Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Linear Notes...

Why should the devil have all the good tunes?

William Booth is supposed to have said it originally. The founder of The Salvation Army would use well known drinking songs and write new words to accompany them to make it easier for his converts to sing along. Larry Norman used it in the 70s as a response to those that thought the church and rock'n'roll should never meet.

This has been in my thoughts this week. I found out a few weeks ago that Larry had passed on a few weeks before. It affected me more than I thought possible. I came home from work and played Only Visiting This Planet, and it moved me to tears.

Larry's death wasn't mentioned in any newspaper or TV report I saw. I didn't even see it mentioned online through any news agencies. I only found out because when I punched his name into eBay, one of the entries included R.I.P. in the description.

Larry was my first concert. I was 15 or so, and he played Festival Hall here in Melbourne. I'd never heard him before, but some older friends invited me. It had never occurred to me that there could be a Christian rocker. The only religious music I knew was quite traditional - the type of vinyl my parents listened to. I'd sit in my room listening to The Beatles, The Stones or Deep Purple in my bedroom on a tinny little mono record player, while my dad would play his music on the 'good' stereo. Not that mum and dad didn't approve. They would even buy albums for me from time to time. But I went to see Larry and became a fan that evening.

In the 90s it seemed Larry went a bit strange. He started talking about brain damage, and saying that every show was his last one. He released lots and lots of stuff - I'm sure there's a Larry album out there somewhere that consists of him making dinner with his son. Having accidentally hit the record button on a cassette player in the kitchen, he suddenly found he had his next album.

I'd spent a bit of time hunting down and buying as many of his earlier releases as I could, so I was disappointed when suddenly there were many many discs on the market, all in limited edition, that I would never be able to collect. I even met him one night in a restaurant in Melbourne. I chatted to him for a few minutes, and asked for his autograph. He told me he wouldn't sign as he didn't believe in 'the Hollywood star system.' I was very disappointed later on when I found out he'd signed items for people all over the place....

But Larry was Larry, and we overlooked these 'eccentricities'. And we thanked him for the Trilogy, and loved SNUTS (Something New Under The Son) and even listened to Quiet Lions.

But now he's gone. I guess he really was only visiting this planet.

I never did find out who Fehrion was or what all those numbers inside SNUTS mean. I loved those little mysteries.

And tonight, when I take my dog for a walk and I'm standing on the corner, I guess I'd better look up the sky in case there's something in the dark......

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I May Not Know Literature, But I Know What I Like...

Parent-teacher interviews went well. I wasn't verbally abused this time as I was last year when a parent decided his child was not doing so well because of a 'personality conflict'. How about blaming the child's failure to do any work and a tendency to disrupt others? How about realising that the 'personality clash' was only mentioned after letters went home stating the child was of concern and in danger of failing? How about this parent thinking that he (a professional) would not accept this kind of behaviour and attitude from any of his employees?

But this year went well, and I was even thanked by a number of parents for the work I was doing.

There was one comment made several times that made me think (and ultimately laugh) that night.

"My son only likes reading if it's something he's interested in."

I got to thinking about this one. Parents think I expect kids to like reading books they hate, and there is a presumption that the textbooks will be boring and not engaging. (current educational buzzword here along with 'Pedagogical')

Do I enjoy books I hate? My last entry tells of a particular book I have to teach that should never have been published. But there are other books I teach that I think are either poorly written, dull or just plain pointless. As a teacher, I end up reading these several times prior to teaching them.

Guess what parents, I only enjoy reading books about things I like too.

And would someone tell the VCAA that sometimes we should read books just because they are beautiful and enjoyable to read?

Please, stop selecting texts for Year 12 just because they deal with issues. I'm tired of reading depressing books about suicide, cancer, rape, abuse, single parents or living through war. I see enough of it in the newspapers and on television. This is what happens when the texts are selected by a committee.

Try to include a couple of texts that tell of the joy of living. Try to choose some books that will encourage our students to read more. Select books that we read for the joy of just reading.

As well as being a very average translation, Sky Burial is slow, ponderous, and dull. (Xinran, please admit to us that this book is fiction - don't keep pretending it's a true story.) Look Both Ways has a list of characters who are all victims, where nothing really exciting actually happens. Citizen Kane is long, dull and many years out of date. A Streetcar Named Desire is similarly out of date, neither culturally nor geographically relevant and basically dull. I personally love 1984, but I'm not convinced that the kids are going to like it or get into it at all. As for the poetry - how about something interesting? William Blake, Martin Newell or Benjamin Zephaniah? (or the poetry of Bob Dylan or similar? OK, Paul Kelly came close.)

There are so many wonderful books and films out there that are interesting, relevant and fun to study.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Moondust And Other Debris.

I've read two books this week, one of them brilliant - the other should never have been placed on my desk.

How does a book get published? Surely there are checks and balances in place, some kind of quality control - at least with the bigger companies. I find it hard to comprehend how and why a major and well-respected publisher decided to publish this book. And it was shortlisted for some major award. More than that, this particular book (which shall remain nameless) should not be in bookshops, should not be taught to schoolkids (only because it's rubbish) and should not be put on my desk!

Ok, I admit it. I'm an English teacher with a major in Literature. I've started my honours in the same field and even have dreams of undertaking a PhD one day, so I have some idea of what I'm talking about when I say this crap shouldn't be in schools - nevermind book stores and awards nights.

On the other hand Moondust by Andrew Smith is incredible, although you won't find it in as many bookstores as the rubbish referred to above. While it's not fiction, it is one of the most beautiful, poetic books I've ever read. Mr. Smith has read his Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, as the influences of Gonzo journalism can clearly be seen.

Moondust tracks down the last surviving nine astronauts who have stood on the moon and gazed back at the earth. A subtitle could almost be Fear and Loathing in NASA: A savage journey into the heart of the American space dream, as Smith attempts to understand the effect that standing on the moon had on this elite group of flyboys.

Read it. Read it now.

And Mr. Smith, if you're out there, I would love to buy you a drink the next time I visit Norfolk (I spent last Christmas in the UK with a week at Wells-next-the-sea), or if you're ever in Melbourne you are more than welcome to spend an evening or two with my astronomy friends. We sit out in the dark with our telescopes, listen to music, have a drink or two, talk about the Apollo flights and assorted other topics - and study the heavens. Ok, so we might be geeks, but we are geek-chic.

Which brings me back to the question of how books get published.

I've never considered myself to be a great writer (And please forgive me as I write this, I've had two glasses of Merlot and am on my third) but looking back I realise I've had some success.

I've published a number of articles and interviews in fanzines and so on. My very first (and until recently only) short story was picked up by an academic journal. A number of short scripts were published in arts magazines (hi to my partner in script-writing crime) and a stack of my puppet scripts were being considered by a publisher until he closed down after changing careers. (Hmmm, maybe not the best of signs....)

But where and how do I publish a short story? I've decided to start writing again, and would like to get a short story rejected by a magazine or two....

Do magazines even publish unsolicited short stories anymore? Any clues? Any suggestions?

All advice gratefully received...

Not Coming As Soon As I Thought...

October? Was that really when I wrote coming soon?

It's been a long time, and a lot of stuff has happened in the meantime. And although I kept meaning to start this thing, I never got around to it.

But the time is now. Here goes...