1) Born Wellington hospital 9 Dec 1978. My grandparents were disappointed that it wasn’t the day before so it would coincide with their wedding anniversary. Two days earlier and I could have shared a birthday with Tom Waits. As it is I share it with John Malkovich.
2) I apparently didn’t want to come out & had to be born by caesarian – means I can kill Macbeth.
3) My parents called me David because it’s easy to spell. It was the most common NZ boy’s name in 1978.
4) I’m my mother’s only child and my father’s fifth. There’s a fourteen year gap between the youngest of my half-sisters and I so I didn’t grow up with them. I’m closer in age to my nephews.
5) My eldest sister is a commercial airline pilot, the second a painter married to a dairy board exec (high-flying lifestyle with lots of travel), the third an actor (hobbit glaring as Gandalf goes past in Fellowship of the Ring) & chef, the fourth currently teaching English in Korea.
6) My ancestry’s Scottish, Irish & Welsh (all the British races except the English) + a little Portuguese.
7) My mother’s maiden name (from the Irish side) is Black – I thought about using ‘David Black’ as a penname or stage name but figured people would assume it was made up.
8) My first word was ‘light’
9) The family called me Spike as a baby due to hairstyle
10) My parents moved with me to New Plymouth when I was two and left when I was nineteen. Feels weird going back there & having no family, and the look of the town has changed a lot.
11) My earliest memories are of building the house I grew up in. My favourite part was making mud pies and drying them on the foundations.
12) I was good at reciting stories & poems I’d heard, we listened to tape stories in the car traveling back & forth from the Hutt to see family. I started with ‘the Owl and the Pussycat’ and around age five was reciting ‘Return of the Jedi’, ‘the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, and ‘the Hobbit’ word for word.
13) I wrote & illustrated a science fiction cartoon series called ‘Space Fleet’ while at primary school. Currently unpublished.
14) I was scared of cicada shells until mum showed me that they’re harmless. I collected dozens and kept them on the wall outside my room.
15) I’ve had pneumonia three times, twice early on and once at age 21. All other things being equal I won’t be surprised if that’s what kills me eventually…
16) My first political action was when mum let me vote for her in the 1984 election. I voted Labour because of David Lange’s sense of humour.
17) I’m a Sagittarius, raised as an only child away from extended family, named after a biblical character who kills a giant (great myth for underdogs everywhere)… several ‘nurture’ factors shaping me into an individualist.
18) Our house was right across the back fence from the primary school, so I could leave for school at one minute to nine. Could be why I was late most days to intermediate and high school.
19) I had a robot kiwi friend who lived in the hedge by the fence, and had to be given berries.
20) My big hero was Doctor Who, particularly in his Tom Baker incarnation. I tried to introduce my nephews (sf fans) to the program years later but they couldn’t get past the low-budget special effects. The CGI generation have grown up spoiled?
21) I was very pigeon-toed as a child, still am a little. I can still rotate my left leg 180 degrees inwards as an occasional party trick.
22) It took years to get me toilet trained, I still don’t understand why. Apparently there is truth in Freud’s concept of anal-retentive personality.
23) My first trip overseas was in 1986 to China with parents to visit my 2nd eldest sister. We stayed in Beijing, which I still remember well – bicycles, autumn leaves, cabbages piled up for sale on the footpaths. The Chinese love children. Visited Tianemen Square & then saw tanks rolling through it on tv a couple of years later. Got a photo of me sitting on a camel at the Great Wall.
24) I spent most of the next year writing about China for our writing assignments at school until the teacher told me write about something else.
25) The pictures accompanying the stories usually included cartoons showing the sun battling against King Cloud.
26) I came home from school one day and parents weren’t home, so I kicked the door and broke the glass. I said it was that way when I found it – when the police came I was too scared to own up. The truth came out a few years later.
27) My dad had a pilot’s license for small planes and used to take me for rides, sometimes letting me take the controls. I was terribly disappointed when he decided not to renew the license one year.
28) I sang in the primary school choir for a while & led a faction who usually changed the words for parody. ‘Trip over the tulips’ is the only one I can remember right now.
29) My favourite thing at school was writing. The stories were usually science fiction comedy attempts, with me & class friends as the heroes. The most memorable was ‘Space Nerds’ about aliens who attempt to invade Earth – their spacecraft are giant gherkins and pickled onions.
30) In standard four we got to vote as a class for a book to be read to us at storytime. I campaigned strongly for ‘the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, in the interests of bringing the class around to my way of thinking, but was very narrowly defeated by ‘Superfudge’ by Judy Bloom.
31) I had a habit of saying something and then repeating it quietly to myself afterwards, to see what it was like.
32) I played soccer for two years, we came second in the division the first year and second to last the second.
33) In form one the teacher asked what does a story need to have? I put up my hand and answered ‘humour’. Wrong - the ‘correct’ answer was ‘a beginning, a middle and an end’. Still not sure if I’d go along with that.
34) I was in the second-highest maths class in form one but found the work easy. They moved me up to the top class but I didn’t like the teacher so spent the rest of the year trying to get put back down – it didn’t work, I just got lower marks.
35) I enjoyed giving speeches, it was always a highlight of the year. My form one speech was quite abstract with no subject matter. Can’t remember how it went, though part of it involved coming across a planted pink cue card which said ‘IT WOZ DARK’. Form two speech was an imaginary history of Rugby (since everyone knew I had no interest in sport), in third form a satire on the Gulf War, fourth form proving the coastline of the north island is infinite (took four minutes when practiced and one in front of the class), fifth form why I didn’t choose any of the other speech topics suggested, sixth form NZ in 30 years time (took five minutes when practiced and seventeen in front of the class), seventh form can’t remember.
36) In form two they got me to speak, along with a couple of other people, to a class of primary school kids on the dangers of drugs. No idea why, not a subject I knew anything about so had to make it up based on rumours & movies. The other guy who did the talk ended up a heavy stoner and a father by age 19, and was still in New Plymouth last I saw.
37) I was into computers from an early age and could write simple programs in BASIC while at primary school. I wrote a couple of text adventure games, and thought about becoming a game designer. I taught my mum how to use a word processor – now she’s in charge of the computers at the school where she teaches. I got banned from the computer though after once spilling Milo on it and a couple of times accidentally crashing the hard drive. I missed out on the big changes throughout the 90s and when I got back to using contemporary machines a year or two ago technology had moved on. Probably saved me from a career in IT.
38) My parents sent me to New Plymouth Boys’ High, which they’ve since admitted was a mistake. I didn’t fit in there and never did learn to play Rugby.
39) Big turning point in my life was in fourth form English when we had an assignment to analyse a song lyric as poetry. I’d never bothered listening to music as all I knew was what was on the radio, which as a child in the 80s was pretty awful (I liked Dire Straits though). Hearing Bob Dylan’s ‘Talkin Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’ was an epiphany.
40) I knew what I wanted to be. I got an acoustic guitar and harmonica and started writing songs. I don’t have much of a ‘musical’ ear or fingers though – I still tune a guitar with difficulty and don’t know how to play any cover songs apart from ‘Knockin on Heaven’s Door’ which is the first one I learnt. I always figured that a large part of what I like about Dylan is his originality, so it would be missing the point to copy his or anyone’s songs.
41) From 1994 to 1997 I worked part time at Woolworths, first as a cleaner and then in the butchery. I hated listening to Easy 98 FM all day & suspect that a lot of my musical evolution was in reaction against what I heard. I spent most of my income from the job on buying CDs.
42) Moment of silence for Douglas Adams.
43) Next musical turning point was through Neil Young, who’d I’d discovered as another Dylanesque acoustic singer/songwriter. Turns out though that he also plays very loud very distorted electric guitar, which introduced me to noise and volume and the idea of enjoying the guitar as an instrument rather than just something to provide a chordal accompaniment. The yin and yang of acoustic/electric is still a big part of my own aesthetic. I bought an electric guitar too and spent years breaking strings constantly – took a while to work out that with pickups you can make a big noise by touching the strings gently. As Bruce Russell says, the instrument is actually the amp – the guitar is an aerial for generating signals.
44) I won a prize in a third form science fair for best exhibit dealing with prevention of corrosion (using beer to make a battery – nothing to do with corrosion). My dad’s multimeter was part of the display and got stolen. I also had to spend most of the prize money fixing a hole in the toilet wall that I’d been falsely accused of making.
45) I wasn’t very happy at high school. I needed more creative writing assignments as I didn’t have the initiative or discipline to write stories in my own time. I first started getting depression in fifth form and it’s been on-again off-again ever since. It comes as a leaden tiredness and a lack of energy/drive/creativity.
46) My grades started slipping, partly because I objected to homework on ethical principles, thinking that work should be done in class and home time should be free time. I failed Science in fifth form, Maths in sixth form, and everything except English and Classical Studies in seventh form. I did get first prize in sixth form Journalism and my seventh form English mark was 84%.
47) People who’d been in English classes with me liked me as they knew I had a creative side. The handle ‘fiff dimension’ is the phonetic spelling of the only decent nickname I got given.
48) Grunge passed me by because other people listened to it. I started liking some of it in my late teens. In sixth form journalism I was told the page I was editing would have a story about Kurt Cobain – I thought ‘where have I heard that name before? Is he a Rugby player?’
49) I was very much a socks-down shirt-untucked student, on the basis that casual=genuine, formal=artificial. I think it’s a pity that as our current national hero Peter Jackson’s dress sense hasn’t penetrated as deeply as his business acumen.
50) I was always deeply shy, still am to an extent.
51) The poetry jamms that went for a couple of years were highlights of the school year. I was fine getting up and reading stuff but too socially awkward to properly make friends.
52) My favourite poets were William Blake and Allen Ginsberg.
53) I carried a copy of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch around with me and would give it to people and get them to read a page at random.
54) I started growing my hair into a Dylan mop in sixth form. Tom Baker as Doctor Who was the other big influence. It got quite long for a while, and became curly. It was always straight as a child.
55) My fourth form English teacher who I’d really liked came back for a day visit when I was in seventh form. I missed out on seeing him again as I’d run away from home and gone hitchhiking up to Raglan out of irritation with school. I spent a couple of nights in the backpacker’s and came home when my money ran out.
56) I got my first scar (in my left eyebrow) at age 4 falling off a bike, the second (big one below my left knee) at age 11 falling off a bike, the third (on my left forearm) at age 14 punching through a glass window, and I think I’ll probably get one on my left index finger from cutting it with a kitchen knife a few days ago.
57) The whole left side of my body is weaker, less coordinated and more scarred than the right.
58) The girl I took to the school ball kissed my best friend afterwards and they started going out. I cut off my hair in protest and gave it to her in a box with a ribbon. I wrote a bunch of songs about them.
59) The only time I’ve been drunk enough to have memory loss was just after this (probably a direct result). Apparently I threw up in the police car that took me home.
60) My musical tastes continued to move more towards dissonance, which sounds totally natural to my ear. Neil Young led to The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Will Oldham/Palace Brothers were another influence. The first jazz album I bought was ‘Crescent’ by John Coltrane.
61) I didn’t have good enough grades to go to university after high school so did a Certificate in Media Studies at Taranaki Polytech. My favourite part was video so I did a Film & TV certificate the following year, which was great fun. I wrote, directed, edited and starred in a Woody Allen-influenced comedy called The Trials & Tribulations of Stanley Kovitski. I also started extramural study through Massey and did first-year papers in Media Studies and Sociology. I got a B+ for each.
62) By 1997 I’d written fifty or so songs so I started recording an album, which became Scratched Surface. It’s sold maybe 20 copies. I made the artwork and put it onto CDR at polytech. Chris Knox gave it a good review, saying “this lo-fi singer/songwriter oddball has a unique take on the genre. He’s pissed off, a tad fucked up (as usual) but not full of lugubrious self-pity (as unusual) and is happy to get raucous & obnoxious in just the right kinda way”. I opened for him twice at Bodega in 1999/2000.
63) After finishing my Film & TV certificate I stayed in New Plymouth for the second half of 1998 to join the Conservation Corps for 20 weeks. Fulltime, paid the dole. Mostly outdoor work, planting, fence-building etc plus tramping, camping etc. Good in parts, dull in others. Film vs conservation is more yin-yang imagery – came back to haunt me later.
64) I felt like 1998 was a good creative period as I made new friends, finished Scratched Surface and wrote more complex & impressionistic songs for a followup. I opened for Peter Jefferies at the X-Bar.
65) At school everyone thought I was a big stoner – I didn’t try pot til I was seventeen and didn’t much like it. It made my eyeballs itchy, and I recall watching a tv film ‘Stark’ by Ben Elton and being unable to work out whether or not it was supposed to be a comedy.
66) I tried pot again at nineteen and this time enjoyed it. Great for listening to music, having guitar/percussion jams and wandering around town writing in a notebook. Had some fairly powerful psychedelic experiences with it (listening to Einstuerzende Neubauten on repeat at a party to horror of flatmates & guests sticks out - #1 band to get stoned to but they wanted Bloodhound Gang) but the drug seems to have diminishing returns over time so I don’t use it much now + I’m not really comfortable with drugs as a commodity.
67) The wild & rocky NP foreshore was my favourite place for writing – since Tom Cruise came by they’ve smoothed it out and added cafes.
68) I hitchhiked up to Auckland to see Bob Dylan in 1998 – spur of the moment decision to walk out on work for a couple of days. I couldn’t afford a ticket and it took all day to get there. I finally got to the venue in time for the last few songs – they let me in free. I threw him a copy of Scratched Surface but he didn’t pick it up. I thought he played better in 2003 (my ex-girlfriend also went having scored a free ticket, she said it was emotional seeing the old songs played live whereas I got emotional about the new songs - ‘Summer Days’ brought a tear to my eye).
69) Best live rock gig I’ve seen was Fugazi at VUW.
70) I opened for Sticky Filth + Goiter at the Kaponga Backgammon Club for ‘Hell-oween Night’, and again for a bunch of hardcore bands at the ‘Scorpio Ball’ – just me with acoustic guitar & harmonica. Maybe one or two songs got slight applause, the rest met silence. I felt & still feel that what I play is punk music but too much punk is boring & sonically conservative.
71) I first heard The Fall in 1998 – at their best they’re frighteningly good. I got intimidated and thought for a while I should give up on rock music as they’d already perfected it. Still waiting to see them play live.
72) A New Zealand magazine called Opprobrium came out of Christchurch for a couple of years which introduced me to free jazz and really underground noise, modern composition etc. I was intrigued by descriptions of the English guitarist Derek Bailey but didn’t get to hear him for another year or so. When I did it just clicked – he’s basically invented a genre based on atonality and improvisation which sounds unlike anything else. A lot of my recordings are about exploring the middle ground between Bob Dylan and Derek Bailey, from a post-punk perspective.
73) I played at the doomed Sweetwaters festival in 1999, as part of the 12-piece performance art/noise ensemble the Bird & Truck Collision. Our instructions for the set were ’15 mins quiet, 15 mins loud, no grooves’. I played guitar with a knife & fork and jumped around a lot. Fantastic fun, and a great pity the guys who were supposed to video it never showed up.
74) The Bird & Truck Collision was led by a bass player & electronic sound guy currently trading under the name ‘the smile plough’ – he does everything under a different pseudonym. He’s also from New Plymouth, is 13 years older than I, lived in Texas for 8 years, & has helped me out a lot, particularly with recording & playing on my second album The Marion Flow. I was lucky to have several collaborators including Chris O’Connor and Chris Palmer.
75) The song ‘Dope Smoking Wizard’ from The Marion Flow was released on a compilation album of Taranaki music and got a bit of airplay on bfm. I became a full writer member of APRA and got a couple of royalty cheques totaling about $90.
76) The Marion Flow got good reviews but they were slightly confused by the mixture of acoustic pop, spoken word, punk and free improvisation. I was trying to show that those are all part of the same continuum. I got labeled as ‘eclectic’, ‘challenging’ and ‘difficult’.
77) I moved to Wellington in 1999 to study at Victoria.
78) Moving to Wellington was a bit of a double-edged sword for creativity. There’s all kinds of art & cultural activities available to take inspiration from but it was a little overwhelming. Suddenly lots of people around were doing art & writing & films & music etc, some to a very high level. I found it kind of offputting and my writing actually slowed down a lot. In a small town it’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond.
79) I found a whole free jazz scene active in Wellington and went to a couple of hundred gigs at The Space. I played there several times to (sometimes very) small audiences.
80) I got my first published short story in Takahe magazine, issue #42 – shortly after Douglas Adams died so kind of eerie.
81) I got my first ever A+ for an essay on Noise as a genre of popular music, and another later on for an essay on the French short film La Jetee. Other than that my university grades were good but unspectacular. I got two A’s for third-year film papers.
82) I had a part-time job for two years at the stadium mixing sound during Super 12 and All Blacks rugby matches. Only six days a year but the pay was something like $27 Australian per hour. It ended when they worked out that I wasn’t really a sound engineer. Not having had a regular part-time job turned out to be a handicap after I graduated though.
83) I did three nights and six days as an extra on Lord of the Rings towards the end of shooting. I think I ended up in one blink-and-you’ll-miss-me shot in the third film. It was a lot of fun doing the battle scenes – in retrospect I should have spent the year on that and saved study for later (I read the book a dozen or so times growing up). I wrote 10,000 words on the experience (currently unpublished).
84) I spent the money from Lord of the Rings learning to scuba dive, which has been a fascinating experience but too expensive to do often. That’s one childhood ambition fulfilled – the others were to go hang-gliding and to write a book (I’ve written a half-sized one so far).
85) I got my first girlfriend at 22. It lasted just under a year and a half.
86) I wasted a lot of time & energy trying to get work in the film industry. Guess I never had the right contacts or outgoing nature & ego. I helped unpaid on low-budget films and did casual work as an extra but it stopped being fun after a while when I figured out that it wasn’t going to lead anywhere or give me any skills. Also I don’t think I would have been happy working on ads or crap tv which is where most of the work is.
87) I graduated with a BA in Theatre & Film in 2002 and spent the year mostly unemployed – having a girlfriend made it not so bad, though it eventually led to tension & breakup. The good thing was the chance to read & write. I got an article on The Space published internationally in The Wire and wrote a book of short stories, Anterior Pathways which I self-published. It has no science fiction elements. I also increased my marijuana intake from a few times a year to most days.
88) After making the book I recorded my third album Mantis Shaped and Worrying. In reaction to the perceived sprawling nature of The Marion Flow I made this one more focused, jettisoned the pop elements and recorded it all myself on a 4-track. It got one good review in Real Groove and one hilarious bad review in NZ Musician which called it ‘random squeaks, squawks and squeals accompanied by a dreary monotone voice reciting obscure diatribes’.
89) I started a vege garden in 2002 – fascinating to watch the changes over time plus the best food in the world. Kept me in good health.
90) I burned out over summer 2002/2003. Too much pot & caffeine, no money, relationship with girlfriend in terminal decline, weeds & insects taking over the garden, cockroaches in kitchen, writing compulsively, obsessed with working in film but not getting anywhere with it.
91) A patch of hair on the back of my head fell out as a result of stress. After three months on a hospital waiting list I got a cortisone injection and it grew back.
92) I got dumped in February and had to spend the autumn recovering. I cut right down on pot and worked as a builder’s labourer since I couldn’t handle complexity or social interaction. Not spending money I was eventually able to pay off my student loan.
93) In May 2003 I had a stroke of good luck and got a temporary fulltime job for twelve weeks as ‘Community Relations Officer’ at the Department of Conservation. Very interesting work + useful new direction. I also got articles published in Real Groove and Illusions, and a short story in JAAM.
94) I finally managed to start a band in 2003, The Melancholicks. We played one gig at Thistle Hall in April, doing punked-up versions of my songs and me reading from the 16th century psychology textbook The Anatomy of Melancholy. The gig lost money and went unrecorded. The Melancholicks evolved into The Winter, which is more of a collaborative and mostly instrumental improvisational group – perfect for me as the antidote to the highly introspective stuff I’d been doing the year before. We played at Photospace Gallery, The Cross, and in the Jazz Festival show ‘Speakeasy’ at Bats.
95) After my contract at DOC finished I had another period of unemployment/pot-smoking/music recording. I made another two albums, Parataxes which is all trio instrumentals by The Winter and Loose Autumn Moans which is another mixture of songs, monologues and instrumentals. Much less overdubbing than the 2002 stuff (where overdubbing was partly the point, to make it non-linear music).
96) I was happy to have a “string section” of cello and violin for Loose Autumn Moans. I’d played with Sam Prebble at Suraya Singh's Seek + Destroy book launch show in 2002 (good experience for me to have to play something vaguely disciplined).
97) I’m heterosexual (& white & from a middle class family…) – the one ‘semi-gay’ encounter I’ve had was a very negative experience which cast a shadow over the end of 2003 and showed that maybe I wasn’t as well-adjusted as I thought.
98) Contrary to popular belief I’m not widely read. I did spend a fair bit of time though on two of the 20th century’s heavyweight masterpieces, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow – loved both of them.
99) I spent 2004 studying journalism and so far have published a bunch of articles in regional newspapers (mainly the Kapiti Observer). Learning shorthand is a bitch though.
100) Having always wanted to play with a big band, I put together the Ascension Band for the Meatwaters Festival in 2003. It evolved from a one-off performance into an ongoing project. Our show 'Electric Symphony: Evolution' won best music award in the 2005 Wellington Fringe Festival. Watch for further developments...