Happy New Year.
Happy New Year.
What did you get for your birthday? I got a trending hashtag:
So this is how a revolution begins. An inequality exists (expats are unable to watch Shortland Street on TVNZ On Demand because of geoblocking). The plight of the oppressed becomes more urgent (this week it is the 20th anniversary of the national soap opera). One member of society is singled out for particularly unfair treatment (the feature-length anniversary cliffhanger is screening in NZ on my birthday. I can’t watch it because I am not in New Zealand. The humanity!). Two blokes start a hashtag (hey, it’s cheaper than birthday drinks) and just like that, we are all Gemma Gracewood.
Thanks, big thanks, to South Pacific Pictures for sorting out a 48-hour geoblock-free window with their international rights holders, and to Russell and Toby for going nutty on my tongue-in-cheek (but quietly hopeful) tweet. Judging by my soc-med feeds, it’s going down well with the homesick diaspora. There are also a few blah blah blah why don’t you use your powers for good how is this politically important where’s the love for real issues shouldn’t you be using social media to save the world etc. Well, did you see the episode where Evan – who was, heroically, leaving school to provide for his knocked-up teenage girlfriend – was being shown around the laundry department at Shortland Street Hospital?
I’ve been on the road. Hoo-wee, touring is fun. Also, it’s hard work, but that’s pretty much the definition of my ideal job right there: hard, fun work.
Six years ago I wasn’t the touring type, basically because I wasn’t in a band. A lot can change in the moment that your upstairs neighbour knocks on your door and says “Gemma! Band practice!” and you say “Okay! (Shit!)”.
I have new respect for every band I ever see play outside its hometown. I have respect for every musician who shows up for a pre-midday interview and stays long after the gig to sign stuff and talk to people. I’ve learned loads about being on the road, and I’ve learned loads about myself in the process. It hasn’t always been comfortable, or pretty, but that which does not kill you makes you stranger!
Wanna know what I’ve learned along the way? I’ll tell you, but first, this list of 21 touring tips remains the best-ever post about tour etiquette. Thor Harris nailed it. Here are the first three, just for a taster:
How to Tour in a Band or Whatever
by Thor Harris
1-Don’t Complain. Bitching, moaning, whining is tour cancer. If something is wrong fix it or shut the fuck up you fucking dick. goddamn.
2-If you fart, claim it.
3-Don’t Lose shit. Everybody loses shit. Don’t fucking do it. Asshole.
“Don’t lose shit” makes me laugh every time. I’ve – twice – left a very sentimental and important ring behind on bedside tables in motels. Asshole. I kicked myself both times because I failed to do one of the single most important things I learned from working in TV: the Idiot Check. That’s the “last sweep” of wherever you’ve just been: the motel room, the stage, the van, the cafe table, or the incredibly beautiful part of New Zealand that you just stopped to take a photo of…
My Dad died two years ago today.
It’s only recently dawned on me that my Dad was, in a way, a creative muse for me. Many of my memories of Dad are bound up with massively significant art experiences. Experiences that have formed who I am and what I do. I work on things that I hope will make Mum and Dad proud. More than that, though, I work on things that I hope will make them laugh, cry and ask me hard questions about.
So the rest of this story is about Dad. It’s a version of what I said at Dad’s FUNeral. (You read that right. It was a party. One heck of a party.)
But Wallace was.
And that could make life difficult for us.
He knew how to keep a house tidy – why couldn’t we?
He knew the answer to that cryptic crossword clue – why haven’t you got it yet?
He was naturally fit. If he was carrying a few extra pounds, he knew he could shed it in a couple of days. Why was it so hard for the rest of us to lose weight?
Growing up, Wallace was… scary, intelligent, grumpy, busy, tired, scary, funny, scary, busy. It felt, at times, that us kids were a bloody annoying distraction to the important things he had to do – like, work, sleep, read the paper on the toilet, and hang out with Mum.
But materially, the evidence was the opposite.
We had everything we needed, and more. We were well fed and well clothed. We had great houses that Mum and Dad built, more or less. We had bikes. We had a table tennis table and a pool table.
We had a Para pool until Dad got his Feltex superannuation payout… which he spent on us. He bought a beautiful in-ground pool and had some landscaping done, which made playing cricket possible in the backyard. The only downside of this was losing the whirlpool capabilities of the Para pool… when the biggies would run around the edges and the littlies would be able to drift in circles in the middle.
We had amazing holidays – every holidays. We went almost everywhere there is to go in the North Island, and just before…
Time, like the wind, goes a-hurrying by, and the hours just fly.
Where to begin? There are mountains I’d climb, if I had time.
Back in 1968, a singer from Kawerau named John Rowles had a hit in the UK with the song If I Only Had Time. The lovely irony of the earnest ballad – “So much to do, if I only had time, if I only had tih-hime” – is that John was just 21 years old.
As his young showman’s voice belts out the incongruous song, it makes a sweet kind of sense; time is (ha!) relative. For a strapping chap who – in song at least – has just met the woman of his dreams, time is suddenly the enemy; there’s just not enough of it.
“A whole ceeeen-tu-ry-yee isn’t enough to satisfy me,” he wails, as he wanders around a naval yard, dressed in a trenchcoat. Ahhh, John. Everyone wishes for more time. Or do they?
Time is a fickle friend. It seems there’s oodles of it just lying around taunting you when you don’t need it, then it vanishes into the ether when you do.
I’ve had time on my mind a whole bunch lately. It’s been intriguing me. How am I capable of leaping into action for a tight deadline, yet other projects drag on through the years? How can I treat my own projects the way I treat the projects I do for other people (other people who pay me, that is)? Do I want to treat my own projects that way? Is the work I do within a tight timeframe as good as the work I do when I have an open-ended deadline? Maybe it’s better? Aargh!
The Interweb is awash with advice for “unleashing your creative potential” and “harnessing the enemy of time”. From day to day, the advice is variously useful and useless. I’m learning to go with whatever works for whatever I’m working on, with a woolly “it takes as long as it takes” sort of mantra.
But it is consoling to know how other people work with time, or make time work for them. So in that spirit, I’ve gathered together snippets of interviews I’ve done recently, articles I’ve stumbled across, and good ol’ anecdotes about that wibbly wobbly timey-wimey stuff.
Pee-wee Herman has hit Broadway. The adorable bow-tied man-child has been tearing up New York City with a promotional storm that’s exhausting to watch, and now his show is playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Growing up in New Zealand, we never had the pleasure of the legendary kids’ television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. (For our men-in-white-makeup fix, we had Count Homogenized, a campy, milk-guzzling vampire with an afro. Suck on that, American kids.)
But we did have Pee-wee’s Big Adventure pretty much on permanent rental from the video store (after first seeing it, probably, at the Starlight Cinema in Papatoetoe, which was a butcher’s shop the last time I visited). The film’s drama centres on a stolen bicycle. Clever Pee-wee; there was no smarter way to identify with teenagers who were too young to drive, yet yearned of suburban escape.
The Tim Burton-directed film pushed a boat-load of crazy-buttons for me and my brothers, fueling and inspiring many of the idiot things we did* in our South Auckland landlubber summers. (Not only that, but, while I’m not usually one for film tourism, in a shocking disregard for Actual History, I did once go to The Alamo in San Antonio specifically to ask for directions to the basement. Yuk yuk.)
While I’d love to see The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway (when a ticket falls out of the sky), I’m already satisfied, having seen the man behind the boy, Paul Reubens, during the New Yorker Festival recently. My friend Jennifer is, like me, a more behind-the-scenes sort of art person. She is also incredibly generous about making sure others can enjoy live experiences, and that generosity sent me and a Sprooklyn artist neighbour (who has an original Pee-wee doll and lunchbox) all the way to the second row of the Paul Reubens event.
It was a great and moving talk. I dunno why, but I had been expecting a bit of good old showbiz gossip and some shiny, pat answers – a couple of hundred people in the audience doesn’t always lend intimacy to a one-on-one conversation. Instead, Reubens described the struggles and passions of a true artist, his upbringing and his life with a healthy blend of honesty, ego and wicked timing.
And these are some of the things I learned:
As I was wrapping up our interview, the third-most-important-person-at-the-United-Nations suddenly exclaimed “Wait, you haven’t asked me about the art scene!”
I was up at the offices of the United Nations Development Programme interviewing its administrator, Helen Clark, for a cover story for Next, a great New Zealand monthly magazine with the lady-friendly tagline “Role models, not supermodels”.
Getting there had involved a hilarious moment of Conchordian doofusness on my part. I’d showed up at the United Nations with a box of lamingtons for Helen. So there I was, at the United Nations. The really grand-looking place with all the flags on the East River in Manhattan. I’d seen it on the telly, so I knew I was in the right place. I rocked up to the security guard and told him I was there “to see Helen Clark”. He glanced at the lamingtons, looked back at me, asked me to write down her name, went to his computer, then came back and pointed, amused, behind me. “You need to go there.” I turned around, my back now to the United Nations, and followed his finger over the road to… an unremarkable office block nowhere near the main UN compound.
I realised I had a lot to learn about the development world.
The Next article was timed to raise the profile – in New Zealand – of the Millennium Development Goals ahead of this week’s MDG Summit in New York City. A clunky name for an important set of priorities, the eight MDGs constitute a 15-year commitment by “the world” to deal with some of the most basic – and critical – issues relating to hunger, poverty, sanitation, preventable disease, and women’s and children’s rights. Yup, heavy stuff. So heavy, even Bono had some things to say about it in the New York Times this weekend.
Helen Clark – fresh from her role as New Zealand’s Prime Minister – is pretty much in charge of the MDGs, so this week is a big deal for her. (She’s Facebooking about it here. UPDATE: And Tweeting about it here) In the Next article (not available online, sorry) she talked about how, with just five years to go to meet the goals, it’s been rocky.