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Friday’s for funerals, Saturday’s for brides: Tex, Don and Charlie

tex

As an unreconstructed country boy, I love a stubby holder. So, last night at Adelaide’s premier live music pub, the Gov, my pace accelerated as I approached the merchandise table.

T-shirts. CDs. Vinyl. Yes, yes. What’s this? Coffee mugs. Fair enough, but where’s the stubby holders? Then I saw it. A linen rectangle. A Tex, Don and Charlie tea towel. Ah, my first ironic tea towel. I considered. I could, I guess, use it to dry my Wagga Wagga souvenir spoon (ironically purchased too).

Tex Perkins has a massive voice, an instrument of booming sonics and attack. Doubtless, others could tell me if it’s a baritone or bass, but I do know the timbre is entrancing. If human voices can possess a narrative then this one plots panther danger, underworld trickery and tropical heat. It reminds me of Captain Beefheart, and those monochrome images of Bikini Atoll or Maralinga nuclear blasts. When singing, he doesn’t adopt the central personas so much as become possessed by them.

Fittingly, we’re in a pub for these are pub tales, and my only regret is we’re not suspended on stools, in a wobbly circle, and nodding over beers at our sage raconteurs. The songs of Tex, Don and Charlie have incontestable gravity and lonely geographies. The music slinks through inner-city grime, but mostly slouches in the dust and dusk north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and owes a debt to the 1950’s and our cheerful beginnings of despair.

Don Walker sits at his keyboard, his silver mane flopping in time, while his voice is a diverse instrument. At its most intimate it absorbs and pacifies, but in the upper register, it can fall into Willie Nelson parody. His gifts are his words and his stories, and in these rests an unrushed economy, and a vernacular deep with hot tears, smiles and snug hearts. Beyond “Flame Trees” he wrote “Harry Was A Bad Bugger.” Don’s an icon.

Phantasms drift about the Gov, and I think of Tom Waits and his tunes, all swarthy menace and ragged swagger. I think of Bruce Dawe and his depictions of rural lives, wrecked. Spinifex and scrub. Lyrical and parched places; ferocious light, sky. There’s landscapes in the soundscape. I think of romping observation, but also agedness and its introspection, prowling upon me.

Into this evening, I imagined Charlie Owen’s guitars. Plaintive acoustic, spiralling lap steel, his elegiac electric. Barely speaking, but with boyish enthusiasm, he paints our stage. With splashes of surf, we move along his removed beach. As if to counter these sparse yarns, and our collective flouting down at the dread, his strings urge the joy of the quiet minutes.

I come away into the windy midnight troubled and exhilarated by cold grey Saturdays; brokenness; Tex’s denim jacket bouncing like a St Kilda uniform; the black and white tableau of a double bassist; mosquito nets; sharks at funerals; Elvis; deliciously tired and unfussy drumming; eulogies; paychecks and gratitude.

spinifex

 

 

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Crows v Giants- Row G’s phalanx of tepid thermoses

thermos

I cross Victor Richardson Road; bow at the Barrie Robran statue; undergo a cheerfully non-invasive security check, beep my ticket and click through the turnstile; sniff a whiff from the Neil Kerley Bar whose patrons are plainly devouring some Walker Flat yabbies doubtless netted (legally) by Knuckles himself; amble past the Chappell Stand that’s next to the Bradman Pavilion so Ian and the Don can symbolically continue their fiscal disagreements in perpetuity; glance sideways at the Favell/Dansie Indoor Training Centre; consider a swift beer at the David Hookes Terrace Bar, or possibly the Phil Ridings Bar; catch some uncharacteristic clatter coming from the Ian McLachan Room, and finally climb the stairs to the Sir Edwin Smith grandstand, where I breathe in the elegant sweep of the Clarrie Grimmett Gate, the Bob Quinn Gate, and the heritage-listed, yet soothingly nameless scoreboard. 

Misty rain is falling as the match begins, and bobbing about us are crocheted tri-colour beanies and tartan thermoses by the bagpipe-full. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll get invited into a shout of bundies with the strangers in Row G.

The GWS-ers start brightly and move the ball forward frequently, but without any significant threat until the man-bunned Harrison Himmelberg opens the affair.

There’s certain footballers who execute specific skills with rare exquisiteness. Brodie Smith is a glorious kick, and invests the ball with joyous flight and astonishing physics. I pay to see him launch a scorching drop punt. He does, and goals at the Riverbank end. Minutes later he slips when tackling, and appears to wreck his ACL. This is cruel. Knees are the most robust of our moving parts, but also the most delicate.

Ex-Collingwood racer Paul Seedsman is in our best side, but again takes the field attired with Andrew Newton Jarman-style three-quarter length sleeves. I’m unsure of the function, and speculate if the inaugural Crow himself knocks these up in the shed on his Singer, as a tribute to himself. It’s not impossible. Still, Seed provides telling run and carry, and is a penetrating kick. He goals to give the home side a small, but ultimately permanent lead.

With appendectomy Wikipedia entrant Rory Sloane spectating, giant Giant Rory Lobb jumps up one place to claim the title of this game’s third best Rory, behind Laird and Atkins. His point is the last score of the first term. Pleasingly, the Crows have not made their customary slow start.

Tonight, it’s not the third quarter that defines the contest, but the second, and on a soggy evening Eddie Betts again shows why he is among our code’s most effervescent players. He generates joy where none should exist. He goals from spatial situations beyond human contemplation. Like McCartney singing over a lonely guitar, or Black Caviar lengthening her stride and lowering her back, his contributions are rare and breathtaking. I’m privileged.

Mercifully, our tidy lead means we’ve heard little from the supporter in Row A who provides coaching and umpiring recommendations from her seat. Her vocal stylings seem to echo mid-career Tom Waits, Bobcat Goldthwait and a distressed, if not deceasing, dugong. For many reasons, we’re all relieved the footy’s not close.

The GWS mob get three speedy majors after the long break, and there’s some momentary tension. Waits/ Goldthwait/ dugong screeches. With a single first-half goal, the visitors have registered the lowest score in VFL/AFL finals footy since 1960.

However, a Richard Douglas intercept mark and conversion ensures that we relax, and not kick over any checkered soldiers in Row G’s phalanx of tepid thermoses. He then collects another in what has been an emblematic season, and at the siren the opposition has crept forward but a single point.

During the huddle, a nearby couple gathers up their goods and squeezes past us saying, “If we go now we can get home to watch the last quarter.” This is bewildering and I wonder why they bother coming at all, and how these Port supporters stole a pair of tickets. Curious.

At the ten-minute juncture of a fizz-less final stanza Coniglio achieves the game’s concluding goal, and at 10pm the Crows have advanced to their second only home preliminary final.

As we cross the Torrens foot bridge, even the mediocre busker warbling an Oasis cover is thrilling.

It’s getting exciting.

eddie

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Cricket, tennis and Father’s Day brunch

 

FD

The chorizo is ferociously tasty, and just short of generating physical pain. It’s as hot as the Henley Beach weather is not. Outside, Alex and Max are leaping over some wooden benches. Storm surges roll past the jetty in thunderous grey and white. Even the seagulls shelter under the eaves. We’re starting Father’s Day at a café.

*

Alex went to his first cricket training last Sunday. Worried he wouldn’t be good enough, he had told me repeatedly that, “Ty can bowl at 55 kilometres an hour, Dad.” Indeed, his mum confirmed that he had bowled at a Jason Gillespie cricket centre with a speed gun measuring the pace of his looping delivery. Statistics can haunt us early in sport, and life.

Max batted first, and as the family expert, then showed Alex how to insert the box or protector as it’s now disappointingly known. What a curious sight, to see the boys bonding over a triangular plastic prism. Still brotherhood is a surprising beast and this shared skill is a most Australian thing. Not for the first time I considered a cricket box, and wiped a tear from my eye, although this was a parental observation, and not the wincing experience of an inadequate lower-order batsman on a dusty West Coast pitch.

Alex galloped in to bowl from an excessive run-up, all limbs and heart-breaking innocence. Max was back a pitch length as well, and reminded me of the Yorkshire fellow who once commented that a bowler ran too much before delivering the ball. “I don’t go that far for me holiday,” he noted.

He nodded as the coach advised on his action, listening well and taking it in. He’s made an investment in this sport, and already values his emerging place in this most Australian of pursuits. Too soon, his summers appear to be stretching out, in their endless, languid joy. He’s on his way.

*

Max and I went on his first school camp Monday, down to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island. As a former teacher who gorged himself on camps early in his career, I reckon everyone has a lifetime quota. Although I reached mine years ago, I was excited. I was a volunteer.

I had some benevolent community-mindedness in jumping on that bus, but like many, a major motivation was to watch and learn, to see Max in action. Of course, I was going to spy on him.

As leader of Group 3 and its eight kids, we cycled through a set of activities including horseriding- the old gelding Pudding a class favourite; animal feeding- an escapee goat providing a highlight, as goats generally do, and finally; half-court tennis.

I played with Max and two of his friends. Between fetching balls from the neigh-bouring (sorry!) horse paddocks I discovered much. Dispensing with the medieval French scoring system we played first to twenty points. It was close throughout. If Max and his partner lost a point, there was no disappointment, just the fizzing joy of a close contest; an opportunity to go again, to share the action with his friends.

Self-appointed scorer, he’d jump up and down, proclaiming, 16- 15, and so on. He preferred it tight, to enhance the social connection. He had no wish to surge ahead, and claim an easy victory.

Great or errant shots with balls lurching about in exotic trigonometry offered little for Max. He simply wanted us: his mates, his Dad, himself, to zip about together on a tiny court in communal enterprise. He was entirely in the moment. That was his universe. I loved it. I’ve rarely been happier.

*

Later, in the bunkhouse, Max took himself off to bed around ten. Of the fifty kids, he was the first asleep, and I suspect, the first awake. One of his friends told me that in the morning, “Max told them funny stories” as they squirmed in their bunk beds with the sun struggling through.

The deputy principal was unsurprised that Max was done in moments. “He runs pretty hard.” I nodded, “He’s just the same at home.” Over his coffee the deputy continued, “He gives every minute a flogging, does our Max.”

I considered. Giving every minute a flogging. Beyond report cards, or NAPLAN results, this, I reflected, is exactly how I want them to tackle life.

Henry

 

 

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Weirdness and Tom Waits

TW

I love Tom Waits. His music is a dark world and explores life at, and beyond, the margins. It’s rich and frightening and funny. I wrote a short story based upon his classic from the album Mule Variations called, “What’s He Building?”

*

Well, the house is nearly prepared. The windows are fixed, and the leak in the cellar is patched. I pulled up the grimy carpets, and treated the ironbark boards, and now during clear mornings, with the sun rushing through the skylight, their flaxen warmth reminds me of the timber floor in our old house.

Our old house.

The street is quiet and pretty. As they’re keeping a respectful distance I’ve not met any of the neighbours. Their properties are modest with immaculate lawns, hedges and solemn, reassuring facades.

Up on the corner, by the reserve, a car’s parked in a driveway. It is the identical colour and model as Jane’s old car, remember that horrible burnt orange? Can you believe this? I wonder what happened to that Datsun. It defined her in so many ways. For many people, a car is just a way of conducting life’s business, an economic necessity in which no personal investment is made, or creative expression is given. But even the dents on the doors echoed Jane’s cheerfully chaotic outlook on life. I’ve never seen someone abuse a gearbox like that! Long before you’d see her you could hear her coming down the road.

I’ve enjoyed working on the house. It’s been calming. Rejuvenating. Dare I suggest remedial? Some heaven-sent physical exertion, during which I’ve used muscles ignored for years. It’s been a transformation from living primarily in the spiritual. I’m finally beginning to understand what Bill meant when he’d say, “People shouldn’t live too long in a single house.”

peering

The front yard might one day become a garden. The shrubs had been pruned towards an irritable death, and they’d been left a crazed mess like a bad Picasso. All jarring angles and stunted, agonised shapes that surely have no place in front of a humble bungalow. A faithful priest, every evening in the fading warmth I’ve been watering them, and some tiny green shoots are emerging; emerald stars in a scorched galaxy.

A man from the telephone company came by just after lunch, and said that the line should be operating by the end of the week. That’ll be good. Another little victory. Isn’t this all we can hope for in life: a succession of little triumphs? Do you think I could call over the weekend? I think I’ve got your number in one of my notebooks. If not, I’ll phone Bill to get your number. He’s sure to have it. He is so very reliable, he’s mechanically sound.

Hidden beneath a sheet in the garage I found an old barbeque. It must belong to the former owners, so given what happened there, I guess it’s now mine. Feeling thrilled with this slight surprise, I took it out the back by the rainwater tank, and hosed it off. Some spiders scuttled off across my lawn while the muddy water cascaded off the metal like toxic rain. Later, the barbeque hissed and spat like a gruff football coach, and cooking my meal, I heard a dog barking in the middle distance, from down near the creek. Its yapping seemed to protest a catalogue of sharp disappointments.

As the dark fell upon me I ate the meat. I thought about how quickly life can change, like an earthquake rumbling up from a previously undetected fault line. The cruel seismology reminding us, as if this was its only function, of how suddenly jolted people can be. Just like spiders sent from a private space, into an unexpected world. I had the radio on and that new song by the Beach Boys came on. God Only Knows. Such symphonic melodies, and handsome singing, as it extends its love, like a heart attack.

I wheeled the ticking barbeque back into the garage, and like a ghost made corporeal, put the white sheet back over its exoskeleton, and went into the house. Washing the dishes, I looked out my kitchen window. Above my fence the neighbour’s back light was on, and it shone warmly, stupidly into the velvet.

I was ready.

Boo

 

0

Freud eggs and the condom-vending machine

uni students

I dislike graffiti, but often admire the wit that inspires the funniest examples, and I share some with you today.

Each was spotted about the Salisbury campus of the modest teachers’ college I attended back in the outrageous 1980’s. It’s now the University of South Australia, although having visited several of its sites over the years, I’ve seen nothing as worthy.

In my degree there were a number of compulsory units, and frequently these were forgettable, horrid affairs. Like caged zoo creatures, we had no choice about our environment nor our diet. We did a term of educational psychology in one of the scattered theatrettes and had a stream of prominent thinkers to consider such as Piaget, Dewey and Bloom. I enjoyed learning about these.

Flipping down my personal desk one March afternoon I knew instantly Paul had written it. He was hilarious, and sometimes cruel.

Every Friday at 1pm we’d finish English in one of the large auditoriums and make our way home or to the library or to the bar and as we bounced off, laughing and chatting, Paul would yell out to one of our geeky, socially desperate classmates who so wanted to join us, “Hey Xavier!” Xavier’s eyes would widen with hope. Perhaps today would finally be the day they’d ask me to the bar! Paul would then enthusiastically kill his dream with a single dismissive sentence: “Have a zany weekend!”

But back on that autumnal afternoon in the psychology theatrette I spotted his unique handiwork on the aging laminate-

When I was Jung I used to eat Freud eggs

*

In another pointless educational moment I signed up for an introductory computing course, thinking it’d equip me for my thrilling future. The lecturer was a ferocious Welshman. He never smiled. I was a bit scared of him, and learnt nothing that helped me beyond that semester.

During this forbidding episode I saw in thick black texta the following character assessment of my computing lecturer, fittingly, on a cubicle door. Please, enjoy with me, the sharp juxtaposition of Biblical language with a, let’s say, rather frank Australian tongue. The fact that I found myself nodding in agreement also helped me to commit this to eternal memory-

And the Lord spake to the shepherd saying, “Fuck that Jim Davies is a wanker.”

*

It was in my third year at college that I first saw a condom-vending machine. A simple white metal box, it was mounted, as it were, on the wall of the men’s toilet across from the bar. Given the Friday night cover bands hosted in that bar, this made sense. All that youth, all that disposable freedom, all those 50 cent beers during happy hour! It was tremendous fun.

Yes, it was a plain vending machine- not one of those lurid truck-stop equivalents with their hot promises of good vibrations and pleasuremax©. It hung there innocently, quietly performing its role, but within minutes of it being erected, as it were, this appeared on the front, right where Xavier’s trembling fingers weekly inserted hopeful dollar coins-

This is the worst chewing gum I’ve ever tasted.

machine

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Servo Wars/Bin Ninja: So you wanna be a Reality TV star?

bins

I still can’t believe it. It was a sure thing. The public would’ve loved it, but it wasn’t to be. Of course, I speak of my reality TV show, Servo Wars.

At the end of our Singaporean street were two busy service stations (petrol stations/ gas stations). Yes, two, right across the road from each other. I almost want to type “literally across the road from each other,” but my fingers, in grammatical obedience, won’t allow this.

Anyhow, can you imagine a more perfect setting for a gripping reality TV series? Each station a microcosm of bustling human activity within a teeming island state, but- and here’s the kicker- there’s a broader narrative arc in which our two servo’s are in constant, artificially-constructed competition with each other. Genius, I hear you breathlessly whisper.

Servo Wars.

The thrilling drama would’ve included-

The ancient, stumbling driveway attendants- yes, folks who fill your tank, check the oil and wash your windscreen- dodging inattentive drivers- who once or twice a week are necessarily skiddled in the name of televisual art, and are stains on the driveway, their bloodied limbs a-thrashing. Soon followed by the engaging theatre of wailing ambulances and Ray-banned police, not chewing gum, but interrogating the trembling car owners before they’re hauled off to Changi prison.

cop

And

The duelling managers of both affixed convenience shops shouting at the store assistants, sometimes simultaneously, “I asked for more condoms in the counter display! Together is this curiously asexual nation’s most popular, albeit furtively purchased brand of birth control, and I can only see dozens of Alone packages!”

Or-

“Look across the road at our competitor, our life-long enemy! Esso! They’re offering two-for-one croissants. Somebody. Do something!”

I know, I know.

While Servo Wars remains unproduced, our planet is a little poorer. But’s here’s hope. Casting will soon begin for my latest project, one that will capture our hearts like the charming Bachelorette bogans.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bin Ninja.

A character-driven vehicle focussing upon the endless struggles of a middle-aged suburbanite as he tries desperately to manage his bins: the red (general refuse), the green (organic materials only) and the yellow (recycling), this is everyman drama, but infused with the conventions of Greek theatre.

Bin Ninja’s work is manual and repetitive as he selflessly takes stuff to his nest of driveway bins, five, six, sometimes ten times a day, every day! But, watch as the meditative power of these acts instantaneously transcends the mundanity. Bin Ninja!

Look! The boys have just finished some muesli bars- wrappers to the bins! Plastic milk container empty again? That’s the second today. They’ll pee the bed! Never fear, Bin Ninja silently walks it outside, before momentarily dashing through the hail and wind, stomping the plastic flat and dropping it into the yellow (recycling) bin. The man’s a hero!

Then there’s the Sunday Bin Ninja’s wife lopped the 97-year-old neighbour’s overhanging tree, scattering limbs and leafy debris all over the precious and universally-admired lawn, and left him to chop up the branches with a cheap hand saw and inadequate pruning shears and, somehow, fit them all into the green (organic) bin while the wife promptly trotted off to the local footy club with her girlfriends and drank Adelaide Hills sparkling wine!

BH

Oh, Bin Ninja, I think the nation’s falling in love with you already!

And just when Bin Ninja merchandise is sold out across the entire country- t-shirts, stubby holders, novelty BBQ aprons- the eagerly awaited Christmas special screens. On Boxing Day!

apron

The plot is simple: the boys again get too many presents, and all the plastic and cardboard packaging for the infinite games and the Lego and the car racing tracks and the cricket-sets and the bike accessories and the bed-sheet like wrapping paper has to all fit into the yellow (recycling) bin already exploding with pre-Christmas boxes and clunking bottles and beer cartons, and abandoned greeting cards and envelopes from already-forgotten former work colleagues.

What will Bin Ninja do? How will this very real, very residential conflict find resolution? The bin is spilling all over the sorry driveway, and what’s that sinister noise? It’s the council bin-truck making its menacing, diesel-fumed way along their very street! Go Bin Ninja, go! Will he wheel the bins out in time? Will he dodge being run over by this mechanical beast? Will he save his family from a recycling crisis?

Coming in 2018.

Bin Ninja.

 

Esso

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The Shortest Song in the World

ND

As a kid I loved playing Mum and Dad’s records on the stereogram. There was always a little zap of frisson as I dropped the needle onto the vinyl, spinning at 33 1/3 RPM, and the speakers would spit and sizzle, and provided the stylus didn’t bounce off, we’d soon hear some music. Not the cold digital tunes of today with their obedient binary code, but some warm, enveloping sounds.

A favourite record was Creedence Gold.  Its track listing is-

Side 1

1.”Proud Mary” – 3:07

2.”Down on the Corner” – 2:43

3.”Bad Moon Rising” – 2:19

4.”I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) – 11:03

Side 2

1.”The Midnight Special” (Traditional) – 4:11

2.”Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – 2:39

3.”Born on the Bayou” – 5:14

4.”Susie Q” (Dale Hawkins, Stan Lewis, Eleanor Broadwater) – 8:34

The last track on Side 1, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mesmerised me. It featured not one but two great guitar solos. The second of these stretched on forever and to my eight year old self was impossibly cool. It was always disappointing when the song faded out.

There was so much happening within it, it was a snaking southern boogie like the Mississippi itself, and I wondered how this huge instrumental break enlarged upon the lyrics, how it connected to the story, and of course, it didn’t. It had no textual meaning.

It just was.

It was beyond narrative, but nonetheless epic. It told me that there was much in the world about which to get excited. There was possibility and opportunities for wild, unhinged self-indulgence. And Creedence Clearwater Revival was from San Francisco, a city that fascinated me.

Long, meandering songs such as this open themselves up to connotation and interpretation; like a novel or a film, and many argue that these marathon songs often possess a cinematic quality.

But how do we locate meaning in the world’s shortest song?

“You Suffer” is a track by the British grindcore band Napalm Death, from their debut album, Scum.  It’s precisely 1.316 seconds long. It’s now over thirty years old. Its lyrics are officially listed as-

You suffer

But why?

However, I must confess, I was unable to detect these unaided. I only heard the lyrics “Raaaah.” I had to find them on the web, probably because rightly or wrongly, my ears have enjoyed limited grindcore listening experience. Like arc welding, I think lyric decipherment, when it comes to micro grindcore, is actually quite a specialised skill. There’s possibly a TAFE, or adult education course in it.

I first came across the song when teaching in Singapore (don’t tell the authorities- they might come after me) when babysitting covering a Maths class one humid, bothersome afternoon. I played the song on my MacBook at random points during the lesson when the pupils- all compliant and sweet, were silently immersed in matters algebraic and entirely unsuspecting. I made a few of them jump. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in Maths. It was decidedly un-Singaporean.

Among other places it’s located on an album called Earache: The World’s Shortest Album which has thirteen songs and clocks in at a total of ninety-two seconds. You can listen to the entire album when watching the evening news, in the advertisement break between, say, the sport and the weather. For our British friends iTunes lists the album for sale at 29 pence. There’s a walk-the-dog and put-out-the-bins pocket money incentive for the kiddies of Birmingham.

So, micro grindcore fans, it’s nice to have visited your world, but I don’t think I’ll stay long, despite it being the funniest song about human suffering I’ve ever heard.

1.316 seconds is more than enough.