Here come the Sons

(L-R) Wes Taylor with the Sons of Sun stage band Steve Broughton, mastermind of the show John Kennedy and former Red Wiggle Murray Cooke.

 

BY WES TAYLOR

American president John F. Kennedy had a drastic situation over his stand-off with the Soviet Union in the ’60s with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but his namesake, Australian musician John Francis Kennedy, has no crisis over his new musical concept, Sons of Sun.

Well-known Australian musician John Francis Kennedy has developed an intimate stage-dinner-music show about Sam Phillips, best known as the recording engineer who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

John has the perfect background to present such a show, growing up in Liverpool in England just as The Beatles’ popularity was exploding, all the while listening to his parents’ country music. “There was a fascination with country music … [maybe] if you live in a sort of grey, miserable, industrial town in the north of England, this image of wide open spaces and cowboys is very appealing,” he says. “My parents were into country and western music, I used to hear that as a kid.”

As The Beatles were taking off John was embarking on a voyage of his own, arriving in Australia in the mid-sixties with his parents, who were seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunities on offer in the Lucky Country.

John spent his formative years growing up in Brisbane and formed his first group JFK and the Cuban Crisis with friend James Patterson in 1980, and they quickly established themselves on the local scene. During this time, he released two albums and supported major acts including Ian Dury and the Blockheads and The Pretenders. The band relocated to Sydney in 1982 and added a new rhythm section, becoming the resident band at the Southern Cross Hotel in Surry Hills.

John recounts the rather depressing tale of leaving Sydney at the end of the 1980s, facing the break-up of his then-current band, Love Gone Wrong. “We’d broke[n] up and I had the choice of either starting a new band again, [with] a new lineup, recruiting new members and basically developing a new band, to get it to a point where I had been,” he says. Faced with this unappealing prospect, he instead packed his bags and guitar, heading to the US, spending six months in L.A., New York and Texas. During this period, he scored gigs wherever he could, including solo acoustic sets and small gigs in bars and clubs. At the end of this period he travelled to London, but found it difficult to break into the scene there. It wasn’t a totally lost cause, however – contacted by a contemporary in Berlin, he found himself invited to sit on a panel about independent music, and to record an EP.

Staying in Berlin for four years and becoming instrumental in the small but thriving music scene there, John formed another band, John Kennedy and the Honeymooners, and released another EP with that band. Having met his wife in Berlin during this time, the freshly-minted couple wanted to see the world. They packed up and travelled to Singapore and eventually to Lamma Island near Hong Kong – widely-known as a mecca for Western backpackers because of its cheap rents and alternative lifestyle. Renting a performance space at the Fringe Club, John cut his teeth on small theatre-type shows where he developed the art of relating to a small, intimate audience. “That was pretty much the first experience I had doing little theatre-type shows … doing them still primarily as a solo artist lent itself a lot more to talking. In a sit-down situation it just gives you the opportunity to talk more, [and] makes it easier to relate to people.”

Leaving Hong Kong after an extended stay, John and his wife settled in The Netherlands, where he again quickly established himself as a must-see live act in clubs and bars all over that country, which was itself supporting a very healthy live music scene at the time.

John’s life experiences and influences all led him to return to Australia, where he eventually released two CDs – ‘Sons of Sun’, volumes one and two. These consisted of cover versions of songs by artists that started their careers at Sun Records in Memphis – and that’s where the idea first started to form for the stage variant. John had always been fascinated by these musicians and, in particular, Sam Phillips. “Before he found these white hillbilly cats like Elvis and Carl Perkins, his mission was to have black rhythm and blues heard by a wider audience,” Kennedy says. “There was all sorts of cross-pollination going on.”

He had always found the music intriguing, and this led to him having the idea of how to present these songs live, without the conventional performance tropes of a cover band. The idea was developed in conversations with a colleague from Melbourne, playwright Kieran Carroll, with whom John had previously developed music for another show. Kieran then developed the show with three actors playing multiple roles, with John and a three-piece backing band on a very small stage, almost taking on the role of the famous performers from days gone by joining with the actors on stage and playing the classic hits from these long ago recording superstars

All the while John focused on Sam Phillips as the main element of the story. The stage play, which features 35 songs and is specifically crafted for small, intimate dinner theatre restaurant venues, is proving to be very successful. John is certain that the reason is simply the appeal of the music. It’s also certain that the experience and passion John has for live independent music will mean he’s never in Crisis.
 

The Cult of the Vertical Pronoun

Media have always had a fascination with celebrities and controversy … Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. Photo: Daniel Gorecki/flickr

 

BY JIMMY RAYNE

From the relatively demure days of Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando to the more recent ‘shock jock’ era of Jeremy Clarkson and Kyle Sandilands, media have always had a fascination with celebrities and controversy. The evolution of technology and modern-day marketing has made it easy for just about anyone to headline a story, provided there is a common payoff for those involved. Controversy is seen as an opportunity to capitalise on a situation where media hype and clever marketing can temper and even manipulate the public’s perception into accepting and even forgiving behaviour that would normally be seen as unacceptable for the average person.

We are now in an age where agents and publicists are no longer the secret behind the success of a talent. It’s an age where some, like Max Markson or Max Clifford, happen to be as famous as some of their clients. Many celebrities are part of a marketing process that goes well beyond a simple promotion. Instead of being known for just their talents, too many celebrities leave little to the imagination as totheir real potential as a personality. People can now become famous from clever marketing without much, if any talent at all. Getting interviews with many modern-day celebrities is near-impossible without having to go through a list of demands.

Reality TV is a magnet for those seeking to demonise the cult of celebrity. As Professor Alan Knight of Sydney’s University of Technology points out, most reality TV is a scripted process. “People are doing PhD Research on reality TV,” he says. “Most people who watch reality TV don’t realise that many of the people that appear on most of the programs are actually subject to psychological tests. So in actual fact, they can find people that are unstable and are likely to fight with each other.

“Furthermore, many people don’t realise that reality TV is not reality at all. They might shoot ten hours but they might show only ten minutes, and then they might stitch together the confrontations out of context, therefore creating almost fictional characters. People don’t realise that reality TV is anything but reality, it’s just some entertainment for the feeble-minded.”

But in an era where we are conditioned to think anyone can make it as a celebrity, can we really point the finger of blame at celebrities who rely on controversy to advance their wealth and personal interests? “The celebrities get to actually sell their products and the journalists get to sell the bullshit,” Professor Knight says. But, he adds: “It’s a mutually destructive relationship. In some ways it degrades the public by assuming that they have a very low intelligence. Poor quality entertainment based on confrontational exploitation has always been with us, before Roman times. They used to feed people to lions; now they just put them on Big Brother.”

Moreover, the level of interest that can be generated sometimes borders on overwhelming. Invasion of privacy can be a negative factor that arises at times. Such circumstances are usually met with caution. But it is not uncommon for celebrities mostly famous for their celebrity, such as Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, to insist on putting a positive spin on even the worst of situations in order to capitalise on success that has come through marketing instead of talent.

Critics have pointed to the media as a crucial denominator in dumbing-down public discourse. And with that dumbing-down comes the need to set oneself apart – which paves the way for more and more outrageous and degrading stunts. One of the most notorious cases to fit this description was the hoax played by Australian DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig on British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, which served as a dark reminder that lines are all-too-often blurred in the ethical realm at the nexus of media and celebrity.

The people behind such behaviour often have a different agenda to what meets the eye. With money, ratings and sponsorship seen as the bottom line for most organisations, the Max Marksons of this world are often forced to seek many different avenues in order to generate public interest in whatever it is that they’re trying to promote. More often than not, situations are staged so that the message they’re trying to get across appears to be genuine. The romantic relationship of Peter Andre and Elena Rivas is an example where both parties chose to exploit themselves following the fading interest of their respective high profile divorces. They were introduced to each other via the agency that manages them both. The news outlets and photographers that followed them around for the next five months knew about every public and private function they were attending as a couple, largely thanks to their management team who would let the paparazzi know before hand.

Not entirely coincidentally, it was the inconvenience of an upcoming world tour for Andre that was the reason for their amicable split.

Although some might view this as unacceptable PR, one must understand that money cannot be made without a market that’s in demand for such antics. The very people that orchestrate the increase in money, ratings and sponsorship often also conduct surveys and research to determine what their audience enjoys and prefers as entertainment. In hindsight the questionable morals and ethics behind many staged events needs to come back to the consumer and what their demands are at times.

Questionable PR has always been scrutinised by most people. Recently there has been much hysteria in the press recently about the prospect of increased regulation. In fact, although commercial radio and television have been subject to the auspices of a regulator for more than half a century, existing regulation of the media is widely regarded as consisting of a hollow threat. “People are still doing things on radio and getting away with it,” Professor Knight says. “The regulator is pretty toothless, but people are constrained by things like defamation. That’s part of the problem with this nasty entertainment – some of the actors start believing their role. Commercial radio was like this 30 years ago. Basically they knew that they would boost ratings by being obnoxious to particular people, so they do it.”

The most concerning issue of late though has been the harassment and abuse of celebrities through social media – and the democratisation of that abuse.

“It’s not just the nutters behind the microphone that you’ve got to contend with – there are nutters out there with computers as well,” Professor Knight adds. “In that sense, the whole process of celebrity has become democratised. What has changed is that the media, through new media, has become much more democratic and much more open. So it has become a lot easier to express ideas. That’s the upside of free speech. The downside of free speech is that there are a lot of crazy and malicious people out there.”

First-time voters: Interview with Tony Burke, MP

BY KAHLIA KIM-SHEPPARD

With numbers shifting in each opinion poll, every vote cast in the upcoming election is crucial, especially the ones of young people going to the ballot box for the first time. Asked how important the verdict of first-time voters will be in September, cabinet minister and Member for Watson Tony Burke has a simple, powerful answer: “critical”.

According to Mr Burke, the means of communicating with first-time voters has dramatically altered. “If we relied on traditional media then you’ve got a whole lot of first-time voters who would be unaware of what was on offer,” he said.

It’s for this reason that the minister is an active user of Twitter with an impressive 22,000 followers and Facebook with over 1750 ‘likes’. He primarily uses social media as “a way to present both policy and personal,” he said. With the introduction of smartphones, tablets and laptops, the hours Gen-Y spend staring at a screen has increased exponentially. “Everything is much more volatile than it used to be and people really want you to prove that you’re worth voting for,” Mr Burke said.

Although the minister claims that first-time voters are critical to the upcoming federal election, his exclamation of their importance is not necessarily shared by young voters themselves. Eighteen-year-old student Niamh disagreed with the proposition that politicians were actively trying to connect with first-time voters. “I don’t feel like there’s been an active effort to talk to me,” she said. “I don’t really know the politicians. I don’t know who they are. I would love for them to actively come out and talk to me.”

The level of education funding, however, remains as much a political minefield as ever. New South Wales Educational Minister Adrian Piccoli cut $1.7 billion in funding for public and private schools and TAFE in 2012. Mr Burke was vocal in condemning these cuts and became an advocate for students and their families. He called the cuts “a big blow to families” and has since continued to campaign against these cuts.

“When you cut education, it is vandalism against people’s future,” he told Sydney TAFE Media. “Young people are smart – they work out pretty quickly if the nation sees their education as a priority, and if the nation doesn’t see their education as a priority, then why should they?”

Despite the efforts of Mr Burke and the government to alter policies to benefit the younger generation, many of these changes have gone unnoticed. The tax-free threshold was increased from $6,000 to $18,000 so when students worked during their holidays, they would be able to earn an income without being taxed an enormous amount, increases in youth allowances were made, and roll-out of the National Broadband Network is underway.

According to student Niamh, the issue most important to her was the job opportunities potentially available after completing her studies. Another first-time voter, Shylee Dolce, said her priority was Centrelink payments. She said the support was vital to her day-to-day living, but she finds it hard to keep up with the many changes and complicated processes involved.

Neither of these two first-time voters was aware of the changes the Government had made to the tax threshold and increases in the Youth Allowance.

According to Mr Burke, it is the government’s first and foremost responsibility to outline and educate first-time voters on party policies, voting practices and on party members. However Niamh said: “I don’t know how different [the process is] to a state or local election. I don’t even know who my local members of parliament are. We didn’t formally get any instructions on how to vote, and we probably should have but we didn’t.

“I think young people do have a very unique voice and I think we should be heard a lot more, because we are the minority in Australia and we need to be recognised because we are the future generation,” she said. “We will be the people that are putting you in retirement homes in a couple of years, so you need to educate us because we will be ruling you.”

As the campaign continues, politicians of all stripes and their staff continue to work hard.

With the countdown to September 14, Mr Burke said, “The truth is for all of us, at this time, we’re all driven by adrenaline, because this isn’t just a job – it’s a cause, for myself and for the team I work with.”

Kahlia Kim-Sheppard interviews Tony Burke in his office.

 

LINKS:

Commonwealth Government Youth Allowance: http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/centrelink/youth-allowance

MP Tony Burke on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tony_Burke and on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tony-Burke-MP/111837652330983

 

Boldly yours, Anonymous

Omegle and Chatroulette: how much of what we see is real? Screenshots by Eunice Chin.

 

BY EUNICE CHIN

When Omegle and Chatroulette were created, they shattered the framework of conventional social interaction. These free online chat websites allow users to communicate with strangers, randomly pairing them in one-on-one chat sessions where they speak anonymously using the handles “You” and “Stranger”. It’s a visual experience, with chat partners using webcams on both ends of the conversation.

The “Disconnect” or “Next” feature on chat sites like these enables users to end their conversations with strangers at their whim and connect to different, equally random users. This, in real life, would be the equivalent of walking away from someone who’s mid-sentence and seeking a more engaging conversational partner. It allows users to skip through hundreds of people as though they were idly flicking through the pages of a periodically-engaging magazine, an activity that bolsters a fickle attitude towards the lame and tame. Almost half a decade from their creation in 2008 and 2009, the thrill-eliciting, intensely addictive quality to Omegle and Chatroulette has yet to wear away.

The obscurity of these communication mediums simultaneously opens a doorway to the intimate lives of strangers and creates of a blurred boundary between what is and what isn’t.
For most of their users, Omegle and Chatroulette present a gleaming opportunity for a quick fix of entertainment, teeming with a myriad of eccentric characters on the web with time to kill and anonymity to hide behind.

But how much of what we see is real?

When two people are united online by chance, a tenuous third space is created where both of them can escape the world they inhabit and immerse themselves in sheltered discourse. This blankets them with a false sense of security, with the “Next” or “Disconnect” button available as their safety net.

Under the guise of anonymity, people believe themselves to be invincible. They have the power to reinvent themselves and their reality, to be bold—to pretend. They can feed the person on the other side with endless strings of white lies and embellish themselves at the expense of authenticity to paint the picture they want. And after their bouts of fun that usually only last for two minutes, they can move on with the “Disconnect” button, forever losing the person they held that brief connection with.

In the black screens that follow a disconnection, users are left to grope for fragments of truth buried in the conversation they’d just had. When they are unsatisfied with what they’ve found—and they most likely will be— they jump back into the reckless melee of strangers, searching for that one person to make their day.

These images are meant to evoke awareness—of ourselves, and the parts hidden within the recesses of our very beings that surface only under the guise of anonymity. How different are we from the person we project into the online world? When we hit the “Enter” key on the address bar to go to sites like these, are we subconsciously accepting that we’ll never truly know the person we’re connected to?

Take a moment to look at yourself and at the person you are online. If they are two entirely different people, are they going to stay that way?
 
Click on the slideshow below. Images are best viewed full screen.