I need a new tape

Happy Record Store Day! Perhaps there should be a question mark after that. Real Groovy Wellington has recently announced that it will be closing – despite trying really hard to keep going.

In Wellington central, this leaves Slow Boat Records, a Marbecks and Parsons for the oldies, along with JB Hifi and The Warehouse (if you’re the sort of person who’d seriously buy music from The Warehouse, other than rooting around in the bargain bins for hidden gems).

It’s strange how record shops have suddenly dried up and gone away, because for years and years they were such a big part of my life.

Electric City Music – Hamilton

Electric City Music was a generic record store in Hamilton’s Centreplace mall and I have a very specific memory of it.

It was 1987 and I was 12, looking through the new releases bin. I came across the Beastie Boys’ debut LP “Licensed To Ill” and I got really excited. I think my appreciation for the Beastie Boys was based around 1) “Fight For Your Right” being quite a fun song with a cool video and 2) Ad-Rock being quite cute. I opened the gatefold sleeve and payed close attention to the smashed-up jet. What did it mean?

I didn’t buy “Licensed To Ill”. It probably cost about $11 and I just didn’t have that sort of money in those days.

Licensed to Ill

Tracs – Hamilton

Tracs ate so much of my money. It was in a basement building on the corner of Ward St and Victoria St in Hamilton. I’d descend the wide stairs and be in musical joyland.

My default bit of wall was the “Alternative” cassette section. I’d usually come there with specific titles in mind, but sometimes I’d pick something on a whim (and usually regret it). And no matter when I went there, there always seemed to be Mercury Rev’s tape “Boces” and the Barenaked Ladies “Gordon” sitting on the shelves, unsold.

Cassettes were my format of choice because they were – for no good reason – about $10 cheaper than CDs. I even had a Tracs card, giving me 15% of all purchases. In fact, I went there so often the guy behind the counter gave me the discount without even checking my card.

But the best thing about tapes – as soon as I left the store, I could put my new purchase in my Walkman and instantly listen to it. Some things can’t wait.

Tower Records – Sunset Strip

Los Angeles 1993. It was, as I described to my friends on returning to New Zealand, like if Real Groovy Records in Auckland was totally filled with new music and not all the other stuff they stocked.

Not only did it have huge quantities of music, but it stocked stuff that I’d only read about in New Zealand, that would have only been available on order. I gathered up a stash of CDs – The Breeders’ “Last Splash“, Luscious Jackson’s “In Search of Manny“, and a bunch of Henry Rollins spoken word CDs.

This was the moment when I switched to CDs. Tower stocked tapes, but unlike in New Zealand, it definitely felt like the CD was the dominant format and tapes were on the way out.

That Weird Little Second-Hand Record Shop on Alexander St in Hamilton

In the mid-’90s I went through a vinyl phase. I bought Camper Van Beethoven’s album “Key Lime Pie“, possibly because I was into David Lowery’s new band, Cracker. The guy at the counter picked up the record and slowly turned it over a few times. “Camper Van Beethoven, eh,” he slowly said. “Key Lime Pie”. He looked at me as if he was waiting for some sort of explanation. I had none to offer. I paid for it, took the record home and never played it.

Sounds – Hamilton

Sounds was my auxiliary record shop when I was bored with Tracs. It had pretty decent bargain bins, and one fruitful haul produced David Hasselhoff’s “Close To Heaven” CD; “102% Sex”, a remarkably unsexy soundalike compilation of dance music themed around safe sex; and a $1 MC Hammer baseball cap from the time he called himself Hammer.

Buying cheap hilarious records doesn’t work digitally. There’s no unsold stock to discount, and no reason to buy crazy cheap stuff, other than out of curiosity.

Free things

Record shops used to give away free stuff to entice people to buy popular albums from their shop.

In 1991 I bought the tape of MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em“, which came with a free six-pack of Pepsi cos Hammer was doing Pepsi ads. Somehow I was really embarrassed when the store guy handed me the six-pack, and was annoyed to have to schlep it around for the rest of the day.

Sounds stores around New Zealand gave away a free t-shirt with Soundgarden’s “Superunknown“. I gave my t-shirt to a friend, and for years after I’d see bogans around New Zealand wearing their “Superunknown” t-shirt. I didn’t even like the album.

When The Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land” album was about to be released, it seemed that every record shop had a different freebie or discount to entice shoppers. I checked out the offering of the Newmarket record shops and settled on one that offered a free poster and a free Prodigy lighter. Both eventually ended up in the bin.

Best freebie ever – a poster of the album art of The 3Ds’ album “The Venus Trail“. Drawn by David Mitchell (with his left hand, because drawing with his right was too easy), it portrayed a chaotic Dunedin, perfectly fitting with the wiry rock of the album.

The Venus Trail

Virgin Megastore – Paris

I visited the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysees in 2003. It was a proper megastore with many floors of music. Nothing in New Zealand ever came close to Virgin Megastores, in fact most large record shops of major chains were still pretty modest in size.

I wanted to buy something French as a souvenir. It was rock ‘n’ roll legend Johnny Hallyday’s 60th birthday, so there was a huge display of his entire back catalogue. But that wasn’t quite what I wanted.

I picked holiday pop over Hallyday, and settled on two CD singles – DJ Bobo’s club novelty hit “Chihuahua” – one of those infectious songs that was being played all over Paris; and “Laissons Entrer Le Soleil” (a French version of “Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In”) by the final 10 contestants of A La Recherche De La Nouvelle Star (the French version of Pop Idol).

Real Groovy – Auckland

I’d go through periods of liking and disliking Real Groovy. All it would take is a bit of surliness from one of the counter staff and I’d avoid Real Groovy for a year.

It was a good shop for its massive selection of second-hand music. It was easy to get acquainted with the back catalogue of a previously overlooked artist via someone else’s unloved CDs. Oh, you don’t want those Smiths CDs? Here, I’ll have them.

And Real Groovy would pay cash (or store credit) for my unloved CDs, which was a bit of a lifesaver at times. Best payout – I got $8 for Ganksta N-I-P’s “Psychotic Genius” CD that I’d only paid $3 for in a bargain bin at The Warehouse (which I’d bought because the album cover was hilariously awful).

It’s strange to think that until recently CDs were once so valuable that people would break into cars and steal CDs to sell for cash.

Sticky vinyl

The digital

I’m not exactly sure when I stopped buying CDs. I guess it started when the iTunes store opened in New Zealand. But I do know that I’d still find myself wandering through record shops, looking for stuff, but noticing that something didn’t quite feel right any more.

Even if I buy a CD, I won’t play it on a CD player. The first step is ripping it into iTunes so I can listen to it on my iPod. I think the last time I played a CD was in the ’00s.

A few years ago, I transfered all my CDs into disc storage folders. It freed up a lot of space, but it’s occurred to me that as I haven’t played any of the discs since then, is it even worth keeping the CDs?

I feel a little conflicted about the fate of record shops. I want them to survive purely because record shops used to be fun places to go, and they probably still are for some people. But for me, they’re not much fun any more – like browsing in a fishing supplies store.

I wander around thinking, “Oh, I could get that cheaper online.” And every physical recording – no matter the format – is a physical object that has to go somewhere. Online is cheaper and takes up no physical space.

One argument for patronising record stores is that the staff can guide you. But when I was younger, I was generally too scared to talk to record store staff to get recommendations. I’d figure out stuff for myself, and online that’s even easier to do. Online, the recommendations are usually separate from the retailers, but those music websites are run by the same sort of nerdy music lovers that worked in record shops.

I bought a couple of CDs from Real Groovy Wellington’s closing down sale. Despite being tempted by a 50c copy of The Go-Go’s’ “Talk Show” on tape, I picked “Straight Answer Machine” by Samuel F Scott and the BOP, and “Crude Futures” by So So Modern. “Straight Answer Machine” was $20, discounted from $29.95, but I could have bought it on iTunes for $18.99. While “Crude Futures” was an undiscounted $21.95 that I could have bought on Bandcamp for only $12. But on the other hand, both of those albums have really good artwork and it’s nice to be able to get a good look at that.

It seems that record shops have split into either “High Fidelity”-style shops for serious lovers of physical music format; or popular shops for people wanting the Susan Boyle CD, who haven’t figured out MP3s yet.

Meanwhile, I’m in this other place – buying music on iTunes or Bandcamp. I’ll miss the fun of the old record shop experience, but I’ve still got what it was always all about – the music.

Postscript

After I wrote this I went along to both Slow Boat and Real Groovy. They were both full of people enjoying themselves, though still plenty of lone male types.

I ended up buying the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill”. It was $12.95 – almost $2 more than the iTunes price. It’s crazy to consider that it’s almost what the LP would have cost 25 years ago.

I think I’ll miss that home-away-from-home feeling that good record stores had.

From C to shining C

Our Lady of Parapram

1. Our Lady of Public Transport
In theory it was the train station, but the train was out of service due to a landslip and messy derailing on the tracks a couple of days earlier. So instead I took the replacement bus, stopping off to explore the seaside suburbs of Mana and Plimmerton. I eventually arrived in Paraparaumu without any plans, but from the train/bus platform I spied her in the distance – the Mary Statue, Our Lady of Lourdes. I had a destination.

Mary

2. Our Lady of the Sleeping Bag
The first and last time I visited the Paraparaumu Mary statue was in 1985, on a family holiday. We’d gone to Paraparaumu due to the overall theme of family holidays being places my mum lived in or visited when she was young, including Stratford. I’m sure this accounts for 90% of why I am the way I am.

3. Our Lady of the Selective Memory
I have three specific memories of the Mary. I remember looking up at it and being in awe of how huge it was. I remember asking Dad what “diameter” was, as mentioned on an information sign. I remember also asking Dad what the statement “I am the immaculate conception” meant. He said it meant that Mary was perfect. I didn’t understand why this was such an important statement to make.

4. Our Lady of the Sense of Direction
I wasn’t sure how exactly to get to the Mary, and Google Maps didn’t have her listed. So I just started walking towards her, eventually finding the block she lived in, the street (Tongariro – another tall white landmark), and soon enough a black plinth with a boldly handpainted “STATUE” and an arrow pointing the way up a narrow alley.

STATUE

5. Our Lady of the Suburban Explorer
It seemed like an ordinary enough alley, which made me wonder if I was on the track. Maybe I was going to see some other sort of statue, like one of those globetrotting garden gnomes. Then suddenly an outcrop of short fat concrete crosses appeared. The pilgrim’s path had begun.

6. Our Lady of the Modern Calligraphy
Hiding around a corner was the old information sign I remembered from the ’80s. It was hand-lettered in a very ’50s style, but had also had some ’00s-style tagging all over it, which had probably necessitated its removal. Under the adolescent scribble, the sign informed that the concrete crosses along the path represent the 14 Stations of the Cross, and that “they carry full indulgence and may be said on the upward climb by thinking for a few moments on each scene of the Passion of Our Divine Lord the Son of GOD.”

Old sign

7. Our Lady of the Social Engineering
As I made my way up the steep, uneven path, I realised the genius of marking out the 14 Station of the Cross. If you’re constantly pausing and reflecting on the passion of the Christ as you trudge up the hill, it’s forcing you to take little breaks along the way and it’s pretty much removing any excuse to complain about the path. Oh, you found it a bit tricky having to walk around the muddy bit in your Converses? Yeah, well, Jesus had to walk up a hill wearing a crown of thorns and carrying a heavy-arse cross on his back, so shut up and count your blessings.

A long climb

8. Our Lady of the Wear and Tear
It looked like the crosses had each previously displayed a mosaic depicting each station of the cross. A couple still had remnants of the scenes – chipped, busted mosaics – but the rest were bare, painted in grey anti-graffiti paint. I’m not about to blame vandals for the state of the crosses – they’ve been up for over 50 years, on a damp hillside. It’s not surprising they’re falling apart.

Jesus

9. Our Lady of the Hotter Son
The Mary was erected in 1958 to comemorate the centenniary of the Miracle of Lourdes (apparently not the time Madonna got pregnant to her hot trainer, but some mystic carry-on in France). This was 27 years after Christ the Redeemer was unveiled looking over Rio de Janiero. I like to think that the sleepy seaside town of Parap’ra’m’ quite fancied themselves as New Zealand’s answer to Rio. If the Brazilians could have a giant Jesus, then New Zealand can have a giant Mary.

10. Our Lady of the Best Laid Plans
Except the Mary statue was only ever meant to be up there for a few months in the centennial year, a quickie construction in timber and plaster. But Our Lady of Lourdes proved so popular that it was decided to keep her up for good. Besides, it would be difficult to dismantle a giant holy statue, to take a crowbar to Mary’s kind, benevolent face.

Our Lady

11. Our Lady of the Short Arse
Finally I reach the top and Mary’s benevolent face is still smiling kindly. The first thing I realise is she’s much smaller than I had remembered. She’s only 14 metres tall – shorter than Christ the Redeember at 39.6 metres, but still taller than the average New Zealand woman at 1.65m. The ground is soggy from the previous day’s heavy rain. It feels a little uneasy.

12. Our Lady of the Easter Egg
Mary still claims to be the immaculate conception. Somehow I’d remembered that writing as being engraved in stone, but it turned out to just be painted on the statue. The declaration isn’t visible from the street – it’s like a special treat, a bonus for all who know the difference between the immaculate conception and virgin birth.

Tell it like it is

13. Our Lady of the Props Department
Another thing that had escaped my memory – that the statue is held steady by guy wires. She was never given a secure foundation because she was never thought to need one. It gives the statue the effect of being a film prop, yet its lightness and impermanence doesn’t matter. She’s still holy.

14. Our Lady of the Highway
I tweeted a photo of Mary and had a surprising number of replies from people who have massive affection for the old girl. She’s a shrine for members of the Kapiti Catholic community, but she’s also a symbol for locals, commuters, travellers. She smiles down over Parap’ra’m’, over the mall, the train, the highway.

Benevolent

The opposite of flying

It is impossible for people over a certain age to travel on the Interislander ferry without having their travel accompanied by the involuntary earworm soundtrack of the Waratahs’ 1990 song “Cruisin’ on the Interislander” (or “Sailin’ to the Other Side”, depending on how your googling works out), used on a successful ad campaign for the Cook Strait ferry.

I’d decided to take the ferry to the South Island because I was feeling all jaded about air travel and, well, didn’t that old ad make it seem like a fun adventure? More enjoyable than a cramped plane trip, at least.

Sailing conditions

The golden sun is rising, and Barry Waratah hitch-hikes along an empty road, guitar in one hand, suitcase in the other. Along comes a vintage car driven by a lovely old couple. They pull over and Barry excitedly jumps in.

For foot passengers, the journey to the Wellington ferry terminal is perilous. It’s actually not recommended to walk from the railway station to the terminal due to the narrow footpath and busy traffic along Aotea Quay. Instead there’s a $2 bus that does the trick.

Two dollars might seem cheap, but it caused another traveller to exclaim it was “daylight robbery” to anyone who would listen, and many others who wouldn’t. Ignoring her, I board the bus and soon I’m heading for the terminal.

The car drives towards the ferry terminal, and we catch a glimpse of the Interislander docking in Wellington Harbour. At the terminal, Barry gathers his belongings and bids the kindly old couple farewell.

Looking at the various other passengers waiting at the ferry terminal, it soon becomes obvious that only certain types of people travel by ferry. These include:

  • Travellers to the Marlborough Sounds area.
  • People taking the slow route.
  • People who can’t fly for medical reasons.
  • People who can’t fly for mental reasons.

The Wellington ferry terminal also has a cafe called Cappuccino Harbour, which probably does cappuccinos with giant ’90s-style mountains of froth. Give it a few more years and it’ll be retro cool.

Cappuccino Harbour

The Interislander begins its journey out of Wellington Harbour. Barry is on his way. On deck, the old couple appear and give Barry his hat that he’d left behind. Maybe they weren’t even planning on going on the ferry, but as Barry was such a nice young man, they decided to do have a day in Picton.

There’s a bit of a rush to get a good seat. On the lower deck, there’s a choice of rows of seats or tables. I score myself a rather good table, but soon after that I need to pay a visit to the ladies’. When I come back, my table has been claimed by a group of surfer dudes who are scarfing down fried breakfasts.

Oh well. It’s not like I even wanting to sit there anyway, dudes. I find a new position by the window.

Barry meets up with a fellow Waratah and together they spy Barrett’s Bar – Te Tangihanga-a-Kupe. They exchange eager glances.

Ol’ Barrett’s Bar doesn’t exist any more. The area it previously occupied isn’t even publicly accessible now. But there’s still the Queen Charlotte Cafe and Bar. I go upstairs to check it out.

It’s full. Every table is occupied, particularly with middle-aged and elderly travellers. That combined with the bar atmosphere makes it feel like an RSA. All that’s missing is a wall of pokie machines and a raffle for a meat pack.

The Arahura Interislander glides past the proud working class suburb of Seatoun, where one Hector Street resident mows his lawn with a push-mower and another works on his Cortina.

Obviously I need to check in on Foursquare or the journey won’t count. There’s 3G in Wellington Harbour, but it’s patchy and my iPhone is only showing one bar. The surrounding suburbs fly past, but I’m so fixated on getting a decent internet connection on my phone that I miss most of it.

On an outdoor deck, other Waratahs engage in high jinks. One slaps awake a snoozing bandmate, another feeds seagulls some white bread. An Asian father points out a sight to his son looking out through binoculars.

Man, it’s windy. These aren’t typical Cook Strait winds – Metservice has noted their intensity, though it’s not strong enough for a warning.

Not only is it windy, but it’s also a bit cold, so there aren’t many people out enjoying the sights on the viewing area. Most people come out on the deck, are physically assaulted by the wind, exchange glances of horror and amusement, then quickly leave.

I don’t, however. I plonk myself down on a seat and admire the view. It’s quite nice. Well, what I can see of it through the unwanted Beiber hairstyle that the wind has fashioned for me.

Cruising

The Arahura passes another Interislander coming in the other direction. Barry and two of his bandmates toast each other with lager and orange pop.

The Arahura passes a Bluebridge ferry, on its way from Picton, and I wonder what might have been. The Bluebridge leaves from a more central wharf and their ferries seem quite nice. They probably have free wifi and single-original coffee.

A father and son wave at a colourful fishing boat as it passes by the ferry, a gay vessel in orange and blue.

The palette du jour is light grey, dark grey, and green. There was a fair bit of blue sky earlier in the day, but as the ship does travels north-west (as the trip to the top of the South Island goes) the sky turns more steely and things get a little less cheerful.

Inside the ferry, Barry gesticulates the shape of mountains to an attractive young tourist couple, as the three of them look over a map of the South Island.

I’ve found myself accidentally blocked in by some passive-aggressive parents, whose parenting style is to bark commands, followed by a ‘please’ to make it good manners. “Eat your chicken nuggets now, young man, please!” “You will do your homework and stop whining, please!”

I decide to not put any further burden on the kids and stay in my seat until all the nuggets have been eaten, not wanting a “Get out of the way of the lady and let her pass now, please!”

Back on the viewing deck, two of the Waratahs continue drinking their lager and orange pop, laughing as they chat in front of the frothy ocean trail.

The interior of the ferry feels like a bus depot. I thought taking the ferry would be a cool nautical adventure, like a public transport/pirate mash-up. But really it’s just like spending three hours in a bus depot. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

In an aerial shot, the Interislander continues its path across the Strait.

Don’t ask me how I know this, but there’s a website that lists public places where gay men can meet other gay men for anonymous sex. In the late ’90s, one New Zealand location listed was the lower deck men’s toilets on the Arahura. “These are particularly cruisey and will ensure you’ll be ‘cruising on the Interislander'”, the entry noted.

I’d always meant to check this out, to see if there were any nervous looking fellows sneaking off for a suspiciously long wee, but I forgot.

It’s time for some food. Two Waratahs enjoy some delicious roast meals, served hot from the heat-lamp carvery.

I know the food place was serving cooked breakfasts earlier, but that looks to be off the menu now. In fact, the menu now seems to only consist of chicken nuggets and…. “Chips?” The chef offers me his speciality. Oh, all right. How do they deep-fry chips on a boat? Wouldn’t there be a risk of the oil slopping out of the fryer, causing a slip hazard and/or hideously disfiguring third-degree burns?

To complement the chips, I choose a rock-solid tub of ice cream, which appears to have actually been in a state of cryogenic suspended animation. It’s so hard, the plastic spoon breaks, but I fashion a shiv from the remaining handle.

The ship has entered the Marlborough Sounds, and sales past two old codgers fishing on a dock. They wave.

The ferry has made its way to the Marlborough Sounds. I thought this would make a welcome change from the monotony of the open sea, but it turns out it’s a new form of monotony.

Travelling along the sounds, it’s like driving down a country road, but with nothing much interesting to look at.

I feel like I should be learning from this in some sort of Zen state. Oh, the rolling hills will teach me to appreciate simplicity. But I’m bored and the alternative to this is watching “Cop Out” in the cinema or “Come Dine with Me” on the mini CRT telly bolted to the wall inside.

Oh, hey! The ferry has just passed a small wharf with a couple of boats tied up. Hi, boat guys!!!

Back on the viewing deck, the Waratahs have sat down for a game of cards, still enjoying their lager and orange pop.

I sit down with my iPhone and stick the iPod on shuffle. There’s no mobile internet out here, so my automatic flick to Twitter brings an error message advising a fruitless yield. There’s only one other thing I can do – play games of Solitaire.
Ferry

Inside the bar, two of the Waratahs are getting refills on their lagers and orange pops.

A final coffee? Yeah, why not. A return trip to the bar produces a perfectly adequate latte. I’m tempted by a “hangi pie”, but decide against it. A boat isn’t the place to experiment with new cuisines.

The ship is docking and Barry finds the best-looking band member flirting with three womens – a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. Too much orange pop for him.

The ship is docking and I join a group of elderly men and women watching the ferry slide into place. It’s amazing how precisely such a large boat can be controlled.

In fact, I’m so captivated by the docking of the boat and extending of the gang plank that I end up being one of the last passenger’s off, confusing one of the crew who wonders if I’ve come back for a lost item.

Oh no, sir, I’m not lost. I’ve just found my way off this thing.

Picton at last. The band wanders past the war memorial arch as the oldies in the vintage car hoon past, waving farewell again. They band set their bags and instruments down on London Quay. They’re in Picton – now what?

The ferry terminal at Picton seems to be a similar vintage to the Wellington one, complete with a ’90s style cafe called Pier Cafe. Out on the street, I follow the clearly marked path to the city, only to get a little lost and having to reorientate myself with Google Maps on my iPhone (only 2G in Picton, but that’s better than nothing).

There’s a shadowy shot of Barry playing his guitar as the next Interislander pulls into Picton. He seems to be surrounded by an arch, but surely it’s not the war memorial – that would be disrespectful.

I find the Picton War Memorial arch, which is at the foot of High Street, along which is my motel. Beyond the War Memorial arch are the two strange concrete statues of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, as if trying to take the edge of the solemn memorial.

Creepy Mickey

Finally the Interislander is seen travelling on the ocean blue, with a big white mountain looming in the background.

Finally I’m settled into my hotel with its welcome pack of chocolate caramels and its gigantic spa bath.

Later in the evening, I go for a wander down to the local aquarium-cum-cinema, and notice the Interislander is waiting in the dock for its evening sailing to Wellington.

I’m glad I’ll be flying home to Wellington at the end of my holiday. While the Interislander has its charms, it wasn’t any cheaper than flying and being able to get up and walk around doesn’t outweigh the monotony of the three-hour trip.

And 20 years on, the Interislander experience is clearly different to how it was for Aotearoa’s country-rock kings. Or perhaps I just wasn’t drinking enough Fanta to get the full Waratahs Interislander experience.

Taking the ferry instead of flying made me feel like a bored housewife who’s had an affair with her mechanic, only to realise her boring old husband wasn’t so bad after all. Oh, air travel – will you take me back? I’ll brush my hair for you.

All the artists of the world: The case of Milli Vanilli

milli vanilli acceptance

Exhibit M

22 February 1990. The 1990 Grammy Awards, recognising the musical output of 1989. Young MC and Kris Kristofferson present the Grammy for Best New Artist. “This year, the nominees for Best New Artist are making all kinds of music,” the bespectacled author of “Keep It In Your Pants” says. “And each one of them expresses himself in a unique way that commands attention,” Young’s elder co-presenter concludes.

The nominees are announced, along with a video clip of a respresentative song. There’s Neneh Cherry, rippin’ shit up with “Buffalo Stance”; the Indigo Girls belting out some harmonious acoustic pop on “Closer To Fine”. So far the applause is polite and appreciative.

Then comes Milli Vanilii’s nomination, along with the braided pair singing, “Girl you know it’s true. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I love you.” And dancing. And staring with those needy eyes. The audience breaks out into screaming and rapturous applause. Yes, yes, Rob and Fab!

Back to Soul II Soul and a bit of their art/house/soul/pop song “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)”; and finally gravel-voiced rapper Tone Loc rounds out the nominations with his Young MC-penned track “Funky Cold Medina”.

The winner is announced. Milli Vanilli. The room erupts with screams. Yay!

Rob and Fab receive their award, and Rob makes this speech:

“We wanna say thank you very much, but we wanna say there are a lot of artists here in this room, there are a lot of artists outside in the world, who could achieve the same award that we achieved today. And it’s an award for all artists in the world. Thank you very much.”

That night, all the artists in the world gave silent thanks to Milli Vanilli.

Exhibit L

April 27, 2034

“Come here, my little ones. Gather around and I’ll tell you why we used to like the Milli Vanillis in the olden days. Oh, they were so pretty. It was like if you got Justin Beiber, made him brown, cloned him, gave him too many hair extensions, and dressed him in lycra bike pants, a jacket with giant shoulder pads and clompy boots. And how they could dance! They used to do this thing where they would jump up and spin around and their dreadlocks and braids flew about gaily. And that Rob, he had the most beautiful eyes.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes, child.”

“Who’s Justin Bieber?”

Exhibit K

November 16 1990. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences withdraws Milli Vanilli’s Grammy for Best New Artist.

The main point comes down to the vocal credit on the album specifically naming Rob and Fab.

But the awarded recordings themself hadn’t changed. Milli Vanilli hadn’t changed. It was just that the two fellows on the album cover and in the music videos and dancing on stage were different from the men who sang on the record.

But somehow that affected the recording.

Exhibit J

It’s a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat. It’s not until you lift the lid on the album that you can form an opinion on the music. If the cat is alive, there’s a couple of handsome singers on the album and it’s a great album; if the cat is dead, it’s ordinary looking session singers on the album and it’s a terrible album.

Exhibit H

January 1990. Happy new decade. I had a $15 record voucher from either my recent 15th birthday present and/or Christmas the week before. I’d recently purchased De La Soul’s debut album Three Feet High and Rising and was really enjoying it. Yeah, soundtrack of summer.

So I was feeling a bit adventurous. I wanted something a bit urban, a bit gritty. Something that would keep reminding me of my summer holiday in Auckland and not the impending return to rural Hamilton.

I looked around a forgettable record shop (remember, kids, this was the early ’90s, when record shops were all over the place and could easily be forgettable), but I couldn’t find anything that took my fancy.

Then I saw something on the top 20 rack of tapes. It was Milli Vanilli’s All or Nothing (US Remix Album). I’d heard their songs. They were ok. I bought the tape, listened to it a few times but it wasn’t very captivating.

One of the album tracks was “Girl You Know It’s True (NY Subway Mix)”. This suggests someone has taken the original “Girl You Know It’s True” and remixed it to reflect the gritty urban beat of New York’s public transport system.

In reality it’s like someone’s heard MARRS’s groundbreaking samplefest Pump Up the Volume and decided to apply a similar style to Milli Vanilli. But instead of using an experienced DJ, it sounds like they gave the work-experience kid a Fairlight and some Grace Jones, Sly and Robbie, Michael Jackson, and Deep Purple singles and let them have at it. With disastrous results.

If I really want to feel a stab of regret, I can remind myself that at the time, The Stone Roses album would have been out there on the shelves for me to buy.

Exhibit G

April 2 1998. Let’s try not to think of Rob Pilatus’ final night on earth, alone in a hotel room in Hamburg, an accidental overdose. Let’s try not to think of the drug rehab and the assault charges and the relapsing and the neediness and the depression. Let’s try to remember the good things.

Exhibit F

After it was revealed that Rob and Fab were not the people singing on the Milli Vanilli records or dancing in their videos, the public outrage made it clear – there is no room for lack of authenticity in pop music.

Yet, surprisingly, the Indigo Girls did not see their sales go through the roof in response to this newfound desire for musical authenticity.

A lesson was learned – cheat, just don’t get caught. Today no one’s quite so bold as to hire pretty frontmen for frumpy singers. But there’s Auto-Tune to tidy up messy singers. Or what about getting a great singer to record the demo, which the mediocre singer memorises, right down to the quirky phrasing. And the potential that ProTools offers for chopping and layering to disguise flaws.

But why are we still obsessed with authenticity in music? Why is it ok for some types of art to be polished to an artifical state of perfection, but not ok for others?

Exhibit E

We hide our love for Milli Vanilli. We disguise it as contempt for the ’90s, beecause the ’90s were awful. At the moment, at least.

Milli Vanilli gets filed away with Crystal Pepsi, biker shorts and giant hair – pop culture anomalies that will never happen again.

Because the past was awful and the present is better. Apart from the bits of the past that were golden. We cherish those.

But that’s not the Milli Vanilli bit. That’s the bit where we pretend we never bought a Milli Vanilli album. Or if we did, we thought it was awful.

We don’t remember all the songs that went to number one all over the world, or the joy people got from dancing to “Baby Don’t Forget My Number (NY Subway Mix)”.

Perhaps that actually happened in a parallel universe, where Al Gore was president and the World Trade Center still stands.

Exhibit D

Q. Do you like Milli Vanilli?

A. No, I do not like Milli Vanilli because I think that they are crap!!!! I mean, they don’t even write their own songs or sing on their records and they have those braids which look really STUPID. Also, they do those dumb dances where they go from side to side, which look really LAME. Plus they wear really weird clothes with giant shoulder pads. Shoulder pads are so mental. I like proper singers who are actually talented, like Margaret Urlich, Jamie J Morgan, Ngaire and Madonna.

Exhibit C

I mean, it’s not like they were the only ones doing it. Technotronic had blue-lipped fashion model Felly lip-syncing in their Pump Up the Jam video; petit Zelma Davis stood in for plus-size Martha Walsh in C+C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat video; and it was shockingly revealed that Paula Abdul’s singing partner MC Skat Kat was not actually a streetwise cat, but was, in fact, two human males.

Exhibit B

Rob did the grunty singing and Fab did the rapping, but there always seemed to be a few more male voices in there too. And maybe there was even a voice of caution from the future.

It’s a tragedy for me to see the dream is over.
And I never will forget the day we met.
[Multi-platinum pop career], I’m gonna miss you.

Girl I’m Gonna Miss You

Exhibit A

Ghosts of Newton

I once knew some lads who lived in a house on Randolph Street in Newton, Auckland.

It was this house, in fact:

Randolph Street

Only back then it wasn’t so nicely done up. It was a bit run down, and they paid heaps in electricity due to the house being in a commercial zone. The neighbours were all businesses, in soild, sensible commercial buildings built in the mid-20th century onwards.

Because back in the ’90s, Newton wasn’t really a suburb where people lived. Though most of the people who did reside there inhabited rundown old villas.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Newton used to be a bustling inner-city suburb. It looked like this:

old-newton

There were lots of houses, businesses, schools and churches. It was, like neighbouring Ponsonby, a solid, working-class surburb.

Then in the 1950s, it was decided that Auckland needed a motorway, and the best path for it was right through Newton. The houses were getting old and run down, so it was easy enough to convince people of the need to pull down the slums and replace them with a big-arse motorway.

Why live in crappy old Newton when you can move out to a dry, spacious modern new house in the suburbs, commuting to work along the new motorway?

And besides, the threat of a motorway coming nearby is a pretty good incentive for a landlord to stop doing upkeep on an already rickety old house.

It took a few decades, but eventually the houses and streets of Newton were bulldozed and replaced with a big-arse motorway.

newton

And when you look at it on Google Maps, it looks like this:

motorway

Yet if you look between the motorway roads, you can still see the property boundaries of the old pre-motorway sections, as well as the gaps in between where the old roads went.

You can trace the invisible path between France Street and Mercury Lane, reunite West Street and West Terrace, loiter on the corner of Montague and Cobden Streets.

motorway3

The remaining bits of Newton soon turned from residential to commercial. The old houses were pulled down, replaced by commercial buildings.

Nearby Ponsonby survived. It avoided the motorway (and it was, at one stage, the preferred route from Newton to the Harbour Bridge). Ponsonby’s villas, like Newton’s, were old and rickety. But eventually Ponsonby’s inner city location got the better of it and people with money moved in, fixing up those old villas, plank by plank, until they were sufficiently nice.

The Motorway

Could a Ponsonby-like fate have awaited Newton if, by some miracle, the motorway had gone some other way? Could Newton be a gentrified inner city suburb now?

The few old villas that remain in Newton, including the one in Randolph Street, are getting fancied up, lived in by people with money.

Though on the K Road side, there are still a few old rundown villas, wedged between panel beaters and mysterious businesses in old unnamed buildings.

East Street

Of course, a few old villas are used for business purposes, such as the infamous Pelican Club on Newton Road. It’s had so much done to it to protect the privacy of its clients that it’s accidentally taken on a quirky postmodernist look, managing to disguise itself to avoid looking like what it is – a windowless sex box.

Newton Road

And Newton gives us the King’s Arms. A former corner pub (France St & Edwin St), serving the locals, it now divides its time between hipsters who come for the live music, and the old drunks who hang out in the unhip bar in the old part of the building.

France Street

While the motorway may have done its best to eradicate the old residential, suburban Newton, the ghosts of that Newton linger in the remaining villas, the street names, the old bluestone curbstones.

And a curious thing is happening. Slowly over the last 15 years, people have started living in Newton again. It’s not in villas, though. This time it’s in apartments and townhouses. The ghosts of Newton have reminded us that at its heart it’s an inner-city suburb and, actually, not such a bad place to live after all.

Golden moments from the Poi E video

Poi E has recently reentered the charts, thanks to its inclusion in Taika Waititi’s rather good film Boy, and his new video for the song.

But I’m rather fond of the original video. In fact, I’d say that the video for the Patea Maori Club’s 1984 number one single is almost as famous as the song itself.

It has a simple structure: first verse and chorus – down on the marae; second verse – down by the Aotea canoe; second chorus – out on the streets of Patea; funky break down – the big city; final choruses – back in the Patea hall.

But within these few locations, there are little visual gems that make this video a treat. Here are my ten favourite bits from the original Poi E video.

Mt Taranaki

taranaki

The video opens with an upwards pan over this image of Mt Taranaki. It’s later shown to be a mural painted at the back of local hall, but with this slightly grainy footage, if you squint it almost looks like Mt Taranaki on a misty morning. Interestingly, when Poi E was released, the official name of this volcano was Mt Egmont. It would be two more years before Mt Taranaki got equal name status. I like to think the Patea Maori Club had a little to do with that.

The dog with the poi

dog

The first section of the video is the Patea Maori Club performing Poi E in front of a whare nui. This could lead to a disastrously boring video – like “Sailing Away” two years later – but the Poi E video mixes it up by including footage of this crazy dog running around with a poi in its mouth. Did the dog steal the poi or was he the club’s special kuri performer?

Mutton chops

muttonchops

Look at those mutton chops. Just look at them. Now, this video was made in 1984. Mutton chops were at their fashion peak in the mid-’70s. Yet this fellow has lovingly held on to his unfashionable facial hair. In fact, it looks like a bit of a ’70s shag do lurking underneath that headband. He has his look and he’s not changing for anyone.

The boy

boy

I love this kid because he’s really enjoying himself. While the rest of the kids look like they’re just there to participate in the filming of the music video, this dude looks like he’s there because he loves the song. Standing tall and proud and really digging the music. Nice one, little fellow.

The milk tanker

milktanker

I think this was a happy accident. At this point in the video, the group are standing in front of the concrete canoe, but trucks keep thundering past, ruining the shot. But the film-makers cleverly incorporate the trucks into the video. Here comes a milk truck, and a bit later there’s a cattle truck. Hey, this is what life is like in Patea.

Aotea waka arch

canoegroup

This isn’t actually a hidden delight of the video. No, this concrete waka is one of the main stars of the vid. It’s a slightly kitschy design, but has come to be an icon of Patea. It commemorates the Aotea canoe that brought the first Maori to the Taranaki. This takes the PMC out of the traditional marae setting and puts them firmly in a what can only be a small New Zealand town.

McDonald’s

mcdonalds

The action moves to Manners Mall, Wellington. And when it’s the mid-1980s and you’re from a small town, what symbolises the big city? McDonald’s. It’s cool, it’s urban and the outside of the building has “McDonald’s” embossed in plastic. I bet they all had Big Macs after filming was complete.

The girl

girl

Look how happy she is! Arms reaching out as if to hug the world. Every performer wants this sort of reaction from the audience. Absolute genuine adulation and appreciation. She doesn’t care about the music video shoot either. She just want to dance along to her favourite band.

The new wave chicks

newwave

We’re back at the local hall for the finale, then suddenly these two truly outrageous ladies show up. The hair, the eyeliner, the off-the-shoulder top, the jewellery, the pout – just what are these two new wave babes doing in a Patea Maori Club video? I’m not sure, but it is a nice nod to the sort of other culture the PMC were up against in the pop charts.

Poi George

poigeorge

The new wave chicks can’t keep a straight face for long. The camera zooms out to reveal this fellow who we shall call Poi George. A Maori fulla with Boy-George-style plaits and non-Boy-George-style poi. I don’t even know where all this action is taking place in relation to the rest of the video, but this is my absolute favourite bit of the video. They knew exactly what they were doing – they knew they were making a video for a song that was going to be a hit.

Beyond the valley of the suburbs

The Wellington real estate market is cruel. I make an above-average wage, but I can’t even afford to buy a studio apartment – the cheapest type of property out there. (Hey, is that what “marriage” and “husband” is for?)

But I had discovered that the valley suburb of Wainuiomata had plenty of affordable real estate. In fact – holy crap – I could actually afford to buy a three-bedroom house in Wainuiomata. I’d never been there before, so a visit was in order to check out this hidden part of Lower Hutt.

I turned up to Waterloo Interchange and jumped on the first bus going over the hill. The climb up offers scenic views of Wellington Harbour. Or at least it would have if I’d been able to look in that direction. Sitting across the aisle from me was a dude who, every time I turned to look out the window on his side, would glare at me as if I was trying to start something… with my eyes. Yeah, I got a looking problem, bro.

Right this way

Over the hill and down into the valley, the bus went, leaving me surprised at how close and quick it is to get to.

I don’t think I was quite prepared for how enclosed by the hills Wainuiomata is. Everywhere I looked, there were the hills in the background, encircling the suburb. I felt like an anthropologist discovering a lost village in a forgotten valley. Oh, what secret languages and customs can I learn!

Well, there are lots of outdoor couches in Wainuiomata. That’s one observation.

I wasn’t really paying attention to where the bus was taking me. Suddenly I spied some shops, so I got off at the next bus stop.

I heard loud music nearby, and found myself strangely drawn to it. Around a corner I found the source – Wonderland Records. I went inside and was shocked to discover it was a record shop. I mean, a proper record shop, like there used to be in the ’80s and early ’90s.

There were racks full of CDs, records and tapes. Tapes! Cassette tapes! My stereo has a double cassette deck, but I think the last tape I bought was Darcy Clay’s “Jesus I Was Evil”, back in ’97. I started to imagine all the fun I could have with new tapes. Why, I could listen to Genesis and Steely Dan and the Eagles all night long!

The shop was so full of music that I trod carefully, utterly fearful of taking a mistep and messing up Jim Reeves’s pretty face.

Looking at the new CDs, I noticed they were indeed priced the way new CDs are (were?) priced in shops – about $33. I’ve been buying music off iTunes for a while now, and the idea of paying that much for a CD seems utterly outrageous. For $33, I’d expect Justin Bieber to come to my house and serenade me too, plz.

So I’m not quite sure how a shop like this does business. I’m guessing it’s found a niche for itself and has a loyal customer base who shop there because it can give them what they need.

And, frankly, if a record shop as glorious as that is called Wonderland, it deserves to stick around for as long as possible.

Wonderland

Back on the street, I suddenly realised that I was in the middle of nowhere, sort of. I figured out a direction to walk, and made my way to the hub of Wainuiomata, the Wainuiomata Shopping Centre.

The shopping centre was built in 1970, but it feels a bit older than that, in the way that architectural styles take a decade or so to reach New Zealand. It’s from the glorious autopian era, the post WWII boom times when the automobile was going to change life for the better.

It has a curious combination of strips of little shops next to a larger indoor mall, which now seems to be centred around an unholy trinity of a Warehouse and two supermarkets.

It all felt like it was a place that once wanted to be something magnificent and magical. A shopping centre for the young families putting down roots in the valley, so they didn’t need to make the trip over to the Hutt or to Wellington to do the shopping.

But it also feels like somewhere along the way, that dream was lost and something different took its place. It’s just “the shops” now. You can buy stuff there, if you want. Or you could go to Westfield Queensgate, if you want.

Wainuiomata feels like a mash-up of a small country town and 1950s-era suburb, like you’d find further along the Hutt Valley. And while these are clearly desireable attributes for some people, I wouldn’t want to live in either a small country town or a suburb, so Wainuiomata’s cheap real estate isn’t enough to lure me there.

But Wonderland Records, though – I’d happily go down that rabbit hole again.

Wainuiomata Shopping Centre

Shear, pleasure

The Wairarapa commuter train is quite posh. Every day, while I’m waiting at my bleak suburban train platform, it swooshes past, reminding me that I’ll soon be boarding a clattery old train that fights with my iPod for aural dominance.

But I’d never been on the Wairarapa train, so I took advantage of a long weekend, bought a Wairarapa Day Excursion ticket… and discovered the train was replaced by buses from Wellington to Upper Hutt.

Never mind. Soon enough, I was on the train and it was lovely. It had individual lights, air conditioning, a food carriage, little tables in front of every seat and quietness.

As the train passed through the Rimutaka Tunnel and into the wide, open and sunny Wairarapa, I realised I didn’t yet have a final destination in mind. While the Day Excursion ticket offered the promise of exploring the Wairarapa by train all day long, it wasn’t much use when there was only two trains – one in the morning, one in the evening.

So I decided to make like the Traveling Wilburys and go to the end of the line, otherwise known as Masterton.

Hang on, what does Maurcie Shadbolt have to say about Masterton? “Avenue of trees at northern and southern approaches lend town atmosphere.” I just checked on Google Streetview to see if this was still true, and discovered that the Masterton Streetview pics were taken on a winter’s day with a heavy grey sky, making it look like the sort of town that should be bypassed for fear of inducing a depressive episode:

But, Maurice, what if you approach the city by train, in the middle? What is there? “A museum of some interest.” Righto.

Aratoi is the Wairarapa museum of art and history, but it seems to do art much better than history. The historical content is lurking in a couple of rooms, telling a tale of the days when photos were black and white, but with a brief burst of colour and glamour provided by Georgina the transsexual mayor. It was indeed of some interest.

Of more interest was the art. The main gallery had a selection of large paintings and other wall-mounted works from the Rutherford Collection. A lot of them had a crazy 1980s post-modern feeling, which made me happy.

Oldie but a goodie

Next door to Aratoi is Shear Discovery. While this might sound like the name of a suburban hairdresser, it is actually the National Shearing and Woolhandling Museum. Yeah, national.

The museum is based around two old shearing sheds, and is filled with wool and old shearing equipment It parties like it’s 1949 (where “partying” is “relaxing with a cuppa and a fag”).

It has a smell. It’s the dusty odour of raw wool. It reminds me that I have been in an actual shearing shed before – one time on a high school geography field trip, another time at Brownies. It brings back feelings of discomfort and unease. I don’t like the rural. I like urban.

And then next door to Shear Discovery is the Jubilee Fire House. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Jubilee steam-powered fire engine, looking a bit like the Wonkamobile. The fire house also houses old pieces of fire-fighting eqipment, as well as the museum volunteer, who followed me around, literally describing things to me. In front of a case of old fire extinguishers, “That’s our collection of old fire extinguishers.” In front of the selection of old uniforms: “These are old uniforms that firefighters wore.”

But, oh, you know, it’s a small museum run on love. I suppose one can’t always expect to be just left alone.

Masteron

The shops on the main street seemed to mostly be closed in the afternoon. Hey, just like the ’80s – so retro.

There was just over five hours between trains and I was slightly worried that I’d run out of things to do. There’s no 3G coverage in Masterton, so I took along a a book in case I needed something to pass the time.

But I all my sightseeing took up most of the time, and I found a nice cafe to fill in the rest of the afternoon, and if I didn’t pay too much attention to the thinly plucked eyebrows of the girls behind the counter or the polarfleece of the patrons, I could even pretend I was back in Wellington.

Masterton might not be as glamorous as other Wairarapa destinations like Greytown or Martinborough, it’s perfectly lovely place to spend a nice sunny afternoon. But just an afternoon, thanks.

Snip

Part 4: White rental car blues

I rented a car ($20, cheap) and was upgraded from a Corolla to a Camry. Not that it made any difference from the driver’s seat, but perhaps people would gaze at me and think, “Oh, she’s a driving Camry – a sensible family sedan. Good choice.”

My aim was to head for Akaroa, and I managed to get on the right road using both road signs and the knowledge that I was heading for the only non-flat land for miles around.

The landscape is somewhat startling. It’s flat, flat, flat, flat, then suddenly twisting, winding hills. And I drove along these roads, avoiding the tourist spots and enjoying not getting carsick. It had been about 18 months since I’d last driven, and it was fun.

Finally I turned a corner and there was the harbour. It was a brilliant blue, almost milky, and the bright sunshine bedazzled the landscape. And you know what? It was at that moment that my road trip mix CD played Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”. It’s hard not to feel in love with the world at a time like that.

I parked, and set off exploring New Zealand’s French village on foot.

O sleepy town of Akaroa

At Akaroa museum, it was strongly suggested that I start my experience by watching a short film about Akaroa. The film dated from the late ’90s and had a slightly dark tone. Recounting the geological history of Akaroa, the narrator almost sounded saddened that the original volcanic islands had eventually become joined to the mainland. But – sigh – I suppose you can’t fight progress, even if it takes thousands of years to happen.

The museum also had a small display on the changing attitudes towards sunbathing, from woolen bathers to skimpy bikinis and our modern use of sunscreen. This outraged a pink man who ranted, “It’s bullshit. Black people don’t get melanoma because they’re used to the sun. The same thing will happen to us – we’ll get used to the sun and stop getting skin cancer. And it doesn’t help when the government tells us to stay out of the sun.”

Akaroa prides itself on being a bit French, but its Frenchness is really only obvious in that some of the streets have French names. It’s hard to buy into the French thing when there are people playing cricket on the village green and the local fish ‘n’ chip shop is doing a roaring trade.

If you want French life in the South Pacific, go to New Caledonia or Tahiti. If you want a lovely volcanic harbourside village, go to Akaroa.

Chips

I jumped back in the Camry and journeyed over hilly Banks Peninsula to Lyttelton. Lyttelton exists as the port for Canterbury. The harbourside area is full of shipping containers and other side effects of modern life, which leaves town’s main street halfway up a steep hill.

I stopped for a coffee, but ended up cutting my visit short as I was forced to flee a drunken bachelor party making their way down the street. The sight of a cheap nylon Afro wig on a whitey is nature’s way of telling you to stay away. (See also: Wellington Sevens weekend).

My escape route was Sumner Road, a meandering hillside road that is but a barrier away from being the sort of road that buses plunge off. It was at this point that I threw caution to the wind and put on REM’s “Out of Time”, one of the four CDs I’d taken with me.

But a huge discrepancy between my memory of the opening track, “Radio Song”, and how it sounds today. Michael Stipe’s comedy complaints about bad radio became the unintended soundtrack as I undulated along Bus Plunge Boulevard. (Oh, why couldn’t it have been “Near Wild Heaven”?)

It was getting late. I had to return the car to the airport and go to the wedding reception (which I did, and it was lovely in all the best ways).

One of the easiest places to find in an unfamiliar city is the airport. You don’t even need to navigate – just follow the aeroplane symbols.

But sometimes it’s more satisfying to go somewhere you’ve never been before.

Obscene and pornographic art

I’m in a darkened room, sitting on a wooden bench, watching a film. It’s a psychedelic, experimental short from the late 1960s. Shapes and colours flicker around the screen. Soon the shapes make way to reveal humans – lovely young hippies. They’re naked and painting their bodies with abstract shapes, writhing together in a joyful painty mess.

When this image become obvious, a middle-aged woman in the room exclaims, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”

On screen, a man is standing with a stocking on his genitals.

“That’s a lady’s pantihose!”, the woman’s husband observes.

“Yes,” the she confirms, sounding relieved that it wasn’t her knee-highs on that man’s dangly bits.

Meanwhile, the fellow on screen has started humping a naked lady’s bottom with his manhosiery.

“Oh my godfathers,” the woman says.

“It’s like an orgy gone wrong,” the man says, rhyming ‘orgy’ with ‘corgi’, suggesting he’s never known an orgy gone right let alone wrong.

Soon they leave, almost as if their uncomfortable silence has booted them out like a bouncer.

This scene took place in one of the areas of Yayoi Kusama’s “Mirrored Years” exhibition at the refurbished City Gallery Wellington. (But that’s the room you don’t take your kids into.)

Downstairs, the new Adam Auditorium in the gallery was screening the documentary “Yayoi Kusama: I Adore Myself”.

You know what I don’t like about films played in art galleries? When they’re played on loop, with no indication of what time the film starts, leaving audiences to wander in halfway through, like it’s the 1950s. “I Adore Myself” was a fully-fledged feature-length documentary, not some video art that audiences can just dip in and out of.

The Adam Auditorium has one flaw that makes film screenings difficult – the blinds that block out the external light extend between two layers of glass, meaning the glass surface ends up clearly reflecting the film. This is annoying and distracting (much more than the ladder propped up in the wings at the Paramount) and quite strange to find in an otherwise nicely designed, brand new structure.

There’s a theme here – dark rooms. Amongst the rest of the Kusama exhibition I most enjoyed the pieces that were in dark settings. Specifically the firefly room – lines of LED lights with mirrored walls and over a reflecting pond – and the living room covered in fluorescent dots, violently glowing in the ultraviolet light.

The pieces that were more brightly lit annoyed me and left me feeling like I was being obscenely sucked into their world of yellow and black and giant blobby shapes, an unwilling Alice in Blunderland. Those ones had me uncomfortably fleeing room like the middle-aged couple had done at the short film.

But I like how the City Gallery has, for its reopening exhibiton, been transformed into a series of magical rooms, but with just enough rough edges and dangly bits to not leave audiences feeling too comfortable.

Take your sweetie along and gaze at the pretty lights, but just watch out that your honey doesn’t push you in the water.