Friday, May 20, 2011

Aftershocks and insults in Christchurch

Yesterday I gave a guest lecture on (anti-)travel writing at the splendidly compact Albany campus of Massey University. After having a very inconclusive discussion with students on the relative merits of Tokoroa and Las Vegas as subjects for travel writing, I played a slide show which presented passages from the Manifesto of the Committee for the Reconstruction of Space and Time on Pig Island and my 2009 essay on Mutukaroa/Hamlins Hill alongside images of Karl Marx, JG Ballard, giant snakes, and everyday life in Tonga and Ohura. The psychedelic, sample-heavy shuffle of The Orb's early nineties album Pommie Fritz served as a sort of soundtrack.

I'm not sure if the slide show made perfect sense, but one of the passages it quoted has a new and sad resonance for me, in the light of some recent events in Christchurch. The beginning of the CROSTOPI Manifesto considers, using terms from the celebrated geographer David Harvey, the way that capitalism has to destroy in order to try to create. Objects which are no longer profitable must be obliterated, even if they serve the interests of individuals or communities:

Capitalism builds spaces, and establishes time-flows, suitable to its needs, and then finds that it must destroy these spaces, interrupt these time flows, as its needs change. The modern becomes archaic. Engineers move out, and preservationists move in. A power station becomes an art gallery. Bohemians squat in old workers’ cottages. A wrecker’s ball swings into a room, ignoring the volumes of Dostoyevsky on the rickety homemade shelf.

A couple of weeks ago Mick Elborado, a long-time member of New Zealand's alternative music scene and a former keyboardist for The Terminals, The Axemen and Bill Direen's backing band The Builders, was arrested while trying to salvage objects from his Christchurch home, which had been slated for demolition in the aftermath of February's earthquake. As this blog noted, Mick was listed missing and feared dead for several days after the February quake. Like so many survivors of the disaster, he has been trying to restore some normality to his life in the months since February. For Mick, normality means listening to, writing, and playing music. Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd has called Mick's thousands of rare records one of the largest and most important music collections in this country. The adventurous, allusive music Mick has contributed to a series of legendary bands shows that he has made good use, over the years, of the audio taonga he kept at his home.

In the weeks after the February the 21st quake Mick was apparently given no proper notification that his home had been deemed unsafe and scheduled for demolition. The house was on the wrong side of one of the 'emergency cordons' thrown up after the quake, and Mick was unable to visit it without breaking the law. After turning up after a tip-off a couple of weeks ago and seeing a digger about to go into action, Mick ran into his house and attempted to salvage his music collection and other important possessions. Instead of turning off the digger and discussing the situation with Mick, the police decided to throw him in prison.

In an appearance at Christchurch District Court last week, Mick, whose legal name is David Theobald, entered a not guilty plea to a charge of breaching an emergency cordon, and told the judge that the demolition of his home has left him with 'no past and no future'. 'I'm very angry, and I'll be angry for the rest of my life' he said, before turning his back on the court. Mick has been remanded in custody.

In the aftermath of the earthquake which hit Christchurch in September I praised the role that both government workers and state-directed volunteers played in cleaning up the city and helping victims. I thought then, and still think now, that natural disasters like earthquakes are times when massive and decisive state action is needed, and when right-wing ideas about individualism and 'freedom' from government are shown up as nonsense. Unfortunately, the superb short-term responses to the September and also the February earthquake by grassroots state employees have been overshadowed, as weeks and months have passed, by the manoeuvres of the National government, which is more interested in making Christchurch profitable again than in helping the city's ordinary residents recover from their tragedy. National gave the job of reconstructing Christchurch to Gerry Brownlee, a man better known for throwing protesters down staircases than for working sensitively with victimised communities. Brownlee has been given nearly dictatorial powers over post-quake Christchurch, and he has exercised these powers with ill-concealed glee, ordering the flattening of home after home, banning archaeologists from doing vital work on the grounds that such work would hold back the pace of economic recovery, and disregarding planning regulations that take into account places sacred to the Kai Tahu tangata whenua of the city. Brownlee has been happy to chat with Christchurch's business elite, but he has shied away from confrontations with ordinary citizens. Mick Elborado is only one of the victims of his authoritarianism.

Back in February I noted how some particularly demented conspiracy theorists were calling Christchurch's earthquake a man-made phenomenon. Claims about a gigantic American-Israeli 'earthquake machine' targeting the city were idiotic and offensive, but we can legitimately talk about a series of artificial, unnecessary aftershocks being inflicted on Christchurch in the weeks and months since the February earthquake, as homes are demolished and their former inhabitants insulted. For Mick Elborado, the recent loss of his home and his treasured possessions was even more devastating than February's quake. I am pleased to hear that Mick has been receiving the support of his many friends within New Zealand's music and arts community.

Footnote: Christchurch's quakes darken the latest issue of Ka Mate Ka Ora, the academic journal dedicated to the study of New Zealand poetry and poetics. Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 opens with Emma Neale's tribute to Rhys Brookbanks, the young poet and journalist who died in the Canterbury Television building on February the 21st. I had the privilege of meeting Brookbanks for an hour, back in 2007; Neale knew him for years, first as his teacher and later as his friend.

Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 also includes my essay 'Earthquake Country', which was written in the aftermath of the September quake and discusses a Hubert Witheford poem about natural disaster and social revolution. (A rough draft of the text appeared on this blog last year, and prompted some interesting comments from Richard Taylor.)

Footnote (2): Mick has been released.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad now to read Bill Direen's message from late February:

'We were all greatly relieved to hear that Mickle had (symbolically) emerged from the rubble intact and ready to rebuild. His inspired keyboard phrases have brought zing and frisk to so many lineups since he took the stage! Unlike some musicians he's remained an avid listener too! Christchurch couldn't do without him. Viva Borrado!'

11:55 am  
Anonymous nestor n said...

UNDER Capitalism HUMANS build spaces, and establish time-flows, suitable to THEIR needs, and then find that WE must destroy these spaces, interrupt these time flows, as its needs change. The modern becomes archaic. Engineers move out, and BOHEMIANS move in. AN ART GALLERY becomes a DIFFERENT art gallery. JUST LOOKING FOR A QUIET PLACE FOR A DUMP squatS in old workers’ cottages. A DOSTOYEVKSI swings into a room, ignoring the volumes of LENIN on the IKEA shelf.


1:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the capitalist mode of production exist unchallenged in NZ?


Are there other M.sO.P?

1:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So he ramraided an IRD office on his motorbike in 2009, as well? That's what the news article about his release says.

2:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


'Theobald regarded it as a protest when he drove into the Inland Revenue offices, causing damage totalling $41,500. He lost his job after working for the department for 25 years and became a sickness beneficiary.

After pleading guilty to charges of reckless driving and intentional damage he was ordered to do 300 hours of community work and to pay reparations totalling $13,000 to the owners of the building, and the department.

The judge also disqualified him from driving for nine months.'

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“It’s OK Officer, I work here”
By IAN STEWARD – The Christchurch Press

DRIVE-IN: David Theobald poses for a self-portrait of himself with his car "parked'' inside IRD's Christchurch office.
A Christchurch tax worker fed up with his bosses has made a spectacular protest by driving his car through three plate-glass windows in the Inland Revenue building.

David Theobald, 47, a musician and 25-year Inland Revenue employee, posted photographs on the internet of his protest, which he made at 6.30am on Saturday. The pictures showed his car “parked” in the Cashel St building.

A blog accompanying the photos said Theobald, a long-time member of rock and punk band The Axemen, “decided he had had enough and wasn’t going to take it any more after years of abuse” from Inland Revenue.

“Driving into the place that had been his nemesis for the past 25 years, he felt an eerie calm as he took the final turnoff, revved the vehicle and drove through three plate-glass windows and into the reception area,” it said.

Theobald said he was careful not to trample broken glass into the department’s new carpet because “I didn’t want to get in trouble”.

He waited “calmly” for police and quipped when they arrived: “It’s OK officer, I work here.”

Theobald appeared in the Christchurch District Court yesterday charged with intentional damage and reckless driving.

He was re-arrested and his bail conditions were altered, ordering him to stay away from the Inland Revenue building, after he stood outside and sent text messages to his workmates “to show them I’m not in the loony bin”.

Theobald is known in music circles as Mick Elborado. He has played in several bands since the early 1980s.

A picture on the blogsite of Theobald and his Mazda 626 was captioned: “Mick at grand opening of Inland Revenue’s new 24hr drive-thru in Chch.”

An Inland Revenue spokeswoman yesterday confirmed the incident and said no-one had been hurt. The damage “did not compromise activities”, she said.

She declined to comment further.

Theobald posted the letter suspending him from work, written by a human resources manager, on the internet.

“Information has come to my attention which indicates that you may have intentionally driven a vehicle through Inland Revenue’s Christchurch building,” the manager wrote.

“I am concerned that your conduct may be inconsistent with the code of conduct.”

Theobald said his actions were the culmination of a three-year employment dispute centred on “workplace bullying”.

Theobald said he believed destruction of property was a last resort after all other checks and balances had failed. “I take all responsibility for these actions. You’ve got an evangelist on your hands here,” he said.

A founding member of The Axemen, Steve McCabe, began a Facebook support group for Theobald titled “Mick Elborado is innocent”. McCabe said Theobald was innocent because he had been provoked into the act by years of bureaucratic and institutional bullying.

Reprinted from NZPA, 19 August 2009

5:09 pm  
Blogger Sensa said...

In a week when NATO exceeds it mandate in continuing to clear the roads of (sometimes human) obstacles for advancing rebels, and when the (former) head of the I.M.F. is being arraigned for violation of a person's rights and of her body, I can't help feeling that the 'powers that be', national and municipal, have also exceeded their mandate and abused their authority, serving their own ends in the great reconstruction of Christchurch. They need to remember the little people; and Mick is one of them. It is true that Mick has committed one misdemeanour before this, but there was no damage to another person and his action was passionate. Sometimes people react in ways that break the law, (the 1981 tour protests broke a few), but in extraordinary situations the law, city and governement should take notice. Mick's desire to save his own archives of Christchurch bands shows civic and cultural pride, his action (also remembering his earlier act of protest) was heartfelt. Now that's something we could build a new city on, or even a nation. Good on you, Mick.

7:04 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Well said, Bill!

7:09 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:41 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes they got carried away bulldozing. He would have been able to get his records etc. It was hsi house. I can understnd his feelings of distress. His passion music and his collection.

That fat Brownlee is a bloody ugly and unctiously heartless pig if I ever saw one. Reminds me of Goering or someone like him.

Bunch of wanking arseholes running that "rescue" operation down there.

7:46 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I remember that thing you did about Witheford Maps. It was brilliant. I'm going to print off your new version and read it.

And Bill is right. People happen to have human feelings. Good on you Bill!

7:55 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I've just been talking with John Geraets, Richard, and he tells me he was a huge Witheford fan as a young and (in a literary sense, at least - I don't want to speculate about his personal life!) wildly experimental man. Interesting eh? Sometimes the cool kids of the next generation are quietly reading someone who might appear outwardly like a fusty fuddy duddy...

8:10 pm  
Blogger Sensa said...

Cheers to the above. This has just been posted by NZPA. The journalist (anonymous, as far as I can see) describes Mick's two peccadilloes as "dangerous and bizarre" incidents. An exaggeration, surely.

8:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Geraets is interesting. Yes. My own "discoveries" were such as those in Morrisey's "The New Fiction" which gave me a lead into various writers and by chance I got hold of Cortazar's "cronopios y de famas", that was amusing,as were the stories by Donald Bartheleme. Then I chanced upon Ashbery as I saw he had won the Pulizter.

In NZ in the early 90s no-one seemed to know of him so I started using methods he used (I didn't need to use crypt words though!). Some people did know of him but didn't like him or had "gone past" him. But he becme for me kind of 'secret weapon' for me, but now he is much more famous I am not so excited.

Re Witheford: I wonder how much published?

Typical of such (a bit like the 'Angry Penguins' Syndrome. The temptation via Romanticism or later descendents of that movement) is (or can be) to move to the right. Witheford's friend could see the dangers of this way...

Interesting. As Ambiguous and fraught as Smithyman! (His writing.)

9:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

What the young man did in the past has no bearing on this present thing of wanting to protect his record collection which was to him his passion and his past dispute with IRD (who no one likes for good reasons) has nothing to do with him fighting the cops and some moron bulldozer driver to get into his own house and get his own belongings.

The authorities can be really stupid.

But Mick shouldn't stay angry. He would be upset but if he is bitter he will embitter himself and his own life. Of course he is very upset now though.

9:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Viva Elborado!

9:56 pm  
Blogger Sensa said...

Words of wisdom, Richard. Mick was far from embittered; when he came on tour with my band he was working at a distribution centre that recycled furniture and bedding for Christchurch people on low incomes. You need hope (a better opposite for bitterness than sweetness!) to do that kind of work. Interestingly, he told me that the organisation had begun labelling their goods with non-erasing markers because dealers were simply stopping by to pick stuff up and then reselling it! Itself a cause for bitterness, perhaps.

9:58 pm  
Anonymous on the spot said...

'Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 also includes my essay 'Earthquake Country', which was written in the aftermath of the September quake and discusses a Hubert Witheford poem about natural disaster and social revolution.'

hHow can you justify writing a WHOLE essay about a SINGLE SHORT poem? This is not the first time you have done this.

10:36 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Maps, Bill Direen, Richard - tautoko comments.

I really feel for El Borado: there has been a move here to have a local CD officer, with powers I find iniquitous.
My reactions - especially to caretake my beloved library
& music & art collection, in event of a civil emergency, would be to walk over the head of aforesaid CD officer & do what needed to be done.

Apologies for the strong language.

6:19 pm  
Anonymous Young Dennis said...

"Information has come to my attention which indicates that you may have intentionally driven a vehicle through Inland Revenue's Christchurch building," the manager wrote.

"I am concerned that your conduct may be inconsistent with the (IR's) code of conduct."

Awww, I just love this !

The manager seems to be implying that it's all a bit of an ethical grey area and that, in some circumstances, it may well be fine for employees to smash through the plate-glass windows and have a bit of an old cruise down the hall-way, beeping to office staff as they go. Context, it seems, is everything.

5:17 am  
Blogger Richard said...

on the spot said...

" 'Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 also includes my essay 'Earthquake Country', which was written in the aftermath of the September quake and discusses a Hubert Witheford poem about natural disaster and social revolution.'

hHow can you justify writing a WHOLE essay about a SINGLE SHORT poem? This is not the first time you have done this. "

He is looking at the wider implications of the poem in relation to NZ (and even world) History in terms of literature, arts, sociology and politics. The history of NZ lit as it affects politics and how literature is affected by politics. The way certain people think. how some people can be "liberal" and have interesting if conflicting views. The question of "the welfare state" is still valid as ACT-National hack into workers' rights and say Kiwi Saver right now and so on... How people are complex. How life is a also complex.

3:11 pm  
Blogger maps said...

"Information has come to my attention which indicates that you may have intentionally driven a vehicle through Inland Revenue's Christchurch building. I am concerned that your conduct may be inconsistent with the (IR's) code of conduct."

That really is an extraordinary example of how self-destructive bureaucratic language can become, in its quixotic quest for absolute neutrality. It reminds me of some of the passages in David Foster Wallace's new (can we use the word new, given that he's been dead for a couple of years?) novel The Pale King, which is an attempt to turn an astonishingly boring Midwestern IRS office into a place akin to Coleridge's Xanadu, without resorting to the use of hallucinogens. (Brett Cross complains that
'it's just boring'...)

12:12 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I noticed that re the language... a laugh a minute, well pointed out by Young Dennis

Have you loosed at "Infinite jest' ?!!

There was or is a club of those who have read is a vast tome with notes on every page!

I'm enjoying re-reading 'Mercian Hymns' following your ref to Hill.
It is great. He is one of he elect...

I "cheat" using a book about Hill and his work by Henry Hart who looks like Jack Ross!

2:26 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Richard,

It was good to see Hill get elected to the Oxford chair of poetry: he's the first decent writer to hold the position for a while. Mercian Hymns is my favourite Hill book, and one of my favourite books of all time. Reading it is perhaps as close as we can come to dissolving time.

I met Hill's former close friend and publisher Andy Gurr last summer, when I collected some Smithyman manuscripts from him. Gurr had some stories to tell about the great man, not all of them flattering!

I haven't read Infinite Jest but am getting through The Pale King, despite Brett Cross' attempts to dissuade me. When you mentioned a club based around Jest, were you thinking of the Infinite Summer project?

1:01 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Have you got that excellent book about Hill and his works by Henry Hart?

I agree. Hill is one of he major poets. I re-read The Mercian Hymns in the light of Hart's commentary but then I just read it through. Mark Scroggins who wrte abook de Louis Zukofsky (I have it) points out (on his Blog) that after Hill overcame some depression his output increased and he has written a number of extra books.

He is a bit like one of those imperious and bitter-dark Hebrew prophets. But he does have a wry sense of humour also! Undoubtedly he is flawed!!

Like Smithyman he read Karl Barth.
Eliot gets a pasting form Cynthia Ozick in he essay "T S Eliot at 101" She is Jewish and one can feel her anger re him but she still seems to admire his best work). I have no doubt faults and flaws will be found in Hill (there is a picture of him with the Archbishop of Canterbury (construe that how we will)).

Interesting you met Andrew Gurr. I have heard the name I think. I saw the controversy re Hill online.

I sold the huge tome of "Women and Men" by Joseph McElroy (another of these U.S. James Joyces) to a chap in Wellington. I pointed out Infinite Jest etc and he ewrote back saying "Interesting you should mention that, it is my favourite book. I've read it three times." !!!!! IJ is the kind of book I would love to possess and have somewhere on a shelf, to be admired like 'Finnegans Wake' but if read at all probably only perused in patches...mainly loved for being there. Like Everest or the Taj Mahal. I regret selling "Women and Men" as I deeply upset Jack Ross when he heard there was some one out there significant the didn't know about or hadn't read. We chuckled over it, but I could tell he was deeply bitter...he could see as a worthy or useful part of his 200,000 book collection / library...

At my local library I met a young fellow who was interested in Chess but also in "avante-garde " writing and he had heard of 'Brief' and he was reading the 'new' book by David Foster Wallace.

Smithy liked Thomas Wolfe and I am now reading his 900 page book "Of Time and the River" I read "Look Homeward, Angel..." he died age 38 with huge boxes of unfinished writings. Hundreds of thousands of words and pages. He read, ate, and wrote huge amounts and wrote and lived with enormous speed and with great fluency making a huge output.
I really enjoy his writing it is powerful.

Nothing like Hill though! (And much of his prose is like poetry , is poetry).

4:00 pm  

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