Exposure: a fable in three parts

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Jonathan Donahue from mercury Rev, Flickr image by alterna2Part one: Coldplay vs Mercury Rev
Rod Laver Arena is a vast cavern. Yet the stage, with its flanking walkways, is an embrace, and we are the lucky few hundred, who have endured hours of waiting and jostling to earn the privilege of nestling therein.

The mood is generally upbeat. But support acts at major concerts are anathema at the best of times, and tonight's, eccentric, veteran Buffalo rockers Mercury Rev, quickly loses the crowd's good will.

It's a shame. These guys are the reason I'm here. I had pondered and rejected the prospect of paying $140 to see Coldplay live. Then Mercury Rev were announced as the support act. What had seemed like a steep price was now a bargain: two bands for the price of one.

Musically, the match makes sense. The ethereally saccharine, atmospheric kook of Mercury Rev is surely a good fit with the experimental, melodic pop-rock of Coldplay's latest album, Viva la Vida. They are compatriots in the land of sound and melody.

Still, muppet-voiced lead singer Jonathan Donahue (pictured) is an oddball. During the crashing, closing chords of one big ballad, he stands for a full minute, grimacing, biceps flexed in a mock strongman pose. The crowd is disinterested and derisive. They titter and chatter.

I feel self-conscious as I bop my head and sing along — resentful. I'm probably not the only one enjoying their music, but it feels like it. 'Show some respect,' I want to scream. 'These guys have been around since before most of you were born.'

Of course, you can't hold others' tastes against them. Besides, it is the nature of playing support that you will usually fade out in the glare of the headliners. And when it comes to Coldplay, a ubiquitous and accessible band, the glare is indeed bright.

Part (U)2
A lot of people like U2, although it's some years since it was respectable to do so. Discerning music fans might identify their music as a 'secret pleasure'. 'Yeah, I like them,' they'll admit, wincing as if from an unpleasant odour.

That bad smell is Bono, or, more specifically, the front man's public persona. During the past decade Bono has erected a benevolent twin alongside his towering ego. He's cast himself as the would-be saviour of the world's poor.

You can't begrudge the man his ubiquitous spruiking on their behalf. Still, even the most diehard U2 fan must sometimes wish he'd just shut up for a while. For goodness sake, you're one of the world's richest men. Don't preach to me about loving my neighbour.

I've always considered myself an unconventional U2 fan. My favourite album is their misunderstood 1997 flop, Pop. Dismissed as a frivolous and failed experimental album, to me it finds Bono at his most open and angry. 'Jesus help me,' he drones on 'Wake Up Dead Man'. 'I'm alone in this world/And a f****d up world it is, too.'

By contrast, the band's latest album, No Line on the Horizon, has me stumped. It seems to lie somewhere between the dense, tribal sounds of 1985's The Unforgettable Fire and their 1995 experimental side project, Passengers: Original Soundtracks Volume 1.

It's nice to hear the band taking risks again. Fleeing the safety of 2004's U2-by-numbers How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Eschewing the pretention and preachiness of 2000's overrated All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Still, after half a dozen rotations, I can't make up my mind. Do I like it? Something is keeping me distant. Perhaps it's the smell of public Bono.

Part 3: Pauline Hanson exposed
We don't even read the Herald Sun at my house. Yet an apparent mix-up with our paper delivery saw me, on Sunday morning, munching my Weet-Bix over a front page photo purported to depict a 19-year-old Pauline Hanson in the buff.

Of course, it's probably not her. The former One Nation leader has denied it, and experts have come forward to reinforce her denial.

It may not matter. Two truisms apply here. One is that mud sticks. The photos have been widely exposed. Whether or not it is Hanson, the association is likely to endure. Should the reckless deeds of one's teenage years influence how one's adult career is viewed by the public? Probably not. Do they? Yes, unfortunately.

Still, it's not all bad news for Hanson. To paraphrase another applicable truism, sometimes any exposure is good exposure. That's not to suggest, as some have, that the photos were leaked by Hanson herself, for publicity's sake, as she revives her political career. But there's no doubt that vices and rebellion humanise our politicians.

Think of Obama the pot-smoker, Dubya the drunk, K-Rudd dragged along to a strip joint by his inebriated mates or, later, as PM, dropping the s-bomb on national television.

Be it fact or fable, the notion of young Pauline the temptress, exposing her not-so-innocence to her then boyfriend's camera, contains a sense of humanity that can only help the image of a woman once famously caricatured by a drag queen satirist dubbed 'Pauline Pantsdown'.

Epilogue: Coldplay vs U2
Bono recently described Colplay's Chris Martin as a 'wanker'. Martin received the jibe graciously — in fact, with deference to U2's place in the pop pantheon: 'They are the Manchester United of rock, so they must be doing something right.'

In contrast to Donahue, Chris Martin is an endearing front man, energetic, affable and charming. Self-deprecating, too. Help us be as big as U2!, he implores with the Rod Laver audience, flashing a cheeky grin.

Martin best take care. Exposure is a powerful but precarious weapon. It can be a force for evil as well as good. It should be yielded with caution.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Big Issue. 

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Coldplay, Mercury Rev, Rod Laver arena, U2.No Line on the Horizon, Pauline Hanson nude



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Existing comments

Is it really imortant if that photograph is of Pasuline Hanson ? No - not really!

What is important is what she stands for now.

nick agocs | 19 March 2009  

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