Miles Ahead

Jennifer Harrison reviews Miles Ahead for Australian Book Review’s Arts Update

Beautiful film. How accurate? Don’t know, don’t care, just glad I saw it.

Source: Miles Ahead

“To make people feel dread, you have to put darkness in the frame.”

Love Revisited

Remember 7 and 7 Is? In 1966 it was a hit for the Los Angeles band Love. Dramatic as the song is, with a driving rhythm and ending in a thunderclap, it is unrepresentative of their work, at that time or in the future.

The band dominated the local scene, but Arthur Lee, the idiosyncratic leader, refused to tour or play anywhere but California, so Love never had the exposure it merited. One way or another, the band fell apart, leaving behind an album, Forever Changes, ranked as one of the highlights of the era, and still regarded as an all time great today.

By the time I bought their compilation album, Love Revisited, off the second-hand stall on Cambridge market, Love was effectively in the past, but new to me.

I found many of the songs fascinating, some puzzling, and one confronting. That was Bacharach and David’s My Little Red Book, rendered with a then unfashionable vigour and urgency. I gather Bacharach didn’t like it either. Apart from 7 and 7 Is, the only other song on the album that most people will be familiar with is Hey Joe, but in an interpretation as different from the familiar Hendrix version as you can imagine. Possibly derived from an arrangement for The Byrds, it is, like My Little Red Book, fast, urgent, and, unlike Hendrix’s version, appropriate to the lyrics.

Scrolling through the comments on a article on the ABC News website on songs that should have been hits, or some such, I suddenly remembered my long unplayed Love LP and how much I had enjoyed it. Gone they may be, but not forgotten. I bought the remastered 2 CD collection under the Definitive Rock banner that includes all the tracks on Love Revisited plus seventeen others. Having listened to them all, I would say that the selection for Love Revisited packed in as a good ‘Best of’ as an LP will hold. For my car MP3 player I have added two more.

Song writing credits go about half and half to Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean. Initially MacLean was the more accomplished, but later, after he had moved on, Lee came up with some truly great songs.

Long ago I played Love Revisited to a friend who was a Country and Western fan. I told him I couldn’t make my mind up if this stuff was really good or really bad. ‘Really bad,’ he said. Which suggested to me that it was actually ‘Really good.’

Music is so subjective, and how we feel about it always dependant on factors of memory and association that are quite unpredictable and unclassifiable. As I played my new CD I found tears coming unbidden to my eyes. Good or bad, these songs are etched into my soul.


In the middle of The Empty Hearse, the first episode of season 3 of Sherlock, after a couple of trivial clients pass before our eyes, Sherlock bundles an elderly couple out of the door. He admits that they are his parents. In fact they are his parents. That is, they are Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents, Timothy Carlton and the gorgeous Wanda Ventham, who I have lusted after since 1972 when I saw her in The Lotus Eaters. After a lead role like that I would have expected her to have had a more glorious career than she did. Maybe she was a bit too overwhelming. As it is she looks to have been consistently busy until 2014, with Sherlock and an episode of Holby City. Maybe at the age of 80 she has decided to slow down and watch from the sidelines.

The other night I had a really nice idea. It was beautifully circular and would have made a great post. But rather than flesh it out in my head, and risk spoiling it, I decided to leave it until the morning. Of course, by then I had forgotten everything about it. I have pen and note pad ready by my bed, I should have written it down. Now the world has been denied a sparkling gem of wit, or wisdom, or whatever, and I spent the day distractedly trying to put something together.

But I got distracted. Did you know that the late Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, was the great uncle of Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Neither did I, but I do now. And so do you, so my day was not entirely wasted.


Victoria in 2050

At the end of an Environment Victoria survey I was asked:

“Imagine that you are living in the new Victoria. We made all the right choices in time and we are now living in a truly sustainable society. What is daily life like?”

An offer too good to refuse.

In 2050 Mooroolbark is still my home, and remains, for me at least, as ideal and practical a place as any I have lived in. My roof is now painted with solar cells, connected to a battery in a small box under the eaves. There is no mains connection. Gas has become too expensive, so my only connections are for water and data.

I own an autonomous electric vehicle, the entire body surface, including windows, is covered in solar cells. The vehicle acts much as a chauffeured car would, so most station car parks have been shrunk, and medium to high density housing built on them. There are still a few city car parks, but for places and events there most people either use VR (Virtual Reality), or Park and Ride mass transit. I’m old fashioned, I like to be there in AR (Actual Reality) as the VR tech to organic interface is still bodgy and imprecise.

My own vehicle could be dispensed with, autonomous hire cars work out cheaper than owning your own. But as I am still living (at 99) thanks to manufactured replacement parts, cloud storage of much of my memory, and plug-in cognitive functioning, in the same house with on-site parking, and I keep stuff in the vehicle, I’m still an owner.

Much of my time is spent in a VR, as I have re-invented myself as an Immersive Experience visualiser and scriptwriter, specialising in life, particularly maritime and naval life, during the reign of Queen Anne.

As a devout romantic, I do not go in for virtual sex, except in the course of research for my work. I am in an enduring non-residential relationship with a lady I have known, off and on, for decades. We do sometimes meet in virtual realities, through necessity, but prefer our own AR.

The local climate has changed significantly over the past few decades, it is now drying out and warming after a cold, wet and wild era that came with the failure of the Monsoons and a serious disruption of the ocean currents of the hemisphere. The humanitarian catastrophe that followed, and the final disintegration of the Chinese Empire it precipitated looms large over the nation’s consciousness, and conscience.

Only a fraction of the billions displaced found a home in Australia, and the strain they placed on the social fabric would have led to rapid and total collapse had the secret of fusion power not been, accidentally, uncovered. This enabled water desalination on a titanic scale, and what amounted to the terraforming of the vast deserts of the interior, refilling ancient lakes and bring alive rivers that had been dry for tens of millennia. The full repercussions of this work are still unclear, but millions of lives have been saved by it.

Fusion power has been the game changer. While solar and battery storage has allowed residential housing and light industrial and office premises to go off-grid, fusion has taken over from fossil, solar, wind, and geothermal as the primary industrial supplier. Air pollution, already much improved, is now rapidly declining. Fusion power has yet to be scaled down enough to be used in aircraft, but it is being fitted to new shipping and retrofitted to recent builds, reducing both air and sea pollution. Research into extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is attracting massive funding, as is a UN project to increase the oxygen content to boost crop yields, although scientific opinion is sharply divided on the issue.

The population of Victoria has more than quadrupled since 2016, leaving native English speakers as a small minority. English, however, is the common language, as resources are not available to translate between a dozen or more disparate tongues. This population increase has not led to a decline in standards, as it has been successfully spread across the state. This would not have been possible without fusion power to enable industrial development, plus fast mass transit and freight systems. The extinction of the Chinese economy, unlikely to be revived in the foreseeable future, has had both positive and negative effects for Australia and Victoria, too intricate to examine here. Reforms following the decline of mineral exports in the early century had strengthened the domestic economy and diversified the export market, and forward thinking by both Green and Social Democrat governments stood the nation in good stead when the effects of climate change made the tropics and some other secondarily affected regions virtually uninhabitable.

Through a combination of virtual reality and cheap, fast, comprehensive mass transit, our lives in the outer suburbs of Melbourne are, after a patchy period, richer than they were in 2016. Access to music, theatre, cinema (not as you know it though), and art productions in media I won’t try and describe, is far easier, either via VR or mass transit, which is now a state-wide web, and no longer a radial feeder to the city only. If I want jazz I can as easily go to Bendigo as to St Kilda. We now have wall-sized 3D screens and holographic projectors, though most people don’t have room for the latter at full scale. Holographs work well in the cinema, 3D is better in the domestic lounge.

Food is now more varied and of higher quality than ever, after a really boring period a decade ago, and specialised restaurants are doing good trade. Local culture has been much enriched by this trend, as well as by the live music that often comes with it.

Education is again totally free for anyone who wants it. There are several levels and styles of qualification, ensuring that each is a meaningful indicator of achievement and knowledge. Nobody needs to be employed, as the state pays a living wage to everybody. But you can’t have much fun on that so almost everyone works, if only part time or as a semi-hobby.

Sport is as popular as ever, but more diverse. Cultural activities are all pervasive, choirs, orchestras, bands, dance groups, the influx of exotic influences has had an enlivening an effect on the arts as is has on cuisine. Religion is also thriving, but this has led to a diminution of its political influence as the numbers of adherents to any one faith have fallen dramatically. Some of the imported faiths have changed significantly as a consequence of the circumstances that brought them here. People have recognised that the disasters that befell them were common to all the faiths they now find around them, that styles and degrees of adherence to doctrines have had no effect at all – the laws of physics do not bend to the supernatural. It was initially hoped by some that this would lead to the demise of religion. It has not, instead faith traditions have looked inside themselves to find their philosophic bases, and have largely discarded any claim to temporal power.

We live in a society that generates a kind of amorphous cohesion. This has been the subject of much academic investigation, with, as yet, little result. It has been speculated that it is the net result of a multi-layered culture, in which one person may have many cultural identities and attachments. These may operate like the laminations of a composite material, making it both light and resilient, or like the leaves of a spring. There is a feeling of all being a part of one thing, while maintaining personal individuality and cultural loyalties. This effect was first identified as the Bataclan Generation after the 2015 attacks in Paris. It has persisted and become entrenched, even in the refugee populations.

The future of humanity is on everyone’s horizon these days. Not because humanity is threatened, quite the opposite. Fusion power, self-evolving systems, and analogue quantum ‘computing’ to use an obsolete term, together promise to open up the future, but in ways we cannot predict. My lady and I have signed up for the Upload project, which will free us from our residual organic components, and allow us to interface directly with tech systems and sensors, allowing access to data of a far wider spectrum and vastly finer grain than the organic body can deliver. The project also frees us from the limitations of the fragile and temperamental organic body, an important consideration for what is widely seen as the most significant development in the history of life on this planet – the move off the planet. Some have seen the Upload as a terminal decline into decadent and sybaritic irrelevance. But mostly today it is anticipated as the beginning of an era so unlike any we have known as to be beyond prediction. A Singularity, as Kurzweil put it so long ago.

After having got so much so wrong for so long, are we about to get something right?

The heroes depart – Lemmy, Bowie, and now Glen Frey of the Eagles, who wrote or co-wrote with Don Henley their most enduring songs. These are the times of parting and we must get used to it.

History has its cycle of highs and bummers, although we never know just where we are in the cycle until it becomes where we were. After every golden age is a silver twilight under which we can almost believe ourselves back when the world was young and dragons walked the earth. In the past decade I have seen Leonard Cohen, America, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Ravi Shankar and, to my surprise, Hawkwind, still touring to this day. If I were richer I could have seen some truly big ticket Sixties names. Thousands did.

All that talent, we sigh, still up there playing after all these years, and it makes us glad. But not for all that much longer. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever hear Joni Mitchell sing Edith and the Kinpin live.

Back in those same Sixties, over a period of what seemed like a few weeks, most of the names I had grown up hearing on the radio died. They were mostly comedians or comic actors, who learnt their trade in the music halls and war-time tours of battlefronts. They could do it all, sing, dance, juggle, joke. During a strike, Norman Wisdom and Bruce Forsyth (still with us), played the whole hour of the TV variety show Saturday Night at the London Palladium on their own. By the end they were visibly exhausted, but victorious. That era was soon forgotten, its jokes too topical to repeat, its songs too trivial to endure. If there is an afterlife for old artistes, it must be a kind of Fawlty Towers seaside residential hotel, where the guests live out eternity happily recalling times and triumphs nobody else remembers.

What then for the Rock ‘n Rollers? Is there a Valhalla for the Sixties, an eternal Hotel California where the guests have finally taken over? A definition of Heaven as being No More Managers? Or do they embark on the Biggest Tour of All, across all the heavens and hells, nirvanas and happy hunting grounds, that have ever been and ever will be?

Am I just being romantic in believing that some at least of the work of the Sixties generation will endure, that it embodies some eternal verities, shines a timeless light on the human plight? Not since the Romantic poets of the Nineteenth Century has any art form been so enthusiastically embraced both by the public and by intellectuals. Just what it is all about may be a matter for dispute, but the very fact of that dispute, that attention, suggests that Rock n’ Roll, in all its manifestations, far from being an ephemeral amusement, is the voice of humanity, freed at last from cloister and academy.

So as the Pete Brown album title says, Things May Come and Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever.


We have a bird bath. When we moved in it was buried in the shrubbery, just a wide bowl with no plinth, so I put it on top of a large pot next to the barbed-wire tree and the birds came. Parrots various, our resident blackbirds, Indian Minahs, the odd pigeon, and Magpies.

Magpies are intelligent, curious, inventive risk-takers. They will come in through the patio doors and eat our cat’s dinner. They are bold and fearless, unlike Ravens who are arrogant, cowardly bullies.

This summer a couple of Magpies have appropriated the bird bath, chasing off all other birds, including the Ravens. So we have bought another bird bath and put it on the other side of the garden. We hope the smaller birds will go there, once they notice and get used to it.

At the worst, the two Magpies will have their work cut out policing both bird baths. It’s the old course of empire thing, as the empire grows the cost of holding it together against the interests of both the inhabitants and outsiders forces the imperial power towards bankruptcy. Sensible empires divest and build trade links, foolish ones send in troops and bombers. Magpies, history is against you, give up now.


New Year’s resolutions don’t wear well. Virtuous and high-minded does not have much survival value in the heat of summer when staying cool and un-fried by the UV tops priorities. So a few years ago I decided on one that I could hope to follow with minimal effort and maximum delight. ‘Drink More Coffee!’

This I have achieved! Two cups a day on average, either at home or at a cafe. One reason I’m looking forward to getting back to Swinburne is my morning hit of Mocha at Haddons. I hope it is still there, Swinburne is forever reinventing itself, with mixed results, and I took a semester off. What have they been up to while I was away I wonder?

A month lying on the floor recovering from a 27 year old slipped disc’s big comeback bid has given me time to think, not much else being possible. So I intend, now that the pain is moderating, and this is not a Resolution, to put up on this blog some of the things that pop into my head during the day.

On my desk I have a big blotter-sized diary pad. it has a section called New Year’s Resolutions. I have written there ‘Move!’ Why? I’m going nowhere, we are steadily making this house yet more habitable and the longer I live in Mooroolbark the more I like it. So, ‘Move!’ is an order to me from me to actually do something, write something, stop imagining and engage with the possible. Possible, of course, does not mean easy, or safe, or wise. Perhaps I should settle for mowing the lawns and watching the telly. No, too late for that now.


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