Sunday, September 18, 2016

Groove Book Report - Burt Munro - The Lost Interviews by Neill Birss

Herbert James "Burt" Munro was a New Zealand motorcycle racer, famous for setting an under-1,000 cc world record, at Bonneville, 26 August 1967. This record still stands; Munro was 68 and was riding a 47-year-old machine when he set his last record.

"In the late 1960s in Invercargill, two blokes sat in a modest shed drinking tea. The old bloke was telling stories about his life, the young bloke, a junior reporter, was typing on his portable typewriter. Dramatic tales of youthful scrapes, motorcycle races, international travel and friendships. The young journalist Neill Birss moved away from Invercargill and never published the typescript interviews. They surfaced again many decades later"

Apart from racing and Salt Lake experiences, this new book also brings stories of Burt’s early motorcycling adventures Southland, his 'prior' life in Australia in the 1920s and again in the early 1950s, and of the great moments on the road through the United States (which are only touched on in Donaldson's movie).

Early Kiwi motor-ventures cover Burt’s ride up the Hollyford Valley while the road was still being built, and therefore extremely treacherous, and as a salesman for H&J Tapper’s, riding his  coal-gas powered one-speed flat out around the streets of Invercargill. ) bike powered by the coal-gas unit he built. And then there's explosion as a result of tempering steel at Melhop’s and another high-speed crash, this time at Teretonga.

If anything this is the Munro story you'd most likely get if Burt was your grandad and you were sitting attentive and quiet on his knee after he'd finished a plate of good roast and a couple of whiskeys.  It's all in his own words as recorded in a series of interviews with Southland reporter Neill Birss, nearly 50 years ago and  rounds out the Munro history with stories of his life not printed before.  In those days Burt was well known among New Zealand and American motorcyclists, but it was before the 2005 film, The World's Fastest Indian made Burt a world celebrity.

Birss' plan was to write series of articles on Munro for overseas and New Zealand motorcycle magazine. But the project was interrupted when Birss moved to Christchurch and the notes, which had been taken in the first person, were lost. Then after the Christchurch earthquakes he was dumping rubbish to make room for repairs and he found the notes just as they were about to go into a skip and it was this collection that we now have.  Maybe good things can come from bad, occasionally.

Neill Birss is a Christchurch business and technology reporter. As a young journalist in Invercargill he interviewed Burt Munro for a few months with the goal of writing a series of articles about Burt for overseas motorcycle magazines. Then he lost the interview material : until now. Birss rode an ex-army Indian motorcycle on a farm as a schoolboy, and much later commuted on a Honda road bike, but computers and electronics generally have long been his main technology interest.

 Burt's Indian, with commentary by Jay Leno

Groove Book Report - The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig. Norton

For nearly half of the 20th century, women were beating a path to Margaret Sanger's door with a plea: “Do tell me the secret, ” they wrote in their impassioned letters, “doctors are men and have not had a baby so they have no pity [sic] for a poor sick mother.” But Sanger concealed no great secrets preventing pregnancy, especially when you didn’t want to. By Sanger’s time, modern medicine had improved upon the crocodile dung ancient Egyptians used as vaginal plugs and the lemon half Casanova recommended as a cervical cap — but not by much. Let's face it men, and the church, and doctors and every God Damn politician this side of the North Pole had an opinion and an attitude on women's sexual health and believed they were the only ones who could determine when a women could or could not get pregnant.  Diaphragms were faulty and ill-used. And condoms depended on men’s will, at a time when a doctor could advise a woman to sleep on her roof to avoid her husband’s advances.  They were wrong.  Thank the Gods. 

The birth of the pill is about the four pioneers of the contraceptive pill, namely Margaret Sanger, a campaigner for women’s rights, Gregory Pincus, a physiologist, Katherine McCormick, a wealthy widow who financed much of the work, and John Rock, a Catholic gynaecologist. What they achieved is remarkable, particularly considering how little money and resource there was for the research.

The star of the book is undoubtedly Pincus. Sacked from Harvard, ostensibly because his work on reproduction was so controversial, he briefly worked at Clark University, US, then set up the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. This privately-funded research institute had a precarious existence until it was taken over by the University of Massachusetts Medical School well after the events recounted in this book. The author treats Pincus as a scientific genius and visionary, though many of his colleagues took a less charitable view.
The book is written in a fast-paced style, without any hint of light or shade. The heroes are stereotypical heroes, flawless dispellers of darkness and brilliant in their pursuit of the truth. Personally, I prefer my history more nuanced than this.

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Eig (Luckiest Man) blends the story of the “only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name” with the lives of the four-larger-than-life characters who dreamed, funded, researched, and tested it. Eig recapitulates much of what’s known about the discovery of oral contraceptives and adds a wealth of unfamiliar material. He frames his story around the brilliant Gregory Pincus, who was let go by Harvard after his controversial work on in-vitro fertilization; charismatic Catholic fertility doctor John Rock, who developed a treatment that blocked ovulation and, with Pincus, began human testing (including on nonconsenting asylum patients); and the two fearless women who paid for and supported their work, rebellious women’s rights crusader and Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger and her intellectual heiress, Katharine Dexter McCormick. The twists and turns of producing a birth control pill in the mid-20th century mirrored astonishing changes in the cultural landscapes: Eig notes how, in July 1959, the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and G.D. Searle’s request for FDA approval of Enovid presaged a “tidal wave that would sweep away the nation’s culture of restraint.” Eig’s fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history.

The book is nimbly paced and conversational, but its breezy style can trip on the rails of those politics, particularly when it comes to what the pill, and all the forms of effective hormonal contraception that followed it, meant to women’s lives. Shifting social mores are reduced to postage stamps, and though the analysis is infrequent, it jars.
When it comes to delineating contraception’s downsides, Eig doesn’t seem to think he has to prove the offhand and highly arguable claim that in the years that followed, “birth control would also contribute to the spread of divorce, infidelity, single parenthood, abortion and pornography.” He also blithely dismisses as futile Sanger’s hope that “the pill might lift women out of poverty and stop the world’s rapid population growth. In fact, the pill has been far more popular and had greater impact among the affluent than the poor and has been far more widely used in developed countries than developing ones.” 

Contraception hasn’t been a panacea for broader inequality, and it will never be, even if IUDs were available free on demand on every street corner. But no serious accounting of women’s progress over the past decades, however incomplete, can leave out the transformative role controlling their fertility has already had in allowing women to chart their own destinies. That radical transformation also helps account for the enduring fierceness of contraception’s opponents.

It is an old argument to blame social ills on too much freedom for women, or on the tools of it. Eig notes that when Sanger gave an interview to Mike Wallace she was asked, “Could it be that women in the United States have become too independent — that they followed the lead of women like Margaret Sanger by neglecting family life for a career?” The year was 1957.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox. Wellington. 2 September. Shed 6

Created by Scott Bradlee, the rotating collective of Postmodern Jukebox has spent the past few years amassing more than 450 million YouTube views and 1.9 million subscribers, performed on “Good Morning America,” topped iTunes and Billboard charts and played hundreds of shows to packed-house crowds around the world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Groove Book Report: A Burglar's Guide to the City - by Geoff Manaugh

Encompassing nearly 2,000 years of heists and tunnel jobs, break-ins and escapes, A Burglar's Guide to the City offers an unexpected blueprint to the criminal possibilities in the world all around us. You'll never see the city the same way again.
Quotes from the book: 
“Architecture is the “magic of four walls,” he writes, referring to its power to fundamentally transform how certain crimes are judged and how their perpetrators can be sentenced.”
“For the burglar, every building is infinite, endlessly weaving back into itself through meshed gears made of fire escapes and secondary stairways, window frames and screened-in porches, pet doors and ventilation shafts, everything interpenetrating, everything mixed together in a fantastic knot. Rooms and halls coil together like dragons inside of dragons or snakes eating their own tails, rooms opening onto every other room in the city. For the burglar, doors are everywhere. Where we see locks and alarms, they see M. C. Escher.”
I've been putting this off because there are two types of reviews that I like to write: those where I loved the book and want to sing its praises, and those where I really despised it and can't wait to tear it to pieces. When a book is just mediocre ... well.  Who cares? Despite the cool concept and very neat cover, I’m afraid this is one of the latter.  
Like with many I could say that it's not really the book's fault. It didn't entirely meet expectations.  My idea was that the book would be more fantastical, an unstoppable wave of analyses of actual burglaries with diagrams and granular detail on the planning and equipment used and how the cops eventually caught them etc.  Perhaps tales of fraud, etc.  Art theft.  Diamonds and gold heists.   Secret papers and spy thriller plots.  What an opportunity. 
Sadly there are few of those expected moments in the book and when they did they felt flaccid compared with what I imagined would be in there, and instead we’re were surrounded by unending pages of discussion about the act of going through a wall instead of a door, or what the legal definition of burglary is, or anecdotes about riding in a police helicopter in LA and seeing old television film sets.  
I was hoping for a jewellery theft as per The Pink Panther movies, perhaps.  A daring thief on a retractable line lowers down to a triggered floor to snatch the booty.  Sadly, no.  Instead of creative capers, we get mundane stories about police ride-alongs and interviews he conducted. This book would better be titled, "My experiences researching a book about burglary."
Throughout there's just too much chatter and analysis and not enough legends and good narrative.  A great deal of space, for instance, is given to the world of hobby lock pickers and the author's own efforts to learn the skill. At the end of it all he informs us lock picking is irrelevant because burglars don't bother with picking locks, they force entry or find other means of getting into a building. Then why include this information at all?
When actual crimes are mentioned, they are given brief space and left me wanting more details. It felt as if more time was spent explaining the fictional plots of films and books than of real-life crimes.
I really wanted to give this book a higher rating. I heard Manaugh interviewed on NPR and was looking forward to the book. It needed to be shorter, by at least a 25%. If it had been, I would have given it 5 stars. The information was delivered well, it just needed to be tighter. He should shop for a better editor.

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Music on Groove

Groove has new music on its playlist.  Here's what we've loaded up.


Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker will release their debut album for Rough Trade, ‘Overnight,’ on October 14th, 2016. The album which is self-produced, follows their Rough Trade debut, the ‘Through The Clouds' EP, which was released earlier this year.

‘Overnight’ is their most ambitious record to date, focusing on Clarke’s extraordinary voice and lyrics, and Walker’s prodigious guitar-playing and arranging; the album features panoramic orchestration by an eclectic core of acclaimed musicians, including strings, horns, piano, double bass, and drums. The twelve songs – ten originals and two covers - recorded almost entirely live at Rockfield Studios in Wales - serve as a snapshot of the endless cycle of night into day and back again, morning light, into dusk, into black midnight, into greying dawn, and on, and on.

The album’s lilting first single, “The Waning Crescent,” is almost an answer in ballad form to the portrayal of the moon in traditional and popular music as a soothing, confessional, companion (i.e. “Blue Moon”). Coming at the darkest and stillest point in the album, the song – like the moon – brings a reassuring lightness.

Clarke explains, "I started to think about if I was the moon, what I might think and feel, and what the moon might sing back,” adding, “I’ve given it a slightly whiny, self-pitying quality because it’s whimsical and a bit funny.” 

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jonathan Crayford is at it again.

Teaming up once more with the same killer rhythm section on the critically acclaimed Dark Light (2014), Jonathan Crayford returns with another beautiful album. Recording again with engineer Mike Marciano at Systems Two Studio in New York, East West Moon takes the concentrated minimalism of the previous release a step further, this time with an even greater impressionistic spaciousness.
Jonathan composed the music for East West Moon while living in Berlin. The title is a comment on enmity and commonality, with 'East-West' denoting opposing positions and boundaries, and 'Moon' denoting that which is commonly shared, unpossessed, and freely available.
"It's a marriage of two hemispheres," says Jonathan. "East-West refers to the vast differences we think we see and feel between each other, our different cultures and approaches to living. We are perpetually in conflict over our take on life and someone else's. We form groups, and we want to be identified with the group, but we also want to be individuals. We look out at other groups and say 'Oh, that's a different group, but I'm not part of that, I'm in this group'. But we also see ourselves as 'different' from others in our group, so we have this perpetual fight with who or what we think we are and what we are becoming, which is always in change. Berlin is still haunted by the separation of 'east' and 'west'. People still live with the residue of that in their lives, which I found quite surprising."
"The moon has been meaningful for me for years, as it is for all of us. We can all be different, but we all share the moon. We all share the need to breathe. Instead of holding fast to our presuppositions, we need to look beyond philosophic intransigence and formulate a way forward that is devoid of conflict."
”On this album I tried to dig deep. If you’re not facing your own vulnerability, fragility, and bullshit, then you’re not really writing. It’s a bit like, if you haven’t fallen off a bike then you haven’t really ridden. I put so much work into these pieces, and it was hard some mornings to face another day of self-doubt, but that’s what it takes – those are the depths, but of course you also have wonderful heights. The pieces on this album are all about being alone – we share that aloneness, but we experience it alone.”

Link to Rattle Records

Monday, August 01, 2016

It's Harry Potter's world. Fast-forward 19 years.

When we said goodbye to Harry, Hermione and Ron at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the magical trio were sending off their own children to Hogwarts. Now, a new play picks up where the series left off: The Cursed Child is the eighth Harry Potter story.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lawrence Arabia - Live at Crystal Palace, Auckland

From Friday night’s performance at the Crystal Palace with a harried looking Sean Donnelly on the undercard.  "He’s right up there amongst the best this boy Lawrence", reckons photographer Trevor Villers.  "Not only is he a damn fine musician he’s something of a patriot too, exhorting us all to stand for the playing of the National Anthem at the beginning of his set.  Lots of flag waving and patriotic fervor!  All good stuff!"  

Photos by Trevor Villers;  Email:  / Web:

Photos by Trevor Villers;  Email:  / Web:

NZ International Film Festival - NZ’s Best Short Film Winners Announced

Congratulations to the winners of the fifth annual New Zealand’s Best short film competition. The winning shorts were announced on stage at the Civic Theatre in Auckland on Saturday night.

The Madman Entertainment Jury Prize for the Best New Zealand Short Film at NZIFF 2016 was awarded to Wait, directed and written by Yamin Tun. The jury noted in their citation that they were particularly impressed with the film’s authorial vision and use of visual language to carry the emotional story. Writer and Director Yamin Tun receives a cash prize of $5,000.

Wait was also selected as the recipient for Wallace Friends of the Civic Award. The finalists for this award were assessed by Sir James Wallace and ​Associate ​Producer/Director Grae Burton. The filmmaker receives a cash prize of $3,000 and is the recipient of the re-introduced Golden Elephant, formerly a tradition when receiving the Friends of the Civic Award at the Festival.

The 2016 Audience Award, which will take home 25% of the box office takings from screenings in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, was awarded to The King. In 2015 the prize was valued at $4,800.

Carthew Neal, producer, Emily Perkins, author, and Buffy McKinnon, representative for donor, Madman Entertainment, judged the six short films selected by Lee Tamahori.

The six short films in the competition were Spring Jam (dir: Ned Wenlock), Cradle (dir: Damon Duncan), Wait (dir: Yamin Tun), Shmeat (dir: Matasila Freshwater), Judgment Tavern (dir: Dean Hewison), and The King (dir: Ursula Grace Williams). The New Zealand’s Best 2016 shorts programme will screen around the country with NZIFF.

NZ films at NZIFF are proudly supported by Resene.

Read more about the jury's notes on our website.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ugly Bagels are Cool! - Al Brown's Best Ugly Bagels hit Cuba ST (Swan St, to be precise)

Parked in a former workshop just off upper Cuba Steet, behind the Floridita’s is Al Brown’s latest venture – Best Ugly Bagels. This is the Wellington version of his successful business modeled on the legendary bagel bakeries in Montreal  Until recently the site had provided storage for a second hand bookseller.  Gone are the shelves and ephemera and instead the space has been increased to a cavernous size incorporating a 12 tonne wood fired oven.  In homage to it’s former life, the restaurant sparsely decorated in an industrial style, walls painted but not fixed.  Even the toilet still looks like a garage WC, albeit much cleaner and no grease stains on the hand towel. The bagels are made by hand, boiled in honey water and laid out to cook in a massive stone oven like pizzas being paddled into a basket and sold almost immediately.  Fresh is key. To get the technique just right, Brown and team actually legged it all the way to the  St Viatuer, a store in Montreal,l to train with local bakers and learn the craft.   

Brown got the idea for these sweeter styled bagels from an early OE visit to his Aunt in Toronto many years ago.  The story goes that the Jewish bakers of the city could not get hold of enough kosher salt, essential in the baking process.  The result is a slightly more cake-like texture, softer on the inside, than the traditional chewy New York style bagels, but with a crunchier exterior.   Brown knows his market, too, and as a point of difference off a number of ‘Kiwi’ toppings including organic peanut butter, hazelnut butter, jams and Marmite alongside more exotic offerings such as banana, nuts and maple mars alone or cream cheese, tomato and lemon fennel oil (known as a White Rabbit).

Today, at a private opening for friends and whanau I got to try the schmeer, a bagel with Moera’s Zany Zeus cream cheese, which highlights to light texture and the crunch factor, emphasized by plenty of tasted sesame seeds, providing a wonderful long-time memory on the palate.