off after her, armed with a large diamond, and bring her back: it really was all right in the end, because I was dissuaded from doing so, and poetically enough, that dissuasion also came at almost literally the last minute possible to abandon the plan.

The happier outcome in this instance was the disjointed but enduring friendship with a perfectly lovely yet truly unique individual; but others walk away into the sunset — and this brings up the double shot of East 17 today, and the contemporary rebirth it enjoyed in 2011.

Monarchists and republicans alike were captivated when global mobile telephony giant T-Mobile landed a cheeky marketing strike to coincide with the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; some colleagues and I found ourselves talking about it a couple of weeks ago, and you can enjoy their handiwork here.

 

One’s life is for sharing…which, in some respects, is the point of this column: I trust readers have enjoyed another little story from memory lane woven around some old (if socially awkward) soundtracks. More will follow next week.

But the pretext to talk food, finally, has fallen into my lap, so in the next couple of days, it’ll be two of my favourite subjects in the world: food and London. (And anyone from the Ministry of Culture who sees value in hiring me as an ambassador should feel free to contact me…so long as the job comes with an entry visa and serviceable salary ๐Ÿ™‚ย ย  )

 

Retro Tuesday: Christmas And The Marching Of Time

I’M NOT IMMERSED in the whole “Christmas Spirit” thing most years until a lot closer to Christmas Eve than we are now; usually — and certainly as busy as I have been these past few years — Christmas is on top of us before I get to it. A reminder of how Christmas and the march of time lobbed onto my radar last week, and today’s musical flashback reflects the fact that ’tis the season: in more ways than one.

But I have, I must say, gotten a little better with all things festive in one sense: if you’ve got friends and/or business associates abroad (and I have both) and you want to send them Christmas greetings, organisation is key.

There have been times I’ve sent a handful of Christmas cards off to Britain in the full knowledge they’ll be lucky to make it there by the new year, and last year — with almost a dozen cards to send to London, some to friends, some to people I’d worked with in my media business, and some who fit both categories — I decided that such tardiness simply wouldn’t do, and from memory it was about now I posted them all (it was when my mum came to visit Melbourne for her birthday, and this year her birthday is today, so happy birthday mum).

One of my London friends (and I will be careful not to identify her) who I know through more political avenues (yes yes, I know, there’s that link again) conducted — about mid-year last year — something of a social media debate on the merits (or otherwise, in her view) of Love Actually, that Christmas-themed multipolar British rom-com that hit cinema screens worldwide back in 2003; “Miss Apples” (as we will refer to her) was the first to alert me to last year’s excellent Christmas commercial from British retailer John Lewis (and you can see that here — believe me, you’ll love it) and when she got my Christmas card sent me a picture of it, on her desk, with “mini-Monty:” John Lewis sold out of genuine Monty the Penguin toys in record time, of course, but she’d found something comparable, and it gave me some satisfaction to see that for once, my Christmas cards had actually made it to their destination by the middle of December.

I tell this story — one friend in London, the cutesy TVC I connect with her, and the spirited charge against Love Actually she led on Twitter — because the Fairfax press carried a piece last week on Olivia Olsen who, as those who know Love Actually will know, was the 11-year-old who appeared in and sang a ripsnorting rendition of Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas near the end of the film.

Unlike my friend “Miss Apples,” however, I love Love Actually, and this Christmas Eve staple in my house will again get a viewing once the turkey has been prepared for the following day.

 

It’s hard to believe that Olivia is all grown up, as readers will see from the Fairfax article; the pretty little kid who starred as Joanna, the love interest to the gorgeous Sam, is now 23: she has grown into a beautiful young woman, to be sure, but for tens of millions of Love Actually devotees will be forever etched in time as Joanna, singing that song.

And it’s a reminder that just as Christmas is a special time of year, it shouldn’t be taken for granted; that quirky British film was 12 years ago, and the speed with which the passage of time has rocketed ever since is scary, to say the least.

Today’s Retro Tuesday is a relatively quick one. How much can you say about Christmas, really, without getting really silly about it in a column like mine? But for a double shot today, I have chosen a second track from the same movie, and this is one that should be played as loud as you can get your system to play it.

 

I’ll be back in the next couple of days, and we’ll talk about something that has nothing to do with Christmas; but in the meantime, enjoy these couple of pieces from memory lane; and if you don’t already have one, go and get a copy of Love Actually to watch on Christmas Eve once the kids have gone to bed: as silly and corny as it is in some ways, it’s a great rollicking yarn, and with Brady movies coming out of the woodwork at this time of year, I know what I’d rather be watching… ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Retro Tuesday, In Times Of Great Change

AS ANOTHER MONTH passes, and Christmas becomes a matter of just another few weeks, 2015 draws toward its conclusion after the world has witnessed tumultuous upheaval and change; in fact, change seems to be everywhere you look, and from where I stand an awful lot more seems likely to follow in 2016. Today’s musical flashback continues the theme.

First, a piece of good news: readers of this (and my other) column will be pleased to know that late last night, I finished off work on one of the big drains on my time that has hampered the time I have for posting comment; publishing content in these sites must come second to those commitments that generate revenue (for these do not) or are otherwise critical for whatever reason, but the upshot is that I’ll have quite a bit more time for writing articles than I have had for most of the year.

For the next three months, that is — until what I finished last night recommences for another year.

Yet even this is a pointer to the theme of Retro Tuesday today, for change is everywhere; the extra commitment (beyond a job, a business, my established political commentary column and this new one) has been the resumption of a long-ago abandoned degree that I left somewhere between half and two-thirds complete back in the 1990s, and which I have now locked away the first tranche of work to finish.

Contemplating a sometime move from one branch of the behemoth that is the media industry to another, I suddenly need the degree I stomped out of the university 20 years ago without finishing because doing so was the only way to avoid certain careers.

I left it so long that the only institution that recognises the 15 (of 24) subjects I did back then is the one I studied them at: the University of Queensland, and in practical terms this has meant weekly day trips to Brisbane to go to the university, which despite the cost of the airfares and factoring in fees still works out four years faster and about $4,000 cheaper than starting something from scratch, studying part-time, here in Melbourne.

I had a little mishap — something hit me on the flight home one night that looked suspiciously like a stroke — and I was responsible for diverting a plane full of people to Sydney so I could be rushed off to hospital: but never fear, the “stroke” turned out to be a perfectly harmless ear problem that is very rare, but when subjected to altitude pressure causes half your face to collapse. (If any readers have been ignoring mildly sore ears that won’t completely unblock as I did for months, go and have them looked at if you’re thinking of flying anywhere, especially long haul — there are some parts of the world you don’t want to be hospitalised in, believe me).

But harking back to the early 1990s — when I was “really” a university student — provides a great segue to our blast from the past today.

Let me assure readers that it is purely by accidental coincidence that I’m featuring a West German band in consecutive weeks, and the first two weeks of publishing this segment at that, but have a listen to this.

There seems to be change everywhere right now; some of it — like the reordering of things I’m doing personally, and finishing something I should have completed decades ago — are good; yet in the bigger scheme of things, the world is changing too, and not necessarily for the better.

Climate change, whether you believe in or not (or whether you believe it’s man-made or, as I do, think it’s part of an eternal natural process that’s been going on for millennia). The rise of Islamofascism, and the threat it most immediately poses to Europe. The rise of a belligerent, militaristic Russia, bristling with modernised weaponry even as its people starve, capable of obliterating anything it wants to. The world is growing less certain, and in some ways less secure, although this just makes the idea of living every day to the full that much more important.

Ironically, some of the changes in today’s world are a mirror image of the “winds of change” that blew across it 25 years ago, when Winds of Change was released; the collapse of the Soviet Union, the removal of the Iron Curtain across Europe, and — particularly salient where the Scorpions, the West German band I’m highlighting today, is concerned — the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, in a sequence of events that brought so much hope and freedom to people who had been tyrannised and repressed for so long.

I’ve got a friend getting married to a nice girl in a few weeks; that event will close the circle on one of the most vicious marital break-ups I have ever witnessed, and the only person unhappy about it will be the seething bubble of hatred who walked out on him in the first place.

I know people who are headed in the opposite direction — right into trouble and the divorce court — and some of them are the last people you would ever expect to see there. Yet such is life.

I’ve shared a few bits and bobs from my own story at what I sense is a time of great change; and change isn’t something we should fear. The key thing is to make sure it’s the right kind of change, although — as a favourite TV character once proclaimed in exasperation, you can plan until you’re blue in the face and things just happen: it isn’t possible to control everything, nor avoid the bumps that come with the highs.

And rather than talk about myself or my mates until the cows come home, I’d just ask every reader to pause for a moment and look around their own little worlds: a lot is changing, isn’t it? Perhaps not everything, and not all at once, but nothing lasts forever. Right now, I see change everywhere I look. It seems to be one of those phases.

Enjoy the track from the Scorpions; and as music worth listening to is only worth listening to loud, crank it up. The double shot today comes not from the Scorpions themselves, but from a British band that had a hit with the same name as another song recorded by the Scorpions, and if this doesn’t evoke embarrassing 1980s-era memories, I don’t know what will.

I’ll be back with something else in the next couple of days; Retro Tuesday will return again next week. Seven days closer to Christmas, will the rapidly approaching festive season influence my choice of entertainment?

Come back on Tuesday and find out.