Serial killers, 90210, Friends, and food

More recent features:

An interview with Asia McClain, about how the ‘Serial’ podcast blowing up made her fear for her safety.

About how our environment completely tricks us into eating more. Spoke to an interesting scientist from Cornell University over the phone and his enthusiasm was infectious.

About Edward Wayne Edwards, who was probably America’s worst serial killer, with links to the West Memphis Three, Jon Benet Ramsey, Teresa Halbach… oh, and he may have been the Zodiac Killer!

An interview with Christine Elise – who played Emily Valentine on 90210 – about dealing with mental fans, and mental co-stars.

Storylines from ‘Friends’ that would be the subject of a million angry opinion pieces the next day in the current super P.C. climate.

 

The twenty best Gin Blossoms songs

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SPOILER: ‘Hey Jealousy’ is number one. I could have argued for one of the other singles, or been perverse and picked one of the many other killer songs in their catalogue, but that’s not what this is. In fact, if you don’t know the band past this song and that other one, you will probably cling to three or five new favourites here and begin to believe one of these should have actually been number one, and then email me about it. Don’t fret, this is part of the process. Soon this feeling – like many feelings – will fade and you will be left with cruel, cold analysis and boring old logic and you will see that Hey Jealousy is the best. It just is. And that’s not necessarily a statement restricted to Gin Blossoms songs, or even ’90s songs or (GASP) ‘one ht wonders’, or even Songs Where The Cops Chase You Around (But You Let Them). If you are new to this band, I sincerely hope you find a bunch of music you like.

Also, ‘New Miserable Experience’ and ‘Congratulations, I’m Sorry’ are two of the greatest album titles ever, so props on that. I don’t know how you can see a record with either of those titles and not want to immediately listen to it.

20. Idiot Summer

Firstly, great song title. Secondly, the two songs Gin Blossoms wrote exclusively for soundtracks were for ‘Wayne’s World 2’ and ‘Empire Records’ which is batting 1000 as far as I am concerned. This was for WWII (and yeah, I’m using that abbreviation) and is one of singer Robin Wilson’s finest songwriting outings. He combines this with a more mongrel-ly vocal delivery than on their album recordings, biting down brilliantly on a lot of the lines. A+ (All the songs on this list get an A+)

19. Whitewash

“This night never happened, if it’s alright with you” is a common reaction to the twin sins of lust and pints-at-schooners-prices, yet morning-after regret seems to be under-represented in the pantheon of pop. “I was nowhere near last night”, vocalist Robin Wilson argues, and it sounds so convincing you’ll begin to believe him.

18. Angels Tonight

I would like to know if they had heard Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘Rise’ prior to writing this, because all the musical parts seem to have been directly lifted from it. Hang on, which predates which? “I had a girl I thought was mine, but I wised up man, just in time” is a great line, although it’s nothing compared to, “as we collide as the lights go out, there’s someone else she thinks about” – which is fairly heartbreaking. This song should have been higher in the list.

17. Cheatin’

“You can’t call it cheatin’, if she reminds me of you” is perhaps the greatest terrible excuse ever, and the kind of people that either offer this up or accept it post-transgression deserve to find each other and live blissful, unaware lives together. That’s not an insult. The chorus is obviously meant as a joke, but the heartbroken country tune it is wrapped in is serious – and seriously great. (Okay, it’s not 100% serious)

16. My Car

Dripping with the type of nostalgia triggered by driving past your old school with only the company of the cool night air, and a pack of cigarettes. “Thinking back on things I’ve done, I can’t forget the stupid ones – it seems I do my best by accident” will be a familiar notion to anyone who ever feels autopiloted through life.

15. Mrs Rita

“Why do lovers come and go?” is a ridiculous thing to ask a palm reader, although it makes for an interesting song premise. The protagonist details years of “swimming in a bottle”, admits his “lover’s will is shaken” and details a new resolve to keep busy with “my books and with my tapes” – all in service of asking the horrendously under-qualifed Mrs. Rita if his girl is coming back. She probably isn’t.

14. Blue Eyes Bleeding

A mock-country tune with an insatiable shuffle, some nice harmonies and the joyous plead, “Are you coming home for Christmas, c’mon pretty please.”

13. As Long As It Matters

As close as the band ever got to Idol-worthy, Garth Brooks-flirting, AAA balladry, rescued from this fate by the tasteful harmonies, the slide into the chorus, and the fact that neither Santana nor Slash was ever in the lineup.

12. Til I Hear It From You

The band’s only song to feature in a Gen X-baiting film where the staff members of a suburban record store spontaneously burst into dance every five minutes. Co-written by pop genius Marshall Crenshaw for some reason. This was a massive hit for the band, although they chose not to include it on their album because Rex Manning day.

11. I Can’t Figure You Out

Just a great pop song, with a killer chorus and some good advice: never trust a guy with a nervous laugh. Not surprisingly, this is another song about struggling with alcohol by a band literally named after the capillaries that burst in one’s nose after excessive drinking.

10. Keli Richards

Named after a porn star main songwriter Doug Hopkins fell in fake-love with, and such a sugary sweet pop tune that the meaning could easily slip by. Keli Richards, c’mon!

9. 29

One of the most tender tracks in the band’s canon, and home to the forever line, “When my lies may seem less than clever is when I fall for it.” Props for writing a song with ‘wishing wells’ in the chorus without it being a) lame b) fiercely unpoetic or c) From Snow White.

8.  Lost Horizons

The opening track to their major label debut kicks you in the face/dick instantly, and takes about 1.3 seconds to convince you this album might be more than ‘Hey Jealousy and others.’ I once stole the second verse lyrics in a university creative writing class which forced us to read/sit through undergraduate poetry, just to see how the tutor reacted. He repeated the line, “I stood there, grateful for the lie” a few times (irony?) before adding, “I like that.” I reprised this theft a few years later at a bullshit slam poetry reading thing at the This Is Not Art festival – back when you could do such things.

7. Perfectly Still

Maybe the best straight-up chorus in the Gin Blossoms’ canon, with a steady, stripped back verse, and a pre-chorus that propels like a car being driven around a town while the cops chase it around.

6. Virginia

Actually, scratch that previous entry – this is the best chorus in the Gin-canon. Oddly enough, both these songs appear on ‘Congratulations, I’m Sorry’ which doesn’t feature their original – and best – songwriter Doug Hopkins.

5. Follow You Down

This song still gets blasted with almost-Hey-Jealousy-like frequency on stations that go ad, ad, ad, ad, Kings of Leon, RHCP, ad, ad, ad, and it’s easy to see (hear?) why. Basically, it’s a perfect mid-’90s power pop gem, with ringing guitars, a joyous chorus, and the line, “Let’s not do the wrong thing and I swear it might be fun.”

4. Allison Road

“I didn’t know I was lost at the time” is another one of those situations that should really occupy more space in the songwriting annals of history (located second row from the back, near the old VHS tapes of ‘The Late Show’). The benefit of hindsight is rarely of benefit at all, especially when it’s mainly a mixture of useless regret and the overconfidence to believe those days are over.

3. Found Out About You

A darkly-obsessed song: half stalker anthem, half lovelorn breakup song, and the last recorded instance of someone admitting on tape to listening to AM radio in the car. “Is there a line that I could write, sad enough to make you cry” is the last-ditch gasp of a guy who still believes he can poem his way back into a girl’s heart. (Spoiler: of course you can’t!)

2. Pieces Of The Night

On those rare days when you are sick of ‘Hey Jealousy’ (everyone has them, although it’s wise not to admit this), ‘Pieces Of The Night’ is the very best song in this band’s catalogue. It’s just so defeated and sad and hopeless, which is the over-riding appeal of the Gin Blossoms and their fucked up, weary, alcoholic world-view. Unfortunately, this was far from an affectation, with the song’s writer Doug Hopkins killing himself just as the band – which he had been fired from during the recording of the album for alcoholism – were starting to find success with the singles he penned.

1. Hey Jealousy

Every line of this song is a masterstroke. Top three? Sure thing. In reverse order? Here we go.

3) If I hadn’t blown the whole thing years ago, I might be here with you

2) Cause all I really want is to be with you, feeling like I matter too. (There’s always a caveat)

1) If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down (Setting realistic expectations)

It’s the best. Enjoy!

BONUS – Back Of A Car

One of the best – if not the best Big Star covers (sorry Elliott, sorry Wilco, sorry You Am I, sorry Lemonheads).

On Ivan Milat, ‘Runaway Train’ and stranger danger in the ’90s

state forest

Christmas, 1993. I received, among other gifts, a Super Nintendo game called ‘Tecmo Super NBA Basketball’ which I preferred to the more flashy ‘NBA Jam’ due to its realistic 5-on-5 play, respect for gravity, and the hilarious injuries you could dole out to opposing players. My favourite was a hyper-extension, which sounded hilariously brutal to my brother and I for some funny reason – and our goal soon shifted from winning games to unleashing hyper-extension after hyper-extension without prejudice, even though we had no idea what a hyper-extension was. Around the same time, a series of decaying bodies were being discovered in a state forest three hours down the coast from us, and news of a then-unknown serial killer swamped newspapers and evening TV bulletins for months on end. I had just turned eleven at the time and was beginning to emerge from the Fraggle-filled cocoon of early childhood into a world filled with serial killers who offered lifts and ended lives with cruel arbitration. Stranger danger was – not surprisingly – at its peak at the time, and my worried mother soon implemented a secret word which we were to request if anyone other than her or my father ever attempted to pick us up from school. Our secret word was ‘ANT’, an acronym plucked from the first initial of mine and my two school-aged siblings’ names. I only got to ask for this secret code word once, to which my grandfather told me to stop wasting time and get in the car, and then lectured me about how McDonalds was “low-grade dog food” when I suggested a drive-through detour.

There was a popular Soul Asylum song at the time called ‘Runaway Train’, which wasn’t at all about runaways but thematically matched enough for the Missing Persons Unit to wedge photos of young runaways-at-large into the video clip with names, ages, and ‘last seen’ dates, like an updated milk carton, or a particularly morose basketball card. (This was localised by state and country, I later learned – although when you are young, the world stops at the outskirts of your town.) As the weeks went by, and the papers kept thudding onto our wooden veranda (and sometimes on the window sill)  various kids from this video – whose names, faces and ages I had by now obsessively learned – would appear on front pages and in shallow rainforest graves, and would be dutifully edited out of the clip by the following Saturday, as a fresh “runaway” hit the starting lineup. I’m only now thinking about the fact that making these edits was somebody’s job. Each day for months I rolled out of bed, thundered down the steps, grabbed the cling-wrapped newspaper from the veranda, ripped it open (which was, and still is, stupidly hard to achieve) and read gruesome updates that would blow apart my blossoming brain, as my sugar cereal sat soggily in front of me.

At the time, my mother worked late shifts at a nursing home and would often get 11pm cabs home, which filled me with a thumping sense of anxiety, what with my daily intake of strange-car-related murders, the sudden need for secret code-words, and a killer still on the loose. My best friend at the time told me someone tried to snatch her brother out the front of our school which didn’t help things either, despite being almost certainly untrue. Each evening my mother worked late I lay terrified in bed, silently mourning and knowing – as I did for certain each time – that she was indisputably dead and in pieces in some shallow, foresty grave. And so, each evening for months on end, I worried, and grieved, and slowly dragged my small self past the point of pain to the inevitable acceptance of this loss: plotting my life without a mother, an orphan Annie with an even more feminine bob, stoically hiding from school-friends the pain one feels when their mum falls victim to an evil serial killer… until around 11:15pm, when I would hear her key in the door and breathe freely, silently vowing to make a million dollars in the next week as a child actor or child inventor or some such thing so she would never need to leave the house again and we would be safe, indoors, forever.

The police quickly zeroed in on Ivan Milat, who decided it would be a good idea to have a distinctive look, leave behind witnesses, and keep items belonging to his murder victims in his house, and he was tried and sentenced to life. Milat would spend the following decade feigning insanity, pleading his innocence, going on hunger strikes to protest his lack of a video game console (yup!), blaming and framing his brother, and swallowing razors. Being the most prolific and publicised murderer of the past hundred years, he was bounced around from jail to jail, and ended up, as if to reward my early, fear-riddled curiosity, in an old convict-era jail a few hundred metres down the hill from my high school. During my very first day there, our year adviser had warned us that when walking around at night near the school, we should put one hand in a pocket and clutch our keys in a fist, with the sharp, jagged part protruding between the first two knuckles (something I still do the in sketchier areas of the universe) in order to be ready. Ready. He dropped this knowledge as casually as one might explain the ‘I’ before ‘E’ rule (which shouldn’t be a rule, by the way), and his negligent, windswept demeanour coupled with this casual fight advice set my new school up as an urban jungle, where danger lurked behind every Toy World or Time Zone. We had a special morning assembly the day Milat was moved to the jail, as parental and student unrest was justifiably high – when inmates break from prison, they often head to nearby schools or malls, where their hostage situation and therefore bargaining position is much stronger. Not to worry though, there was a solid plan, our principal assured us: a new “Jailbreak Bell”, which was just the normal bell, blasted continuously. It was alarmingly similar to the “Bomb Threat Bell”, but held even longer. If the bell sounded continuously for longer than two minutes (with haste obviously not too much of an issue when dealing with escaped serial killers heading towards a school filled with thousands of kids) we should then implement The Plan. The principal calmly explained: upon the inevitable jailbreak, each classroom teacher would calmly lock the door and draw the blinds, after which students were to calmly place their chairs on top of their desks and calmly crawl underneath. Calm. Impenetrable.

In the end, Ivan Milat never broke out of jail, I never learned what a hyper-extension was, and my fear of hopping into strange cars subsided around the time that strange cars became the only ticket to ride anywhere past the outskirts of our town, but I often think of our 24-hour news cycle these days, and of anxious, unequipped young brains being hit with an avalanche of suicide bombers, food allergies, mosquitoes and rivers carrying diseases, cops who shoot kids, and all the ugly worst of it – while being given no historical or statistical context in which to place this information; freely dealt out to them between cat videos and Carpool Karaoke on phones that live in their pockets. It makes me long for a world where news was delivered on paper in the morning and television at night. At least then, parents could hide the more gruesome pages, and switch the evening news to ‘Home and Away’, the tales from a blissful seaside town where all the kids were orphans, people regularly perished before they hit 30, and drownings, septicemia, car-crashes, and bushfires were at least dealt out evenly, and scored with dramatic music. Those were the days…

Remembering Shane Parrish, 18 Years On From His Untimely Death

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Originally published on JUNKEE – March 13, 2014

Today is a solemn day. It marks eighteen years since Shane Parrish, resident bad boy-turned-love sop of Summer Bay, tragically passed away — introducing a nation of scarred, scared children to the word ‘septicaemia’ and to a new reality, where death hid in every rusty hinge or crooked nail.

Shane and his young wife Angel had a rough twelve months leading up to his untimely death. First Alf Stewart, driving in classic anger-blackout-mode, mowed Angel down in his four-wheel drive, placing her in a wheelchair weeks before their ill-advised teenage wedding. Following this incident, Angel was feared dead after a sea-plane she was in crashed into the rugged terrain that borders the Bay. Weeks later, Shane made a foolish late-night ice-cream run and came off his motorcycle, forcing him to undergo a splenectomy.

Here we are, though, at their one-year anniversary, and it’s a beautiful scene: Angel is glowing with child; the waves are crashing in the background; salt-air whips furiously around them; a packed picnic basket is being lazily decimated; Hunters and Collectors’ ode to determined stalking, numerically specific foreplay and animalistic one-night stands –  ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’, which from this point forward was bestowed with a rather undeserved weightiness in the Australian psyche – is playing out of a boom-box so awesome it has twin-tape decks and a CD player; a cricket bat perched in the background suggests a few romantic overs are in the near future; and Shane cut himself on a rusty nail a few weeks ago — but let’s not dwell on that, after the past twelve months it hardly seems relevant.

Look at him: strong, blonde hair like a Test cricketer from the ’90s. What a catch. Although, now the lens focuses on him fully, he does seem a little off-colour, and he’s moving slowly and sluggishly — like a test cricketer from the ’80s. Angel immediately jumps into panic mode in the way that only a person who has been repeatedly slapped by life’s cruel hand can, and a faint Shane tells Angel bravely that she should take him to hospital.

Angel, stuck in the pre-mobile wasteland of 1996, yells into the empty ether for help, the music swells, and a thousand teenage romances are reconsidered, or clung more tightly to.

The love story of Shane and Angel is a tale as old as time. Meeting-very-cute at a Frente concert, during the band’s well-publicised ’93 run of East-coast surf clubs, the two were instantly taken by each other. On first sight, she thought Shane was a fucking jerk because, well, he was a fucking jerk, while he thought she was lively, lovely and spunky because, well, she was a fucking jerk, which guys dig, especially bad boy teenagers with a rap sheet longer than one of Irene’s week-long booze benders.

Like approximately 95% of all youth in the greater Summer Bay/Yabbie Creek district, Angel was homeless and parentless at the time, and upon developing some ailment serious enough to land her in the emergency ward, Donald Fisher – who, like 95% of all adults in the area, was a licensed foster parent* – took her in. With Shane also a stray living in Fisher’s house, love bloomed. Proximity is a powerful aphrodisiac.

Naturally, with eighteen appearing fast over the horizon and the HSC soon to be a distant memory, the duo realised the most sensible thing to do was to get married — despite their uncertain futures, non-existent income streams (although Shane’s lovingly-crafted Wikipedia page hilariously lists his occupation as ‘caravan park assistant’), and the fact that every second scene had them fighting over some unspecific transgression, usually involving Isla Fisher.

Still, as Paul Kelly often sang from the remarkably contemporary jukebox in the diner, love never runs on time, and the quite-liberal Summer Bay parental unit soon realised that they best get on board. Plus, Summer Bay loves a good wedding.

Sadly, Shane and Angel’s love was brief, although its impact stays evergreen. Rest in peace, Shane Parrish. You went out the way most men can only dream of: by being scratched by a rusty nail while renovating a farmhouse. The Bay still misses you.

*DOCS PRACTICES DURING THE ’90S NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED. AILSA STEWART IS A CONVICTED KILLER, IRENE WAS A RAGING ALCOHOLIC WHOSE OWN KIDS WERE ACTUALLY TAKEN FROM HER, AND PIPPA WAS CLEARLY A SHAPE SHIFTER.

Number Ones: Walking 500 Miles – and 500 more – for a hit

proclaimers

I’M GONNA BE (500 MILES) –THE PROCLAIMERS
#1 FEB 20 – MARCH 19, 1989

There was a recurring storyline on How I Met You Mother where it is revealed that the character of Marshall has had a cassingle of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ stuck in his car’s tape deck for years. The point of the gag could have easily been the bad luck of such a cheesy song being forced upon him every time he drives anywhere, but instead it is played as a testament to the song’s undeniable repeat value. Even a brief lull of excitement at the song is shown to pass quickly – cut to the characters blasting the tune out joyously hours into a road trip.

There’s an even better – if almost certainly spurious – story picked up a few years ago by the sorts of tabloids who report ghost sightings and international rights breaches side-by-side as ‘news’, where a Chinese Proclaimers fans told her lover she would only marry him if he walked 500 miles (and 500 more) in order to propose. The poor guy, not realising that sarcasm exists and feelings are transient, travelled six weeks from Henan Province to the Guangdong Province, which you obviously already know is roughly 1000 miles apart.* King of the road, indeed.

If this column teaches you one main thing from week to week, it’s that 90210‘s Brian Austin Green was a criminally-under-rated actor and rapper. If it teaches you two things, it’s that the most unlikely songs manage to hit number one in Australia, for reasons quite divorced from the rest of the world, and often impossible to decode – even decades later.

Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid – who make up The Proclaimers – seemed beamed in from Muppet Labs when they hit Australian television and radio in 1989: twin bespectacled Beaker characters with cartoonishly exaggerated Scottish accents, and a chugging, repeating tune which offered up both an ultra statement of love** and a wordless, sing-along section that guaranteed inclusion on wedding playlists forevermore.

The single hit #11 in the UK, and #14 in Ireland – no doubt being halted by the lack of novelty in the twins’ accents, and Rod Stewart’s then-recent flooding of this market. Over in Australia, however, we loved it!*** The song debuted at #42, climbing steadily over the following weeks, before hitting #1 on February 20, 1989, and staying there for a month. The sunny song’s success even propelled their album into the top ten (during the same week the single reached #1), where it bounced about for 15 weeks – or 75 episodes of Home and Away, if that’s how you measure time these days.

Follow up single ‘I’m On My Way’ was equally bouncy, equally travel-related – if only in the metaphorical sense this time – and also included a weird, wordless, singalong part. While the song didn’t hit the UK top 40 (c’mon lads!), the song reached #3 in Australia and was arguably a more enduring hit for the duo on Australian radio, still enjoying regular play on heritage radio in 2001 – until Shrek brought the song to a whole new generation of kids raised on CGI and MSG.

In 1993, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ featured in under-rated Johnny Depp film Benny and Joon, which saw the single released in the US, where it hit #3. Not to be beaten, a smattering of British comedians re-recorded the song in 2007 – with the song title parenthesis reversed, because nothing is sacred – whereupon it finally reached #1 in ol’ England.

Of course, this all proves the song’s evergreen appeal almost as well as Marshall’s aforementioned cassingle does – or maybe it just shows the best song doctor in the game is Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas.

 


*Also, Scottish darts player Robert Thornton uses the song as his walk-on song – which is obviously all kinds of hilarious, and spawns at least ten follow-up questions.

**Travelling long distances for love is such a proven song trope that way back in sepia-stained 1968, The Beatles parodied the idea with White Album track ‘Honey Pie’ – which bemoaned distance while offering up the hilariously feeble, “I’m in love, but I’m lazy, so won’t you please come home.”

***Years of decoding Barnesy TV interviews, mid-song banter and Hey Hey appearances prepared us for this moment.