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A response to Dave Graney’s ‘WORKSHY’ by Andy Jans-Brown

So I wrote this inspired after reading ‘Workshy’ by Dave Graney. I’m no reviewer and a very infrequent blogger and often feel a tad self-conscious and clunky whilst writing in this form, lacking as I feel I do- some kind of natural speaking pen and technical ability.

All the same, I feel compelled to speak out in support of other Australian content creators and producers. Word of mouth is often the best and most far reaching publicity we receive.

I guess I write this as a response more so than a review, which I’m obviously not qualified to write.

It will no doubt say more about me than it does about the book itself, but the fact the book has inspired me to take to the pen once more and write for the love of it is compliment enough to Dave’s wonderful book.

I also hope to pass the fantastic baton on and inspire a few of my blog readers and facebook friends to read ‘Workshy’ and to create fresh and unique art your selves.

I believe in diversity and think if we all consume a bit more free-range arts culture in general, it will lead to a more tolerant society, and there’s a lot of great authentic and original stuff just outside the bounds and pushed to the edges of mainstream culture.

So anyway here I go……

I’ve just closed the final pages of Dave Graney’s latest art ‘Workshy’ and like all the great books on my shelf I feel a sense of loss. The kind of feeling you get when you have to say goodbye to a dear and close friend.

It’s an invigorating and inspiring read.

Many times throughout the book I felt completely transported to another place and time. I smiled a lot as Dave brought to life the atmosphere and the spirit of the worlds he has walked through and the characters he’s met along the way. Many of them felt familiar to me even though I’m a decade and a bit shy of Dave’s vintage.

If you’re an artist this is an absolute must read, full of great lines like “He was playing Brian Wilson songs like ‘Caroline No’, all dressed in leather-trousered and open-shirted undernourished rock’n’roll loucherie.” or “She certainly seemed to see me as a foolish type of person – skipping lightly through this world by his own choice, a man with too many options.”

But Graney is nobody’s fool.

For me ‘Workshy’ sits somewhere in the realm of greatness alongside such books as George Orwell’s ‘Down and out in Paris and London’ and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Bound for Glory’, but let me put you in the picture of my personal experience to give you the context of my reading.  

I first discovered Dave’s music back in 1993 when I was living in Eildon Rd, St Kilda.

I’d just moved into this old house, which had been divided into units. The rent was cheap, it was perfectly located, a short drunk walk to the Prince of Wales and Esplanade Hotels. The house itself was old school and had all that groovy post punk underworld grit and criminal funk of 90’s St Kilda chic.

I felt like I was in the right place for me at that time in my life.

I saw bands like ‘Beasts of Bourbon’ and ‘You am I’ all blow the roof off the joints.

The vibe seemed more dangerous back then, there seemed to be more outlaws, more junkies and more prostitutes around – it was their world, but they didn’t seem to mind the company of artistic weirdo’s, bands, gender benders and other such outsiders  – it was an eclectic mix of black leather, splashes of left over fluorescent Mohawk, psychedelic colour tie-dye and incense to mask the smoke of all that was burning to the ground around us; somehow it all just seemed to work.

It was pre-Grand Prix – that face-lift was still a few years away.

I was in my early twenties and was fresh back to Melbourne; which was my roots, after years of trying to pretend to be something I wasn’t at the National Drama School in Sydney. You see I’d grown up a mad bogan footballer from Heidelberg in the Diamond Valley League, but with divorced parents, which wasn’t as common back then, and being turned on to the world of George Orwell, The Sex Pistols, Talking Heads and the plays of Samuel Beckett, I felt strangely like an outsider in my own suburb.

NIDA, though a complete eye opening experience, had not fit me well either. I was still searching for my people and my place. Returning to St Kilda in my early twenties felt like a good fit.

I was in relationship with an older girl that I’d hooked up with at my brother’s funeral. She was a wild one; a super cool, rebellious and well read natural outsider who’d been living in London, Sid and Nancy style, shaking loose the shackles of her suburban upbringing. Her younger sister lived in the unit next door. She threw a lot of parties.

I’d regrouped with my best mate from High School and reignited our old band, ‘Vanity Plastic’.  

Melbourne was in a recession and we rented a rehearsal space with a bunch of other anarchist type artists in an old sewing factory in Collingwood behind Studio 52 Recording Studios. It was cheap and we renovated it with scraps we found in waste bins.  We called the place ‘The Biscuit Factory’ coz whenever we talked about our grandiose visions for the place we felt like a bunch of tossers playing ‘soggy biscuit’ (a masturbation game we’d all heard rumours about but none of us had ever actually played)

I used to catch that 96 tram out of St Kilda most days and switch to the 86 in Fitzroy. It was full of weirdo’s and junkies on the nod. Drugs were cheap.

Anyway I digress….

‘Night of the Wolverine’ was the first Graney album I heard. ‘You’re just too hip baby’ the very first song.

I was a fan before the song had finished.

It was unique, catchy and very cool “You take a feather from every bird - you see it never flies”

It was refreshing and seemed to have a finger on the very pulse of the times. It felt like the anthem of the world I found myself flying in.

Since those years I’ve followed Dave’s career with a keen interest, seeing live shows when I could- myself migrating between the east coast cities of Australia, and then onto Paris and London.

Sometime in 2008 I was lucky enough to catch Dave again in Lismore of all places, where I’d completed my bachelors degree in music composition up in Northern NSW. He played an inspiring solo show on tour with Henry Wagons. I gladly bought both their CD’s.

‘We wuz Curious’ By Dave Graney and the lurid yellow mist– a complete masterpiece, quickly became my favourite album of the year. Once again Dave seemed to know how to cut through the façade of the whole thing and speak some kind of truth I’d felt but hadn’t managed to put my finger on.

That’s always been one of the indicators of great art to me, when an artist shines a light onto some dark wall within you and manages to articulate something you’ve always felt but never put into words. All my favourite books, albums and songs have this magic ingredient.

‘Workshy’ does the same – in it Dave puts forth an argument for a way of being that every artistic soul has touched upon. A truth that when you’re doing what you love, when you’re being truly who you are, your productivity doesn’t feel like work at all.

Dave takes it one step further by somehow remaining true to his artistic nature in all kinds of offbeat and unrelated workplaces, taking behavioural notes of the fascinating animals and environments with which he found himself surrounded.

Many years ago whilst living up in Brisbane and teaching acting, I was at the peak of my passion for the Unabridged Webster Dictionary that my Grandfather had given me; which is so big and heavy that you could kill a man with it.

At the time I was reading that book daily always being blown away by the poetic definitions their writers had come up with. I’d often look up words I thought I knew the meaning of and be astounded by the poetic definitions inked on those pages.

The word ‘weird’ was a revelation to discover. I was expecting a definition of “uncanny or unusual” but in stead was greeted with definitions such as “fate and destiny” apparently coming from mythology and ‘The Fates’ or Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters in Macbeth.

It seems that the Fates, or the Sisters of Destiny as they were also known, had a unique power beyond the Gods, to weave together the tapestry of every single persons destiny. One of the sisters would feed the wool, the other would spin it and the third sister would cut the wool of each person’s fate into very specific lengths.

This definition liberates and empowers the individual in what can feel isolating and alienating at times.  I like words and meanings that offer solace in our struggles as humans.

Of course there is no need to try to be anyone else, what’s the cliché? “They’re already taken anyway” and other such bumper stickers, but let me put down my shovel for a moment and step out of this hole I seem to be digging for myself…..what am I trying to say?

There’s something in this idea that to be fatefully weird, is to be true to who you are and who you are meant to be, and this continues to resonate with me still even as I search in this outpouring trying not to be too weird, whilst obviously still being weird.

Is that weird?

You get me?

Dave Graney has always struck me as being weird in the best kind of way. He has consistently reinvented himself as an artist and walked his own path.

His voice is completely authentic; in his own words he states that he is, “qualified to be himself with all the raw material for an interesting vocabulary.”

In experiencing Dave’s art, this seems true. He’s definitely qualified!

In our current world of fake news, snapchat selfies, hype and copycat cookie cutter polished junk and overproduced pop, Dave Graney is a hero of authenticity.

I’ve often felt that sincerity is as fickle as the breeze and as shy as silence; you speak its name and it’s gone. Dave bypasses this whole game like a rover or a half forward flank; he reads the fall of the ball, swoops in as others fumble and breaks away from the pack with those two big white sticks in his sights.

‘Workshy’ is another goal on the scoreboard well kicked by Dave Graney in a breakaway Grand Final third Quarter.

It’s uniquely Australian, but not in that cultural stereotypical Crocodile Dundee, or Aussie Aussie Aussie Southern Cross Tattoo kind of way – no somehow Graney walks confidently, centred, comfortable and true in all his understated but well dressed Rock Star Detective Gangster Cowboy Noir Dandy, and with all his hard-earned tricks of the trade, and with all the “sand he has had to dig from his own soul”, he somehow shows us some piece magic and art that can be made from the red clay of our dry sunburnt and sarcastic country where tall poppies are constantly cut down.  

He has made sense and meaning from his uniquely Australian upbringing and unashamedly shown it off on the world stage with his unique swagger, humour and aesthetic.  

“I’ve had to go in closer to people than I really wanted to- I was built for a more remote style” – Dave confesses and maybe that’s his key- to have somehow remained outside, to have somehow kept all the bullshit at arms length whilst focusing on doing the work that mattered.

The world of music has changed dramatically since Dave’s days as the Aria winning ‘King of Pop’.

The direction it has taken has lead us away from authentic culture with its natural rebels and breakaways such as Dave is.

Record Companies no longer invest in developing artists, in stead they run karaoke and popularity contests on TV to make safer money marketing mediocrity to the masses. Let’s just say its certainly not revolutionary stuff. You won’t be seeing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits or David Bowie growing out of that homogenised muck.

Thank Goodness artists like Dave Graney have found a way to adapt and continue to deliver their poetry and music so that our culture may continue to grow, blossom and be expressed beyond the straight jacket of conformity and mediocrity placed on it by the marketing power of the mainstream cookie cutter monster machine.

As we move closer into an age of drone warfare, sex robots, organic machines, internet control and a computerised existence, rebels like Dave and their books with paper pages keep us beautifully human.

Five stars – a class act.

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