In his honour, let’s share a pint of Innes.

It’s always sad when one of my musical heroes goes to play the great gig in the sky, and it’s taken a few weeks of reflection to really understand and appreciate what Neil Innes means to me.

I first became aware of Innes via his involvement with Monty Python; he penned numerous tunes for the group and is one of only two non-Pythons to ever be credited as a writer on Flying Circus (the other was Douglas Adams). His musical ensemble, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, had a bit of a hit with ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’, the delightfully surreal ditty that was produced by Paul McCartney using a pseudonym. Continuing the Beatles connection, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band appeared in the film Magical Mystery Tour; when the Beatles get off the bus in the middle of nowhere, clamber into a big tent and watch a gig, the Bonzos were there performing the macabre but upbeat ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ (and yes that is also a band, and yes they did lift their name from this tune).

Innes became well-known from the 60s TV program Do Not Adjust Your Set, which also featured some of the Pythons, though I have only a passing familiarity with the show. His most notable work was probably The Rutles, a collaboration with Eric Idle, which was a mocumentary parody of the Beatles. The film features all original tunes (not ‘Weird Al’-style parodies) which were vaguely similar to particular songs or embodied different eras of the band’s existence. Innes later said that he didn’t go about trying to rewrite the songs so much as tried to remember how to play them, doing it badly, and coming up with something different instead. The film was ridiculous in the most lovely and endearing way, though it did land Innes and Idle into some legal hot water, with anyone who had anything to do with the Beatles trying to sue them for something.

It was around this time, the mid 80s, that Innes became a bit fed up with the overly litigious music industry and went for a change of career. “It wasn’t really a plan to work in children’s television,” he said, “I find myself in life leaning against doors, then some of them fly open and I find myself falling into whatever is inside.” It wasn’t until sometime after my Innes fandom began that it finally occurred to me that I’d actually been watching him since I was in nappies.

Innes was the Magician on the children’s TV show Puddle Lane. It was essentially a storytelling show with a framing device of a magician looking into a magic puddle to see these picture-based animated stories. The Magician had a few friends too, a dragon named Toby, to whom the Magician would tell his stories and essentially be a stand-in for the TV audience; and a cauldron named (very inventively) Cauldron, who served as the receptacle for the Magician’s magical concoctions. Innes would conjure the stories by dipping his finger in the magic puddle and swirling it around; typically the stories would be inspired by a newly acquired object, which the Magician had magically created by mixing a potion in the cauldron (named Cauldron) and chanting a mostly nonsensical parody of ‘double double toil and trouble’.

It wasn’t the only kids show he did. The other big one (and again, I didn’t even make the connection that it was the Puddle Lane guy until years later), was The Raggy Dolls. It was written, produced, narrated, and voiced by Innes, and the theme song he wrote for the show regularly gets stuck in my head to this very day. The show was about some dolls inhabiting the reject bin at a doll factory, who would go on random adventures while nobody was watching. Looking back, it was actually quite a lovely show; each of the dolls has something ‘wrong’ with them, but they each found their strengths, worked together, and their disabilities didn’t prevent them from living happy lives.

Later in my childhood, I developed my (thus far) life-long love for Monty Python when the ABC started showing reruns of Flying Circus in the 6:30 time slot—after the cartoons and before the news. It wasn’t long before I was calling everyone Bruce and continually making jokes about pining for the fjords. I wasn’t all too conscious of Innes’s contributions initially, though he did appear in some live performances and films; he composed all the original music for Holy Grail, with highlights such as ‘Brave Sir Robin’ and ‘Knights of the Round Table’. His songs can also be heard on albums like Monty Python’s Previous Record and Matching Tie and Handkerchief, as well as the filmed performance at the Hollywood Bowl, where he performed a few solo songs. He filled the arena with tunes like the somber and soulful ‘How Sweet to Be an Idiot’, which had the obvious function of giving the Pythons some time for costume changes etc, but was also just a fab addition the whole performance.

In terms of forming my conception of how comedy and music intersect, Innes has been fundamental. So much comedy music ends up being flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder type stuff (anyone remember Chris Franklin? No? Don’t worry, it’s for the best…), but Innes has been able to craft a lasting groove into this difficult niche. Anyone in the English-speaking world who makes or simply enjoys musical humour owes a great deal to Innes, whose inventiveness, honesty, virtuosity, and wit have shaped the genre more than almost anyone else.

Thanks Neil. We’re so so fortunate to have had you.

Remembering the right stuff

It’s a bit of a strange day. How should we remember them? And who exactly is it we should be remembering? We’re supposed to remember the Australians who gave their lives for us, but that presupposes that all the Australians who have died in war died for something actually worth fighting for. So, to honour them properly, shouldn’t we appreciate the awfulness and ridiculousness of their tragic sacrifice—that they mostly died for stupid and avoidable and unacceptable reasons?

There was nothing particularly noble about manufacturing an excuse to get involved in a war against Germany, or by blindly following the British to invade the Ottomans. There was nothing of substance actually achieved in WWI, other that that it generated the conditions for WWII and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. It was a pointless war, and so many thousands were needlessly fed into the meatgrinder that was the western front. But still, their tragic loss must be remembered. Remembered for what it truly was.

Prior to 1914, war had been kind of a normal thing that nations do from time to time. The French cavalry rode into battle wearing Napoleonic armour. Ludendorff marched into Liège with his sword. These were armies with a mentality much like those of the early 1800s, but they had modern weapons of incredible destructive power never seen before, and they weren’t prepared for what would become ordinary modern warfare. Never before had humans had the means to kill each other so effectively, so it’s no surprise the the now familiar phrase “war is hell” was first used here. Let’s remember what war truly is: fucking horrible.

I’m also reminded of the scene in Austin Powers where a baddie is killed and then it cuts to a scene of his wife and kids being informed of his death. Obviously done as a joke, but it reminds us that our enemies are still human. Nazi soldiers had families too, their pain and grief was just as real, but we aren’t encouraged to remember our fallen enemies. Civilians die in war, but they don’t get their own special day to be remembered. We have destroyed nations, but do we remember their long and beautiful history? Or just relegate them to the forgotten realm inhabited by the losers of war?

So if you’re going to remember those who gave their lives, make sure you remember more than just the Australian soldiers. Our allies, our enemies, innocent civilians, and those lost during the fallout from the wars we have fought, are equally deserving of remembrance. The sheer horror of war, especially modern warfare with tanks and bombs and poison gas, should be remembered. The pain and grief of those who survive should be heard, to inform how we do the remembering. This day, the 100th time we have remembered, let’s make sure we remember the important things.

The ‘offended’ strawman.

One of my major gripes with the opposition to ‘political correctness’ is the constant reframing of the debate around being offended. It belies a deep misunderstanding of the actual issue, or worse, a blatant bait-and-switch to argue a point that is actually irrelevant to the debate. I came across this zinger the other day, about the celebration of Australia Invasion Day. Alice Springs Councillor Jacinta Price, herself an indigenous person, weighs in:

What I’m seeing is political divisiveness coming from a minority group of people who claim to be offended because of what took place in 1788. Because of this claim to offence, it is now pushed upon the Australian people to accept that, because they’re offended, we should simply change the date.

Price completely misses the point here. While it’s true that it would be silly to change to date to somehow protect people who are personlly offended, nobody is actually arguing that. It’s got nothing at all to do with being offended; we should change the date because the thing we currently commemorate is a distortion of history told from a biased perspective. I’m not offended by Australia Day; I just think it’s fucking stupid.

Price does elegnatly describe the values that Australia Day should focus on. And that’s admirable. We probably should use our national day to commemorate an event that embodies those values. Thing is, the the establishment of a British penal colony is not, in any sense, an embodiment those values. It’s an event wrapped up in colonialism, racism, and genocide. But even if we don’t celebrate Australia Day for reasons of racism and genocide, we cannot pretend that such things absent from our colonial history. Sure, the arrival of the First Fleet was indeed an important day in the history of our nation, and we should appreciate it… in it’s proper historical context: as a day that made us who we are, but that we probably shouldn’t be proud of.

Isn’t it strange that we’re kind of the odd one out among the other former colonies when it comes to national celebrations? Americans celebrate it’s their day on the anniversary of its Declaration of independence; Canadians, the adoption of their constitution; New Zealanders even commemorates a treaty between the British and the indigenous peoples (despite some issues with Waitangi, they’re miles ahead in this regard). What do they all have in common? They’re all celebrations, not of colonialism, but of of independence. And that’s just the Anglosphere. Across the world, some local version of Independence Day is essentially the norm when it comes to the primary day for national pride. It really is worth celebrating— having shed the shackles of colonial oppression. But bizarrely, we celebrate putting the fucking shackles on (almost literally: remeber, penal colony).

As Price suggests, we should celebrate who we have become as a nation. We should celebrate our rich and diverse history. We should celebrate coming together as Australians. But we can’t do that on January 26. For all her talk about people being divisive, celebrating the event that created that division in the first place is really what reinforces division.

Full vid, courtesy of ABC News:



Obligatory first post

What is this blog about? I’m not even sure. And that probably sounds like an awful cliche. And mentioning that it’s a cliche is probably a cliche. And on and on through a never-ending downward spiral of meta-cliches.

It’s essentially an outlet for all the random shite that goes on in my brain. But stuff that doesn’t seem fit to just sit in my private journal—opinions and observations that feel like they should be out there in the wild, running free through internetland unencumbered by all the things that weigh me down in the real world. Politics, society, philosophical musings, all the general stuff that keeps me up at night.

It’s pseudonymous. Not because I want to hide, but because I just want to have my real life and my online life separate. I don’t quite know who I am or what I want to be, but I do know that who I am in real life doesn’t quite comport with who I feel like I am. And I don’t quite know how to shift that. So I’ll be the person I want to be here, and maybe the real-world me will catch up.

It’s a place to explore my outlook on life, the universe, and everything. The title reflects my typically upbeat attitude toward enduring the horror of existence. If Sisyphus really is happy, it’s because it’s the only thing he can do in the face of his profound insignificance. If nothing you do matters, you might as well smile about it. And soldiering on in cheerful despair is, it would seem, all we can ever do.

And now that I have justified the existence of this blog, let’s get on with the show. I’ll set myself a goal of posting every couple of days and see how we go. Here’s a random picture of a cute fox. Because why not?