Statistics show that formal wear hire companies report a marked increase in unread speeches found in rented suits the day after the ARIA's. Environmental authorities warn of the danger to marine life that discarded platitudes pose when they are eventually flushed from their gutters of repose through the storm water system and into the ocean. Hotel cleaning staff work overtime emptying waste paper baskets where long memoranda dedicated to obscure relatives, faceless record company functionaries and the 'fans' lie crumpled like the dreams of the vanquished. The ARIA's may be boring but they have an upside. They provide plenty of losers.
The losers are even more in evidence in a year when the awards are shared between an elite cadre of megastars. Alarm bells began ringing at the Port Kembla steel works the moment Delta and Powderfinger were listed as nominees. Shares in BHP-Billiton were suspended after it became apparent that many on the ARIA board were stockholders and an insider trading scandal threatened to erupt. Like an Australian media industry after a double dissolution, the power would be concentrated in the hands of very few. It was formulaic and predictable but at least ensured that there would be plenty of empty hands with which to hail cabs at the end of the night
Defying all mathematicians' attempts to formularise their exponential growth in tedium, the ARIA's somehow manage to get duller each year. This is a consequence of the dire state of the Australian 'talent' being celebrated and a function of the TV industry's desperate efforts to get the thing to rate. If it is to connect with the cud-chewing herds of mainstream Australia it must by necessity celebrate the blandness of the consumer choices that John Anderson's 'Peter and Lindy' make. Thus John Farnham becomes a Hall of Famer, the Waifs are on screen longer than the TV station watermark and the rest of the evening is a dedicated Delta Goodrem testimonial.
Delta's seven awards were incontrovertible proof that we have too long undervalued the philosophical insights of teenagers. Her blazing torch songs of doomed soap opera love and self help doggerel have resonated deeply with an audience desperate for spiritual and emotional direction. Finding no comfort on the shelves of their municipal libraries, the disenchanted turn to the post-adolescent diva. And why not? A quick check of English poetry over the last 500 years fails to reveal even one work entitled Born To Try . Delta 1: English poetry 0. The best thing about her seven trips to the stage, however, was that they gave her a commensurate number of opportunities to thank her recently sacked manager Glenn Wheatley; none of which she took.
Wheatley's speech welcoming his buddy Farnham into the Hall of Fame offered some insight into why Goodrem may have dispensed with his services. Frankly, the Wheat came across like a fuckwit. In a 5-minute speech celebrating John's many dull but worthy years in the business, he talked up Whispering Jack's achievements like a bullish CEO at a shareholder meeting. Eschewing the standard platitudes, he roasted his old buddy in sticky marinade of accounting sheet ejaculate while the camera cut periodically to his increasingly alarmed mate. 5 million albums sold; 430,000 heads on his last tour; new greatest hits record the fastest moving unit BMG have ever shipped. Glenn warmed to his task, fairly drooling as the beautiful numbers slipped off his tongue. Crass? Boorish? Perhaps, but Glenn's panegyric to high finance exhibited a crude honesty few of the evening's other honourees were prepared to exhibit.
Of course the ARIA's are really about the string sections. This is their night and bookings skyrocket as the event approaches. From out of musty conservatoriums they come, released like Westerners from a Beirut hostage situation, blinking uncertainly in the bright lights. Nearly every second performance seemed accompanied by a tiresome refrain of plaintive bows mooching across poignant strings. A trend away from electronic trickery lent the live performances a disturbing air of rootsiness and the resultant performances were tamer than the kangaroos at Healesville sanctuary. This alarming musical development has reached its nadir with the Waifs, now neck and neck with John Butler as the first thing we must offer up in any Free Trade negotiations with the U.S. Their finger clicking, relaxed and comfortable style fits well with John Howard's Australia and would have looked good next to the prawns on the barbie at George W's recent Canberra testimonial. Given the Waif's presence at the awards I was shocked and disappointed to find that their song In London Still must only be a metaphor.
It was an emotional evening that reached its pinnacle during the moving tribute to Slim Dusty. The dogged old song and dance man turned up his R.M. Williams boots for the last time this year leaving a gaping hole in the ranks of avant-garde septuagenarian novelty song writers. It can only be hoped that the 3 chords Slim knew do not pass away with him and that a new generation is standing by ready to find new ways of torturing D, C and G into kitsch homilies to an Australia that doesn't exist. A procession of guileless country contemporaries extolled Slim's virtues, telling us that without him there would be no Australian country music industry. The tears flowed free as an audience cursed the cruel vicissitudes of fate. The reality began to hit home. A burgeoning realisation that, but for one man, we could have been spared Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daly and Keith Urban, proved too much for many.
Across any 12-month period we receive many hundreds of entreaties requesting our presence at all manner of public gatherings. Naturally we refuse all of them, making exceptions only for those involving money or sick kids, preferably both. The painterly associations of our band name and the immense regard with which we are held in the art industry, ensure that many of these requests come from struggling artists in search of a fillip for their exhibition opening. Sadly, unless the paintings are done by sick kids with rich parents we must by necessity decline. We do make exceptions, however, when the artist is family, in which case the direct relative will sometimes forgo his usual fee. Doug's sister Saffron recently benefited from this innovative scheme when she launched her latest works at a gallery in St. Kilda. While Doctor snubbed the event in a major breach of protocol, Doug, Ted and myself graciously made ourselves available. Saffron won the immense cachet from our presence and three Fauves for the price of two represented a substantial discount.
Naturally, we take our role at an event of this nature extremely seriously. Upon entering the gallery we repaired immediately to the serving area where it soon became apparent that the drinks were not complimentary. Matters rapidly came to a head and the tension mounted as I let forth with a steam of expletives that were also not complimentary. There was an ugly stand off before Ted and I adopted a conciliatory stance and good naturedly allowed Doug to stand us a round of drinks. Suitably mollified we made our way towards the viewing area.
Saffron was showing with several other artists and it quickly became apparent that her work had blown theirs out of the water. This was cause for great celebration and we entered into a boisterous round of gloating and self-congratulation. Why we thought it necessary to congratulate ourselves was a point that remained disconcertingly unresolved but we refused to let it hinder our enjoyment of the evening. I had began to lead the others through a hearty "Saffron, Saffron, Saffron - Oi, Oi, Oi" chant when I noticed an old sparring partner across the room. My enthusiasm cooled immediately and I presently fell silent.
It was the art critic from one of the major dailies, a pernicious hack who'd savaged my one man show "Coxy and the debt Western Art owes him" a couple of years back. I shot a steely glare across the gallery as I remembered the opening sentence to his vicious review - "Hedoesn't know much about art but I know I don't like it". "Hello X", I sneered as my nemesis acknowledged me from across the room. He said something indecipherable in French which I pretended to understand, shrugging my shoulders in an expression of Gallic sangfroid. The floor cleared around us in anticipation of an epic verbal stoush. I'd spent months storing a collection of biting one-liners in the aftermath of our last encounter when I was left badly humiliated by his cruel vitriol and witty ripostes. I felt ready for anything.
"I noticed you looking at that installation next door", he began in a disarmingly friendly manner. I cast my mind back to the jumble of oversized chains and locks littering the floor of the adjacent room. I'd passed through quickly, offering only scant attention lest I be spotted scrutinising a work that turned out to be some stuff the cleaners left behind. "What did it say to you?" Off guard, I endeavoured to regain my bearings. My credibility was on the line. A growing crowd of onlookers leant in waiting for my reply. "Post-modern alienation, Freedom as a metaphor for imprisonment, the arid wasteland of a consumer society", I replied stiffly, desperate not to leave anything out. "That sort of thing". He smiled slowly, turning to the audience and allowing them the full breadth of his response. "That piece you were looking at…" - again the pause for effect. He cleared his throat. But for the quiet hum of an air conditioner the room was quiet. "…was the storeroom". A ripple of laughter travelled through the onlookers, gathering momentum like a Mexican wave around a stadium before breaking into a sustained chorus of guffawing and prolonged thigh slapping. "Yeah?" I yelled at his back as it receded from through a sea of laughing well wishers. "Well the ocean called. It's run out of Shrimp!"
We debriefed down the road at Chinta Blues, a fashionable bistro serving overrated food to overrated people. "How cool does living in St. Kilda really make you if you think this is good food?" I thought to myself, staring balefully down at a bowl of bland noodles punctuated with the occasional cruciferous vegetable. All around me well-heeled patrons came together in animated degustation, chopsticks chattering like the middle classes on talk radio. I hadn't noticed misanthropy on the menu but I seemed to have been served it anyway, its acrid finish burning an acidic path up through my oesophagus. Across the table Doug declared his dish 'glutinous goop'. A bowl of clag dumplings in a superglue sauce sat uneaten before him. Ted was likewise unimpressed. Disaffection sat with me like a talkative passenger on a long haul flight and I moved into a well-rehearsed denunciation of the state of Australian cooking. All the self-serving rhetoric about the pre-eminence of our culinary achievements has masked the fact that we remain, for all intents and purposes, an immature gastronomic culture. As a vegetarian I feel the deficiencies acutely. While puffed up chefs queue at the doors of publishing houses and lounge casually in Green rooms, vegetarian dishes disappear from menus faster than the smile from an untipped waiter. The herbivore remains a pariah in the food service industry, deemed worthy of no effort more taxing than a token risotto or uninspired pasta. Hampered by a profound lack of inventiveness, Australian chefs punish vegetarians as a way of masking a paucity of ideas on meatless cooking. We fawn at the feet of aggressive carnivores like Anthony Bourdain while ignoring that he represents one of the few food cultures more uncertain of itself than ours, a trend-obsessed fashion show of worthless egos where the kitchen becomes a catwalk from which to model.
Soon we begin recording, a matter of such overwhelming urgency that we have increased our rehearsal frequency to once a fortnight. A recording budget cropped harder than a skinhead's haircut leaves us but 4 days in the studio in which to capture all the magic we can. The left overs will be mopped up at Ted's inimitable House Of Sound after which a nationwide search party issues forth to find if there remains an engineer in the country prepared to risk their reputation by mixing one of our albums.
Now only days from entering the studio, we have yet to agree on a definitive list of songs to record. The epic consultative process at work in shaping this opus is a noble but fundamentally flawed exercise in democracy. Never are The Fauves more in need of a bloodless coup d'etat followed by strong totalitarian dictatorship than during this period. The harder we work to accommodate each member's opinion, the further we travel from arriving at a final list. The bicameral system employed in passing our legislation is a particularly fluid one, whereby a member can at once introduce a proposal in the House while simultaneously vetoing another in the Senate. We have a tenuous agreement over 8 songs but the remaining spots on the record could feasibly be filled by any of dozens of others. Forming lobby groups of one, each advocate uses a mixture of well reasoned logic, specious argument and tendentious personal opinion in an effort to mount a winning case for his songs of choice. It is a poignant testament to the enduring nature of human optimism that so many questions of so little moment can occupy so much of our time. In six months when the ashes of the record are quietly buried under a rose bush at the Springvale Crematorium, the eulogy is unlikely to highlight the vexed issue of track 11 as the moment at which oblivion's fateful seed was sown.
Through all the robust debate weaving torturously towards concord, I feel a deep gratitude towards my band mates. Though each a man of deeply held convictions and unwavering points of view, they nevertheless manage a touching sensitivity when sitting in judgement on the material at hand. I find presenting songs to my colleagues to be the most stressful of all musical undertakings - far more nerve-racking than releasing a record, playing it live or waiting for a response from the public. Here, at my most vulnerable, I benefit from a touching facility for euphemism that creeps into the lexicon of men who ordinarily talk straighter than a tortured Guantanamo Bay detainee on truth serum. Doubtless Doctor feels a similar gratitude. Our discussions become as delicately mannered as a Victorian novel as we edge around the stony desert of harsh reality in search of a softer way through. "I don't dislikeit", one opines but it is "perhaps not right for this record", while another, in the old horse racing vernacular, would, "prefer others". The Fauves are a museum and our egos are like artefacts contained therein, not always on display but ready to be dusted off and exhibited at any time. Only by successfully curating this collection can we possibly hope to continue.