Lollies or NZ’s future?
However you feel, there’s music for every occasion, writes David Slack.
And so this is the election, and what have we done? If you didn’t get the result you hoped for, music is there to lift your soul. If you did, music is there to make you feel even better. And if you’re sick to death of politics but people are still going on about it, well, maybe put on some music.
Beautiful wonderful, music: loud and glorious in our headphones, in our empty house, in our car, turned all the way up to 11.
‘‘Noise-cancelling’’ it says on the good headphones, and what a promise that is. What they mean is: superb sound. What I hear is: you can close the door on the world. Out there is Donald Trump. In here, I’m listening to Patty Griffin.
Turn it up to 11, who cares what it does to your hearing. I lost most of mine to power tools, or agricultural machinery, or the Ramones in the Winter Show building in Wellington in 1980.
I’m not kidding. The whole way home I couldn’t hear the engine of my Yamaha. Never mind, how much more do I want to hear from Winston or Jonathan Coleman anyway? Let’s put on Willie Nelson. Turn it all the way up.
Oh, but it’s been fractious: angry farmers in Morrinsville, gathered beneath their cow god; angry people on Facebook telling each other they can’t tell their arse from their elbow.
Music brings us together. I have never felt in danger when music has been playing. Not even at Sweetwaters, drunk, and picking an argument with some Black Power guys. Always be thankful for your lessdrunk friends.
Turn it up to 11, and come together. In Nashville, my stetson-wearing adman friend Brad – creative director for the 1981 Think Big campaign – set me up on a blind date. I met her in a Music Row bar. The band said to her, ‘‘Hey Claudia, come sit in.’’ She took the mic, sang Crazy, more or less just to me, and I have been a Patsy Cline fan ever since.
Is it only going to be country music in this column? More or less. If an election tells us anything it’s that you can’t always get what you want.
How about Neil Young? Almost everybody loves Neil Young. I say ‘‘almost’’ because a friend is coming for Sunday brunch this morning and I know she can’t stand him. She loves politics though. We will talk expansively about the result, but here’s the truth of it: the will of the people remains in many ways unknowable. We have the numbers, but what exactly made them vote this way? Your guess as good as mine. This is what music can do. It can open your heart, it can warm you.
But almost everybody loves Neil Young. Neil Young, and weed. I enjoyed him hugely at the Big Day Out, nicely baked, watching spellbound as he wound up the set with A Day In the Life. I said to my friend the next day: ‘‘Neil Young was so great. Did you see him?’’ He said: ‘‘I was standing next to you.’’ Sad that decriminalisation didn’t get more of a run in this election. Maybe next time.
Turn it up to 11, choose your favourite song. As the election began, an old friend left this life. He had meant to pick the songs for us to play at his service but the cancer came on too fiercely and the chance was gone, and it breaks your heart, but you also find the song that remembers who he was and what he loved. We played a Gillian Welch song and Greg said: ‘‘Adrian saw her play and fell in love with her. He was always doing that.’’ This is what music can do. It can open your heart, it can warm you.
I have a family photo from a Christmas Day, Karren and MaryMargaret dancing to a Dido song, just full of joy and love. This is what warms and keeps me: music, and a care for one another. Perhaps it’s what we all want most.
Jacinda Ardern said that wherever she went on her thronged campaign, people clamoured to talk about one thing: mental health, every single time. How’s life, New Zealand? Not all that great, for way too many people, is what they were telling her, not great at all.
What should I play now?
When I was a kid, there was an annual beach day at Waimarama Beach where a chopper would fly low along the coast and drop lollies for the kids. There would be complete chaos as youngsters grabbed and pushed and shoved in pursuit of sugar. Needless to say, health and safety regulations have since put paid to that.
The election campaign felt a lot like that five minutes of madness, like each party was hovering over different interest groups and flinging lollies out into the ether – the idea being, if you believe you’ll get a sugar hit by electing them, you’ll vote for them.
Maybe you’re more altruistic or community-minded than that, but most of us aren’t. Consider the findings of this study by The Opportunities Party.
It surveyed 1000 people, putting a series of different electoral scenarios to them, and studied the 10,000 collective choices made by the group to determine what contributes to how people vote.
The finding: 39 per cent of our decision is based on whether the policy will benefit us personally, hence the ‘‘lolly scramble’’ TV reporters love to talk about.
Thirty-one per cent of it is based on who is promoting it and whether we like them or not – that is, if you don’t like the party, you’re unlikely to like their ideas.
Twenty-four per cent is based on who is paying for it, or more crucially, whether you are paying for it, or someone you don’t like is having to pay for it. Obviously, we prefer the second option.
That leaves just 6 per cent of the decisionmaking process based on whether the policy is good for New Zealand as a whole. I despair a little at that number, but I’m guilty of it, too.
On election night 2005, I was sitting with a bunch of farmers, watching the results come in on the telly in the police bar in Christchurch, at the most bizarre wedding reception I’ve ever been to. The poor couple must have set their date before the election date was announced.
I was enjoying the free booze – I’d just finished studying and Aunty Helen was offering to make my student loan interest-free. The results swung late in the game: Labour’s gamble had worked. That incensed the farmers, who believed it unfair for their taxes to be spent helping me upskill. See the dynamic at work? I voted for what I’d get, they voted on what it might cost them.
If votes could not be bought, National would not have suddenly ‘‘found’’ the money to extend paid parental leave to 22 weeks, having previously vetoed the bill on the basis it cost too much.
Labour would not have brought forward the introduction of its free tertiary education if it wasn’t an opportunity to get the votes of students who would love to pay less.
Winston, well, let’s just say his promises topped the Taxpayers’ Union’s Bribe-o-Meter. So, who did you vote for yesterday, huh? Not ‘‘which colour of the political rainbow did you give your two ticks to’’ but, did you vote for the lollies, or for what’s best for the country? If votes could not be bought, National would not have suddenly 'found' the money to extend paid parental leave to 22 weeks.
Happy days: David Slack’s Christmas photo of Karren and Mary-Margaret.