Hard News by Russell Brown


Together Alone

We're about to do something unprecedented as a nation. We hope that by taking this extraordinary action before a single life in New Zealand has been lost to the deadly novel virus we will save tens of thousands of lives. Our  lives. We'll do it together, in households, in isolation from each other.

You'll have noticed that Public Address has been a quieter place in the past two or three years – and that's been more or less deliberate on my part. The site launched nearly 20 years ago and for most of that time it has hosted discussions for and by its reader community. Moderating those discussions has been very largely my job and frankly, a man gets tired.

But Ian Dalziel emailed this week to remind me of the comfort this place brought to many Christchurch people through the earthquake years. It created a community within a community – and a number of the people I "met" at the time I regard now as real-life friends. Could, he suggested, do that again?

Yes, we can. Consider yourself welcomed back to share your experience of the next few weeks. Talk about how it's going, help each other out. Know that those experiences will endure here – as far as I know, Public Address is still harvested by the National Library.

But pleased be restrained with your reckons. The country has no shortage of those. Be kind.

We're fortunate in our house to be relatively well set for a month of lockdown. The supermarkets will be open, but I've been quietly stocking the freezer and the pantry for a week or two and we'll aim to minimise shopping contact.

I've had to apply for the wage subsidy as various big jobs disappear, but I'll have some work to do from from home and Fiona will be here next to me creating her part of the New Zealand Listener (ironically, I'll be covering her job for part of the month because she'd aleady booked annual leave). Of our two adult autistic children, one has lost a job he really values for the foreseeable future – and the other is basically a pro at self-isolation.

We have good internet and we live in a small sreet where we know each other's names. Fiona and I also have e-bikes, and we'll be using those for no-contact exercise. I'll report on what I see from the roads and cycleways. 


You will still need to register to comment here. If you're returning after a while away, password restore should work, and the system will still take new registrations. But I can't guarantee I'll be able to help much with any glitches. People will help you out in the discussion with stuff like formatting and uploading photographers. Have fun. Be kind.


Splore 2020: The Listening Lounge

As I've done for the past few years, I'm curating and presenting The Listening Lounge, the talk programme at Splore. On the morning of Saturday the 22nd at the Living Lounge stage, the korero goes like this.

Yes, we're talking about drugs again, not just because I'm professionally interested in drug policy and public health, but because the feedback is that people deeply appreciate hearing these informed discussions.

10:00 News You Can Use With Know Your Stuff

KnowYourStuff has become the go-to for good information on party drugs and safety, for both media and punters alike. And they're more legit than ever,  thanks to a neat compromise by which researchers have spent the summer studying the impact of of their drug-checking work. (But for New Zealand First's intransigence, we'd have a law explicitly allowing it.) KnowYourStuff's deputy manager Dr Jez Weston will join me to talk about what nasties they're seeing this season – and when Auckland might expect to see something like the monthly services the New Zealand Drug Foundation has been hosting at its office.

10:30 The Reeferendum Gets Real

Last year, you could have been forgiven for wondering where a "Yes" campaign for the forthcoming referendum on legalising and regulating cannabis was coming from. This year will be different. I'm joined by Chris Fowlie, one of the founders of Make It Legal, whose work is about to step up, and Drug Foundation principal advisor Renee Shingles, who will be heading the foundation's reform campaign. Renee will be a new name to most people, but she's spent the summer engaging with the public at events. Her CV includes work for Crosby Textor – which might just be what it takes.

11:00 The New Zealand Microdosing Trial

Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy of the University of Auckland School of Pharamacy was the neuroimaging specialist on several studies at Imperial College Cambridge that are regarded as foundational to the new science of psychedelic therapy. This year in Auckland, he will be leading an unprecedented study of an aspect of that science that's been talked about a lot but remains poorly understood – microdosing. A group of healthy young men will take subperceptual doses of LSD "in the wild", and go about their lives. Suresh will explain the study – and why, for now, the study group will be male-only. He'll be joined on stage by Amadeus Diamond and Dr Will Evans,  two colleages from The Entheos Foundation – whose launch was announced from the Listening Lounge stage last year.

11:30 The Infinite Game: How do we move past our differences, get together and save the world?

University of Auckland psychologist Dr Niki Harré is the author of two books deaing with humans and common cause: Psychology for a Better World and The Infinite Game: How to Live Well Together. This panel discussion takes its cue from those ideas. Niki will be joined onstage by Takunda Muzondiwa, whose amazing speech last year as head girl at Mt Albert Grammar, about belonging and identity, blew up and went viral; and Mark Pierson, the pastor and "worship curator" with the Rhythms of Grace church community, who may overturn any ideas you had about modern churches. There could be another panelist too ...

And that's not all! For the first time this year, the Splore institution that is Wendy's Wellness will be hosting "tent talks" and two of them will be proper deep dives conducted by Listening Lounge panelists:

2.30pm Saturday: Amadeus Diamond and Will Evans will talk about the current state of psychedelics research, its therapeutic potential – and the striking changes emerging in the legal environment around it all.

4:30pm Saturday Niki Harré will be conducting an Infinite Game workshop – a structured process designed to establish what our shared values really are. (You'll also see a very cool online version of the same thing, and an Infinite Game installation onsite.)

NB: There's an error in some iterations of the Splore programme that has these on the Friday. They're definitely on Saturday.


Rage and change: RNZ's music problem

There has long been a truism in public broadcasting: don't mess with Concert FM. The theory was that although the station has been in a long-term audience decline, and that audience is steadily ageing out, it has powerful establishment support – and any threat to it would provoke a fury.

As it happens, the plan announced this week – which would see RNZ Concert recast as an automated playout system in the deadlands of the AM band and its staff made redundant – has reaped a backlash well beyond the ranks of the great and good, and from people who are not Concert listeners.  Elements of that backlash have been intemperate, to put it mildly.

The decision to present Concert's relegation in the context of a planned new music station targeted at younger listeners has only aggravated the reaction. After all, people are saying, the youth are more than adequately served by commercial radio. We'll get to that, but let's just say it's debatable.

So why would RNZ management poke the bear? You could look at the speech CEO Paul Thompson made in 2014, eight months after he took the job, to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Conference in Glasgow. It's all about confronting change, and especially the implications of an audience shift to digital, non-linear channels:

I want to highlight three troubling facts:

- We are weak (almost irrelevant) on the web.

- As a radio broadcaster, we lack visual journalism and digital story-telling skills.

- Our preferred method of content delivery - radio - is in long-term decline.

When I was appointed as CEO in September last year, I quickly realised that some of the things that had made us successful and highly relevant to New Zealanders in the past decade were unlikely to work so well in future.

And I see the essence of my job as a duty to ensure we are as strong, if not stronger, in the future as we are now.

It's easy to lose sight of how strong RNZ's response to the challenges identified in the speech has been. We're so used to the accessibility and immediacy of RNZ's news online, the excellence of its podcasts, the unquestioned role of digital media in its operations, that it's easy to forget that it wasn't always thus.

In late 2014, Paul commissioned me to write a paper for internal use about RNZ's music content and programming. I titled the paper Taking Music Seriously, and urged RNZ to own its music content, acknowledge and value its internal expertise and explore new ways of delivering music to audiences. I pointed out that other public broadcasters, such as NPR and the BBC, had breathed new life into their operations by embracing music.

"In general" I wrote, "Radio New Zealand's approach to music should shift from passive to active. It can, and should, be part of music."

I can't necessarily claim credit – I gather there have been several of these internal documents – but a number of the changes I suggested have come to pass. On weekday afternoons in particular, music has become a really important factor in audience engagement. In the review of NZ On Air's music funding schemes I wrote last year, I observed that local artists and their labels and managers greatly value exposure on Afternoons. More so, to be frank, than they value a spot on Music 101 on Saturdays.

Why? Because although RNZ National's specialist music content is informed, passionate and frequently of high quality, it doesn't find its audience. Younger listeners, who might be most interested in the music featured, pretty much can't find 101 on the dial and the day-to-day audience basically goes off a cliff on Saturday afternoons. Music 101 presenter Alex Behan, who I thought was doing a tremendous job, couldn't meet the demands he was set and was dumped. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he wrote such a thoughtful and generous assessment of this week's changes, and the need for change in general.

In 2015, Concert FM had a strong and active relationship with the "fine music" community and its representative body Sounz – it was part of that musical community, and still is. In other areas, I wrote, it did less well. Its jazz programming had little to do with the quite vibrant community represented by the likes of the Creative Jazz Club in Auckland and Rattle in Wellington.

Remarkably, that has changed. Since Nick Tipping arrived in 2016, his show Inside Out, broadcast on Concert and RNZ National, has established  much stronger connection to contemporary local jazz. It's part of that community. Over that time, Concert's share has even ticked up a bit to 4% of the listening audience, which is still well short of the 6.7% of New Zealanders 15+ who listened in 2007.

It's not hard to imagine that (ideally in partnership with student and community radio) as a model for fostering other musical genres: blues, gospel, reggae, country, waiata Māori – and the music of our growing immigrant communities. There are brown kids in Auckland suburbs making cross-cultural popular music that you'll never hear. (Among my recommendations to NZ On Air last year was that it work on ways of surfacing this music.)

It would cause its own uprising – because, let's face, for a substantial part of its audience, Concert is essentially a chillout playlist – but it might be a model for a serious music station. I, personally, would love that.

But a serious music station doesn't address the future-proofing issue. It wouldn't necessarily find the RNZ listeners of tomorrow any more than Music 101 does on a Saturday. So what they're looking at – and what the head of music Willy McAllister was hired to devise – is an equivalent to the ABC's Triple J, which really does engage younger listeners, and which identifies and exposes talent for the Australian popular music industry as a whole.

But aren't young people already well-served by commercial radio? Sort of. But as Damian Christie pointed out, saying that is "a bit like scrapping RNZ National and claiming adults are well served by ZB and Magic Live."

New Zealand music's share on mainstream pop radio is actually at a historic high at the moment: 20-25% of airtime. But that's really maybe a dozen songs a year, by half a dozen artists, making A-rotate. And it's all contemporary pop, which we've got a lot better at making. And that's a ceiling. Commercial radio has room for very few winners, its needs are narrow and the unserviced market is vast.

My friend Andrew Dubber, who knows more about the way music and broadcast are changing than anyone I know, put it differently, asking:

" … does my right to listen to fine classical music presented intelligently by experts trump a 14 year-old’s right not to be forced into a situation where they are constantly sold to advertisers because of the music they and their friends happen to enjoy?"

When you consume commercial media, you are the product and we should be cautious about declaring that's all anyone under 30 should expect to be.

There are problems with creating our own Triple J, however. The most obvious one is that the commercial networks will go absolutely apeshit about it. Their perspective is that they've paid millions of dollars for their broadcast frequencies and they don't expect the taxpayer to use that money to turn around and compete with them. I saw that happen when I was involved in developing ideas for a Youth Radio Network around the turn of the millennium.

Contrary to claims on social media, young people do still listen to radio – The Edge vies with RNZ National as the most popular radio station in the country. There are money and jobs at stake here, and commercial radio, bankable for so long, is becoming subject to the same revenue pressures as other traditional media. They're entitled to feel uneasy.

We're not, of course, obliged to care about that. But it's impossible not to feel uneasy about the scope of these changes. As the music historian Aleisha Ward explains eloquently in this Twitter thread, the loss of RNZ's music librarians along with Concert FM is a profound one. I'm told there were people in tears when the news was broken to staff this week and I'm not surprised.

It's also unclear what will happen to the truly unique thing RNZ brings to radio in New Zealand – the skill and expertise of the engineers who record performances, both inside and outside the studios. One of the great things about music on Afternoons has been the live-to-air sessions that are subsequently made available online. They offer exposure to artists who might not get it any other way – and one clip from Avantdale Bowling Club's 2018 session with Jesse Mulligan has been viewed more than 60,000 times on YouTube.

Surely the proposed new station would continue to harness those skills – perhaps do even more of it, which would be great. But could a Concert programme without presenters and in-house experts credibly continue to capture important classical and jazz performances? Would those really fit in a Triple J format? And yet the loss of those recordings would leave a massive hole in our cultural life.

In the end, what we should be asking is not whether there would be value in creating something for audiences long ignored by public broadcasting (there would be), or whether there's value in what Concert FM does (there really is) – but why we're being presented with a zero-sum game.

The Labour-led government, which has properly allowed RNZ and its management and board to make strategic decisions, may yet need to say and do more here. And yes, I mean money.

EDIT: I left out one thing here: the reason Concert is being pushed onto the AM band. Which is that there aren't any more FM frequencies available. The frequencies that could have been used for a new venture, the ones that Kiwi FM broadcast on, have – in the case of Auckland's 102.2, anyway – been decomissioned. I don't know enough about spectrum management to say what might be done about that, but it seems a fairly key issue.


Planet History: Heroes (and villains)

One thing I remember about the interview I did with Rex Halliday for Planet magazine in 1992 was a couple of times being on the verge of tears.

Rex was reflecting on the community effort that went into the second Hero party at the old Princes Wharf building – and the battle for recognition he had fought all along the way. They were turned away by Mayor Les Mills and, astonishingly, completely blanked by the New Zealand Herald, apparently at the order of the paper's editor. If I recall correctly, the word "lesbian" was also banned from reporters' copy around the same time.

This was all happening less than a decade since New Zealand's first recorded AIDS case. People with the virus could die quickly back then, ripping holes in the fabric of their friendships. It was was only five and a half years since the passing of homosexual law reform itself. And here, evidently, was the establishment still turning its back. Letting people die.

So, yes, Rex got quite emotional and so did I. The 2020 Pride festival seems a good time to remember the conversation we had.

The picture below, of Michael Parmenter on his trapeze, was taken by Becky Nunes (it's not actually the same one that appeared in the magazine – I'll post a picture of the page in the comments below). Becky has more pictures from Hero 2, and some words of her own about covering the event, here.

Hero and its parades and parties continued annually until 2001, when financial problems left Auckland without a grand queer festival until 2013, when Pride arrived. By the time it was over, things had changed enough that Prime Minister Jenny Shipley attended in 1999 (Helen Clark had attended several parades by that time). It was at the 1999 parade that Shipley became the first Prime Minister to publicly promise civil unions. I would say that the heroes won.


Glad to be gay? Hell, Hero 2 made you glad to be human. In scale alone, the culmination of the second annual Hero Week was of international standard – but few events anywhere, gay or otherwise, can have gotten it so right spiritually.

From the opening karanga high in an eyrie in the cavernous Prince's Wharf building, down to a parade celebrating the other races of the Pacific, and into the story of our gay hero's journey towards fulfilment, Warwick Broadhead's central production was a thrilling, heartwarming celebration of diversity, humanity and physical contact.

Broadhead knows how to make a point stick – simply by keeping hearts in mouths about a third of the time. The Hero (Wellington dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter) flew and dangled above the crowd on flying foxes and a trapeze and walked the length of the hall on a high ledge blindfolded, trusting a string of helpers and his own surefootedness.

By the time Hattie St John brought it all home with a soaring version of 'Wind Beneath My Wings' the sense of commitment, fulfilment and heroism had brought many of the crowd to tears.

For Hero 2 co-ordinator Rex Halliday, the human effort that went into the event is also cause for tears – of pride.

"It's a gut thing – just being so impressed with what people have done, with what human beings can do. I'm proud to be a gay man in this city. I'm proud of all that means. For me, gay people are really my people, in the sense that for a Māori man, Māori are his people. I feel a very real spiritual connection with gay people both historically and currently."

It's perhaps the growing unity of Auckland's "gay tribe" that made the event the way it was. More than 250 people worked on the party and the activities of the preceding week – 150 of them featured in Broadhead's show alone. All of them worked for free – and then paid $35 for tickets. Halliday notes that one man left his job and worked for six weeks with no income:

"That's fucking phenomenal. As far as the sense of community, I think there are a lot of men and women who experience that now. Gay men and women who have been two very separate communities and I think the interweaving we see now is very good, but there are also a lot of gay men who resist the idea of being part of a gay community.

"But maybe somewhere there's a big heart that beats and it's called the Queer Heart and it's one that doesn't even mean you necessarily have to be a gay man or a lesbian. It's a heart to do with being free."

Hero 2 was, and was always going to be, more than just a party (although as parties go it was wild, weird and wonderful). For Halliday, a self-confessed non-party person and a full-time AIDS prevention officer with the AIDS Foundation, the imperative was particularly strong.

"From my angle, I wanted to create an event for people that really developed a powerful sense of self-esteem. What we do in AIDS prevention is build up self-esteem and promote safe sex and healthy living. You can do that in workshops, but the best way in this context was a big dance party.

"So the question was how do we transform a dance party into a vehicle that that becomes almost a ritual of personal transformation for a whole group of people. Social engineering at its most insidious!

"The idea for the Hero's journey was to create a show that would make all the gay people there feel the sense of their own heroism, resonate with that inside them. And one of the things that really excited me in that respect was the myth of Tane – show the first strike for freedom as Tane actually pushes Rangi and Papa apart so the children could stand up straight.

"That didn't happen in the end, but I was keen on using lesbian women. Māori lesbian women in particular, because they've moved the consciousness of all gay people in the country a long way and that sense of leadership appealed to me. And, apart from anything else, the karanga is one of the most powerful sounds we have in this country. The idea wasn't just 'oh, we're in New Zealand, we'll have to acknowledge the tangata whenua', but let's have something that draws us close to the power of the land itself."

If there was a hero among all the heroes who drew together, it was Michael Parmenter himself. He had never "flown" before and performed all his trapeze work on the strength of two days' practice. His performance was a physical tour de force which should have been compulsory viewing for all those with assumptions about the abilities of AIDS sufferers.

"Michael's living with AIDS. This is one of the things I find absolutely amazing about him. He's one of the very few people I know in New Zealand who's living openly gay and has a public image that could be damaged by other people wanting to take that kind of view, who isn't an AIDS activist. There are a lot of people with the courage to live openly with AIDS, but that has become something they've dedicated their lives to, which is vital, but there's also a need in our community for people doing other things to be open too.

"The performance took a lot out of him – it was a hero's journey in itself. So many other people did the same – overcame great obstacles. They're just great people."

There was a sour side to Hero 2 as well. Witness the lamentable stand of Auckland mayor Les Mills. Well, stand is hardly the world – his "decision" to neither support or oppose Hero 2 was more of an undignified squat. The New Zealand Herald (nicely summed up by Denis Welch as "allegedly the country's leading newspaper") completely blanked the whole event, in a regrettable departure from any kind of professional ethics.

"I think both the Herald and Les Mills need to recognise the burder of shame they carry. They are shameful people. Les Mills' position was cowardly. We asked him to support the most important HIV-AIDS fundraiser in this city and got a letter back saying he could 'neither support or oppose' Hero.

"I wrote back twice saying we were really unhappy abut this and and that it was a real lack of leadership on his part and pointed out examples of mayors in this city, around the country and around the world who have supported gay activism. And secondly, that as an individual, a huge amount of his fortune has been made on gay money [Mills made his pile as a gym entrepreneur]. I can only feel derision for for his weakness.

"It's the same with the Herald. Two weeks before the event, the Herald got a press backgrounder, seven copies sent down to them by fax targeted to individual people. On the Monday before the event they got a press kit, five pages with two good story opportunities, photographs and a copy of the Hero paper. I had seven of those hand-delivered to the deputy editor and they also got the press release on Les Mills, then we rang to see if anyone had diaried in the event. That's looking after the media – but no response, not a word.

"All the information I've had is that it's down to the outrageous homophobia of Peter Scherer, the editor. People like the editor of that paper and the mayor of this city are directly responsible for the deaths of young men from HIV and until they have the guts to recognise that their homophobia is killing people … I get angry …"

(It's interesting to note that just as Les Mills' inaction disenfranchised a large section of the city's population, Scherer's conduct let down many Herald staff. It may have been coincidence, but the paper's entertainment staff appeared to stage their own little rebellion a week later, when Jill Graham mentioned Hero in the first sentence of her reviews column and Graham Reid ran a chunky story about … a gay superhero! Small mercies, but well done …)

Anyway, the good guys won. Profits from the week's fundraising totalled about $75,000. The money will be distributed in the Auckland region by the Hero Trust formed after last year's event and will be split evenly between community-based AIDS prevention and support services. Plaudits have rained in from around the globe.

I've heard it suggested that Les Mills' great fear about the event was that it would turn into a monster, taking over Auckland's precious Anniversary Weekend and outshining even the Sydney Mardi Gras. Halliday and his friends will be doing their best to make his nightmare come true.

"What's really interesting is is the way the idea developed. A year and a half ago, the idea was to have at the end of a programme about HIV-AIDS a safe-sex party at The Staircase. And it's just grown and grown into this gargantuan thing. The first year was definitely a party for gay men and their friends. This year became the biggest gay dance party ever, and certainly there was a transition point where it became a gay and lesbian event. I see it as a queer event, but queer's still a word we're not used to yet.

"Next year we'll be able to make a great gay and lesbian event. Things like a parade, a bigger and better Hero paper … we wanted to do a parade this year, but I think next year it'll be easy. There's a lot of momentum there.

"It'll happen again, it'll be a bigger and better and next year it'll be the gay event of the world. The mayor will be so delighted!"

Originally published in Planet magazine #7, autumn 1992.


Music: Morales is coming

It will be no secret to longtime readers that I, Russell Brown, love the disco.   So I'm pretty excited by the fact that one of the greats of the game is returning this summer – and also pleased to say I have tickets to give away.

Legendary mixer and DJ John Morales is playing Hi SO on Saturday, February 1.  (That's the rooftop bar of the SO/Auckland hotel on the corner of Customs and Gore Street downtown. I went to a Music Awards after-party there last year and it seems like pretty much the perfect place for this show.)

On past form, it'll be an older, dancing crowd that knows and loves the music. And it starts at 6pm (well, the support DJs do) so you get to watch the sun go down.

UPDATE: I've done the draw and Michael Hellyer has won the double pass to the Morales show on Feb 1 and Rachel Renner has won the double pass to Disco Confessions the following evening. The rest of y'all will have to buy your tickets :-)

I have a double pass to give away. And I also have a double pass for the following night's once-only screening of Disco Confessions, the documentary about Morales's long career in dance music, at the Academy.

You can enter for both the passes, but I'll ask you to do it separately, so I can keep track. Just click the envelope icon below this post to be in, and put "Morales" as the email subject line for the DJ show and "Confessions" as the subject for the film screening. I'll draw it next week.

Meanwhile, here's John's epic extended dub of Candi Staton's 'Young Hearts Run Free'. I have the original M&M mix on vinyl and I play it sometimes at parties and what happens next is ridiculous: