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666 Brewery and The Mutton Birds Present the Envy of Angels
Angels. According to Wim Wenders’s movie Wings of Desire, angels are strange and lonely figures wearing long balloon coats who roam the streets around us listening, observing, and hearing our thoughts. They may hear, for example, a painter struggling to find inspiration thinking, ‘Oh, maaaan! What do I do wrong? How do the creative ones do it? Crap – I might have to cut off my ear, after all!’ Or a woman in labour on her way to hospital tormenting herself with, ‘Will it be painful? Will it hurt? Please – let it be healthy!’ Or a man who thinks that his partner is no longer in love with him despairing, ‘If only she knew how much I love her!’ And the angels, they listen. They listen without interfering with our actions. They watch us – not over us. They watch us just as we follow a character in a movie or observe a screaming figure crossing a bridge in anxiety. Just as we might ponder, ‘Oh, this could be me going home in Hamilton’, they wonder about our actions and make notes on our dreams, hesitations, moves, and decisions. Their reason for existence is to remember our past, our present, and our future – they are storytellers, and with their objectives and enduring memory humankind remembers our own childhood for eternity. Then, occasionally, one of these angels thinks to itself, ‘Now. It’s now and now and no longer forever or for eternity. I’m sick of spirituality. Even if just for a gust of wind, I want a momentary life. It would be rather nice to sit at an empty place at a card table and have someone greet me, even by a nod. To come home at the end of a long day and feed the cat, to have one of God’s lambs roasted for dinner and some of Christ’s blood to drink from a crystal glass – and after the nice meal to enjoy, at last, the line of a neck, the aroma of some hair, and the valley of a collarbone instead of only my mind.’ In the same way as many humans long for a peaceful, never-ending life, some of the angels long to experience our chaotic existence with all its highs and lows. According to the movie this is the envy of angels. A beer called Envy of Angels from 666, a local brewery operated by Graeme Mahy, appeared on our tap a couple of weeks ago. His brewery may be devilish in name but he’s totally human in his experimental spirit and creativity. His beers are angelic in appearance and flavour as well as in having such names as Gabriel and Envy of Angels. Graeme is a well-known figure in both the homebrewer and commercial scenes, with vast experience in creating a profusion of craft beers using various ingredients, such as lovely spices, fruits, wheat, and wild yeast. Envy of Angels is a Belgian Quadruple IPA, a style still seriously in development. Inspired by radiant American IPAs and Double IPAs, Belgian brewers have begun to brew an almost otherworldly hopped pale ale using various wicked malts, American hops, and heavenly Belgian yeast. Graeme never stops experimenting with new flavours, and most of his creations have a certain carpe diem feel to them, as most variations only happen on the tap once. As with the hopped bitterness, the alcohol content can also be impressive – Envy of Angels’ is a staggering 11%. Graeme has also added a secret ingredient that few people know about, yet probably the most important of them all: a pinch of a song. Adding to the ale’s local flavour is Graeme’s finding his main inspiration for brewing his beer from the Mutton Birds’ song ‘Envy of Angels’. Formed in 1991 by Don McGlashan, Ross Burge, Alan Gregg and David Long, The Mutton Birds’ eponymous first album went platinum in New Zealand and gained them widespread recognition, notably for a cover of Wayne Mason’s 1970 song, ‘Nature’, which APRA selected in 2002 as New Zealand’s greatest song of the previous 75 years. The inspiration for ‘The Envy of Angels’ was from a Mary Stanley poem called ‘The Wife Speaks’:
I see Icarus fall out of the sky, beside my door, not beautiful, envy of angels, but feathered for a bloody death.
The movie, the beer, the song, and the poem all express a sense of longing. Longing for a loved one, whether that be a parent who does not appreciate our efforts or just simply may not be around, a long-lost friend, or a lover – or perhaps a longing to have control over our relationships and what surrounds us. In the same way that some of us long to live forever, some of the angels long for the opposite – a momentary life. I think, however, that in both cases it’s a longing to leave behind something that we created, rather than a longing for what we can’t have. It’s a longing for future generations to remember us, a memento that can tell our stories, for proof that our being here hasn’t been a complete waste of time and space. We are even prepared to fall hard and die in order to live forever through a child, a piece of art, a novel, a song, or a glass of beer. What better way exists to exit this mortal realm than to die on stage at every performance. On their 2000 UK tour the Mutton Birds augmented their line-up with Matthew Bannister, a local academic, musician, and media theoretician. Co-founder of Sneaky Feelings, a 1980s pop-rock band, they created an unusual sound amongst the indie jungle of the Dunedin pop scene with all four band members performing behind the microphone – and almost all of them contributing to the lyrics. They drew their inspiration from the Byrds and the Beatles and got their name from a song by Elvis Costello. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elvis Costello got his name from Elvis Presley (yes, he did), or if the Beatles composed some of their songs under the influence of a good, old-fashioned Double IPA (of course they did). We can zoom endlessly in and out in the fractals of artefacts (beer-efacts and wine-efacts), in which the self-similar pattern of life infinitely repeats itself in the many aspects of the human condition; love, sorrow, excitement, lust, and anger have always been the same, but we all endlessly experience the same things differently. Never has one day the same effect on any two people, and we never inspire each other in the same way. And that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? Creative minds feeding off of each other and creating something that didn’t exist before. Nobody has ever created such a thing as a truly original work because a million different things affect us as soon as we’re born, things such as our mothers’ voices, melodies our fathers played for us in the attic on an old gramophone, a leaf with veins shaped like a smiling face, a bridge over a river (in my case the Danube) while having a glass of nicely chilled rosé. The inspirational and the inspired become co-creators, the result being more than just the two of them. They incarnate something. Authenticity is overrated; originality is non-existent. Nothing new exists, just new ways of looking at things that have already existed. I’d therefore just love to tell the painter in doubt not to beat himself up over other people’s opinions, to tell the mother in labour that it
will be okay because a new life is born and giving birth to the new is always painful, and to tell the man in doubt that yes, she is still in love with him – just as Elvis affected Elvis, who inspired Matthew to write a song that inspired another band that had previously become carried away by a Mary Stanley poem, ultimately resulting in a truly astounding beer. We humans are endlessly creative together, and that is definitely something to be envious about. Even by angels. For more perniciously inspired and inspirational beers keep your eyes peeled for the 666 Brewery beers! Do you feel like something angelic but are more of a wine lover? Try Lost Angel Cabernet Sauvignon. Matthew Bannister’s latest album, Evolver, is available on: http://powertoolrecords.bandcamp.com/album/one-man-bannister-evolver-2013 More details about Don McGlashan’s current doings at http://www.donmcglashan.com/. Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire is available at Auteur House. Find more info about Mary Stanley at: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/ authors/stanley/ If you would like to hear more angelic stories about craft beers, fine wines, and creative spirits, come and see Angel Kryssy, Angel Vera and Angel Chris at Hamilton Beer and Wine Co!