I'm obsessed with...
Published in frankie 34 (March/April 2010)
Motorbikes: Simone Tops
While glass artist Simone Tops remembers always being obsessed with motorbikes, she only got her licence a few years ago. "It's like one of those childhood dreams you have that might take you a while to achieve as an adult," she says. "You realise that you're not a child anymore - you're an adult and you get to do anything you want. All the people who told you that you couldn't, or that it's dangerous, aren't there any more. You can just do it."
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a motorbike theme emerged in her artwork. Recent pieces exploring engine blueprints - "motorbikes, jet engines and other crazy old diesel engines, early cars and stuff like that" - helped lead Simone to her latest project: replicating a Yamaha DT360 in glass, part by part. "I guess that's something that tends to happen when you're obsessed with something for so long," she says. "It kind of encroaches on other parts of your life."
Searching for an intact, vintage bilke that was also free was no easy task, but Simone managed to find one at a metal recycling yard. There she encountered Kev, a "totally stereotypical yard man with massive arse crack". When Simone asked about the bike's weight, Kev's response was, "It's fucking heavy." "Everything was just swearwords without saying much," she says, "He was pretty great!"
So how come they had such a find simply lying around? "I guess wreckers are quirky, hoardy people as well," Simone says. "That's another thing I'm interested in - the notion of the discarded and the wastefulness of things. I think the type of people who work in places like that know when to see the gem and when to see the junk."
Simone can talk all day about her favourite models - "it's just like some people are nerdy about all sorts of things, I'm nerdy about some types of bikes" - but when it comes to repairs she leaves it to the experts. "I can do little things like change the oil and all those basic things. I'd like to know more, but it's like a whole other thing that I would obsess my life with and I'd rather just let someone else do it."
Her favourites are cafe racers: beautiful vintage bikes that are often highly customised. For now Simone is happy with her Yamaha SRX600, but her dream bike is "something really unique, something handcrafted, where I've gone, 'I want this and this,' and someone's built it fOr me", she says. "I know 'quiver' is the word for multiple surfboard ownership - I don't know the collective term for multiple bikes, but I would love that. That would be awesome."
Zines: Susy Pow
Zinemaker Susy Pow has "absolutely no idea" precisely how many of the small-run, photocopied publications she has in her collection. "It's something like 500 or more," she says, and most are on display in her Newcastle shop, Bird in the Hand.
Susy started Bird in the Hand as a mail-order distro several years ago, but in 2009 she was invited to open a shop front as part of the Renew Newcastle program. It was an opportunity for her to stretch her business muscles and grow the distro into more than just a labour of love.
Susy's store is now a hub for the town's zine community. "We've got a couple of couches and big work bench," she says. "People come in and read zines, buy zines, sit down and make zines, but they also come to hang out and talk. It's how I've gotten most of my friends in Newcastle since moving back fmm Sydney."
Zines have also helped her love life, after she gained an admirer while running last year's zine fair as part of the This Is Not Art festival. A single volunteer turned up to the 7am start to help her set up tables. "We didn't really talk that much and I thought I was really grumpy that day," she says, "Then about a week and a half later I got something in the mail. I thought somebody had sent me a copy of their zine to see if I wanted to stock it." Instead it was the story of a boy who'd fallen in love with the town. "Basically it said that he wanted to move here and that he fancied me quite a bit!" So Susy responded in zine form. She says the story is continuing, "slowly, very slowly".
The limited-edition nature of zines means that many in Susy's library are rarities. She hit the jackpot when revered US zinester Alex Wreck offered portions of her own collection in exchange for postage. "She's got thousands and thousands in her collection and had to slim it down. So I paid for three kilos' worth and a few weeks later I got all these zines that I would never have access to otherwise - things from the '90s and riot grrl stuff that I'd never have found in Australia."
With the price of most zines hovering between SOc and $5, Susy finds other ways to keep the shop afloat. "The amount of zines you would have to sell to make it sustainable is huge," she says. "I've worked out that the only way to make it commercially viable is to do workshops and talks and make out like I'm some kind of expert! Now I'm the zine go-to person, I think."
Dead celebrities: Kathy Charles
Self-described "death hag" Kathy Charles has "done lots of trespassing" in the service of her obsession. "I once jumped a fence to take photographs of the bungalow where Marilyn Monroe died," she says. "The people next door have bought a massive dog because people are always doing it. And the house on Cielo Drive where Sharon Tate was murdered, that's a private driveway, you're not meant to go up there."
Mingling with the rich and famous in her aunt's Hollywood Hills restaurant from the age of 18 and hearing mysterious and macabre stories about the area piqued Kathy's interest. Over the years she has made many trips from Melbourne to LA, each time adding to her collection of photographs and artefacts from the sites of celebrity deaths.
A lot of Kathy's recent LA trips were taken to research her first novel, Hollywood Ending, about two teenage death hags."I knew that to be authentic I'd have to get the geography of all the locations correct," she says. "I'd never visited the hotel where Janis Joplin died of a drug overdose on Franklin Avenue, but I had to go and do that to make sure I had the correct room number and to see which part of the road it was facing and all of those kinds of things."
Her treasures include stones from the fireplace of 10050 Cielo Drive, the house where Roman Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the Manson family along with four of her friends. Kathy had some of the stones set in a necklace, "but I haven't worn it yet", she says. She is also in the process of acquiring tiles that once lined the heart-shaped swimming pool belonging to Jayne Mansfield, an actress and sex symbol who was decapitated in a car accident in 1967.
But how does she know she's getting the real deal? "There's no guarantee of authenticity," Kathy says. "You've just got to take people's word for it. A lot of people refuse to buy that kind of stuff; they have to get it themselves. It's better if you can get it yourself because that means you can verify it, but you have to have a lot of nous."
Kathy's favourite dead celebrity is John Belushi. Her lounge room walls feature two portraits of the actor, and a photograph she took inside Bungalow #3 at the Chateau Marmont where he was found dead of a drug overdose. "I'd love to own something of his," she says. "There are a few things around that you can get - cheques he signed and things like that. It was quite a meaningful and emotional experience for me to be in the place where he passed away."
Sausage dogs: Brooke Simmons
Brooke Simmons's childhood pet was named after Punky Brewster's dog, Brandon. "He was a sausage dog crossed with a kelpie, and he was hilarious," she says. At Brooke's school fete Brandon won the title of "dog with the waggiest tail", and once saved her from crossing paths with a snake. "He was my best mate," she remembers.
Memories of Brooke's adventures with Brandon came flooding back to her one day years later when she spied some sausage dogs in a pet shop. She went home and asked her mum if she could have one, but was knocked back. So one night Brooke left a trail of written notes from the foot of her mother's bed upstairs all the way down to the back door. Each page gave a reason why she should be allowed to have a sausage dog. Sounds like an awfully cute kid story until you find out Brooke was 21 at the time. Moca, a chocolate brown standard, moved in with them shortly thereafter.
Brooke's passion for sausage dogs bloomed into a full-blown obsession when a friend encouraged her to channel it into craft. "I started making little brooches out of vintage and found fabrics and I would give them names and things that they liked to do," she says. Once she had mastered the brooches, Brooke moved on to soft toys, which she sold in shops in Sydney and Melbourne. "I had this little production line going, with 10 sausage dog soft toys sitting on a table and Moca underneath, hidden in the fabric."
Around the same time, Brooke began blogging to promote her wares. Readers started sending in sausage dog-related presents picture books, photographs, trinkets - and soon Brooke had quite a collection. Some of her favourite items are her sausage dog slippers, salt and pepper shakers and a tulip-shaped vase that she found in a Ballarat op shop.
Moca currently lives with Brooke's mum, but Brooke still takes him out for adventures every Monday. "I think there's nothing better than picking up Moca's lead and taking him for a walk," she says. He's a constant reminder of why she adores the breed. "It's their stumpy little legs, the long bodies, and they look like they need corrective shoes. I walk down the street with Moca and people just smile. I think it's lovely that an animal can do that to so many people just because of its proportions and its size. That's why they're so worthy of the love. It's because of the joy they spread."