The Needle And The Damage Done
Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 2007
Fiona Scott-Norman uses her collection of vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
5 December 2007 to 8 December 2007
$28/$20 plus booking fee.
(02) 9250 7777
"It really is is shockingly bad," says Fiona Scott-Norman of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival hit she is bringing to the Opera House. "The whole show is full of shockingly bad stuff."
At first appearance it seems a strange way to entice audiences but, in the case of The Needle And The Damage Done, bad is kitsch, and kitsch is good.
Over 75 minutes, Scott-Norman counts down a top 10, or should that be bottom 10, of the worst albums of all time. She trawls through the collection of just-plain-wrong vinyl she has amassed over the years, starting as a teenager in England when she shoplifted a Rolf Harris LP. It was strange preparation for her move to Australia at 18 but great grounding for her Melbourne radio program Trash Is My Life.
"This is the thing," Scott-Norman says. "I'm a good DJ, but I also have a large trash collection. It's like the evil side of me, the dark side. At some level I'm programmed for kitsch."
As comically kitsch as much of Scott-Norman's albums are - be they John Laws's spoken word LP In Love Is An Expensive Place To Die, or her most recent acquisition, a collaboration between the London Philharmonic Orchestra and romance novelist Barbara Cartland - there is certainly a dark side to this malodorous menagerie, as seen in categories including Swinging Sexism and I'm Not Racist But, in which even old Rolf takes a fall.
"I concentrate on the '60s and '70s because there's a big gap between what was acceptable then and what is now," Scott-Norman says. "I play a bit from Rolf Harris' Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport [which goes] 'Let me Abos go loose, Lew, let me Abos go loose, they're of no further use Lew, so let me Abos go loose.' By our standards that's appalling [but] he wrote that in 1957 and at that point Aborigines not only didn't have the vote but their deaths on outback stations were recorded in the livestock records."
Scott-Norman uses these vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.
"It's cultural archaeology," she says. "It's drawing attention to things and reminding people how far we've come. It's celebratory, my show."
She has also found a rich vein in the vintage work of various Christian singers.
"A lot of it's simple in that what's funny is that it's so daggy or structured because, man, they go for a lot of hairspray those Christians. But what I find interesting about Christian music is the hypocrisy. They pose as being about love and Jesus and Christian values but so much of it is propaganda and it's manipulative."
"It's a categorical slagging off of all other religions," Scott-Norman says. "It's passive-aggressive."
Has she thought of evening the score with some Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist kitsch? Some duets between the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere perhaps?
"If the Dalai Lama put out a record of songs, I'd be there."
Scott-Norman brings her unique comic analysis to the albums, something that comes naturally to her after parallel careers as a DJ and a theatre and comedy critic for publications including The Age and The Australian.
"A couple of comedians have gone, 'Ooh, gamekeeper turned poacher,' " she admits of her first forays into stand-up after 15 years as a critic. "It's different doing it to writing about it. The stuff that seems obvious from the outside is not so easy when you're on the inside. It's like you're on different sides of the membrane. I was lucky in bringing all my interests together and it struck a chord with people. It's like going to a fun fair, on a roller-coaster or ghost train: we all enjoy being terrified. I think there's a lot of that in my show, people being appalled but also delighted."
Scott-Norman, whose vinyl library will be featured in a coming episode of ABC TV's Collectors, admits the reason she has been able to amass such a cornucopia of crap is that most people consider them rubbish and chuck them out.
"I've got most of my stuff from op shops over the years," she says.
How does one decide if an op-shop find is kitsch, and therefore cool, or daggy and bad?
"What you're looking for is something that has that extra edge," she says. "Something that catapults it into the spectacular category. It's a lot to do with the intention of the artist, the self-awareness."
Cover art is also important, says Scott-Norman, hence her section Men With Stuff.
"Basically that's an album cover art section, the props that men use to make themselves appear more masculine on their album covers."
After Scott-Norman's show, you'll no doubt be scouring St Vinnie's for Bernard King's A Man Of Style, John Laws's You've Never Been Trucked Like This Before or Charlie Manson's folk album Lie.
Alternatively, you could search for Olympic skaters Torvill and Dean's collection of embarrassing duets.
"They do Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobody," Scott-Norman says. "They're so white, they make Leonard Nimoy sound like 50 Cent."