Pretty Polly

Some time in the Pre-Cambrian era I was sent to Vines Road.
At that time, Deakin University was only in Geelong, and had taken over a institute of technology and a former teachers college, to become a ‘university’. And the teachers college was in Vines Road.

This was in the 1980s, so I can remember very little about the campus.
But it had a music department, and so it had a record collection – meaning ‘long-playing record’ (LP) – disks that you stuck a stylus onto to access the analog recording – what a weird old idea! Lucky we’ve left that behind ūüôā

And in this record collection was a boxset – it probably had two disks in it – called the Folk Box. This might not have been the first, and certainly wasn’t the last collection with this name, but I haven’t ever been able to recover just which ‘folk box’ this was.

What I *do* remember is the first song on the first side. A performance like hardly anything else I’ve ever heard. The song was called ‘Pretty Polly’ – and there’s no mystery about that: it’s been recorded scores of time. But it took me three decades to finally recover the performance that I found so astonishing.

The banjo-player and singer attacks the song like his life depended on it. It’s not easy to understand the words – and it doesn’t matter: it’s the ‘life force’ in the wild, energetic performance with which one is forced to engage.

There are more than one ‘old-timey’ singers who recorded this murder ballad, including John Hammond and Dock Boggs, but the guy who gets my attention is … Lee Sexton, b. 1928.

Australian Cinema

I used to talk about Australian films with people because I’m enthusiastic about the films. I have¬†had a very large website about Australasian films¬†on the internet for twenty years now.

But it’s usually only a couple of minutes into any conversation when my interlocutor is moved to say something (usually derogatory) about the Australian film industry. By which he (it’s alway a man) means to refer the cinema’s ability to make money, which he implicitly or not compares to Hollywood, and he finds (surprise!) that an Australian film makes less money than an American one (he’s thinking of a ‘blockbuster’, and comparing them with the modest film we had been talking about). He then proceeds to identify the one thing that’s ‘wrong with the Australian industry’ – based on the two or three Australian films he’s seen or can recall.

I now avoid talking with people about Australian films.


A video about recycling says a couple of times, ‘Just throw it away’ (if it can’t be recycled).

I only have two bins. If it doesn’t go in the recycling bin, it goes into the landfill bin. Is that the message from this video?

In my ignorance of how to deal with this complexity, I put everything not biodegradable into the recycling bill (as the mayor told me to when he took up the job).

Is this wrong?

Sorry, that’s two questions. I should have kept it simple (which it’s not).

Tinnitus … sux

Tinnitus. Last time I was free from this was something like a year or two ago. I am currently again in this blissful (and very rare) state.

I have taken the opportunity to listen to my favourite singer in his best recording. Carpe diem.

It’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012), and¬† the second of his three recordings of the Bach cantatas BWV 82 and 56.

The first was 1951 with Ristenpart, then 1968, with Richter, and finally 1983 with Rilling (aged 68).


There was discussion of city nomenclature in the¬†Facebook page Freo Massive, yesterday, following from the proposal to use the first-peoples name for Hobart. The OP¬† asked what people thought about changing the names of Fremantle and Perth. As a result I have actually changed the title of my homepage to Walyalup Stuff. Freo had a perfectly good name in 1829. The invader didn’t bother to ask.

The primary candidate for urgent change in this country is New South Wales. What a ridiculous name (literally)! Followed by Sinny, as it’s hard to spell.

The original name proposed for this state was Hesperia. It won’t happen, of course, but I like it. Under the American Empire, WA gets confused with Washington state.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded BWV 82 and 56 three times. I can now announce – having just bought it at last – that the second of the three is the best¬†recording put down by any singer … ever.
Unfortunately, I can’t listen to it as one would wish, as I have tinnitus. With this condition, at least in my case, as you turn up the volume of sound, so does the presence of the tinnitus increase. However, at a low level, I can still be aware that DFD sings like the finest artist I can imagine.

Ich Habe Genug

Bach’s cantata BWV 82 can be translated as ‘It is enough’. I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, in a music store in Perth in about 1959. I bought the DGG LP you see in the previous post at about that time, and sold it at the end of 1967 when I left the country. I thought I would never hear it again, because Fischer-Dieskau recorded the cantata twice more, and I didn’t think anyone would think it was worth their while to keep it available. But I reckoned without the deep pockets of Apple, and perhaps the enthusiasm of people like myself. I found it available in the iTunes store – so 51 years later, I am able to listen to it again. It is enough.

It would have cost about £5 ($10) back then, and today was just a bit more (i.e. a lot less!) at $16.99.

Favourite recordings

People are doing a ten top recordings thing in Facebook. Not sure I’ll be able to manage as many as ten – or fewer than 100. The trouble with ‘classical’ music is that you have to specify the performance. Anyway, you can see why I like this one: great cover art!

It’s¬†Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s first recording (of three) of Bach, Cantatas 56 and 82, conducted Karl Ristenpart, oboe Hermann T√∂ttcher, DGG 14 004 APM, 1951. That’s the original cover.


Bach, Sacred Cantatas, Harnoncourt/Leonhardt

Bach, Mass in Bmin, BWV 232, Collegium Vocale, Ghent, Philippe Herreweghe, 1989/2009 (that’s two recordings)

Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, James King, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic, Decca, 1966

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli, Peter Phillips, Tallis Scholars, 1980

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet op. 130 in Bb, La Salle Quartet, DGG 2530 351, 1973

Joni Mitchell, Hejira, 1976

James McMurtry, Walk between the Raindrops, 1998

Ry Cooder, 1970

The Shape of Love Serenade

Tales have been told for thousands of years about creatures which are part human and part water-creature. These hybrids are usually female in Graeco-Roman and European myth and legend, but British Islanders have also imagined male varieties.

Odysseus’s dangerous Scylla is an ancient example of the former, while the part-seal creature in the Scottish legend of the Silkie of Sule Skerry (as in the folk song) is one of the latter. The Loreley on the Rhein started out as just a big rock, but came to have a malevolent presence and eventually a female form.

These creatures make their way into works of art, such as painting, but notably also opera, in the form of the Rhine Maidens in Wagner’s Ring. They occasionally also venture into feature films, a notable but ambiguous example being Neil Jordan’s Ondine (2009) in which it’s Colin Farrell who has the encounter.

And there is even an Australian example: Selkie (2000). Donald Crombie’s film is intended for a young audience, and more about coming-of-age than the supernatural. The alien transformation is a metaphor for the changes of adolescence.

I understand all these imaginations as stemming originally from an aspect of animism – which sees a soul in all things. It’s one more small step to imagining that these things with souls – such as rocks and water – look surprisingly like human beings, and then one more to making them part-human.

If the creature is completely alien, as in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) then the opportunity presents itself to investigate another metaphor: to do with the problem of communication. One sub-text of the story is about cultural collision – shown here as the absence of a shared language, and the best thing about the film is the way it deals with that.

Does Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett, 1996) belong to the same family of narratives? In both stories the male is also a fish – or behaves like one: breathing under water. In both cases he successfully seduces the maiden. Is Ken Sherry a silkie?

I say, narratologically, no! The shapes of the stories differ.

Whereas in the ancient legends and in Ondine and The Shape of Water, the ambiguous creature emerges from its watery element at the beginning of the narrative, and the encounter takes place in that context, Shirley Barrett’s story begins in (bucolic) suburbia, and one of the points of the film is the depiction of the barrenness of the sisters’ existence in Sunray. When the new bloke turns up next door, he may appear to have an exotic charm to Dimity and Vicki-Ann, but we viewers can see that he is merely an old sleazebag.

So when the first fishy event occurs, it comes out of the blue, and the ending of the film lurches into another mode of being – which cannot be explained by anything in the narrative!

This kind of non sequitur is what happens in dreams – and therefore also in surrealism, which is the best hermeneutic to explain this film.

The brilliant charm of this unusual film comes from the fact that it so successfully situates its small group of characters in their ordinary houses in their tiny tawdry town – and then throws all that out of the window in the last scene, and says: Surprise!