On December 12 I was given the challenge not to say anything negative or bitch about anyone for thirty days. When I heard about this I cried. When I told my close friends they laughed. It was like challenging a sportsman not to state the obvious or a teenager not to use the word ‘like.’ As an artist, whinging about the output of my peers is as much a part of my vocabulary as swearing and self pity. Just how much so I wasn’t to realise until the pending days.

Day 1 – We all know the law of being asked not to do something, suddenly it’s all your brain can muster. My first challenge came during a soundcheck with my band. Andy, my bass player mentioned a ‘hilarious’ band that opened at Meredith Music Festival. “How did they get booked? Have they had as much JJJ play as me?” I blurted out. “You’re not allowed to say anything negative,” I was reminded by Kat, the guitarist’s girlfriend. Andy then mentioned a song in the iTunes Top 50 called “Yeah x3.” I had a song called “C’mon x 5.” I closed my eyes.

Day 2 – I was asked what I thought of a particular comedian. “I’m not allowed to say anything negative.” I was happy with my new loophole answer. Inside, my blood boiled as I sliced their name to shreds. I hate most bands, most comedians, most plays, most shows, most things. The older I get, the worse it is. Cynicism? We’re beyond that. This is professional bitterness. It’s the amino acid for performers.

Day 3 – I am seeing a friends band that I don’t like. Why don’t I like them? I think their songs are dull. I don’t hate them, but I hate the idea of them doing better than me or being given more opportunities. I don’t normally like to bitch, as a rule. I once made up a saying “a bitcher taints a thousand words”. These days I’ve become economical. I look at my girlfriend and say “nuh”, and then turn and leave. At this age, I’ve bagged out so many acts that I know the dirty words are like throwing a party in your head. It’s fun at the time but hardly worth the cleanup the next moment.

Day 7 – I seek temporary exclusion from the challenge, stating emotional duress. I’m having one of my awful moods where I say a bunch of negative things to my girlfriend that I’ve been bottling up for too long. History tells us ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ This advice is bad in relationships. Fear of confrontation means you can’t tell someone things like you feel smothered and occasionally their breath smells weird. This is constructive criticism. Although you have to prize the words out of your head, at least it’s going to the right person. (Even if it makes their eyes water.)

Day 9 – It’s Christmas and I can be cheery. I’m in Sydney and eating Mexican on sunny King street, flicking through the Sydney Festival guide. These guides, like streetpress, often trigger my insecurities, acting like a phonebook of achievement. I rarely enjoy the successes of others, but rather take them as personal attacks. I am a child wondering why I haven’t been invited to the party. Eddie Perfect has a show. He is a great example of someone who is beyond my flaming sword of judgement. He is genuinely talented and a really nice guy. Annoying!

Day 9 – My girl is reading a blurb. She asks me what ‘post-rock’ is. I stare at the page of an impossibly cool American duo. “It’s rock that goes for too long”. I am being negative. I am failing this challenge. The bile rolls off my tongue like water off a duck’s metaphor.

Day 12 – Bitching brings people together. A close friend I’ve fallen out with and I have a rare phone chat and bond over our mutual dislike of a play. I’m aware I’m cheating on the challenge, but the joy of sharing a few laughs is too fantastic. Thank God something failed! It’s so much easier to take one point off everyone else, than to add one to yourself.

Day 13 – My challenge has been brutally thwarted by the fact I’m performing at several summer music festivals. As history goes, my only natural defence to a barrage of higher status acts, stinking weather and trendo bogans is an electric fence of barbs and quips. When I’m tired and anxious and about to perform, most people can get fucked. Woodford Folk Festival is one of the most positive environments known to man. It’s gonna rain for three days straight. God knows I’m trying. I am once again seeking temporary exemption on professional grounds. Taking away my right to gripe at a festival is like telling Bear Grills he can’t drink his own urine.

Day 14 – My girlfriend knows my moods. She says I’ve done well to remain quite chipper despite all the gig friggery and leaky tenting. At 9pm on the second day I snap. I’d just put on fresh socks and trod in the middle of the tent floor which was damp.

Day 15 – While this challenge has only made a minimal reduction to my criticisms, it has forced me to delve deep within to look at my motivations. On the drive into Falls I chat to a music publicist and a comedian. Both confirm that bitching is rife amongst their creative brethren. In comedy, the moment anyone gets a gig there is a pack of five, regardless of experience, bemoaning why they didn’t get it. In music, managers and publicists will readily discredit another band. It’s Australia, we conclude. It’s in our colonial blood. Stick your head out and we’ll punch it back in.

Day 18 – My manager and I are chatting about LCD Soundsystem. “I hated their album this year”. Whoops.

Day 18 – Someone mentions the first song on their album, how it has a massive volume jump three minutes in. I say I find it really annoying. “I don’t mind it” says my manager. I really want her to back me up. I bitched, and then I wanted to be validated. There’s nothing more relieving than when you bag out something and your friend agrees. It’s a little ego stroke, meaning you are ok and that other person or thing isn’t. Survival mechanisms. Gee, we’ve come so far from our tribal roots.

Day 25 – Honestly, I’d stop bitching if bands would stop being boring. Life is spent in a cocoon of loner superiority. You are above everything – never participating fully. Guarded – defensive  – sceptical. It’d be kind of cool if it made you happy. I had a dream last night that I got really angry at my best friend Josh Earl. I was shouting at him about all kinds of things. He’s a performer as well. I think I’ve managed to fail this challenge on a subconscious level. That makes me feel better.

Day 26 – The W.A. music festival failed to pick me up from the airport, gave us tents instead of hotel rooms and no rider. My attitude toward this was not positive. I tried to not say anything until I was charged $4.50 for a small latte at the chai tent. I elbowed an indie kid in the dick, with my eyes.  Once again, I am seeking exemption from the challenge stating emotional and professional duress.

Day 27 – Showbiz has turned me into a frustrated, conceited, jealous, ego-blown, self obsessed black hole. I’m okay though, because I’m also pretty nice and to survive as an artist you’ve got to develop a thick skin, and you can’t fear the by-products of that which is predominantly fuelled by a healthy sense of competitiveness. My primary school teacher once wrote: “Justin does well but he tends to rush.” I was trying to kick Rhett Beaumont’s arse at mathletics. Me me me. Win win win.

Day 28 – I’ve performed to a couple of thousand people, many who have sung along to the chorus of one of my songs. As the afternoon sun crests over the distant green hills, and a joyful wave of adrenalin pumps through my heart, I feel a sense of calm. I have worked hard and am extremely lucky to be doing what I do. I walk off stage and see the face of my stunning girl waiting for me.

“Could you tell my guitar was out of tune?”