L7: fierce not fearless

"WE JUST WANTED TO BE A GOOD BAND"
“WE JUST WANTED TO BE A GOOD BAND”

L7 are smashing it up in Australia right now. Here’s my interview with Donita Sparks, originally published in QWeekend magazine.

In the 1990s, L7 were a band that stood apart from the pack. Pre riot grrrl, post-punk and one of the few all-­female grunge acts, they brought to the stage heavy rock hooks, catchy songs and plenty of attitude.

While they might have considered themselves the last people to do the reunion thing, in 2014 the band got back together and have been playing sporadically since.

“It wasn’t really, ‘let’s get the band back together’, it was, ‘do you want to do this?’, because I didn’t even know if I wanted to do this,” says frontwoman Donita Sparks. “I just kind of put it out there. Do we even want to go there? Because if we do we should do it soon, because we’re not getting any younger.”

The gang includes the core line-up of Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Dee Plakas, who hadn’t played together since Finch left in 1996.

“The first time everybody saw each other again after so many years, it was weird but we all started laughing again almost immediately. It was uncomfortable and also giddy at the same time. It was cool.”

Their reunion shows have been gathering steam and going off – including playing surprise gigs such as a couple of Rock at Random sessions, where they would do pop-up busking acts drawing crowds, playing such memorable hits as Pretend We’re Dead, Shitlist and Andres.

In their heyday, L7 had a reputation for being fearless, in-your-face, having a feminist agenda served just by being themselves, and partying as hard as anyone.

Legendary antics include Sparks dropping her pants live on British TV, and flinging a tampon at a rowdy ­audience during the 1992 Reading Festival in the UK. They’re incidents she won’t live down, but while she might have mellowed, it certainly took bravery to be in the frontline of fame. So were they really fearless, and where does that bravery come from?

“That’s a really good question. We weren’t fearless,” Sparks says. “You’ve got to front a lot. There’s a lot of fronting involved. It’s for real but it’s also a performance, to a certain extent. People like that side of us, so showing vulnerability back in the day, there was no place for that on our stage.

“Because we were up against a lot. There were people coming at us from the audience. We had to be tough ­cookies out there because it was a rowdy rock ’n’ roll crowd and you can’t go too soft with that. You’ve got to be hard. Sometimes you’re a little worried about what’s going on but you just have to hang tough.

“I’m very proud to be a woman in rock, but I’m just as proud to have our songs hold up and be appreciated as a good rock band. That was our fantasy when Suzi and I set out to do this. It’s not that we set out to be rich and famous, we just wanted to be a good band. And the fact that we’ve made it in some people’s eyes is super cool.”

As well as live shows, the band is working on a documentary, which means poring through archival footage. Before the age of smartphones, and during the heyday of MTV behind-the-scenes shows, the band were canny enough to document much of their tour with camcorders. It’s a bit of a trip, or stumble, down memory lane.

It’s been fun bonding with the band again – and the audience. While the L7 fan base may be a little softer around the middle, they can rock out just as much as ever. “The ones over 40 are the ones to catch the younger ones when they’re stagediving. (They’re) a little more solid to hold up the young ones.” A soft place to land.

L7 play Eatons Hill Hotel, Friday, October 14. Tickets

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A conversation with Dita Von Teese

Dita Von Teese Red Lips Looking Front Cute Face Closeup
SELF CREATION

Dita Von Teese is in town! Here’s the transcript of our stripped back chat on dreams, beauty, boys and becoming who you are. (Original article published in Brisbane News.)

How are you and where are you right now?

I just walked in the door in LA. I just got off the plane.

Tell us about the show you’re bringing to Australia.

The show I’m bringing there is called is called Strip Strip Hooray. It’s a 90 minute long revue. I’ve been touring this show for three or four years in America. And the premise is basically I wanted to give people a full night of burlesque. I wanted to show my life’s work in one show, and put all my most lavish numbers all in one show. I pulled together a support cast of all my very favourite burlesque performers. I’ve selected a few of my favourite performers to come to Australia, and this will be the first time the show has ever left the United States.

Will we see the famous martini glass?

Of course. I’ve reinvented the martini glass in several different ways over the past 15 or 16 years that I’ve been doing it. So everyone will see my latest version.

Your show is called Strip Strip Hooray. Obviously you’re not afraid of the word striptease, why is that?

I think one of the main reasons is that the slang time for exotic dancer, burlesque dancer, comes from the 1940s. Stripper is a 1940s word for a burlesque dancer, that was when it was first coined. Of course, when you think of stripper these days, a lot of people think of the modern version, pole dancing, but really it’s 1930s era slang.

I’m not afraid of the word. (Laughs) I don’t find a negative connotation with it. Gypsy Rose Lee said she loves the word stripper because they said that they made a fancy word for her called ecdysias, but she said she didn’t like it, she preferred the word stripper.

What I want to know is why don’t we see more men on stage?

I have lots of men in my show. I have three men in my show and I think I have three men and four women, so there’s a balance in my show. It’s important for me to show diversity in my show, so you’ll find a show-stopping cast of very unique performances and they’re not all pretty little girls, we’re all different shapes and sizes and ethnicities and of course we have some amazing men in the show.

There’s been a huge resurgence in burlesque for men performing and creating shows keeping in the spirit of classic burlesque with the production levels and faithful ideas and intelligent acts. There’s been a kind of resurgence in that, lately in burlesque, and so you’re seeing a lot more of it, but of course, historically, if you think of how burlesque was in its heyday of the 1930s and 40s it was really geared towards men. It was easy to see a nearly nude girl disrobing on stage. (Laughs) It was entertainment geared towards men and so it’s been turned upside down and people who are going to see a burlesque show today are predominantly female. So I don’t think you can generalise at all any more about why aren’t there more men, why aren’t there more women, the audiences are diverse, the performers are diverse. It’s not what it once was.

I think we all have a bit of masculine and feminine energy. I was watching Prince videos last night and I was thinking what an amazing creature.

Oh yes, definitely…

GLASS HALF FULL
GLASS HALF FULL

How did you feel as a girl growing up about that concept of beauty – I think I’ve heard you say that glamour is not something you’re born with but what you can create which I really liked. Tell me a little bit more about that.

I grew up in a small farming town in Michigan. I’m a natural blonde. My mother loved watch old movies so my first experience was seeing female movie stars, or stars like Betty Grable or Rita Heyworth and Marilyn Monroe, so I grew up thinking, when I’m going to be a grown-up I’m going to be like that, it never really occurred to me that people didn’t dress that way anymore. But I remember getting my hands on my first tube of red lipstick and how that changed my life, and changed how I felt and gave me confidence and made me feel a little bit closer to those movie stars, that I could be a little bit like them. And it sort of snowballed from there. I wanted to capture that. I wanted to give myself that big Hollywood makeover. I studied photos, I studied videos and taught myself how to create my own persona. To create my own glamorous look. So for as long I’ve been allowed to choose my own clothes and wear make-up, I’ve never strayed from that idea and that desire to emulate a movie star.

You’ve certainly got it, you’ve created yourself as it were. I wanted to ask you, what does it mean being a woman over 40, when so much value is placed on youth and beauty, what does that mean for women as we age?

Well, I mean, it’s funny when I’m thinking about it, when I first started creating retro style pin-ups and creating my shows in the early 90s, I was 18, 19, and it’s funny that you think that way when you’re younger, that you’re at your best when you’re young, without realising that as time goes on there’s so much to cultivate other than your beauty and your youth. And you start realising that there’s a lot more to being interesting and being remembered and being considered sexy. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. (Laughs) It’s never what your greatest assets are. I’m 43 and if I try to put my 25 year-old self into this show, it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t have done it. There’s no way I could have done it. I don’t think people would have wanted to see me. But I think a lot of what I do now is about what is sexy, what makes people consider you sexy. I wouldn’t have been able to understand that. I was just at the Crazy Horse in Paris, and I don’t know if you or your readers know about that, but this is a place that’s been open since 1951, the dancers are perfection personified, they’re very young and they’re all the same body shape and they’re absolute perfection and beauty, and yet, I’m going there and they’re asking me how I do what I do. It is something you can’t even explain, I guess there’s something about experience and the thought process and the way that you… I can’t even teach it or explain it. If I thought I could I would.

Maybe it’s becoming more who you are. When you’re young you’re following your idols but you’re also creating who you are but as you get older, you really are that person, which is quite attractive I hope.

Totally. It’s understanding that the things that make you sexy are not just perfection and beauty. It’s vulnerability and strength. It’s your story. It’s the tales you have to tell and whether you’re telling a tale to someone verbally or with the way you move, and the thought process behind every move you make, that’s all real stuff.

Why do we watch some people who act a certain way? You can be doing the same movement and saying the same lines, but what makes somebody have a truth and feeling behind it, I think it’s the same thing with being sexy and performing in any way. It’s just always about doing the perfect moves and being the most beautiful. That is something wonderful to behold, but there’s something to be said for the experience… and I don’t know, (laughs) it’s a hard thing to explain. But basically, I’ve been doing these shows since I was 19 years old and the shows are better now. It’s not because I have more rhinestones.

I think I got more confident as I got older. I like to call it my renaissance. In the last couple of years I started wearing more corsets than ever before.

Once you stop caring… I think men love women who have cultivated their wit and their wisdom and once you have stories to tell, that something you definitely turn but sometimes it can be easy to let other people get the best of you and tell you, oh, you’re older, don’t forget you’re getting older, what are you going to do then? And that’s when you have to brush it off and try to let things like that go away from you or roll off you like water off a duck’s back. It’s the biggest problem, because I’m asked all the time, oh, what are you’re going to do when you don’t look good anymore? (Laughs) And I’m like, oh my god, well, there’s a lot of what-ifs in the world, and there are so many phases of beauty and aren’t we lucky if we get to experience many of them.

I often ask people if they remember their dreams, and if so, is there one which jumps to mind?

I remember some and I have a lot of nightmares about doing my show and not having all the things I need like things falling apart or not having my costume, things like that (laughs) and then I have nightmares about getting sunburned, I’m telling you the silliest ones, I have other reoccurring dreams, but a lot of them are nightmares, but those are the ones that are related to the stuff I’m talking about. They’re funny. Like anxiety dreams…

I guess you don’t have the anxious turning up to work naked dream.

No, I don’t have that one, but I do have the anxious turning up to work and not having my costume and having to do a show in a bikini or something. That would be my nightmare. (Laughs)

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Molly Ringwald: All that jazz

 

MOLLY SINGS
MOLLY SINGS

She’s starred in some of my all-time favourite movies, and not only acts, but writes and sings and is super nice to boot. Recently I got to chat to the one and only Molly Ringwald about all the cool stuff she’s done later in her career. First published in QWeekend magazine, The Courier-Mail.

Molly Ringwald is a Renaissance woman. Not only does she have a couple of major television roles on the go, she’s written a novel, a self-help book, an advice column for a major newspaper and recorded an album.

She might be known for seminal teen flicks such as Sixteen Candles Pretty in Pink The Breakfast Club, and, but at 48, her career is flourishing.

“I won’t say I was a late bloomer, but I think there are certain people who are in for the long run and I’m somebody who was always in it for the long run,” she says on the phone from her home in New York, surrounded by the delightful evening chaos of getting three children ready for dinner. Her husband, writer and editor Panio Gianopoulos, is cooking.

Ringwald is known for her coming-of-age movies, but turning 40 is also a coming of age. Significantly, she achieved many of these things after the age of 40. However, reaching the milestone was no picnic.

“It was definitely traumatic,” she laughs. “Particularly for a woman who’s made a career in Hollywood. Hollywood isn’t exactly known for its best practices in terms of ageism. In other terms, I found it very freeing, because there is something confining about the incredible success of those (teen) movies, at least in America. They’d run all the time on television and I’m so well known for them … there was something about turning 40 that was just like, there’s no denying I’m a grown-up.

“And also, I just started to do everything … All the things I do other than act, I did after I was 40. I started singing, I had two more kids, it was like everything that I’ve been doing I did after 40, which is kind of extraordinary, I think. It sort of kicked me into high gear.”

One of those achievements was a book of sisterly advice for grown-ups called Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick, which she wrote because she felt there was “a real dearth of books that were celebrating being a woman rather than a girl”. She also published a novel, When It Happens to You, a slice of many lives.

Her acting career is flourishing, too, and after a successful run (2008-2013) playing a mum on TV drama series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she is now starring in Canadian family sitcom Raising Expectations, in which she plays a child psychologist and mother of five Paige Wayney, whose husband Wayne is played by fellow former young star Jason Priestly. Ringwald also has another fun role as a self-help author in the second season of US comedy series Odd Mom Out.

However, of all her passions, it’s music that has stayed with her the longest and it is what will bring her to Australia for a series of intimate cabaret concerts. Ringwald will perform her take on jazz standards — songs she has known since childhood. While “Molly the chanteuse’’ might seem like a new role, it’s actually something she has been doing since she was young.

She recorded her first album, I Wanna Be Loved by You: Molly Sings, at six. She released its follow-up, her grown-up debut, Except Sometimes, in 2013.

“I have been a singer before I could talk,” Ringwald says. “It was what I did before I acted or anything else. My plan was to do it as a little side project and then it ended up becoming something more. I have to say, of everything that I do, it’s the most fun.”

While she may be associated with the soundtracks of her famous films, jazz has been the soundtrack of her life. Her inspiration was her father, blind jazz pianist Bob Ringwald. The pair are very close.

He is clearly a funny guy. His bio reads he was born in a small community in California, but “rumours of his virgin birth, being abandoned by wolves and being raised by parents … are grossly exaggerated”.

“He’s very funny,” she says. “He’s outspoken and ribald and charming. Everyone falls in love with my dad.”

His blindness was something she never really thought about. It was more a personality trait than a disability, she says, though it probably did influence her in other ways.

“I read a lot out loud with him in the house and my dad has always been a big audio book nerd and I was always the person he liked to go to movies or plays with, because I was into describing things to him. So I think it made me more in tune to that kind of stuff — observational detail.”

WHATEVER
NOT THAT PRISTINE

Another person she pays tribute to in her shows is the late John Hughes — the talented director who changed the landscape of teenage films with his sensitive and funny movies that have been the favourites of generations. Hughes died after a heart attack at the age of 59 in 2009.

He, of course, changed the life of one Molly Ringwald. In her cabaret show, she performs a unique version of the Simple Minds classic from The Breakfast Club, Don’t You Forget About Me.

“He was an amazing presence in my life,” Ringwald says of Hughes. “We had this connection that comes around once in a lifetime. I loved working with him. He was really special, and he clearly died way too young.”

Ringwald’s life has never followed a script. In the 1990s, rather than going down the Hollywood road, she moved to Paris, taking on French acting roles as well as returning to the US to work. She created her own path.

Life now is about living in the moment, whether that be writing or acting or singing or getting dinner ready for children. But if she does write her autobiography some day, she’ll have many fond stories to tell.

“I feel like (when I’m) at the end of my life I’m going to be able to look back and say, ‘Wow, that was really interesting and totally unexpected. And I did everything I could possibly do.’ ”

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On the road: Lanie Lane’s journey to love

MISS LANE
THE DIVINE MISS LANE

What started out as a journey of self-discovery, ended up being a love story. Early this year, Lanie Lane had an epiphany. The singer-songwriter announced she was quitting the music business. After seven years, two albums, and endless nights on the road, she realised that what had once been her dream career was bringing her more stress than joy.

A few months after her second album Night Shade came out, Lanie announced her decision to the public – that she would be downing microphone and guitars and taking an indefinite break.

Once the dust settled, and she had given herself time to gather her thoughts, Lanie decided to hit the road. She packed up her gear from her home outside Melbourne, sold off a lot of her stuff and took off with her dog Dingo.

BEST BUDS
BEST BUDS

They travelled together in the Outback, meeting folks and seeing the sights, up through central Victoria, through country NSW, the Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy, Uluru, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. She retraced some of the steps she’d done on a similar journey when she was 18.

And, then, a bit like in her own version of Eat Pray Love, the journey took an unexpected course. On the way, she met a man who was to become the love of her life. The road took her to Yeppoon, near Rockhampton on the Queensland central coast. And it’s there she’s decided to lay down her swag permanently.

“I basically decided this year that I needed to get away from everything,” she says from the lounge outside her bush home as she stops to notice a beautiful lizard that’s walking past.

“I just packed up my whole house and all my possessions and bought this little shitty van. My dad built this single bed in the back.

“I met up with my new love in a place called the Devils Marbles, otherwise known as Karlu Karlu, which means boulder boulder. He’s a documentary filmmaker and we ended up going to Borroloola, and visited the old ladies up there, and then we went to Kakadu and visited some of my family as I call them, my bush mum, who is like a traditional owner of Kakadu.

“Then I grabbed my car again and came over through central Queensland and now I’m here. I didn’t see the trip ending in such an awesome way, but now I feel like I’ve really found my home. And my people.”

Lanie, who also recently turned heads for her role in The Dressmaker, is relishing the plot twist her life has offered. “We met really briefly quite early on my trip and then we were in contact kind of courting over the phone while I was travelling. A couple of months later, we met up and it was kind of like all on, so it was very unexpected for both of us, but it’s just incredible, so we’re very lucky.

“I met the love of my life, it’s amazing.”

The lucky man to take the “love of her life” title is documentary maker Tom Hearn. He runs regional film company BushTV and has won awards for his work, especially working with indigenous communities.

Yeppoon is perhaps somewhere that Lanie, who grew up on the NSW central coast, never imagined living. But her daily life, which is filled with blissful routine and physical and spiritual nourishment, is one she is cherishing. The stress of her life has decreased by several notches. She’s a different person.

Mornings are filled with walks on the beach, yoga and meditation. And she spends her days busy working on projects and making art. She couldn’t be happier.

“Basically, Monday to Friday I’m pretty much a recluse in our beautiful bush home on a couple of acres. I get up really early every morning. We do our exercises, a beautiful morning routine, do some work in the day and go to bed really early. On Saturday morning, we go into Yeppoon, into town, which is about half-an-hour away and we go to the local farmers market. I’m friends with all the farmers now and I love having that consistency in my life. I go every Saturday without fail.

“They have a beautiful little chai caravan and everyone will sit and have chai and you see the same people and it’s really sweet. The old people go and have their chai and you just sit and then you go home and take the food home, wash the food. It’s very simple and that’s my week. I love the simplicity of my life.”

While Lanie no longer has a label or management, she might occasionally still play a show. And for lucky attendees that includes this year’s Woodford Folk Festival. She’s surprised that in all her years of performing – and her love of the hippie life – she’s never performed there before. So when they asked her she couldn’t say no.

“When Woodford asked me to play I was so happy and then this little tour unfurled,” Lanie says. “I wasn’t really expecting it to. It’s just such an awesome opportunity. It’s Woodford’s 30th year, and I’m 30, and I’m opening the main stage.”

She’s also making artwork and merchandise for the shows herself, which means screen-printing tea-towels and T-shirts with her designs.

“I’ve basically been taking all the art that I did while I was travelling and making beautiful prints. So I’ll be selling them – limited edition prints of each artwork, there are about 15 works – just in a simply presented way, just something for people to take home.”

Giving up what for many would be a dream career wasn’t an easy decision, but it was something that finally felt right. When she was ready, she knew.

“I was in so much pain about it for so long and had such a deep resistance to everything that was happening, because it didn’t feel natural to me anymore,” Lanie says.

“Once I had the realisation that I didn’t actually want to do it, it was this huge relief just to realise that. A very profound moment in my life that I’ll never forget. Because I’d been carrying that burden around, of doing something that in my heart, and body, I didn’t want to do.”

At that stage, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever want to perform again.

“So to make the decision to do some more shows and do the festival and things like that, was fairly … (I thought) do I want to do it? Am I ready? And yeah, I am … I don’t know how often that’s ever going to happen. I could not even say if I’ll ever … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

“All I know is that life is so unexpected for me and I literally just go with the flow. And that may never take me to performing again. I just really don’t know. I like that, though.”

While her circumstances may have changed, Lanie has changed too. She may have been grouchy and irritable before, by her own estimations; but now she’s open, warm and welcoming, facing each day with a heart as big as the sky.

“This last year has been so wild and unexpected,” she says. “I think always the change comes from inside. Sometimes you get almost this divine intervention and you get the opportunity to change deeply held stuff about yourself and make your life better. And other times, it’s directly a reflection of your inner state of mind or heart.

“I’ve just been on a massive journey to being much more of a realised, conscious person.”

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Steve Parish: Mental health and the healing power of nature

AS ONE
AS ONE

Originally published in U on Sunday magazine in The Sunday Mail.

When Steve Parish recently delivered a photography workshop in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, many people came up afterwards wanting to talk to him. But they weren’t there to ask him about lens selection or shutter speeds or how to capture the perfect shot of a cormorant mid-flight. They wanted to talk about mental health.

It’s a dialogue that the renowned multi-award winning nature photographer and Order of Australia recipient recently opened up and since then the response has been overwhelming.

Many know Steve for his stunning photographs that have graced calendars, postcards and walls, capturing a defining vision of Australia and its amazing natural diversity. But the man behind the camera admits he has long struggled with mental health – whether dealing with divorce, cancer or the loss of his business in the 2011 floods.It’s something he has felt since growing up a disenfranchised young boy in a strict household in Adelaide.

For him, nature has provided a great healing respite and it’s that which he hopes to share with others in his project Nature Connect.

“The whole planet is this ball of anxiety and stress and of course the population is growing and growing and growing, and so I guess at 70, with a lifetime of nature connection and experiencing things like, oh wow, isn’t this possum wonderful? isn’t it wonderful we’ve got 50 kinds of macropods, kangaroos, and aren’t they fantastic creatures?, I wanted to step out in my 70th year and say hey, I’ve had blessings along the way through this nature connection, I can see people are suffering, wouldn’t it be good to get a conversation going on how we can release and reduce our emotional suffering?”

The project – in which he hopes to generate a dialogue about mental health and the healing powers of nature – is being launched with Steve’s first fine art exhibition As One at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Part of the proceeds will go to Bush Heritage and the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.

STEVE PARISH
STEVE PARISH

It’s his first fine art exhibition because while Steve may have covered Australia coast to coast in his 50 years as a wildlife photographer, turning his photographs into fine artworks via digital manipulation is a recent endeavour. From cute koalas, wide-eyed possums, curious frogs and jaw dropping landscapes, nature has been his palette. But recently he has has turned to creating fine art from his photographs through digital manipulation, bending the pixels at will to capture not only the beauty of what he saw but the emotion he felt in the moment.

“For 50 years I’ve never seen myself as an artist,” he says. “I’ve seen myself as a naturalist expressing the beauty of nature.”

In the hall of his home in Brookfield, outer Brisbane, hangs a picture that inspired the title of the exhibition – As One. Lively and colourful asSteve himself, it shows a network of tributaries coalescing into one which eventually finds its way to Lake Eyre. He remembers the moment flying overhead. “It’s staggeringly beautiful,” he says.

The artwork is a metaphor for human consciousness and the power of what can be achieved collectively, something Steve hopes to encourage through Nature Connect.

Steve shares his home with his wife and business partner Kate Prentice and one of his step-daughters, Jessica, a fashion student. The 60s style bungalow is decorated in warm earthy tones; a fire crackles in the living room. Outside is the bushland that Steve loves yet in reach of the city. South East Queensland has the most diverse greater metropolitan area of any in the world, Steve says. Quincy the dog patters the kitchen floor which leads to a veranda outside where cockatoos come to visit statues of other birds. It’s a rental; the house they owned is down the road, but they lost all that in 2011 flood.

“I went from being a multi-millionaire to worth a few thousand dollars overnight,” Steve says with a rueful chuckle.

The flood took out the offices of Steve Parish Publishing in Oxley, destroying photography equipment, $600,000 worth of books and about 150,000 transparencies. The claim for insurance of three million was rejected as the insurer argued it wasn’t a flood but an inundation. At the same time, the company which owned Bookworld, Angus and Robertson and Borders went into bankruptcy owing them close to a million dollars. There was nothing for Steve to do but declare bankruptcy himself, something which he has only just come out of this year.

Steve shrugs that off as if that wasn’t the worst of his problems. Dealing with bowel cancer in 1996 or break-up of two marriages was far worse. But Steve isn’t talking about these things to elicit sympathy, rather to highlight the very human struggles that life can throw at us.Steve knows he’s not alone and wants to make sure others know they are not alone also. By opening up about his own life, he hopes to encourage a conversation about mental wellbeing. It was late last year when he decided he wanted to get the conversation going.

“I actually had an epiphany,” he says. “I had a major depressive bout at Christmas. And I guess it has been as a result of career change and appreciating that I was entering my 70th year, and while I had preached and taught in my books the importance of nature connection, I’d never really done something to generate a conversation.”

Mental health is a constant topic on our televisions and newsfeeds. Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental health issue of some kind in their lives. Mental health services costs Australia more than $7 billion dollars a year. Six Australians die from suicide each day.

The benefits of nature on mental health are well documented, yet it’s easily shrugged off. But Steve says connecting with nature doesn’t necessarily mean going to Kakadu.

“Even at lunch time, leaving the office going into the park, it could be a cooch lawn and a

British tree, but its fresh air, it’s green, it’s a blue sky, it’s white stunning clouds, and whether you realise it or not, sitting there on the park bench having your sandwich, you are giving yourself mental respite you are giving yourself a healing. You then take yourself back into office on 47th floor staring at computer screen and you at least can extend your mental capacity for the rest of the day. So nature connection shouldn’t be seen as being as being at Uluru or diving on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a mind state and you can do it anywhere.

“The creation of gardens, growing native trees that are more likely to attract native birds and being blessed by a visit on a Sunday morning by a cockatoo, while you’re having coffee on your back veranda probably with your tablet these days, and feeling elated and blessed. Humans need to be blessed.

“A connection experience is a state of mind. It’s got to do with going into the present moment, and you can do it in front of a pot plant, you can do it looking out a window if you’re in hospital.

“I remember when I had bowel cancer in 1996, waking up after surgery I didn’t think I was going to make it, and when I opened my eyes after the 12 hour operation, heavily sedated, I saw a blue sky and a green tree outside the window. It wasn’t even a native tree. But every time I see blue and green it triggers that moment.”

Steve grew up in Melbourne and Adelaide in a strictly religious family which was far from warm and fuzzy. His mother was a Pentecostal preacher who was very dogmatic. His father, an engineer, was a “sweet old man” who was “Elizabethan” in his attitudes and never expressed emotion.

In his youth, before his love of photography took hold, his passion was for firearms. He had 17 of them by the age of 18 and worked as an apprentice gunsmith. There were moments when he was tempted to use them on himself. Instead he fired a shot that blew the tiles off the roof and “frightened the shit” out of his family. He still has ringing in his ears to this day. When he hears about disenfranchised youth today he feels nothing but sympathy.

When he was 16 he was invited on a diving trip with the South Australian Museum to Kangaroo Island with underwater photographer Igo Oak. Igo handed him the camera and he took his first shot of a small silver fish. It began a life-long passion. Steve continued to photograph marine life for the Australian Museum in Sydney and his diving skills increased when he joined the Navy at the age of 18. In 1965 the Navy stationed him in Jervis Bay on the New South Wales coast.

The work he was doing for the Australian Museum was pioneering – and the encouragement he got from museum leaders gave him a sense of purpose. That came into focus on a diving trip with renowned underwater naturalist Neville Coleman, when Steve was around 20.

“I remember sitting on a clifftop in Jervis Bay and Neville turned to me and said, Stevie isn’t it fabulous that we have a reason for being?”

That concept of a reason for being is one that resonates with him today – the power of having a purpose beyond the day to day – and it’s a core value in mental wellness and something he hopes to encourage in others.

In 1974 he moved to dry land and to Queensland where he began working as a photographer for the newly formed Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service.  He set up his business Steve Parish Publishing in 1985. His career has been full of not only inspiring plants and animals but inspiring people, many of whom he talks about in his book 50 Years of Photographing Australia.

Steve knows what it’s like to wake up at in sweats at 4am worrying and wondering, what will become of me? He calls these mind stories, calamitous narratives about our problems with which we frighten ourselves.

“You wake up and think, oh shit, what’s going to happen? Am I going to have my job at the end of the month? What’s going to happen next year? Does my partner really love me? Or historical mind stories: my mother didn’t love me and I’m feeling sorry for myself. I call those poor little me stories. I’m just as guilty as suffering these things.

“So if the story you’re telling yourself in your head that means you wrote it, so you can rub it out.

“I was 65 before I realised there was such a thing as a mind story. And I remember what opened my eyes was listening to a CD by (mindfulness teacher) Eckhart Tolle.”

One thing that helps, he says, is feeling a connection with something outside of ourselves, whether that be family, community or nature.

“The natural world is riveting, it’s exciting, it’s full of awe, it’s full of colour, it’s full of form, in fact all of the colours on the planet, all of the design elements that we look at every day, have been inspired by nature.

“Unfortunately the majority of people on the planet don’t see themselves as part of nature. So when we flick on our screens at night we see disconnection. We see when we drive from Darwin to Kakadu massive land changes, feral plants have taken over, mining trucks pouring up and down the highway, so for me seeing these events occur on a regular basis over a very long period of time, I can see that if nature is to be protected or defended it can only happen if the broader population has some reason to want to defend it.”

Sharing his passion with others through the dialogue his workshops have generated has been rewarding for Steve. He has been delighted to see the impact on others, from the 14-year-old boy who went from photographing out of focus fuzzy ducks to pin-sharp birds on the wing, to the ordinary blokes who felt brave enough to share their stories of hardship, to the women who are leading the charge sharing the photographs they have taken on social media, reliving the thrill of their encounter with the natural world now that technology has made that more accessible than ever. There are countless examples of it.

“When you do tours, you take people out in the bush, you see the housewife that’s raised children and supported her husband all of a sudden has got this hobby, this ability to experience an emotional exchange between herself and a dingo drinking or a sunset on a big old gum tree and make images and process them and create with them and write about them and share them. All of a sudden her life is, ‘wow’ – it’s pretty simple stuff.”

And it’s available to everyone.

“The opportunities are there,” says Steve. “We have a choice in life. We can either wallow in our self-pity and anxiety and stress, or we can choose to step out and do something creative and create a reason for being. And I think through the exhibition, through the workshops that we’re running, I want to motivate people, I want to create an army so then with Bush Heritage we’re then going to take that story to Canberra, to Melbourne to Adelaide to Sydney to Hobart to Perth and keep it going and hopefully through these kind of opportunities we’ll get that conversation going.

“So instead of talking about ISIS let’s talk about reason for being, let’s talk about fun, let’s talk about connecting with each other and sharing the joys of connection.”

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Sigmund Arj: Arj Barker on thoughts, courage and happiness

THOUGHTFUL
THOUGHTFUL

Originally published in The Courier-Mail.

In his new show, Arj Barker is asking audiences to get inside his head.

“It’s a pretty fun place, although at times it can get a little weird,” the Californian comedian and honorary Aussie says. “But that’s what makes the show fun.”

Get In My Head, which opens at Brisbane Powerhouse this week, traverses a landscape of all manner of weird and wonderful topics the witty comedian has thought about over the years, from the social evolution of humanity to non-sexually derived boners to fondue.

He admits the insides of people’s heads are probably much more bizarre than we’d like others to know, despite what we reveal on Facebook.

“I think the amount that we reveal to the outside world is a lot less than what’s actually happening,” he says. “There’s a level of politeness that keeps us from saying a lot of our thoughts out loud.

“And then sometimes you don’t agree with your own thoughts. You think something and then you think well, actually I don’t think that but I just thought it.

“There’s the part of you that thinks and there’s the part of you that can analyse the part of you that thinks. It gets really convoluted the more you think about it.”

Barker, who writes all his bizarre ideas down in mountains and mountains of notebooks, has been making Australian audiences laugh for more than 15 years. He first came to the country in the late ’90s, performing on TV’s Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday, hosted by Daryl Somers.

“I got to meet Deep Purple, which was pretty cool. I think there’s a picture of us somewhere. This was back in the day when you had to get a photo developed. Daryl was friendly.”

Some of his friends back home are surprised by how popular he is in Australia, though he doesn’t like to talk it up. He thinks that maybe his exoticism was part of his early appeal, although the cultural differences between California and Australia aren’t too broad.

While he still calls California home, right now he is based in Melbourne, though he has also spent a lot of time in Australia’s laid-back capital, Byron Bay. It’s an area that reminds him of where he grew up in the offbeat and geographically picturesque county of Marin, north of San Francisco. For 18 days this month, however, he’ll be based in Brisbane. In the evening he might stop off at his favourite restaurant Taj Mahal in New Farm. During the day he hopes to be productive, working on a new show as well as a television idea.

Now in his early 40s, Barker is not slowing down, although he admits he’s less of the party animal he was in his youth. A good night these days might include settling down with some good food and a movie with his girlfriend and pet bulldog.

“I still have a lot of fun. I just don’t feel as bad in the morning,” he says.

Turning 40 was no big deal.

“It was not really a major event. I just went out to dinner with a few friends. Nothing felt like it changed really. I thought maybe it would be a big deal but it’s really not. It’s like New Year’s Eve, just another day on the calendar.

“I don’t need that much to be happy. Mainly, just my friends and I like to eat tasty food and I’m thankful for doing the job I love. I get great audiences. I’m not playing stadiums, but I get an intelligent, respectful audience. I have a little mini family with my dog and my girl, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

He’s glad that he followed the comedy muse in his youth, taking and making opportunities where he could.

“I can’t say I don’t have any regrets but one thing I’m glad of is that I went for it,” he says.

“I decided not to let fear dictate my life – (thinking) ‘I’ve got to get a college degree or I might not get a job’. Being in comedy is so fun. I dropped out of college very early on and just hit the road.”

And you can see Barker in action from next week, with his buddy Joel Ozborn in support. Barker will be signing DVDs and selling “sticker packs” afterwards, so come on down, he says.

“I guarantee people are going to be glad that they come out. I’m doing a lot of shows, but I think sometimes people get complacent. They go, oh yeah, plenty of time, and the next thing you know I leave town. Then I get emails all year long, ‘when are you coming to Brisbane?’ I’m coming now!”

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Age of innocence: Gremlins’ Zach Galligan

BEST FRIENDS
BEST FRIENDS

If you ever wondered what happened to Gizmo, the cute furry star of Gremlins, co-star Zach Galligan can tell you that he is safely tucked away in his cupboard.

“He likes it where it’s darker and dryer,” says the actor who played Billy in the iconic film, which turns 30 this year.

Anyone who has seen the movie, which includes most grown-ups in their 30s and 40s, will remember the rules for looking after the cute little mogwai. If you have one in your company, never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight.

These days Galligan mostly devotes his time to teaching acting at New York University, but in the past year he’s been busy celebrating Gremlins’ 30th birthday.

“This year we had a cast and crew get together engineered by Empire magazine. We took the models out of mothballs and took pictures with them. In Los Angles where we did an outdoor screening of Gremlins in a park on a big screen and 1800 people showed up.”

The film, apart from being a 1980s classic, the kind of scary comedy that would lull you into submission before having you throw your popcorn in the air, also has the honour of precipitating the PG13 rating in America.

“There were two movies out back to back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins and they both had very disturbing sequences in them,” explains Galligan. “In Temple of Doom there’s the scene where the guy pulls the beating heart out of his chest. Then in Gremlins there was the sequence where we blew the gremlin up in the microwave. And the microwave goes ‘ding’. That was supposed to be funny, but a lot of people thought it was appalling, and were like, ‘you’re going to have people putting their cats in the microwave now’.

“I think the other legacy about Gremlins is it’s still one of the better horror comedies that’s come out of the Hollywood studio system. It’s a very difficult genre to get right.”

Working with the creatures was a blast, and Galligan got to know them rather well.

“I felt it was a very believable creature. Obviously it was complicated the way I had to hold it – I had to have wires taped to my body. That’s a little bit suspension of disbelief when you’ve got 14 cables running down your pants. But there were times when I was interacting with the Gizmo that you did get the sense that it was kind of like a real creature. So I just started treating it like it was a real pet.”

Galligan’s other cute co-star was Phoebe Cates.

“Phoebe was so cool and approachable and nice and kind,” he remembers. “We were just good friends and we’d hang out. We loved movies and could talk about acting. So I could relate on other levels instead of just staring at her.”

Cates now runs a boutique, The Blue Tree, in New York.

Despite its gory jokes, Gremlins, which came from the Spielberg school, recalls an innocent time for anyone who grew up in the 1980s. It helped set the tone for a genre of teen movies.

Zach Galligan
DON’T FEED AFTER MIDNIGHT

“Hollywood is basically a bunch of imitators,” says Galligan. “Now you see people are making comic book movies and they’re very successful so everyone is making comic book movies. So back then in the beginning what you had was teen movies, so everybody made teen movies. Because nobody has an ounce of originality in that town. I think people assign a lot more artistry than is really there.

“What the Spielberg movies did is they tried to create a sense of wonder that you had when you were young and innocent, before you got cynical and jaded. And now most movies start everything very cynical and jaded. And when you have a movie with sweetness and innocence in it people really like it because that’s what they go to the movies for.”

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Back to the future: Jesus Jones

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW
RIGHT THERE RIGHT THEN

Jesus Jones were one of my favourite bands of the 1990s. Pre Britpop, they came along in a wave of acts like Pop Will Eat Itself, The Shamen and Carter USM, fusing rock guitars and dance beats with sampling and new technologies.

It helped that their singer Mike Edwards was cute.

I had their song International Bright Young Thing on a travel compilation I made for myself when I left the country at 21. But you might remember them for their best known track Right Here Right Now, which was used to promote Brisbane’s Treasury Casino, as well as Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was a No. 1 hit in the US.

They came to Australia in 2011, performing with other ’90s favourites the Wonderstuff and the Clouds, and had such a good time they’re returning to play Brisbane at the Zoo on March 12.

So now I’m chatting to Edwards, my teenage crush, who at a surprising 50, still looks the part. He spent his post band years reinventing himself as a fitness instructor and now runs cycling tours abroad. He might not have the sexy long hair he once did, but then, I’m not 21 anymore.

The album that made them international stars is called Doubt and it’s that they’re playing in full on this latest tour. Released in 1991, it came with a noise warning: “This album contains extreme sounds which could damage musical equipment.”

“It was by far and away our most successful album,” says Edwards. “It sold 2 million copies around world and entered charts at No. 1 in the UK. It was massively significant for us, and by and large I’m sitting in a house that was pretty much paid for by that album.”

Performing the album in full also means revisiting some of their lesser known tracks.

“Some of those songs I hadn’t listened to in years and when I did so I realised why,” says Edwards. “So for the live shows we’ve completely reworked them, which is great for us and for audiences as well.”

In the early 1990s, Edwards was a floppy-haired 20-something living in a rented flat in London opposite a railway station. A skate fan, as well as a music enthusiast, he was very driven.

“I knew what I wanted and was out to get it,” he says.  “The flipside to that is if I met myself from those days on the street now I’d probably want to give me a bit of a slap.”

On the ball and ahead of their time, the band were always interested in technology, not only sonically, but lyrically, with songs such as Info Freako and Zeroes and Ones. Interestingly, I owned Doubt on cassette and CD, which shows the era it straddled.

“The rate of increase in information technology is exponential and it’s racing ahead so much that these days I feel less like I’m interested and on top of it, and much more like I’m just racing to keep up,” says Edwards. “I do feel like we’re living in the future. But I feel that it’s run away from me. It’s like a horse that has thrown me off.”

With a body of work including albums such as Perverse, Already, London and Culture Vulture, they’ve got a lot to proud of. So I thought it would be fun to ask these magazine cover stars and international bright young things some questions from an old Smash Hits from back in the day. Edwards was up for it.

Q: What’s your room like?

1990: It’s cluttered. It’s got a load of recording stuff and skate stuff in it.

2015: These days very well tidied by my partner.

Q: What’s your favourite word?

1990: I’m usually an articulate person, but this’ll be something very unarticulated. Em, unarticulate! Inarticulate even! Thwack is a good one. Thwack! It’s got to be something onomatopoeic.

2015: Blimey. At the moment it would be digame, which is a Spanish word for when you answer the phone.

Q: Are you in love?

1990: Yes. Totally. With my girlfriend.

2015: Oh yes, my answer about how tidy my room is reflects that.

Q: Do you like yourself?

1990: No, not really. I don’t really like photos of me. I don’t often like the way I’ve treated people. I often look back and I think I could have done better. I’m going to look back on this in two hours’ time and think, ‘Damn! I could have shone  I could have been brilliant!’

2015: Hmmn… Some days. Always room for improvement.

Q: Who do you get on with best in the band?

1990: Probably Gen because I’ve known him for so long. He lives in the flat with me and my girlfriend.

2015: All of them. It’s the same line-up that we had at the very beginning – so after 25 years there’s got to be something there.

Q: Tell us a secret about one of the others?

1990: Jerry de Borg is a Satan worshipper. He sings Paul McCartney songs in public and makes no secret of it.

2015: Alan doesn’t have any secrets, he’s loud and proud, but he has found himself arrested on a number of occasions in the most ludicrous situations. Usually in Japan. He’s been arrested for riding a moped without a helmet going the wrong way down a one-way street in Japan. And waking up wearing someone else’s business suit in a duck pond in the Imperial Palace gardens in Tokyo.

So now for your listening pleasure and mine, the gang are going to be bringing it all back to a jumping night at the Zoo. Edwards is thrilled to be doing this again.

“It was a real privilege to be able to come to Australia and play and I absolutely loved it. It was like the Spinal Tap quote – we’re having a good time all the time.”

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Spoon: Coming soon

THEY DO
THEY DO

Some of my favourite ever songs sound like they come from the soundtrack to coming of age movies.

Songs such as Pretty in Pink by the Psychedelic Furs, the theme to the John Hughes ’80s classic starring Molly Ringwald. Or New Slang by The Shins, from the Zach Braff-directed Garden State, in which Natalie Portman’s character plops a pair of headphones on Zach’s ears and says, “This song will change your life”.

Foster the People have a song like that, actually called Coming of Age which, although I don’t think it appears on a film as yet, sounds like it should.

Some bands have a knack for writing songs that can send you on an emotional ride in the space of a few bars, setting your soul adrift like a kite on the breeze, reminding you of the exciting or moving moments of life.

One band that does that is Spoon, from Austin, Texas. Tracks such as Do You from their latest album They Want My Soul will make you feel like you’ve been listening to that song since you were a teenager.

Ahead of their visit to Brisbane this week, I asked singer Britt Daniel what kind of film a Spoon film would be.

“I’d like it to be dark and dramatic, with some black humour,” he said. “And maybe some juvenile humour as well.”

The talented bunch have been one of the most highly praised bands ever – even being named by website Metacritic as Artist of the Decade for being the best reviewed band of the 2000s.

I’m not alone in my love of them. Fellow Courier-Mail scribe Noel Mengel put They Want My Soul in his top 10 albums of 2014.

They’re playing Brisbane on Tuesday night at The Hi-Fi and it’s a gig you shouldn’t miss. Definitely worth adding to the soundtrack to your life.

While we might remember our favourite films, it’s the songs that really get stuck in our heads.

“Music works in a singular way that no other medium does,” muses Daniel. “I would guess that it has a more direct tie to our emotions than a visual medium.

“But it’s weird because visual mediums always seem to trump the audio medium. If you have the two going at the same time, the video of what you’re seeing is probably going to lead and the music is sort of the undercurrent that might get to you without you knowing it.”

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