Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to Spot the Stars

Issue 11 of Astrobabble has been available for a few months, but due to apathy and other catastrophes I haven't bothered with the 'big sell' (yawn). How to Spot the Stars is basically a rehash of the How to Spot ... columns from each issue. Here are some examples to refresh your memory:
There should be a few copies lurking around Repressed Records in Newtown and Red Eye Records in the city. Failing that, the hip Verge Gallery at Sydney University will be opening a zine library in the new year, where copies of my zine should be available to the public. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Verge will be the only official zine library operating in Sydney. We're not Portland.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Goat Boy

Why aren’t there more zines like Goat Boy?

A few months ago, I was lamenting to my BrisVegas comrade, Tamara Lazaroff, about the lack of esoteric zines produced by DIY defenders; a whine-fest that resulted in the formation of the panel Spiritual Conversations with Punks at the Zine and Independent Comics Symposium (ZICS) in August. Tamara’s involvement in establishing this panel included the arduous task of finding zinesters whose work is spiritually or esoterically themed. Not an easy feat considering that the zeitgeist dictates topics of a fluffy nature. So, it was a delight to acquire Goat Boy (as part of a trade with its creator, Animalbro) and to discover that it’s a zine dedicated to the Greek god, Pan.

For the uninitiated, Pan, in Greek and Roman mythology, is the god of nature, shepherds, hunting, and rustic music. He is linked to the Spring Equinox and fertility, and is an archetype of male virility and rugged sexuality. His physical attributes – legs and horns of a goat – classify him as a faun or a satyr in art and literature and allot him the astrological sign of Capricorn. The Christianisation of Greek and Roman mythology marred Pan as the personification of Satan or Evil; an association highly popular in Victorian and Edwardian Neopaganism. Hence, his connection with the Devil card in the Major Arcana of traditional Tarot decks such as Rider-Waite-Smith.

Goat Boy is an old school zine. A straightforward, sixteen-page, black and white job, it doesn’t depend on glossy or pretentious production techniques to impress the reader because it contains a unique selling point: substance. The zine is a measured balance of text and images. It’s well written and loaded with narratives from various cultures, subcultures, and civilizations. The illustration selection displays the many interpretations of Pan by artists such as Sydney Long, Mikhail Vrubel, and Animalbro herself. Included are diagrams of the physical components that configure Pan, such as horns, hair, human and goat DNA, and the interconnectedness of these parts to the natural cycles and to the Divine. The most surprising thing for me, though, was to discover that the American comedian, Bill Hicks, propagated (if that is the correct word) the concept of ‘Goat Boy’. His posthumous book, Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics and Routines of Bill Hicks (2004), contains evidence of this. The hero of the zine’s title is Bill Hicks’ version of Pan: a randy but good-natured goat through which Hicks celebrates his own irrepressible libido.

It’s refreshing to encounter a zine like Goat Boy amid the plethora of great nothingness that dominates modern zine culture. I hope Animalbro continues to create work of this caliber, and that it reaches a wide audience. She deserves the accolades.

You can purchase Goat Boy and other works by Animalbro at animalbro.etsy.com and girlnearsighted.blogspot.com.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Time: the Passing of Gough Whitlam

 ‘He was a man. Take him for all in all, I will not look upon his like again’Shakespeare (Hamlet)
‘Dying will happen sometime. As you know, I plan for the ages, not just for this life’
Gough Whitlam, 11 July 1916 to 21 October 2014

The passing of Edward Gough Whitlam, on 21 October 2014 at the age of ninety-eight, has divided the nation into Gough enthusiasts and detractors while generating a tumult of emotions from both camps - an almost spooky re-enactment of the 1975 Dismissal. Whatever the triumphs or shortfalls of his government were, it’s difficult to dispute Whitlam’s role in our country’s development. Labor politician, Tanya Plibersek, stated that it was fitting that Whitlam was Australia’s twenty-first prime minister because it marked our nation’s coming of age. Under Whitlam, Australia changed the way it saw itself, helping to create an open, inclusive, and compassionate society.

In its three short years (1972 to 1975), the Labor government under Whitlam activated, with lightning speed, the policies that engineered social change, dragging Australia into the modern era. For those who remember a pre-Whitlam Australia will recall a dreary and insular period of the White Australia policy, protectionism, and social conservatism; a sleepy, cultural backwater wangled by the Menzies government in the 1950s. Australia bypassed the 1960s altogether. While hippies experienced free love and wore flowers in their hair in San Francisco and other parts of the world, Australia was comfortably slumbering in a social and cultural coma. To give a clearer picture, 1960s Australia went something like this:
  • left wing political movements were under routine surveillance
  • James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, was banned, as was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • there was no film industry to speak of
  • the music scene was a joke
  • talented Australians such as Germaine Greer, Clive James, Barry Humphries, Brett Whitley, and The Easybeats left the country to gain recognition elsewhere
  • the contraceptive pill was only available to married women
  • abortion was illegal
  • single mothers, homosexuals, and lesbians were ostracised from mainstream society
  • women and children abused in toxic nuclear families were invisible and lived lives of quiet desperation
  • women in general were treated as second class citizens and were denied the social and financial opportunities gifted to men
  • indigenous and new Australians (Italians, Greeks, and Lebanese) were low on the social and political rung (Aboriginal land rights were not recognised and indigenous people did not have the vote)
Need I go on?

By the early 1970s, social change was germinating. The Labor party's 1972 campaign’s catchphrase, It’s Time, adds up to 32/5, which signals a shift in consciousness. Whitlam was extolled as an Agent of Change (Uranus bi-quintile the Ascendant/Uranus quintile Jupiter on the Midheaven/Moon semi-square Pluto). A psychically loaded birthdate – 11 July – expresses Messiah-like qualities. Such was his persona that he was applauded for introducing reforms that were already in place (such as no-fault divorce and the removal of troops from Vietnam). A mythological figure with a penchant for cherishing ideals that weren’t always practical, Whitlam reached for a higher ground (first house Neptune square Jupiter on the Midheaven). An influential 26/8 life path denotes a visionary leader of Roman God proportions with the ability to direct the Australian Labor Party out of the wilderness of twenty-three years of conservative rule.

A Stellium of planets in Cancer (Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Pluto) indicates a strong humanitarian streak. Whitlam was genuinely interested in and concerned about people. He cared deeply and intensely about his country, and had the ability to regenerate it (Scorpio Moon as chart ruler in the fourth house). A fourth house Scorpio Moon can dramatically end certain life phases, as illustrated by the dismissal of Whitlam’s government on 11 November 1975 (transiting Sun eclipsed his natal Moon). Altruism is expressed via the Jupiter conjunct Midheaven quintile Uranus aspect:
‘In spite of repeated disappointments, he never lost that faith in humanity. This, above all, made him such an attractive human being’Mungo MacCallum, political journalist
The Whitlam family’s own experience of living in the post war electorate of Werriwa highlighted the disadvantages in education, health, housing and infrastructure that were prevalent in Sydney’s western suburbs. Whitlam tried to correct the deficiencies that Australians in the new suburbs such as his were facing (even up to the 1970s, Sydney’s outer areas such as Blacktown and Penrith lacked sewerage systems, for example). For Whitlam, government was an instrument to improve life for all Australians. He took public service seriously (Sun conjunct Saturn sextile Jupiter on Midheaven).

As a politician, Whitlam was incorruptible (Jupiter conjunct Midheaven). He shaped public opinion and didn’t pander to focus groups or big business (Jupiter conjunct Midheaven quintile Uranus square Moon semi-square Pluto/Moon quintile North Node). Whitlam possessed an independent mind and a unique way of looking at the world. Quick witted and good with words, he had a wide variety of interests and an impressive body of general knowledge (Mercury sextile Jupiter/Mercury conjunct Pluto), qualities severely lacking in our current batch of political leaders. He also believed that education was the key to equal opportunity.
A highly physical Taurus in Jupiter sits on the Midheaven. Liberal frontbencher, Malcolm Turnbull, states that what people remember most about Whitlam is ‘a bigness, a generosity, an enormous optimism’. Indeed, at 194 centremetres tall, he was an inescapable human tower of power and fortitude. Smugness is often associated with this aspect. Modesty was never Gough Whitlam’s strong point:
‘He was someone who, whether in a small room … or at a public event, everyone else seemed to fade to black and white, while this giant of a man – physically, intellectually – appeared in full colour and dominated wherever he was’Anthony Albanese, Labor politician.

To list and elaborate on the changes brought about by the Whitlam government would require a sizeable amount of blog space. I don’t need to regurgitate what is already (better) articulated across the internet and in modern history books. But I do want to mention Whitlam’s commitment to culture (Stellium in Cancer/Venus conjunct Pluto/Venus sextile Jupiter-Midheaven), because it’s one of those formative things that shaped me as a young person, especially the birth of one of his more exciting ventures, that of a youth radio station in 1975 - Double J (now Triple J).

Idealistic young Australians in the late 1970s and 1980s enjoyed the opportunity to form bands and develop their craft free from exorbitant financial constraints. Punk rock, with its anti-establishment philosophy, gained momentum in the mid-1970s as both a musical genre and a lifestyle choice. This newly found DIY culture influenced kids from the suburbs to create some of Australia’s most innovative and experimental music. Double J was instrumental in giving this underground scene a voice. In retrospect, it’s difficult to believe that the following bands – some of them considered unlistenable – were given air time:
~ Severed Heads ~ Tactics ~ Boys Next Door ~ The Birthday Party ~ Radio Birdman ~ The Scientists ~ The Saints ~ SPK ~ The Riptides ~ Machinations ~ Laughing Clowns ~ The Triffids ~ The Go Betweens ~ David Virgin ~ Primitive Calculators ~ The Stems ~ Died Pretty ~ Sekret Sekret ~ Sardine ~ Do Re Mi ~ X ~ The Eastern Dark ~ Wet Taxis ~ The Celibate Rifles ~ The Sunnyboys ~ Cosmic Pyschos ~ The Hard-Ons ~ The Plunderers ~ Pel Mel ~ Mark of Cain ~ La Femme ~ The Riptides ~ Makers of the Dead Travel Fast ~ The Numbers ~ Toys Went Berserk ~ The Moodists ~ Box of Fish ~ Scared Cowboys ~ XL Capris ~ TISM ~ The Whitlams (of course) …
Love or hate him, it’s almost impossible to feel indifferent about Gough Whitlam. I’m not alone in my yearning for that era when politics was open, positive, and about governing citizens instead of managing the economy at the cost of civil liberties. The Whitlam government certainly had its flaws, but it always pushed the boundaries of stifling conservatism. Before fear and greed kicked in, vision was still considered an honourable quality in a leader. Gough envisioned that Australia could be a progressive, exciting, and benevolent society where equality of opportunity belonged to everyone. Oh, how far we have fallen. In the name of Edward Gough Whitlam, we need to maintain the rage.

Vale, Gough.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Return of Kate Bush

‘Kate Bush is that old-fashioned thing: an artist’Mark Radcliffe, BBC broadcaster

Kate Bush’s return to the stage with her Before the Dawn concerts in London feels like the second coming. Not surprising, considering that her first and last performance was in 1979. Apart from brief spikes in commercial success over three decades, Kate has avoided the entertainment industry machine. She is an anathema in the music business because a) she is serious about her craft, b) she loathes celebrity culture, and c) she plays by her rules. You don’t get a lot of a), b) or c) in these market-driven times.

I remember seeing Kate’s celebrated video for Wuthering Heights on the Saturday morning music show, Sounds, in 1979. I was mesmerised by its entirety: her impressive vocal range; her gypsy-inspired outfit; those witchy, agile dance moves; Dave Gilmour’s whiny guitar riff … like many people of my generation, Kate Bush never really faded from my consciousness; a testament to her multi-faceted capacity to create exceptional music.

Kate’s resurgence amongst the refuse of BeyoncĂ©-type divas is timely, thanks to the current Jupiter transit which touched her natal Leo Sun-Uranus conjunction in mid-August, prior to her concert series commencing on 26 August. Jupiter entered Leo on 16 July 2014 for a thirteen-month residency. The giant planet prompts us to expand our experience. It represents optimism, joy, and abundance. With Jupiter in Leo, we gain opportunities to blossom through creative self-expression. Kate said that her decision to return to live performance was based on a ‘real desire to have contact with the audience that still like my work’. Radio2 broadcaster, Michael Ball, who attended the final concert in early October, described it as ‘sublime towering artistry’.

Jupiter in Leo tends to focus on image, and the subject of Kate’s physical beauty as a young woman is unavoidable (natal Jupiter in Libra conjunct her North Node). Fortunately, her Aquarius Moon accentuates originality (and possibly eccentricity) and counterbalances any egocentricity her Leo Sun holds. Her Sun, Uranus and Moon combine with Mars in Taurus and Neptune in Scorpio to form a Grand Cross in Fixed signs. The Sun-Uranus link is indicative of ingenuity. Uranus in Leo on the point of a T square makes Kate a trailblazer with a tendency for obstinacy (she split from her first record company, EMI, because she wanted more control). She needs to work toward her Libra Jupiter-North Node conjunction and learn to compromise a little. Mental intensity comes courtesy of a Virgo Mercury-Pluto conjunction. Taboo subjects are explored with intelligence and weaved through ephemeral vocal and instrumental arrangements that draw on folklore, esotericism, and sensuality (Mars-Neptune opposition). Her 1982 song, The Dreaming, is a great example of this:

It isn’t surprising that due to an overwhelming response to her long-awaited comeback, Kate Bush has been nominated for two Q Awards: Best Act in the World Today and Best Live Act. She became the first female artist to have eight albums in the UK charts at the same time. Her songs have been covered by a diverse range of musicians, from Futureheads and Placebo to Coldplay and Tina Arena. It’s as if the world is celebrating her universal appeal under the Leo Jupiter cycle. Deservedly so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth is a fictitious account of the 20,000th day of the life of Australian musician-songwriter-author-screenwriter-composer-actor-national treasure, Nick Cave. Filmed during the recording of his 2013 album Push the Sky Away, this documentary blurs the line between fantasy and realism; gently mocking the modern anathemas of reality television and social media, and our insecurities of having to document every sordid detail of our dreary lives for the approbation of others.
On the surface, it appears that 20,000 Days evolved organically: casual encounters with ghosts from Cave’s past; spontaneous dialogue with Bad Seed member, Warren Ellis; a stilted session with a Freudian psychoanalyst; and nostalgia for a particular moment in time while rummaging through archival material. The film is, in fact, a carefully structured collection of staged scenarios in which Cave and his contemporaries improvise within the boundaries of a storyboard.
What I surmised from this stylish documentary is that Cave is a stable and secure individual in synch with the creative process. At age fifty-six, he should be. Cave is portrayed as a self-assured and slightly pompous figure, but we can forgive him for that. After all, he is Nick Cave. He describes Boys Next Door and Birthday Party members, Rowland S Howard and Tracey Pew (who have passed away), as ‘being born already formed’; a fitting juxtaposition for himself who hints at only having just arrived. Cave has grown into his Sun in Virgo and it shows throughout the film.
Through the viewfinder that is 20,000 Days on Earth, I see the man with a Stellium of planets in Virgo (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars, and Pluto). There is concentrated power within a Stellium. It provides the individual with focused energy, perhaps even with tunnel vision. Indeed, 20,000 Days omits the big picture. It concerns itself with routine, and the lens captures Cave’s fondness for the nitty-gritty of writing ingeniously. He is the office worker in a respectable suit, stabbing keys on a manual typewriter like a Luddite. Words are scratched in blue ink and highlighted with fluro marker pens in bulging notebooks containing typed notes cut and pasted in the old school way. Cave’s cosmic DNA confirms that he values the practical details of work, a point not entirely missed by the filmmakers.
For me, the highpoint was Cave’s stopover at Warren Ellis’ home in France, where they share a meal of eels and black tea. It is through Ellis’ amusing anecdote of singer Nina Simone (and her addiction to champagne, cocaine, and sausages) that I grasp how meaningful and fertile their relationship is.
You have to marvel at Nick Cave. He has successfully covered ground in various art forms, yet remains a marginal and mythical figure in the music industry. 20,000 Days on Earth dispels some of the myth by showing a grounded side to the man many revere as a Goth God or whatever. With tight Moon-Pluto and Venus-Neptune aspects in his birth chart, we need to keep believing in the mythology of Nick Cave (a point that he touches on during the driving scene with the actor, Ray Winstone).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Spiritual Conversations with Punks

I was invited by the lovely zinester, Tamara Lazaroff (Prisoner of Macedonia fame), to be part of this panel titled Spiritual Conversations with Punks at the Zine and Independent Comics Symposium (ZICS), Brisbane in August 2014. I almost chickened-out due to nerves, but was glad to finally go through with it, as it was an irrational fear that I needed to conquer sooner rather than later.
The panel consisted of Bianca Valentino, creator of the zine Spiritual Conversations with Punx, Andy Paine who has a radio show on Brisbane's 4ZZZ (and who creates a truckload of spiritual DIY material), and the wandering seer of Brisbane, Sarah Muller, who writes and publishes the most eloquent poetry you'll ever read. I'm flattered that Tamara thought I was punk enough to be on this panel. The discussion covered the often overlooked topic of spiritual content in zine making. The talk was well-received by a supportive and interested audience. That hackneyed phrase is true: feel the fear and do it anyway.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Astrobabble goes to Repressed Records

Due to disappointment and lack of support, I have ceased dealing with all Australian zine distribution centres. I wish them well on the rocky road to zine-hipster Hell.

On a lighter note, issues nine and ten of Astrobabble are available at Repressed Records in Newtown, Sydney. Repressed and Red Eye Records are now the only two stores on the planet stocking my zine. Sure, I've shrunk my readership base to less than zero, but it is easier for me to manage zine distribution entirely in my home city while I work on getting a life.

Repressed Records is located at 413 King Street Newtown and is staffed by the irrepressible Nic Warnock, who I hear is a bit of a legend in the Sydney music scene. Oh, those young people and their rock 'n' roll ...