Friday, August 28, 2009

In which I answer a few questions from you, my people

PhotobucketRightio, then, to the mailbag for reader questions, with the first missive from young Lain H. of somewhere in the dark and gothic Southern US, who asks:

While living in New Zealand, did you ever cover a story about a movie musical starring Hugh Jackman? 

Also, what can I do to get gravy stains out of my formal morning jacket?

A: 1. If you play any of the "X-Men" movies while listening to Elton John, you get a delightful experience.
2. Remove jacket, set on fire.

On to the right honorable Roger Green, Esq., of New York State, a man with many questions indeed of a more serious bent than the redoubtable Messr. H. However I shall only answer three:

What is the schedule of releases in NZ for movies, music, books, etc. vs. the United States? What are the one or two things that NZ does SO much better than the US? And vice versa?

Arthur @ AmeriNZ has talked about the "end of the earth" thing, how far away you are from pretty much everything. How does that affect you? Do you have a reserve fund in case you have to make an emergency trip to the US or are you settled on the idea that there will just be things you can't get back for?

A: 1. It's curious -- some movies come out much later; some come out at the same time [your big blockbusters and the like], some come out a lot earlier [often British fare like the quite funny "The Boat That Rocked" about pirate radio]. Music and books pretty much come out at the same time. The biggest annoyance for us is TV, which can be years behind the US sometimes. Even being a couple months behind can be frustrating with a show like "Lost," where you have to frantically avoid any spoilers on the internet.
2. Um, on the pro-NZ side socialized medicine and the mandatory four weeks of paid vacation a year springs to mind... NZ also does open-mindedness a bit better than the US, where too much partisan hysteria holds sway for my taste. (People just don't get so worked up about culture wars here.) It's a very secular society, which has ups and downs. Things the US does better? Well, space and scenery (NZ *is* beautiful, but there's a lot less of it), friendliness (I find Americans, while they can be loud, are more open-hearted sometimes) and deep-discount shopping comes to mind (Wal*mart is a curse and a blessing, I think).
3. We try to get back every 2-3 years, but it is hard in a mixed country relationship knowing you will always be far from one of your families. We are prepared if I have suddenly have to fly back, though. We're quite glad we're here now as my wife's father is ailing, but it's tough as my parents age knowing we aren't always there.

We also hear from Troy Hickman, talented author, leader of men, fondler of badgers and administrator of wedgies, who asks:

Tell them what exactly it is you love about ME...

A: It's your mind, Troy, not your body.

An old work friend of mine (Hi Becky!) asks about the 5 years or so I lived in the gorgeous Lake Tahoe area of California/nevada (It should be noted the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza is a friggin' NEWSPAPER, Troy 'n' Jay in the peanut gallery, although there is a nifty Bonanza the TV show theme park right there in town too, where you can pose with the stuffed corpse of Lorne Greene for a fee):

What do you miss most about Tahoe in particular, not just the U.S.?

A: I do love Tahoe, and the whole Sierra Nevada mountain area where I grew up -- utterly gorgeous as New Zealand is, the granite hills and tall pines of Northern California will always be the landscape of home to me. It was fantastic to live at Tahoe for a few years, although it had two big drawbacks -- the flood of tourists in summertime, and the 10 feet or snow for 5-6 months in the wintertime. I love snow but in a bit of moderation. Tahoe was always really expensive for anyone in the middle class to live. Why is it the nice places are always the popular ones, anyway?

Thanks for the queries, all! More blogging imminent.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In which utter apathy wins out in the end


Man, I'm in bloggus got-no-idea-us mode lately. So to avoid total radio silence on here, I'll throw the door open to anyone who wants to ask me a query about whatever -- life in New Zealand, journalism, music, movies, Hugh Jackman, et cetera. Leave comments on the end and I'll dive in later!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kevin Smith needs a career intervention

PhotobucketI was a big fan of Kevin Smith there for a while, until I realised while I was growing up, his style wasn't. Now I kind of see him as someone who's sort of spinning his wheels, rather than living up to the potential he showed in his early  movies.

I do like Kevin Smith, and he seems like a fun, refreshingly down-to-earth kinda guy. His audience is slavishly devoted people who tend to be a lot like him, but to grow beyond that audience I think he has to change a bit. His films have fallen into a pattern -- raunchy profanity-plastered opening scenes, a big gross-out set piece or two then an off-key, sentimental finale. His dirty minded-yet-sensitive throne was usurped by Judd Apatow in movies like "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which to my mind achieved the right tone a lot smoother than Smith manages to with a similar style.  

PhotobucketThere's been little cinematic growth in Smith's work since the superb "Chasing Amy" 12 years ago, which now seems to be where he peaked. "Clerks," his first, and "Chasing Amy," his third movie, stand out as strong statements in a way few of his other movies do.  I've a real soft spot for "Chasing Amy," which manages to dissect men and women's relationships with more truth than most movies. It's one of Ben Affleck's best performances, and when the characters screw up - which they do, frequently - it seems to reflect the way people really act, doing inane things out of misplaced motives, rather than just slapstick for the camera. There's plenty of dick 'n' drugs humour, but there's also a real emotional heart to "Chasing Amy" that doesn't pander.

Few of his movies have been outright awful (the forgettable "Jersey Girl" comes close), but since the flawed but thought-provoking "Dogma," they haven't been all that great either. "Dogma" was a key moment for Smith - I think it's his most interesting, epic story by far, a sweeping tale of God and Satan and the human schmoes caught in between armageddon. But a promising script is mucked up by a low budget, some terribly amateur directing and acting that's all over the show (put Alan Rickman and Jason Mewes in the same movie, and you get whiplash). I think if Smith had given his script to someone with a real vision to direct, "Dogma" could've been a turning point for him.

Instead, he fell back on geek jokes and goopy sentiment with his follow-up, the amiable but very underachieving road trip "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," which was billed as a "farewell" to the "View Askew universe." No such thing - they'd be back in "Clerks II," a sequel that had interesting bits and some really terrible sections, yet was kind of unneccessary in the end. It was one for the fans, rather than a story that needed to be told.

Photobucket His latest movie, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," has a hilarious title and a funny premise - lifelong loser friends decide to enter the world of porn to earn money - but the movie gradually runs out of steam. It's a lot of gags and ideas tossed at the screen to see what sticks, and once again Smith gives in to his inner Nora Ephron to end the movie on a feel-good note. If you're going to title a movie "Zack and Miri Make A Porno," you probably need to just go for broke the entire time rather than make a hybrid comedy/romance. It's got its moments - a Smith movie is rarely boring, and usually gets some laughs - but never lives up to its awesome title. With "Chasing Amy," all the sex jokes and talk actually kind of told you something about the human condition -- in "Zack and Miri," they're just jokes.

I just remember being quite dazzled by "Chasing Amy" ("this guy is speaking to me!) in a way that his work hasn't measured up to since. Smith's work has had a kind of slacker aesthetic, which is part of his charm, but gets a bit old - he's written some comic books series which are legendary for being late or never finishing publication at all. He's pushing 40, and it's maybe time to ease off on the Silent Bob sex jokes and try to stretch. If he wants to break out of just playing to his fan base, he needs to take some chances, and try something truly different.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From 6000 miles away, it truly appears sometimes the US has gone a bit crazy

US. Rep. Barney Frank, I love you:

CNN: Barney Frank goes toe to toe at health care town hall

...While Rep. Frank attempted to respond to all questions, he gave up when one woman compared health care proposals favored by Frank and President Obama to policies of Nazi Germany.
"When you ask me that question, I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank asked.
"You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis," he said, adding such behavior demonstrated the strength of First Amendment guarantees of what he called "contemptible" free speech.
"Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table," Frank said to the woman. "I have no interest in doing it."

...The "Hitler card" is the biggest cliche in the book for fanatics of ALL political leanings, a nuclear bomb of rhetoric when perhaps a mild slingshot would do. Can we all, left and right, just drop the bloody thing unless the person we're comparing to Hitler actually has planned genocide and global conquest?

I've already said my piece on the health care "debate" on this well-commented post, so I won't go there again, but really -- why are the 1% of nutjobs getting 99% of the coverage? Shouters beat talkers, I guess.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Movie review: "District 9"

PhotobucketThis is shaping up to be a fine year for science fiction on film, with "Star Trek," "Moon", James Cameron's promising "Avatar" and now, the paranoid and dazzling "District 9." (If you think fluff like "Transformers 2" and "GI Joe" count as true science fiction, I can't help ya).

Twenty years ago, a giant alien spaceship came to earth – and mysteriously stalled out, right over Johannesburg, South Africa. Over a million vaguely insectoid alien refugees were found on board, malnourished and confused, with no idea how to start their spaceship again. The "prawns," as they came to be called, seem slow and unintelligent, compared to the technology they came with, and have ended up forced to live in the shacks that form the ghetto of "District 9." The aliens and humans of Johannesburg have uneasily coexisted for years, but now relationships are getting worse.

A kind of mock documentary (at the start, at least, although the movie sort of loses that point of view as it goes), "District 9" follows eager, genially oblivious and arrogant government flunky Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who is directing the resettlement of the 1.8 million aliens out of Johannesburg to a new home -- basically, a concentration camp. I can't reveal too much about the movie without spoiling the entire plot, but suffice to say things for van der Merwe go horribly awry, and he ends up on the run and forced to turn to the "prawns" for help. What happens next is both terrifying and dismaying -- let's just say humanity doesn't come in for too good of a light in this movie. It's hard to imagine it showing us people in a less flattering light, actually.

Photobucket"District 9" is a movie starring and about South Africa. The apartheid metaphor pretty much hits you over the head, but the obviousness of the allegory doesn't distract from how well done it is. It's the age-old story that could be the plotline for the human race – meet someone different, spend your time destroying them in as humiliating a fashion as possible. I can't think of another big-budget movie set in South Africa that opened at #1 at the box office, and the setting, alien for most westerners, is part of what makes "District 9" seem fresh.

Director Neill Blomkamp, with his debut movie (which was produced and helped to screen by NZ's Peter Jackson) is a talent to watch – "District 9" has amazing special effects for its paltry $30 million budget, and his story combines satire, action and splatter-movie horror, like a kind of combination of "Alien Nation," "The Fly" and "Planet of the Apes." The alien "prawn" are revealed slowly, but by the end of the movie they become fully realized characters -- indeed, more human than some of the people seen here.

For what's basically a very dark, grim future, "District 9" is tremendous entertainment. Acting unknown Copley is superb as van der Merwe, whose predicament is both horrifying and captivating. It's not without a few plot holes, but the narrative is so propulsive that I didn't mind too much. It's good to see science fiction like this that takes chances.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Week of music lists: 7 great albums from 1971

Last time we got modern, today we get retro again as Week of Music Lists continues with albums I dig that came out all the way back 38 (urk) years ago:


Photobucket1. "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye - Ah, Marvin. We don't need to escalate.
2. "Who's Next" by The Who - Arguably, their peak, not quite as full of filler as some of their concept rock operas but more assured than their earlier albums.
3. "There's A Riot Goin On" by Sly and the Family Stone - Nowhere near as exuberant as their earlier singles, but still a classic piece of druggy funk.
4. "Sticky Fingers" by The Rolling Stones - The Stones at their peak.
5. "IV" by Led Zeppelin, or Zoso or whatever you wish to call it - As noted in the comments to Mandy, I'm not a giant obsessive Led Zep fan, but this album pretty much sums up everything great about the band. Rawk!
Photobucket6. "Hunky Dory" by David Bowie - Not his single greatest album, perhaps, but where the greatness begins.
7. "Master of Reality" by Black Sabbath - The riff for "Sweet Leaf" makes me want to be 15 forever, but without all the angst and zits.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Week of music lists: 10 great bands of the 2000s

"Today's music sucks." You often hear this complaint, usually by someone who thinks music peaked when they were 18. It's true that no music will ever be better than the music you fell in love with as a teenager, whether it was the Bee-Gees or Duran Duran or Jet.

PhotobucketBut for those who argue that everything new sucks and everything old rules, I offer up a coven of very, very good bands, all of whom kicked off their careers in the decade to date. Their debut album had to be released no earlier than 2001 (so that disqualifies, say, the White Stripes or My Morning Jacket, whose first discs were out in 1999), but I find any or all of these acts a good rebuttal to anyone who says it's all downhill from senior prom.


1. Arcade Fire
This bombastic seven-member band plays every instrument under the sun to create their symphonic rock, urgent and inventive and convinced of the power of music as salvation.
Check out if you like: "Ziggy" era Bowie, Roxy Music

2. Grizzly Bear
They started out doing soft, dreamy laments, but have slowly broadened their palette into a gorgeously sad and intricate sound that grows on you with each listen.
Check out if you like: Radiohead, Elliott Smith

3. The Hold Steady
Impassioned workingman's rock 'n' roll overflowing with words and imagery, with frontman Craig Finn ranting and raving away like a born-again preacher.
Check out if you like: Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen

4. Interpol
Stern, brooding and oh-so-pretty, they started out a little too much like a Joy Division tribute band but have carved a path of hooky, dark and danceable rock.
Check out if you like: um... Joy Division, The Smiths

5. Iron and Wine
The whole hushed acoustic guitar folk genre has been done to death, but Sam Beam puts a uniquely majestic, Gothic spin on it, taking the old storyteller strumming away by the fire cliche to haunting and hushed places.
Check out if you like: Nick Drake, Bob Dylan

6. LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy's one-man band pioneers disco-punk – hard-driving, witty and ironic tunes with a beat you can dance to, hip without being smug.
Check out if you like: "Low" era Bowie, Moby, Human League

7. The Shins
Barely making the cutoff (their first album as The Shins came out in 2001), these guys manage blissful, hooky pop that worms its way into your brain yet maintains an aura of surreal mystery.
Check out if you like: Beach Boys, Guided By Voices

8. TV On the Radio
Deftly original "industrial doo-wop," as I've dubbed them a few times on this blog, this Brooklyn based band charts a course between the earthy and sublime -- fantastic harmonies duel with scratchy, dense production.
Check out if you like: Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel

9. Wolf Parade
With their herky-jerky rhythms, a growling, grunting frontman and music that takes equal cues from psychedelia and independent rock, this Canadian combo is hustling away a decent career on the fringe.
Check it out if you like: Modest Mouse, Pixies

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Their first album was an amphetamine-powered raw, riot grrl blast; with later work they've grown more self-assured and electronica in sound, yet singer Karen O's intense voice remains a distinct pleasure.
Check out if you like: Hole, Blondie

Honorable mention to a few bands who haven't quite put out enough work to know if they've got the goods long-term or not: Fleet Foxes, Arctic Monkeys, M.I.A., MGMT.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Week of music lists: 6 Popular Bands I Just Don't Care For

PhotobucketMusic lists week continues, with...


Now, I'll pass on the obvious here -- the Lady GaGas or Jonas Brotherses or Miley Cyruses, which at 37.8 years old I cannot really be expected to like. I like to think I'm fairly open-minded, as far as it goes -- I've got a mix of Britpop, honky-tonk, hip-hop and post-punk in my collection, although classical music and I have never really been on speaking terms. Hey, I just recently got into Black Sabbath for the first time, so I'm willing to learn. But here's a few artists whose work I've sampled, but never really was blown away by despite their reputations.

1. PhotobucketThe Doors - I went through my Doors phase at about age 18 or so. Then someone once painted a very convincing picture for me of Jim Morrison as Las Vegas lounge act singer. Try picturing "Light My Fire," "Hello I Love You" and "The End" sung in lounge-act tones, and you too will never be able to take them seriously again. Also, every time I see a quote by the Doors' Ray Manzarek in a magazine extolling how his art changed western civilization, I practically drown in the pretension of it all. The Doors do have some good tunes, and I do like the way Brother Ray plays his keyboard, but they're a prime example of the over-mythologisation of the '60s "experience" and rock's tendency toward taking itself far too seriously.

2. AC/DC -- I like a bit of the hard rock, but I simply cannot stand that screechy wheedling whine of a voice from either of the band's lead singers. It has the nails on chalkboard effect to me.

3. PhotobucketJames Taylor - He has a very pretty voice, yes, which is perfect for lulling me to sleep. While I admire the craft behind his gentle, sensitive balding '70s male tunes, I just can't quite keep my eyes open if they come on the radio.

4. The Eagles -- I love Calfornia, I grew up in California, but I have never seen this Hotel California they speak of. Music that's a bit too toothless to be exciting to me, despite some nice singing and solid hooks. When it comes to genteel country rock, give me the Byrds, Johnny Cash or The Band any day.

5. PhotobucketEric Clapton -- Conceded: The man is a very, very good guitarist, and he's done some amazing solos, and he seems like a really decent chap. But as a songwriter, I find him often really boring and bland (his frankly unemotive voice doesn't help). I like a few of his songs, but really, if I want the blues I've got a lot more passion for going back to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. I respect his admiration and influence in reviving blues but his take on it is too clean and polite and lacks that Delta grit (by contrast, I do think some other white bands who've popularized the blues have caught the spirit a bit better -- the Rolling Stones spring to mind).

6. Pink Floyd - I don't know why, but these guys just have never quite done it for me. I admire a tune like "Comfortably Numb" but have never felt it transcendent as I apparently am supposed to. I watched "The Wall" once and it was trippy, but I also can get tripped out by lava lamps. Of the bands I list here, this is the one I keep thinking I should "give another chance" to more than any other, though.

Nothing fires up people like dissing on their favorites, and I'm sure some will be offended, but hey, I'm not saying any of these bands are outright horrible -- someone must be buying the millions of albums they've sold -- but they just don't light my fire, to quote swingin' Jim Morrison.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Week of music lists: 5 really goofy songs I like without irony

PhotobucketThus begins the Week of Music Lists, in which I use my newly reorganized CD collection as muse for a series of easy posts!



Many, many songs in rock are goofy. These are songs that are a bit odd, but not ones that are intentionally comic, i.e. "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." I can't precisely define "goofy songs" to me, but it's not, say, "Yellow Submarine," which is a fanciful, childlike song. However "goofy" accurately describes much of Abba's output. I would say goofy songs combine solid hooks with rather inane lyrics, which for you the listener never quite tip into the realm of sheer kitsch and instead forge some kind of emotional connection, no matter how oddball it may be. Thus, onwards! My 5 are heavy on the 1980s because, well, I am a child of the '80s.

1. Don't Lose my Number by Phil Collins
PhotobucketI could fill up this list with Genesis and Phil Collins tunes -- my guilty pleasure, Phil, has practically created an entire catalog of goofy songs, from Genesis tracks like "Dodo/Lurker" and "Abacab" to strangely vague pop smash hits like "Sussudio" and "Easy Lover." But this might be my favorite, with its very '80s processed drum splash sound and Phil's knack for giving a desperate urgency to an utterly daft tune (the video features Phil Collins transformed into a bee, which is superbly Kafkaesque in a totally '80s way). "They came at night leaving fear behind / Shadows were on the ground," apparently. Who lost whose number? Who's Billy? What's going on here? Phil, save us!

2. A Quick One While He's Away by The Who
Honestly, could this song be any goofier? A monster nine-minute medley from the Who's early, pre-"Tommy" days, it foreshadows the epic sweep of their later work with a shifting, burbling song that switches genres several times. But it's incredibly silly, too, telling the story of a girl left stranded by her lover for "many a year." About the time the Who break into a western gallop, complete with trotting horse noises, you realize the whole song's gotten away from them a bit. Yet it also sums up what's great about the Who - the open-eyed excess and broad visions that still manage to touch a few universal emotions. Just don't try to make any bloody sense of it all!

3. Cannonball by The Breeders
This alt-nation classic was everywhere in 1993, and is a great example of how lofty and literate alternative rock could be as goofy as the masters. The Deal twins fill this one to the brim with hooks -- the lovely drifting guitar and bass lines dueling at the beginning, the jaggedy solo freak-outs, and the lyrics that make no sense at all -- "I'll be your whatever you want / The bong in this reggae song." Fffh. Whatever, dude.

4. Blue Jean by David Bowie
C'mon -- awesome hooks, fantastic production, but listen to these lyrics -- "Blue jean / I just met a girl named blue jean / she got a camouflage face and no money." What? The honking line of horns, the jiggly use of a marimba, the barbershop harmonies in the chorus, it's all camp as all get out, but peroxide-haired Bowie and his inimitable "most stylish man on the earth" early '80s look sell it. But don't try to take this song seriously, honestly.

5. One Night In Bangkok by Murray Head
Wow, this song was deep to me when I was 13, but is nigh-unbearably goofy when I listen to it now. From the musical "Chess," it's kind of decadent and fey in the "Frankie Goes To Hollywood" mode, with Murray Head singing it in a wry voice murmuring lines like "I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine." It kindled a vision of Thailand as impossibly exotic and strange to me, although heard now it's a very goofy '80s curio, one that straddles the line between musical theatre and synth-pop hit.

What are your goofy faves?

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes: Talkin' bout my generation

PhotobucketRaise a glass to John Hughes, who crafted the movies that defined the 1980s for many of us and died suddenly today at just 59. For those of us of a certain age, he was kind of our Coppola or Kubrick, lofty as it might sound. "Sixteen Candles," The Breakfast Club," "Pretty In Pink," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- it is hard to imagine surviving being a teenager in the 1980s without Hughes' warm and kind of comforting films, which reassured us that being a teenager was often silly and comic and strange, but ultimately survivable. We were all a bit of geek Anthony Michael Hall, jock Emilio Estevez, freak Ally Sheedy, princess Molly Ringwald, stoner Judd Nelson.

The movies are all kind of old-fashioned and hokey -- in a really good way. They felt genuine, even if they really weren't -- Hughes characters were the way we wanted to be, in the 1980s, smart and funny and ironic and always getting the girl (or boy) in the end. He gave John Candy his best role in the buddy pic "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and I honestly don't think Matthew Broderick has ever topped "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." And "Pretty In Pink" stands out as one of the first movies I ever saw with an actual (gulp) girl, and I can't listen to songs like "If You Leave" without having that lovelorn 15-year-old geek in me clench up the heartstrings a bit.

Hughes wasn't a master filmmaker - I loathe the gimmicky "Home Alone" movies he did - but he managed to tap into the zeitgeist, I think. Hughes just sort of faded away by the 1990s, more or less retiring and becoming a bit of a recluse with only a handful of movies like the mediocre "Flubber" and "Drillbit Taylor" to his credit; the last movie he actually directed was 1991's lame "Curly Sue." His very best films were the ones he was a director as well as a writer on, so it's a shame he never really returned to the game. But maybe he said all he had to say with his run of a half-dozen comedies in the 1980s.

Either way, RIP, Mr. Hughes -- your movies helped shape an awful lot of our lives in the ages of acid-wash jeans, hair spray and cassingles. It's a terrible cliche, but we won't forget about you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday shuffle: What would you say if I sang out of tune?

PhotobucketAs spring starts to rear its head distantly over the horizon, and it's a hair less dark, damp and cold than it's been in the mornings, I'm attempting to get back on the horse with walking to work a few times a week. My early work start doesn't mesh very well with trying to walk the 3km all the time, but darn it, I'm going to keep on trudging through the dark til Daylight Savings Time starts again, with only my iPod for company....

1. Nobody's Baby Now 3:54 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
2. Skinny Love 3:53 Bon Iver*
3. Dead Set On Destruction 3:02 Hüsker Dü
4. Tonight, Tonight 4:28 Genesis**
5. This Room Is Wrong 3:22 Tall Dwarfs
6. I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor 2:54 Arctic Monkeys ***
7. With A Little Help From My Friends 2:44 The Beatles
8. The Boy Done Wrong Again 4:18 Belle & Sebastian

* I should listen to more by this guy.
** Phil Collins fetish, continued.
*** Listen to this at 6:18 AM and I guarantee you won't need any coffee the rest of the morning.
**** On the other hand, while it's a lovely tune, hearing Belle and Sebastian sigh about "All I wanted to do was sing the saddest song" is a sure-fire buzzkill as you trudge, unwilling, through the breaking dawn and into the dim, distant day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The knight stuff

PhotobucketYou don't have to bow to me, but I am now a son-in-law of a knight.

My father-in-law Peter Siddell is, it's fair to say, one of New Zealand's most acclaimed living painters, and a while back he was given New Zealand's highest accolade from our Honours System for it. But now he gets another bell to add -- NZ has recently reinstated knighthoods and dameships (dameries? dameness?) after a 10-year hiatus when they were replaced by the equally honorable but perhaps less cool-sounding Distinguished Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit. So instead of being a DCNZM, he will become "Sir" Peter -- a little spiffier, I think. There will be a special ceremony down in Wellington later this month for the 70 or so New Zealanders being named Sirs and Dames.

There's been an ongoing debate as to whether or not knighthoods are somewhat outmoded in modern New Zealand. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark abolished them back in 2000 before the new Prime Minister John Key brought them back. It's a valid question as to whether calling folks "Sir" is really appropriate in the year 2009, or a rather outmoded reminder of class elitism. New Zealand has come a long way from the "mother country" and while the Queen is still our head of state, monarchism is definitely on the wane. Few imagine we or Australia will still be part of the British empire in another 50 years. Knighthoods are admittedly a link to the past and do put some off; kiwi actor Sam Neill turned it down, saying it was "too grand by far."

But speaking personally, for our family, it's been very rewarding to have Sir Peter honoured with a knighthood at this time -- as I've been blogging about sporadically the past year, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year. He has been doing very well with treatment and is hanging in there, but a knighthood is a very nice boost for all of us right now. It may not mean one gets to order about the serfs or anything but it's just a kind of cool recognition to have. There's certainly a bit of a global cachet to saying "Sir" that doesn't come with "DCNZM" at the end of your name. In the end, I have to guess my opinion on to knight or not knight is, what does it hurt?

Being a knight in 2009 isn't much like it was in the old days; nobody gets a horse or a castle anymore and the sword is only ceremonial - but, whatever you want to call it, the notion of people being honoured for their service to the country is a good one, whether it be in art or law or Maori culture or sport. After all, the US has its own Presidential Medals of Freedom.

Apparently, though, according to the byzantine code that governs the use of titles and their honorifics, as the son-in-law of a knight I still cannot call myself Lord Nik, or even Squire Nik. I feel this should be changed.