The idea of non-spaces or in-between spaces is one that seems to crop up a lot. I seem to come across it regularly without looking for it. Most recently I found it in a book called ‘Non-Stop Inertia’ by Ivor Southwood, which I started reading yesterday and finished today. It’s about post-Fordist work and ‘non-work’ conditions: the casualisation of labour, the transformation of unemployment into its own kind of work category, where you can even be fired from the dole (which, of course, isn’t called the dole anymore), and the general precariousness – or precarity – of contemporary work/life. It’s an interesting book, especially because its author is in the position of having to work – live – in the type of poisonous conditions he describes, which gives the writing an open, sort of zine like quality, a grounding in the everyday. Southwood mentions this in the introduction – you don’t read with the bitter knowledge that the author is just participating in some experiment in being broke for the purpose of researching a book or article, later to return to ‘normal’ life: this is normal life. I appreciated it, because I am on the dole at the moment, trapped in exactly the same bipolar frenzy of job-seeking and thumb-twiddling that the book describes. Feeling guilty whenever I am not ‘being productive’ – working, whether in paid employment or on my own projects, or looking for a job or writing exhibition proposals – feeling wound tight and unable to let myself enjoy any sense of leisure because there is nothing to demarcate leisure from work anymore. Feeling like I must always be accruing worth, simultaneously feeling worthless. Feeling depressed, despondent.
On the train home from the MCA where I paid for our booking for the zine fair next week I got stuck in a carriage of school boys whose caps read ‘CBHS’ – Canterbury Boys? Croyden Boys? Wherever they were from, one boy had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Canterbury Bulldogs, and recited all of the grand finals they have ever won to the back of his bored teacher’s head. ‘That’s very interesting’, the teacher said, sarcastically, but the boy didn’t gauge the sarcasm, or didn’t care. He was simply too pleased with his Canterbury fandom to give a damn whether anyone else thought it was important. When he’d finished reciting the list of Canterbury’s grand finals, he started on the names of the teams that they had beaten in those grand finals. I tried to admire his propensity for retaining this highly useless information, and hoped to myself that memorising football results was pushing the neo-liberal school curricula out of his brain, and tried to will the kid to pursue a life of specialised interests and pointless facts that cannot be quantified or serve any purpose in a job interview, and not to let himself feel like he’s being screwed into the dirt by the heel of shitty social consensus, but I couldn’t. Actually, the sound of his voice got on my nerves, and I had to try very hard not to turn around and tell him to shut up.
The teacher was about the same age as me, give or take a couple of years, and had that vague 30ish look – confidence, sadness and resignation. ‘At least you have a job’, I thought, dissecting this for its wrong-headedness even as it formed in my mind. ‘Look at you,’ he might just as easily have been thinking, ‘on a train in the middle of the day, no obligations, no responsibilities – all you have to do is successfully defraud Centrelink, which is, frankly, quite easy, then you’ve got all the time in the world on your hands. You don’t know how to use freedom.’
If only it were as easy as that. And I’m not even the kind of person to think you need heaps of money to get by – I’m DIY, man, anarcho-punk and all the rest of it. But even with these handy critiques of work, productivity, capitalism and the rest of it, I’m not immune.
But anyway, back to my original point –non-places. I partially grew up in a non-place, and I’m going to write a zine about it, because Tim just took a lot of really great photos of the area in question, and I want to do a split zine with him. So, I figure if I write this here it might motivate me to get it done by the MCA zine fair on the 22nd of May.
Speaking of longing for something you never participated in, and in keeping with my recent outburst of nostalgia, I’ve been bemoaning (to myself) my misspent youth lately. Not misspent in the sense that I grew up in a seminary, or, conversely, that I was a wild tear away who wagged school and lurked about in the lantana infested bush of Girraween Park with boys, bongs and suspicious intentions. I mean misspent in the sense that I was a little punk rock wannabe – a Sheena, if you like – when clearly, clearly, I should have been in love with Jarvis Cocker, nylon dresses and shiny, shiny hair. I was, but only secretly, because to be in love with indie pop would have been a betrayal of my loyalty to Crass. Well, that’s how it seemed at the time anyway. I know now that I was very, very wrong, and that the two camps are not mutually exclusive; but too late. I only admitted my love of Pulp to myself at the end of 2004 – 2004! – when we were cleaning out the house at Silver St. Anwyn was squeaking the lounge room windows clean with vinegar and crumpled pages from the SMH. She had Different Class in the CD player and I was momentarily distracted from picking minute particles of Blu-Tack out of the holes in my bedroom wall by the strains of ‘Disco 2000’. That song! I remembered a female announcer (Helen Razor or Judith Lucy, perhaps) introducing it on Triple J one afternoon in the mid 90s when I was trying to keep up with the world. The inevitable joke about Jarvis sharing initials with our Lord (surely it could not be a coincidence etc). The disco sounds that I could not, would not, surrender to. I was in the bath at the time, testing the claims of those self help books that tell you if you treat yourself kindly all your problems will dissolve. In the bath, with Pulp. With Jarvis. Things could have panned out so differently. The 1990s! All the things that I missed because I was stuck in a narrow sliver of the 1980s, feeling the same way about them as I do now about the 90s! But that’s me, forever chasing the ball as it ricochets down some unexpected alleyway in time. That is to say, never fucking on it.
So, as you’ve probably noticed by now, the formula for these posts is stuff stuff stuff zine. The zine, or zines, this time are ones that you will shortly find on the Take Care site, but I will include the contact details of their authors, in case you need (and it may well be a matter of need) to get your hands on them sooner rather than later.
More Love, Truth and Honesty
I’ve heard so much about Love, Truth and Honesty, Paul’s zine about Bananarama (I don’t know why, but Spellcheck is refusing to recognise that Bananarama is a word). It’s one of those zines that has entered into the oral history of Australian zinedom as a work of greatness. I have never read it (not surprising, I tend to live a secluded life), so I was very excited to receive a copy of this, the follow up. Finally, I understand what the excitement was all about. ‘This zine’, writes Paul, ‘is to confront…such memories and ideas and threads that age me, scare me, stifle me. To finish what I started. The unfinishable. Problematising the separation of ‘then’ and ‘now’’. Bananarama, Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Michelle Pfeiffer, Belinda Carlisle…Paul’s 80s/90s pop fandom examined with an eye on feminism and queer theory.
Sing Me To Sleep: An annotated bibliography of sad boy songs
Paul also gave us a copy of this zine. Tim and I read it together in bed on Thursday morning when neither of us had to work, while listening to the mix CD that accompanies it. It felt more like Sunday than Thursday. The zine is exactly what it says – a list of sad songs by sad boys (and men), written over two days when Paul himself was feeling a bit sad. I once read a study that suggested when you’re feeling down, listening to music that matches your mood is a more effective anti-depressant than listening to something sunny and bright. If you’re feeling down, the company of something excessively optimistic can be jarring, discounting the authenticity or righteousness of your sadness. Or something. Which is why the Smiths are the happiest band in the word. Only people who are normally happy don’t understand this. Mind you, if a friend calls up and tells you they’re feeling depressed, you probably shouldn’t recommend they listen to Swans’ Greed. That’s from somewhere else entirely. If all music suddenly came under the control of the American radical DIY self help community, Greed would be reissued with a long warning about how ‘triggering’ it is and that you should ‘make sure you’re somewhere safe’ before you listen to it.
Anyway. Paul begins this zine by writing about sticking a picture of David McComb on his wardrobe. A sure sign of melancholy; they should put that in the surveys they use to determine if you’re depressed: ‘do you cry for no reason, do you ever think about not existing, do you have a picture of David McComb stuck to your wardbrobe…’.
Coincidentally, the day before we received this zine I had been trawling the internet for information about Swell Maps. I had read that both Epic Soundtracks and Nikki Sudden are dead. I thought that it must be a hoax – like they had sabotaged their own Wikipedia pages. How can two brothers, who were in the same band, born in the late 50s, about the same age as my mum, both be dead? But it’s true. Epic died – suicide, drug over dose, something – when he was only in his thirties, and Nikki passed away sometime in the last decade, of probably the same causes. Epic’s later solo stuff sounds uncannily like David McComb, or some other forcibly deep voiced Australian. But I have the Triffids if I want David McComb, so I can’t listen to Epic’s solo stuff, or Nikki’s. But Swell Maps are amazing. And now I can’t listen to Swell Maps without feeling terribly sad at the sound of those young, young boys, both gone.
Paul doesn’t write about Swell Maps, of course, but he writes about songs by the Smiths, and the Triffids, Billy MacKenzie, Antony and the Johnsons, Boy George, Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed. So many sad boys. And he dedicates it, in part, to all the girls. Such an excellent zine. And did I mention the bonus mix CD?
Contact Paul at paulibyron (at) gmail (dot) com
Containing Preserving Consuming
Jessie is a part of the Rizzeria collective, and she’s obviously spent a lot of time with the mighty risograph machine. A risograph, for your information, is a sort of cross between a photocopier and a screen printing machine; it’s one of those things that when it was invented, you suspect, must have seemed incredibly futuristic, like a portable record player or floppy discs, but now seem like analogue solutions to digital problems. It’s quite marvellous. As with screen printing, you lay on each colour separately through a different stencil. Preserving… uses multiple colours for the images, overlaid with black text. Jessie is in the middle of a PhD which looks at anomalous archives, if I can call them that – bedrooms, infoshops and so on that become collections of memories (apologies if I’ve got that wrong, Jessie). The zine begins with Jessie buying a bag of cumquats, which must be preserved before they go to waste. The process of preserving the cumquats becomes a metaphor for the archive project, and Jessie’s writing threads back and forth between thoughts from the kitchen and thoughts from the academy (check out her PhD blog, and her cooking one). There have been many awesome zines written by people in the midst of writing or making bigger things – whether academic projects or ones created outside of institutions. This zine’s an excellent example of how approaching something from an oblique angle can sometimes be a great way of sneaking up on those elusive, apparently bigger, ideas.
Jessie (at) foodmaidens (dot) net
Mary-Helen makes excellent funny, silly, melancholy comics. This is my favourite yet – photocopies of a piece she made recently which you can read about here. It’s the least comic strip like of the stuff I’ve seen; more like a collage of various ideas that could be detached from the ‘mind dump’ and turned into longer narratives, maybe, but that nonetheless make wonderful sense when hurled together like this. There are the shoppers in the Courage Mart, where you can buy 2 in 1 anti-shy shampoo (today’s special!). The entrance of this most excellent supermarket (I think we should petition the Marrickville Metro to build one) is surrounded by jelly fish, stuck in some kind of existential gloom where ‘sometimes things have no answers’, and ‘we never stop’. Then there are the residents who break out of the painkiller capsule hotel, and the imminent revolution of all the food in the refrigerator. This zine made me want to hop a space shuttle to the bubble galaxy diner for a nice serve of Saturn rings, indeed. Conveniently, I’m in the process of making one (a space capsule, that is), but I’ll save that for a later post.
tinypapermail (at) gmail (dot) com
I’ve been thinking a lot about zines lately. Running a distro, obviously, means that I get to read a lot more of them than one perhaps normally would. (Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who pursue zines with a great deal more zeal than I ever have, or will, distro aside). Before I go any further, I should point out that I am a miserable person by disposition, and it doesn’t take much to inspire feelings of intense hopelessness and general existential grief in me. So, in thinking a lot about zines, as with everything, it doesn’t take me long to begin questioning their worth. What is the point, after all? As Ciara Xyerra pointed out shortly before closing down her distro (around the same time Tim & I opened Take Care), and as many others can’t have failed to notice, zines are for the most part incredibly mediocre, and as a medium they surely border on the anachronistic. I felt this strongly after my mixtape nostalgia of last week. No one sent me a tape, so I decided to make one myself, to give to T. I got out the boxy old tape deck my neighbours had left in the communal laundry (where everyone’s junk goes to die) and hooked it up to the amp. Of course, it didn’t work, because (and this has nothing to do with my being a woman, by the way, it’s rather a symptom of more general day to day uselessness) I’m fucking hopeless with in/out lines. Their logic just isn’t obvious to me. So I waited for T to get home and he straightened it all out. And I made a tape – a very good tape, I think. But nevertheless, while I made it I failed to achieve that once familiar sensation of tape compilation bliss: the joy of making a gift, of potlatch, of rediscovering the memories attached to every song in the mix. I lugged out the go-faster red typewriter and banged out the track list in red and black ink, made a collage for the cover and thought, what the fuck am I doing? It’s the year 2010. It’s the future, and here I am, still trying to capture a feeling of teenage, punk rock something that was already dated when I actually was a teenager. Frankly, it depressed me. All I managed to do was remind myself that every moment of my life I’m getting closer to being thirty years old, and I’m nostalgic as hell. Why did no one warn me of this? I’ve heard plenty of times that it can get lonely in your twenties, relinquishing teenage dreams, coming to terms with ‘reality’ and all that shit, but nostalgia? Fuck off.
Anyway, I was thinking about zines, thinking things that I’m sure a thousand other people have thought about zines; thinking, is it right for someone my age to still be quite so involved in this? Shouldn’t I be doing something a bit more, I don’t know, challenging? Are zines – as good as they sometimes get – really as imaginative or important as the conversations that happen, for instance, in parts of the blogosphere? Aren’t zines just a gentle practice ground for people to develop a way with words before moving on to genuinely amazing things? And, if so, have I taken full advantage of that practice ground, or have I remained there, for safety, for comfort, for fear of raising my voice among the grownups and really fucking pushing myself to be ‘big and broad’ as Emma Goldman put it? And have I started a zine distro so that I can further immerse myself in this coddled little world, where I will never be challenged, or have to challenge myself, to think in ways that frighten me? A phrase floats through my mind, once glimpsed after following some hyperlinks to a webpage now forgotten: ‘Had intelligence, but not the confidence to use it’.
So, I warned you that I’m prone to bouts of misery, and I can think of many ways to argue the importance of zines, but these thoughts stand, nonetheless. But today – and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? That I was just playing the devil’s advocate – I received a zine that reminded me that I probably shouldn’t trust my thoughts, because, mostly, they’re completely wrong.
The zine was from Amanda, from Tiny Paper Hearts. It’s called Sutures, and you probably read it and registered its immense worth two weeks ago, but I am relentlessly (I wish I could say deliberately) behind the times. But maybe you should read it again, or get a copy if you haven’t already.
Sutures begins with an introduction to a letter that Amanda’s mother wrote while pregnant, in which she attempted to explain to the unborn Amanda what had been going on for the 9 months before her birth. It describes Amanda’s parents’ flight from Lebanon to escape the civil war which had just escalated, with shelling near the family’s apartment in East Beirut, and the increasingly real danger for foreigners of being taken hostage (Amanda’s father’s English, and she mentions that for her 18th birthday he gave her a copy of Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, which, coincidentally, I read when I was about the same age). Amanda’s parents cross the Green Line to get to England so that Amanda can be born a British citizen. Later they move to Australia, to Perth first and then to various places across the continent. Amanda inherits the red hair and pale complexion of her father’s family, one among many barriers between her and her Lebanese heritage.
The zine’s written as Amanda’s mother reveals that she’ll be returning to Lebanon to live permanently for the first time since the 80s. This leads Amanda to talk to both of her parents about their memories of Lebanon. She uses the metaphor of ‘disruption and suture’ – the dialectical movement between feelings of loss and connection – to describe her relationship with the past and her family’s history. But I was most taken with the term she uses (borrowed from The La La Theory #6) to describe feeling nostalgia over something one has never actually experienced: the Portuguese word saudade. Basically this is the precise feeling I’ve been researching for my master’s paper. I’ve come across it in numerous forms, as a number of words with subtle differences: there’s hauntology, of course, which has been discussed a lot in underground music criticism over the past decade (hey, shut up, I said I was behind the times), which I think is something similar – that nostalgia for the future that never happened. Then there’s uchronia, which, borrowed from sci-fi criticism, has been used to describe the ‘no-when’ which is a counterpart to the ‘no-place’ of utopia in the recording of oral histories. In Allesandro Portelli’s essay Uchronic Dreams: Working Class Memory & Possible Worlds uchronia is used to describe the tendency among people who fought against (and were persecuted by) the fascists in Italy before and during WW2 to recall events as they should have been (from their perspective as socialists etc) rather than as they actually were. Of course, ‘uchronic’ sits very closely to the neologism ‘dyschronic’ that I’ve seen used to describe the music of The Caretaker, with its themes of memory loss and that ‘the time is out of joint’ and so on.
Sutures is permeated with this feeling, as Amanda gradually unravels some of the enormously complex and fraught history of Lebanon, and her own complex family history in relation to it. It really is a great zine, a faith restoring zine. That may be a lame way to end this but hey, I’m unpractised.
So, now that I’m temporarily cured of my hopelessness, here’s the track list of that tape I made. Despite my newly restored interest in what used to excite me, it might be the last tape I make, because that tape deck, which I waited so long to materialise in my life, gave up the ghost shortly after the tape was completed. So it’s finally completely true: digital is easier than analogue, even for someone who resisted it as strongly as I. But don’t worry, I’m going to keep making zines, for as long as there are photocopiers to abuse. This got long, didn’t it? Now, who wants to help me build a space ship out of hot glue and cardboard?