Everything old is new again – or so it seems in New York:
Manual typewriters aren’t going gently into the good night of the digital era. The machines have been attracting fresh converts, many too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid. And unlike the typists of yore, these folks aren’t clacking away in solitude.
They’re fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins,” they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest.
Well, like most things in this life that are passing anywhere near to the outer reaches of cool, Darwin has been ahead of the pack – for a long time.
For twenty years now an occasional group of local ratbags – basically anyone who is a published author or journo, is in town on the right night, is up for a bit of mayhem and passes muster with the Chief of Staff of our own Darwin’s 4th Estate, Andrew McMillan – get together and bang away on a few old Olympics, Smith Coronas, Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis or whatever else has turned up in the bottom of the shed.
Andrew bangs the keys of his trusty Consul Supertyper.
With the help of local electronics and sound wizard Colin Simpson these mechanical marvels are wired and miked up for sound, stuck on a table with a few of their mates and are bashed senseless to produce all manner of clatters and rattles in and around a pick up rock and roll band that has seen some of the country’s best muso’s step up as essential support for the crew up front on the desk.
Willing wenches – preferably blond, tall ring-ins – are roped in as “poster girls” and whose sole function is to flip the sensationalist NT News headline banners celebrating the exploits of drunks, cops, judges, pollies, crocs and car crashes that are the usual fodder of the NT News’ streetside posters.
You can get a bit of the flavour of a typical 4th Estate gig from this note of a 2007 gig from the band’s MySpace page:
[The] Set includes band standard We’re The 4th Estate (vox McM); a newie dealing with the NT Government’s overturn of a Supreme Court ruling on the McArthur River mine Oh My Darling Clare Martine (Michael Coggan); an appraisal of a radio presenter’s talents Where The Hell Is The Bimbo’s Brain (McM); band standard Deadline Blues (Michael Coggan); another newie about a vicious story without a by-line in the previous week’s Saturday paper The Editor Is A Predator (McM); and These Keys Were Made For Typing (Chips, Alison and Claire).
Industry professionals claim to have been ‘gob-smacked’ by the performance. The rest of the audience laughed, hooted and clapped. The booker, Maurice O’Riordon, wrote “You guys were a hit…I wasn’t sure how it would go with Chips claiming ‘false pretences’, bagging the poets and all that, I guess that’s just part of his pre-show bravado.”
Other tracks that may – or may not – be trotted out on the night include Ghostwriters In The Sky, Requiem For Diana, Roger East and of course Mick the Pig.
This time around the 4th Estate has spared no expense with the promotion and have hired a top-of-the-line firm of PR specialists (really just a few mates on a Sunday arvo) to promote this last gig.
Here’s what they’ve come up with:
Celebrating their 20th anniversary, revolutionary rock journalism act DARWIN’S 4TH ESTATE will be unveiling new songs and old at the Railway Club, Somerville Gardens Rd Parap, from 8pm on Friday April 29.
With bass, drums, guitar, sax and ten typewriters driven by some of the city’s finest journalists, writers and broadcasters, guest vocalists will include Shellie Morris, Tracey Bunn and Mary Anne Butler. Other special guests will be announced soon.
The band’s songs deal with Territory politics, the media and the courts over the last 20 years, from the days of the CLP to the imposition of the Basics Card.
Be there – or, as my mates in that other loveable bunch of Darwin-based ratbags the Swamp Jockeys, used to say – be elsewhere.
Me?. I wouldn’t be anywhere else on the night – not even a Collingwood game would keep me away!