A two-minute squirt towards Victor Harbor from our digs at the Bluff. This rickety eatery on the esplanade was bursting last Thursday with folks like us keen for the wood oven pizza or its slightly surprising culinary cousin, North Indian curry. The service was brisk yet relaxed and we inhaled our pizza.
It was fun dining.
The cafe hosts live music and there’s a history lesson as the walls are busy with mounted posters for the iconic acts that have played across the previous two decades, such as Mental As Anything and Ol 55.
Get in there soon to enjoy a Rogan Josh while listening to the Countdown classic, ‘Looking for an Echo.’ It’d be fantastic on a wintry Sunday.
Why aren’t there more novels about cricket?
With Test matches allotted five days there’s rich and natural narrative possibilities. I’ve read novels that mention the sport so was thrilled to learn of Willowman which promised a singular attention to the great game.
Inga Simpson’s recent paperback was on my holiday menu and while the plot and characterisation aren’t especially original, the poetic meditations upon batting, music and the patient craft of fashioning beauty are exquisite. Like this section on the main character and Test cricketer
Harrow was using the old Reader bat for the occasion, a deep divot worn in its face…It was yellowed, a few fine cracks in the face, but still beautiful. Some kind of magic at work that it didn’t really age. In the soft English sun, the bat was golden, containing all the hope and possibilities of the game.
I loved reading a chapter or two mid-afternoon, and then napping!
Since the turn of the century this British series has been offering its simple genius.
The producers at BBC Radio 4 take a piece of music and weave together the stories of about five people. The connection: how a particular song features in their lives and became the soundtrack for personal change. There’s the everyday, the tragic and the wryly comedic centred on the transformative power of music. It’s compelling storytelling and gives insight into some remarkable art.
Last Saturday night Claire and I dragged the beanbags out onto the back lawn and listened to episodes on Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’, U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and following a stroll around the block, John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’
I was inspired to play the live version from Rattle and Hum which features the Voices of Freedom choir and late in the song Bono and U2 allow them to take over. It’s spinetingling.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Darkly comedic, this is an essay on male friendship and the complex consequences of its failure. Set against the Irish Civil War we, like the main characters, Pádraic and Colm, are vulnerable to their island’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It’s a beautiful, terrible place.
It was unsettling and like all great cinema remained with me for the following days as I tried to reconcile its themes. Not for the squeamish, it also has much to say about mortality and art and sacrifice.
After we saw it Claire and I enjoyed exploring it at Patritti wines.
Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale
Seeing this on tap I invariably feel a pulse of ale frisson. It occupies that select space I call occasion beers. Fresh and redolent of beachside beers gardens (deliberate plural for who only has one beer?) and gentle swimming bays, it’s an afternoon treat.
Once at Alberton watching Glenelg lose to Port the bar was serving a Pirate Life light beer called 0.9 (based on the alcoholic value). I instead wanted the 2007 grand final commemorative beer, Pirate Life 119 but none was available.
And with an incandescent appearance, the Pale Ale looks painterly in a glass as if Monet had captured it by a French field. Not a regular Friday cup, but one to mark a moment, like a festive luncheon.
It was among the multiple victims of the pandemic but finally happened last Wednesday and was wholly exhilarating.
A reliable personal measure of the deep impact of an art experience is if it remains with me days later, and this occurred with my first viewing of Pulp Fiction and when I read Jonathan Franzen’s tour de force, The Corrections.
It has certainly been true for Tame Impala’s Rushium concert. It’s dominated my thoughts since, and I’ve had the Spotify concert list on repeat all weekend.
Alex and I had seats to the left of stage, and we could see over the crowded mosh pit. This attracted him. I then told him how a mate missed a large chunk of a Big Day Out as he was getting stitched up at hospital following a flying elbow in the Wayville mosh. Deciding to stay with me he saw my point which is good. I always have a point.
Kevin Parker’s music is inspired by the psychedelia of the sixties and seventies with its swirling, cosmic guitars and keyboards while there’s also a distinctive science fiction angle. Despite these key elements it’s timeless and seemingly autobiographical.
Like many of my age I was disappointed when on the 2015 album Currents he exchanged the guitar for the keyboard as his major instrument of expression. However, Parker’s sense of melody is peerless, and he builds songs which at once are simple and complex but always compelling.
There were many highlights and ‘Elephant’ was one when the confetti canons burst into dazzling, mesmerising life. I remember first hearing this song at my desk in Singapore and streaming Seattle’s KEXP (local radio remains untreatably dreadful). I was sure John Lennon was singing but the music seemed too modern. I was delighted to hear it back-announced as Tame Impala.
Sharing our excitement during the eighteen-song set I reflected on how music is now truly intergenerational. How great that my fourteen-year-old and I could genuinely enjoy this together and it not be something than one or the other must simply tolerate?
In the 1950’s rock belonged exclusively to the kids with the unrelenting despair of their parents and now music is accessible to all. It’d be easy to attribute this solely to the Internet, but I think it’s probably knottier than this. Either way it’s excellent and I’m also pleased that Alex plays jazz icon Miles Davis when taking his (ridiculously lengthy) showers.
Our night was not just about the music. It was a complete show and a massive lighting rig, like the spacecraft from Close Encounters of The Third Kind was suspended above the band. It was lowered and set spinning in a way that was thrilling and almost menacing too. The scale of the effects with video screen and laser show made the event colossal and cinematic. Alex captured much of it on his phone.
The setlist was sequenced magnificently with tracks from The Slow Rush dominating. I would’ve loved for Innerspeaker to have featured beyond the solitary tune, ‘Runway, Houses, City, Clouds’ with its soaring and extended guitar solo, but I understand that the bulk of the audience were there for the recent releases. The kids can’t be ignored! I especially loved two songs from Lonerism in “Mind Mischief’ and ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ with their spacey vocals and rising rhythms.
It was a great night and I was so jubilant that I bought Alex a t-shirt although I wasn’t sufficiently euphoric to consent to $90 Tame Impala tracky dacks.
My quest for nostalgic albums continues and I swing between Mr V Music of Semaphore and The Record Store in Warradale. Here’s some recent purchases and my meanderings on how these are autobiographically illustrative. That’s surely the purpose of music: to allow for and encourage personal connection.
I had much Billy Joel in my diet when I was young. Mum and Dad’s collection included his album 52nd Street which I enjoyed but The Stranger is his best record and features his finest song, ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.’ Inspired by side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road and its unbroken suite of songs I love how Billy Joel structures this narrative of doomed lovers Brenda and Eddie within the framing story of the old school friends dining together. There’s nostalgia and romance and Dixieland jazz and a great piano solo. It was among the first long songs (7minutes, 37 seconds) I got to know as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 11 minute, ‘I Heard it Through The Grapevine.’ These are wonderful for losing myself in and allowing the narrative possibilities to unfold.
Certain artists are forever associated with particular people growing up and The Beach Boys remind me of Davo, who was in my year at school and lived up the street. He also had the vinyl of Dream Police by Cheap Trick, and we’d play that at huge volume when his folks were out. Claire and I featured, ‘I Can Hear Music’ at out wedding ceremony and many would agree that ‘God Only Knows’ is among the greatest love songs despite it not actually using rhyme but repetition with the second and third verses both having ‘me’ to end each of the eight lines. If I was imprisoned and forced to listen to one of those Pink FM-type radio stations and some cow-eyed poppet came on and wailed eight verse lines in a row that ended with an identical word I’d screech back with unholy bug-eyed salivation but such is the symphonic beauty of Brian Wilson’s melody that we accommodate his lyrical curiosity.
This record evokes my hometown of Kapunda when I was in Year 11. It takes me back to that summer and teenaged parties and driving around town in our old cars. I think of that New Year’s Eve at Stephen’s which, of course, was much anticipated, unlike now when these nights are mostly to be endured and midnight comes as a relief and at 12.01 one dives enthusiastically into the cot from the bedroom door. ‘It’s Raining Again’ is a sweet song that conjures both sadness and happiness and memories of dear old friends while the record’s finest tune, ‘Bonnie’ is built around an uplifting melody despite the lyrics being about a man stalking a famous actress, so no harm there. I just need a copy of Crime of the Century to complete my Supertramp set along with Crisis. What Crisis, Breakfast in America, and Even in the Quietest Moments.
Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle and a woman I worked with taught his kids in St John’s Wood at their local school. She was utterly mad but I like that Paul and Linda didn’t send their offspring to some fox hunting snootery. Again, this record features his boyishly optimistic love song, ‘Listen to What the Man Said’ and we included it our wedding ceremony. The soprano saxophone solo makes it soar with pure joy. It’s redolent of London’s Hyde Park on a cloudless summer day.
One of jazz’s most significant texts, this double album runs for 93 minutes and is at once demanding, beautiful, and dangerous. Urban myth suggests Davis recorded it after being inspired by Hendrix’s famous guitar-on-fire set at Woodstock. It’s not one I often play when Claire’s home but I have made it part of Alex’s education and happily, he wasn’t horrified by it. One night last week during his daily bathroom residency I heard another Miles Davis album drifting from under the door so it’s good to know my parenting is now complete. Whew! I’m keen to also buy 1959’s Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s saxophonic hymn, A Love Supreme.
In the wonderful High Fidelity the protagonist Rob Gordon and his disturbed employees Barry and Dick trade musical top fives at the record store, Championship Vinyl. Since Alex and myself were gifted a turntable at Christmas I’ve bought a dozen or so second-hand albums and my personal top five follows (from the beginning of 2022).
Of course this is entirely an exercise in yoofy nostalgia so has been limited to music from my adolescence. I’ve decided that if an album’s from a time when I could vote, then I won’t buy it!
On state election day I went to a record fair and wandering about the tables and crates of vinyl I thought, gee what am I doing here? There’s only middle-aged and old blokes here, all nattering about rare B-sides and European pressings of obscure collectables. Then I thought, oh, hang on…
Honourable mentions- Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits, and Beggars Banquet (NB- no possessive apostrophe) by the Rolling Stones.
During Saturday’s breakfast on the patio, I popped the needle on Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits.
Instantly, I was six years old and back home in Kapunda. Mum and Dad’s lounge room is again wallpapered, the TV’s black and white and the carpet is burnt orange. It’s winter, and I’ve got on my footy boots. They’ll be on all day.
When Mum and Dad downsized, all the family vinyl came to me and since taking delivery of a retro record player at Christmas I’ve been happily swimming in nostalgia. Some of the albums had been untouched since 1988.
ONJ features prominently on the soundtrack of my childhood.
The second song on side 1 is, ‘Banks of Ohio’ and this transports me to a still, musty room on Hill Street in Kapunda. I’m still six and strumming a guitar during my weekly lesson, while the massively patient teacher, Deborah, helps my fingers to stretch across the chords. I love the idea of a guitar and singing, but the latter is galaxies beyond me and my gruesome tone deafness.
ONJ does the definitive version of this nineteenth century standard. Her voice and the melody are bouncy, and I always loved the basso backup of celebrated singer Mike Sammes who subterraneously echoes Livvy’s, ‘where the water flowed.’ Sammes also contributes on, ’Let Me Be There’ and ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know).’
Trying to sing along with Deborah, I’m a little anxious about the lyrics. The narrator declaring that she, ‘held a knife against his breast’ is squirmingly grown-up and I vow to avoid this so-called Ohio River. Bad stuff happens on its distant, murky banks.
Nowadays the tune would come with attendant humourless warnings: adult themes, graphic violence, and persistent mention of a river that enjoys confluence with the Mississippi in Illinois.
The song’s a murder ballad.
Sipping coffee out the back and then emerges gently from our turntable the 1975 Grammy winner for Record of the Year. As it plays across the garden we discuss ‘I Honestly Love You’ with Claire suggesting it’s ‘depressing’. I counter that it is certainly pretty although I’d always viewed it as a disposable love song.
On it Livvy’s voice is beautifully warm and pure, but not drenched in palpable sadness. It bathes the listener in sunlight. But as with much music there’s a disconnect between the medium and the message.
Hearing it as Mum played it at home and on the car AM radio, my generation’s all logged many hours in its company. But following breakfast last Saturday we were moved by repeated listens and became profoundly aware of its narrative intensity.
As we learn both characters in the song are trapped by marriage, and unable to be together. The lyrics are by Peter Allen, who at the time of composition, was married to Liza Minelli but had fallen in love with a man who was similarly stuck.
I’m hesitant to see all texts as autobiographical because sometimes stories are just fictional. Not everything is inspired by real life. But there’s a good case here.
The opening verse is disarming: tender, vulnerable, brave. I imagine our main character talking in a café or a park.
Maybe I hang around here
A little more than I should
With this we’re instantly eavesdropping on a private confessional and there’s tension as ONJ sings, ‘I got somewhere else to go’.
While the chorus of, ‘I love you, I honestly love you’ is necessary, the verses and the bridge are superior because these are where she reveals the story. The characters remain ageless, genderless, and timeless.
In the second verse we hear, ‘Maybe it was better left unsaid’ and this second ‘maybe’ confirms our narrator’s nervousness. Her vulnerability is crushing, and we all know a bit about this. The repetition of ‘chance’ in the third verse shows how powerless they both are in this sometimes-cruel universe.
How can I have been unaware of all of this since I was a child?
The way the strings soar in the final verse is stirring while a harp is used sparingly but to great effect. It lifts a tender song to an enhanced fragility. The eternally imponderable is here too in
If we both were born in another place and time
This moment might be ending in a kiss
But there you are with yours and here I am with mine
So, I guess we’ll just be leaving it at this.
The last line is only superficially dismissive of their plight and given the emotional stakes of the story is also deeply ironic. If we view the song as a monologue, it’s dramatic and affecting.
I love rediscovering old music and reaching a new, heightened appreciation.
Of course, many of ONJ’s songs feature women who’ve relinquished or make no claim on their rightful power. These are females for whom life appears to happen rather than be controlled. ‘Sam’ and ‘Please Mr. Please’ are key examples. Claire suggested that maybe ‘Physical’ was in part ONJ actively promoting a feminist perspective.
Students of ‘I Honestly Love You’ will know that it features in Jaws just prior to Amityville’s second shark attack but I prefer to reference the 90’s indie singer Juliana Hatfield who, in 2018, produced an album of ONJ covers. She remarked that
‘I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John. Her music has bought me so much pure joy throughout my life.’
And I agree when she goes on to say, ‘Listening to her is an escape into a beautiful place.’
Is there much better than a simple lunch on the patio with old friends, and a retro record player?
Claire and I went to Kapunda High with Stephen who’s lived by the river in Brisbane for decades. He and his wife Eleni were in town having visited family and Kangaroo Island.
With an unforced and graceful joy our conversation moved across our extensive history.
Over at the record player I cue up Side 2 of mid- 1970’s compilation Whopper which is glitter-ball, flared-pants glee. It’s irresistible while Side 1 is mostly turgid country ballads. We all giggle at both the name and wild-haired evocations of Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes and their hit, ‘Get Dancin’.
But this is mere entrée for we then play Ripper 76. Everyone has a story about Ripper 76. It’s the finest compilation album in the catalogue of compilation albums.
Eleni tells us how as a young girl she won a copy in a Brisbane radio station phone-in and this persists as immeasurably superior to winning an icy cold can of Coke from a Black Thunder. She talks of the excitement of her mum driving her into the city to collect her vinyl.
Our focus shifted to the global marriage of music and geography. Stephen spoke. “I had ‘Autobahn’ by Kraftwerk ready to go as soon as we hit the autobahn. Next thing a BMW went past us like we were standing still. Must have been doing 200k.”
I then offered. “When I was in California in 1992, we hired a convertible and driving around Santa Monica, heard The Doors’ ‘LA Woman.’ The sun was shining, and it was such a moment.”
Stephen continued the American theme. “As Eleni and I drove into Nevada we played, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and now, whenever I hear that song I’m immediately back there. We’ve done similar things in the Black Forest and New York.”
Claire asked a question. “Can you do this in Australia?”
My first memory was instant. “Walking through Treasury Gardens to the MCG I was listening to Triple R and Paul Kelly’s ‘Leaps and Bounds’ came on just as the stadium swam into view. It was early in the footy season so the “clock on the silo” said more than eleven degrees but it was still fantastic.”
Our lively topic concluded in Europe when I mentioned Claire and I driving across Sweden and hearing the radio announcer say something like, “Just nu är det riktigt kallt här på landsbygden i Sverige och jag hoppas att du har tätt upp Volvos rutor för det kan komma snö. Hur som helst, det var Billy Joel.”
As lovers of both song and travel what wonderful, remindful privilege we shared. How amazing to enjoy those synchronised soundtracks?
People, place, and musical portraiture.
Stephen and I also reminisce on collecting albums together as teenagers. We didn’t buy ones we knew like 10, 9, 8 by Midnight Oil for these were already in circulation but instead sought records that represented new, slightly dangerous terrain.
With Layla and Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes and a Yardbirds double album (on transparent vinyl) we edged into the world of blues. However, we also bought the Animal House soundtrack featuring ‘Shout!’ by Otis Day and the Knights, from surely one of the finest toga party scenes in modern cinematography. Before we were adults (clearly) many of us saw this film dozens of times.
As adolescents we also frequently mocked Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and then one night in someone’s wintry loungeroom as we finally listened to it properly, we came slowly to a realisation. Van’s jazz, blues, folk mysticism was brilliant. This was a humbling moment and I think we were all too embarrassed to confess. For many of us this album’s remained an intriguing, lovable companion.
Back on the summery patio I eased myself out of my chair and put on The Best of the Bee Gees- Volume 1 and pondering my wife and our dear old friends I thought of the divergent yet entangled paths we’d taken since leaving Kapunda.
Much had changed, and in some delightful, fundamental ways, nothing had.
A while back Mum and Dad gave me all of their vinyl records including a couple Beatles’ singles from the early sixties. I tweeted this photo and explained that I’d inherited these because they’d downsized in the Barossa.
A mate replied saying, “Gee, it must be a small house.”
Following the year’s first edition of Mystery Pub which was at the Hilton (on South Road) and returned this verdict: spacious; bland; utilitarian; expensive Claire and I decamped to the patio and cranked up the new (retro) record player and enjoyed a dozen or so albums. Here’s our evening’s top three as voted by me alone (hmmm- selfish):
3. Shilo by Neil Diamond.
This is a magnificent compilation and the cover featured a “connect the dots” which Mum completed at the kitchen table. There were 200 dots and such is my still shaky numeracy that I remember being relieved I wasn’t entrusted with the black pen to bring Neil and his guitar neck to life.
Spence Berland of Record World supplied the cover notes and he wrote that Neil’s voice, “is filled with love, beauty and the type of human pain that everyone can identify with.” Yes, but mercifully for Claire I chose not to sing along for her auditory pain would’ve been profound and possibly, incurable. “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer” are magnificent and while it has a sublime melody the lyrics of “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” remain just a little bit creepy.
2. Blow Your Cool by the Hoodoo Gurus
I’m fairly confident that this was bought for my 21st by old school friend Chrisso. He couldn’t confirm this but did share that Woodsy and I gifted him Astral Weeks by Van Morrison for his birthday that year. Of course. I’m quite sure that Woodsy is yet to hear this album.
Many of us curated the music for our own coming-of-age parties and I made four C-90 minute cassettes which were each played twice at the Kapunda Golf Club on that distant June night. I recall Chrisso saying that he sequenced “Good Times” from Blow Your Cool to finish his Kapunda Trotting Club event so people would hear it and agree that, yes, they had had a good time at his party. I’m sure we did. Most of The Bangles, including Susanna Hoffs, provided backup vocals on this track, having just returned from a pedestrian crossing in Cairo.
The hit single, “What’s My Scene” features these fantastic opening lines which take us straight into the middle of a lovers’ tiff-
And another thing I’ve been wondering lately / Oh, baby, tell me, where have you been?
The evening raced by and Claire and I’d drained many cups of tea when we popped on what would be the night’s top selection.
1. Best of The Bee Gees
Another old school friend, Stephen, visited during the week and told us that there’s a statue of the brothers Gibb in Redcliffe, Brisbane where the young Mancunians found themselves in the 1950’s. The unveiling was a mighty affair and Stephen suggested the statue could well rank in the top ten attractions in Redcliffe.
Sadly, the Bee Gees are now The Bee Gee but the album is tremendous with soaring harmonies and superb pop sensibilities. “Massachusetts” might be difficult to spell but is probably a better title for the song than “Punxsutawney.” Other gems are, “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” and one of my all time favourites, “To Love Somebody” which I have mercilessly destroyed with shiraz-driven warblings across the decades.
All are excellent examples of pop music, but excuse me for I’m about to drop the needle on Ripper 76.
How could I not enjoy a band named for this iconic leader, a man whose disgraceful 1975 dismissal interrupted Singing and Listening one Tuesday afternoon at Kapunda Primary School? The man whose perfect photo with Percy Jones hangs in the North Fitzroy Arms. I always bow at its altar.
“Gough” is my favourite Whitlams’ song and we played it at our wedding reception. It captures the wide-eyed awe I always felt about the man. I would’ve loved for Gough to, “Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret.”
I’ve been wondering about other Australian Prime Ministers and how they might connect to music. It follows from a game I like to play when someone says something – generally a snappy, domestic phrase that could, with minor adjustment, be the title of a country music album. For example, Claire might yell out from the shower, “We’ve run out of shampoo!” That’s my cue and I’ll yell back in my terrible American accent,
And the nominations for best Country Album are: (dramatic pause and then I lean into the microphone) Running Out of Shampoo by Claire and The Cactus Girls!
Or I’ll remember that most vital chore as I scramble about Friday morning. The bins! Again, I then put on my imaginary black Stetson and announce to the imaginary music awards auditorium,
And the winner is: (another dramatic pause) Putting Out The Bins by Chester Pink and the Garbage Trucks.
But which other PM moonlights in music?
John Howard and the Horrible Bowling Action for their (unlistenable) record A Dead Ball in Pakistan. We’ve all watched the video of JH harpooning one into the pitch just beyond his (doubtless) sensible fecking shoelaces.
Defending himself he later explained, “They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.” What? Sorry, Little Johnnie but that’s just backyard cricket as millions of us know it! It’s how I spent half a dozen summers with my mate Nick down at his Port Willunga beach shack.
(Bob) Hawkey and Singo – A Beer with Belle du Jour. I’m anticipating a Dolly and Kenny style duet here. The story goes that, back in 2000, Singo hadn’t bought Bob a gift for his 70th so gave him a share in his racehorse, Belle du Jour. The filly then won the Golden Slipper. To celebrate Singo famously shouted the bar at Rosehill. A karaoke hit.
Paul Keating (performs solo; no backing band tolerated) – Flogged with a Warm Lettuce, the follow-up to All Tip and No Iceberg. Its first single is the surprise indie smash, “I Wanna Do You Slowly.”
The Whitlams’ leader is Tim Freedman and his sweetly sung songs of gentle optimism and suburban irony are Sunday barbeque joyous. Their best tunes also include ‘Melbourne’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’ which was modified among my peers to honour the cult Adelaide oval curator Les Burdett.
At uni I once caught a bit of the Midday Show (probably having just arisen) when the preposterously coifed Ray Martin asked, “Who’s Australia’s greatest living politician?” His guest was Gough and he waited with faultless theatrical effect before replying with his very E. G. Whitlam vowels, “Well, Ray, I can tell you who the second greatest is.”
We’re going to see The Whitlams tonight at The Gov’s early show. They’re on stage at 6.30 so we’ll be home just after sundown for hot chocolate and a (shared) digestive biscuit. As we slide into the weekend I’ll be humming,
Freshly painted like a Cunard ocean liner, the Ramsgate is a big, majestic seaside pub.
It puts me in mind of similarly white-washed beach-front boozers in Brighton, England and St Kilda in Melbourne. It’s Friday evening and Claire and I are about to dine with Nick and his wife, Chris.
Someone once observed that Glenelg’s Moseley Square is for kids and that you graduate to Henley Square as an adult. I’m not sure the demographics are quite this dichotomous, but it’s a curious thought. I feel lucky that we can enjoy both.
The barkeep speaks my language (a local dialect- Friday Night Thirsty), “We’ve imperial pints for $7.” This was welcome news indeed, but it troubles me that in our tiny colony we differentiate between pints (425ml) and imperial pints (568ml). Surely, a pint is a pint. And I, governor, vote for the big one. It’s like we’ve a South Australian minute that only runs for 45 seconds.
We’re shepherded to our table.
Port and the Bulldogs are playing on multiple screens. A few Januarys’ back Nick and I and some chaps booked lunch in the Ramsgate beer garden to watch the Sydney Test, only to discover that it was showing endless UFC fights. Unable to quickly get some neck tatts we slinked off to the front bar and the gentler magnetisms of cricket.
Nick and I’ve been mates since our Kapunda High days when we bonded over Skyhooks and the Stones’ 1981 album Tattoo You (predating UFC). Later came Midnight Oil and Dylan (for his 21st we gave him a book with the entire collected lyrics of his Bobness) and Nick Cave.
There’s sharing of family histories with ships departing from Hamburg mid-1800’s and Polish Hill and the Victorian goldrush. It’s a compelling privilege to hear the remarkable yarns tracing how you all came to be sitting at the same pub table on an August night. The waiter pays us three patient visits before we’ve decided on our tucker, such is the gusto of our yak. It’s a positive metric.
Claire and Chris finish their bubbles, so Nick asks for a Running with the Bulls Grenache, made in the Barossa. The wine’s Spanish narrative, I’m sure, is designed as a point of difference from the largely German motifs of the valley. Initially, it’s a little sharp but then softens, like a 1950’s hospital matron.
Nick and I have the first of our compulsory conversations about the Rolling Stones and again agree that “Gimme Shelter” is their finest song. I mention reading once of its opening being characterised by “apocalyptic dread” while Nick speaks in awe of Merry Clayton’s backing vocals, probably the most revered in music history.
War, children It’s just a shot away It’s just a shot away
Given Charlie Watts’ passing days after our discussion this chat now seems a little haunted.
Claire enjoys her butter chicken while Chris and I each settle upon the lime-infused squid. There’s no audible complaining. Nick’s steak is delayed due to human error, which philosophically, I’d argue, is the only real type of error. Ultimately, he’s pleased with it.
There would seem to be Teal-flavoured human error aplenty on the big screens for at half-time in the footy Port’s only managed a solitary goal. The pub’s front door is shut so we can’t hear the yelping from Alberton.
It’s a prosperous and lively place, this Ramsgate and our night’s replete with conversation, cups and respectable nosh.
Tomorrow night’s a full moon. We stroll up the balmy, windless esplanade for a nightcap.
Here we are at the scene of the crime – the place where I first met Claire and Michael.
It all began on a blisteringly hot day in February 1981, the first morning of the school year – the start of Year 10.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking: 1981?! Surely these good looking, youthful, vital people weren’t even BORN in 1981, let alone starting Year 10 at high school! I can assure you, that I can’t understand it either. It remains one of the Great Cosmic Mathematical Conundrums. Nevertheless…
On that fateful February day, I walked through the school gates in considerable culture shock. I had moved with my family from the city only the day before to our half-built house in a paddock behind Mount Allen – about 10 minutes north of Kapunda. Our electricity was not yet connected. There were sheep, a cow and a horse in our front yard and our house had a moat. And the vintage yellow school bus had just taken me on a 50-minute dirt-road trip to Marrabel-and-back in a cloud of dust you could see from Gundry’s Hill.
Thank goodness I had the good sense to approach Mrs Maloney, the first teacher I saw, and ask her to introduce me to some Year 10 girls. Thank goodness Mrs Maloney introduced me to a group including Claire Louise Morrison.
Starting a new school where the friendship groups have already formed and settled can be tough, but starting a new school in the country, where the kids have all known each other since pre-school, can be especially rugged.
Claire had experienced this, firsthand, the year before, and had magnanimously decided that she would make the transition much easier for any future new girls, should she encounter any. (What a generous and kind decision to have made, Claire. You are a brick.)
Presented with the opportunity on that bright February morning, Claire took the leading role as a one-girl welcoming committee. I remember her smiling at me, stepping forward, shaking my hand and enthusiastically introducing me to Lisa Trotta, Sandra Bell, Cate Dermody, Wendy Fechner and possibly Our-Pam-the-Pastor’s-Daughter. She asked me all about myself, gave me a bit of a run-down on herself and everyone else, and told me where I could meet up with everyone at recess and lunch.
That alone says a lot about Claire and the person she is. But it only hints at the dynamic and direct energy that radiates out of her – her charisma, her sense of humour, the animated way she moves. Well, I knew within two minutes that Claire was lively, generous, outgoing and fun – and an innate leader – and I hoped we would become friends.
Shortly after – possibly that same day – I met Michael Randall. While there was no stepping forward and effusive hand-shaking, I do remember him being one of the only boys who might volunteer helpful information. Aloof. Maybe a little gruff, but at least vaguely sympathetic. I think he saw me going in the wrong direction to find a classroom, and muttered something like, “No, it’s over there.”
Now Mick had met Claire the year before. And, as time has revealed and the Weekend Australian Review can testify, he pretty much fell for Claire on the spot.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: he listened intently to everything Claire said; he laughed at all of her jokes; and, although he did his best to hide it, he pretty much gazed adoringly at her all day.
AND, when he saw that Claire and I were becoming besties, he started talking to me a whole lot more. In fact, as time progressed, I started getting long phone calls from the public phone box outside the Kapunda Post Office.
Why the public phone? Because in The Olden Days, there was only one telephone per house. This one telephone was attached to a wall socket, and the curly cord from the phone to the handset would only stretch so far. If you were lucky, you might be able to pull it tight around the corner of a doorframe to gain a bit of privacy, but, generally, your whole family could listen in on your phone conversation, and – worse – call out embarrassing things.
Your parents would regularly tell you to hurry up and get off – because if you hogged the phone for hours, giggling and theorising over who liked who, and what it might have meant when he said this or she said that – no-one else could make or receive a call. And, get this: there was no SMS, no texting, no SnapChat or memes or gifs or social media of any kind. Not even Email!
These were all good reasons for Michael Randall to put 30 cents in his shorts pocket, bid farewell to Lois, Bob, Jill and Sam-the-Tough-Cat, and ride his bike to the Post Office.
His calls to me were long, hilarious and entertaining, and our own friendship grew as he made his thinly veiled attempts to find out more about Claire.
Of course, I spent even more hours giggling and theorising with Claire – on the phone, on our walks with Bonnie by the duckpond, or scoffing mixed lollies from Rawady’s deli in the Morrison’s sunroom. There was no doubt whatsoever, even back then, that she ‘loved’ Michael Randall – but would she ever ‘lerve-love’ him?
In Kapunda at that time, there grew a mighty Love Triangle. Possibly even a Love Dodecahedron. Between the beginning of Year 10 and well beyond the end of Year 12, the Class of ’83 negotiated the grave situation where everybody loved somebody sometime, but they didn’t love you back because they loved somebody who loved somebody else. All those hopeful hormones with nowhere to go!
And as teenagers growing up in a small country town, this was tragic and torturous. There was school and sport and church and Lutheran Youth and Rural Youth and there was the Clare Castle Hotel and parties at friends’ houses. Once we could drive, there were also discos in the Angaston Town Hall, movies at the Tanunda Drive-in, spooky midnight trips to the Reformatory and early drives to Gawler to catch the train to the city for a day at the cricket. And we went to all of these places, on rotation, with PRETTY MUCH THE SAME PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. So there was no escaping the Mighty Love Dodecahedron.
The angst was real. But so was the friendship.
Even after Year 12, when we started making our way into the wider world, we clung together – a tight band of Kapundians. Claire and Mick and I stayed especially close.
After matriculating (another Olden Days word), and a wonderfully long, study-free summer, February 1984 saw the three of us embarking on studies to become teachers. We chose Salisbury Teacher’s College because it was close enough to drive to daily in Michael’s HQ Holden.
(Of course, it was necessary to tease each other mercilessly about our cars. Claire had dubbed Michael’s sensible white HQ sedan ‘the Parent’s Car’. My Hillman Imp was ‘The Wimp’, and Michael also liked to call it ‘The Shitbox’.
Claire’s Mini Minor didn’t have a nickname but was considered miraculous – mostly because Claire and her passengers continued to survive Claire’s death-defying driving – but also because, at one time it had reportedly transported all seven Morrison siblings, plus Fran’s luggage, home from the airport.)
In any case, the Mini and the Wimp were deemed unsuitable for the daily trips to college. Looking back, I wonder if Michael Randall volunteered The Parent’s Car, not because our cars were unroadworthy – which they were – but more because they both lacked something that proved vital over those long miles: a cassette deck.
I promised myself I would only say kind things about Michael today, on this Day of Days, but, during these trips he did force us, against our wills, to listen to the Animal House soundtrack and the Foul Sixties Music. And it was pre-meditated: he had taped these things on cassettes. (That’s another Olden Days thing.) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and, through this experience, the bond between Michael, Claire and me grew ever more solid.
I think, even then, we all knew we’d be friends for life.
And here we are today, with decades of shared memories.
There have been annual winter pub dinners to co-celebrate our birthdays. Countless catch-ups for drinks and laughs and to share news of life’s triumphs and challenges. Endless discussions on career choices and child-raising and renovations and travel and world events and art and literature and the TV advertisements that Claire can’t stand. Lively debates about music: Michael make your peace with Pink. Weekends away. Picnics and beach walks and barbecues. Meals that Claire has generously finished for us. The yearly spate of heavy Fringe plays at the Holden Street Theatres. All those amateur musicals we made Michael watch us in – and that one time we actually got him up on stage for talent night at a Rural Youth Rally. There are the jokes only the three of us get. The crippling, weeping giggling fits. Speeches we’ve made for each other at milestone events. And the trips we’ve made together – and for each other – to attend a special event, or just be together – when one of us has experienced sadness, loss, loneliness or grief.
We’ve walked different paths with different people, sometimes even in different countries, but we’ve always made time and space to nurture this magical friendship.
We three made our own love triangle – of friendship love. One where the three sides provide unshakable strength and support.
Within this love triangle, we enjoy the insights we get from the male and female perspective, but I can say honestly that gendery things have never, ever divided us.
Claire and I have acknowledged again and again how important Mick’s friendship has been to us. He’s an extraordinary man. He is thoughtful, gentle, kind, deeply respectful, intelligent, fair, well-read – and so very funny. Mick is a true feminist – an equalist – and we both love him for that.
There are so many kinds of love – and love itself can swell or shrink. Love, even enduring love, can evolve and change.
I’ve spoken about Mick’s ongoing love for Claire, but I have also closely witnessed, over many years, Claire’s deep and abiding love and respect for Mick. As we’ve travelled along our own life paths, there have been times when the deep connection between them has almost broken to the surface. For a long, long time they were not free to acknowledge this, even to themselves, much less to each other. They each honoured the commitments they had made elsewhere and devoted their energies to raising their beautiful children.
But, as they say, true love will find a way.
As the other paths they were travelling came to an end, they turned towards each other, as they’ve always done, to offer strength and support. They found so much more. And I found myself, once again, on the end of long phone calls – from both of them. All the what-ifs, and could-bes and what-do-you-think-it-could-means were there again. And you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to know that, one day, we’d end up here, at a wedding. And given that these two are the most sentimental, nostalgic people in the Whole World, you could have placed bets on it taking place in Kapunda.
So, here we are, at the scene of the crime…
This wedding brings together two very dear friends, who, this time, have everything on their side. They have the foundation of a long friendship – all the jokes, all the memories, and all the understanding, compassion and trust that goes with that. They know, love, embrace and enfold each other’s children. They have life experience, past successes and mistakes to learn from and draw on to ensure that they face life’s challenges together with kindness, consideration and empathy. They face their future with optimism and excitement. They see the significance of this second chance. They truly treasure each other, and will do everything in their power to nurture each other and the love that binds them…
Lastly, and most importantly, they share a great love of pubs and all things alcoholic and snack-related. This, I know, will carry them through any dark times.
Claire and Michael – my best friends – I don’t need to wish you happiness together. Instead, I wish you long, healthy lives, so that you can wring every ounce of joy out of this enduring love.
I am so very happy to have been a part of your story to date, and feel honoured to have been invited to share it with your friends and family today. I know we all look forward to sharing in every good thing that is to come.
My thong presses the accelerator as we pass the Bluebird Café and steer along Queen Elizabeth Drive with the lake on our left and a row of beige residences on our right. We see the besser block holiday unit I stayed in with Mum, Dad and my sister Jill when I was thirteen.
In that hot bedroom I played Hotel California over and over on my little cassette player when I wasn’t walking to and from Barwell Avenue and gazing in shops or drifting by the jetty just across from the town oval, home to the Barmera Roos.
We’ve decided upon the guessing order for the week and each must declare their prediction before we leave the town limits.
Max goes with his traditional low number. He’s already a student of the form, and gets us away with a crisp, ‘Three.’
Alex quickly declares, ‘Four’ and Claire participates with an optimistic, ‘Six.’
I then finish the formalities with what history tells us is an unlikely seven. All moving vehicles count, but we must pass them on the road itself before we get to the finish line. We call it the Lake Lap and it’s now in its third big season.
It’s a January afternoon and time for our daily tradition. Just before 5pm we coax the boys into the car from the jetty or the caravan park pool or their cabin chairs in front of the Test and alight in the pub drive-through where we negotiate our refreshments. A soft drink for the boys and a can of something serious for Claire. I get a Sparkling Ale. Alex says, “Dad, can we have some jerky too?”
‘No’ is my automatic reply, ‘you won’t eat your dinner.’ The protests begin. I then say to the drive-through attendant, ‘Can I leave the boys here with you for an hour?’
‘No’ comes his automatic reply. He’s a wizened, laconic type who looks like this job is to get him out of the house. ‘I should be immune to the noise. I’ve got eleven grand-kids.’
Easing through Barmera’s empty streets I note the bowls club and recall my first long-distance journey as a learner driver. It was 1983 and Dad had a tournament up here. In the green Ford Falcon I was legally limited to 80 kph, irritating a trailing and snarling V8. After a lengthy period he growled past me with horn blaring and outrage billowing from his twin exhausts. A mile or so later I saw a flashing blue light and the grumpy driver taking roadside receipt of a speeding fine. How I itched to honk my horn back at him, but this wouldn’t have done for a L-Plater with his Mum and Dad.
Lake Bonney’s shore is defended by dozens of dead gum trees and with the open road ahead we gather speed, but I keep to an unhurried ninety so we can better enjoy our circuit. Lonely caravans squat on the bank with their deck chairs and murmuring AM radio and late-afternoon mugs of strong tea. Above us is a soaring azure sky, and save for the mighty river and this lake we’re in a desert of scrub and sheep stations. There’s few vehicles on this section of the lap.
The radio’s on Triple J and the boys’ musical world is expanding along with their limbs so I introduce them to Tame Impala’s best album Innerspeaker and they enjoy the swirling psychedelic guitars. Is one of the selfish joys of parenthood inflicting your culture upon your offspring? Our other aural routine is Ben Folds’ Rocking the Suburbs on the way to Barmera, once we leave the Truro bakery and descend Accommodation Hill.
Drifting by the ruins at the Morgan Road intersection we then see Chambers Creek which feeds the lake’s 1700 hectares. To our right the road goes to the Overland Corner Hotel and it’s again changed hands, but is without a license until February and, of course, this is unbeknown to us on our Slim Dusty visit. Like many Murray landmarks it boasts a sign indicating the eye-widening 1956 flood level. No-one went thirsty back then.
More traffic is likely now and the current sedan score is only two so I tease with Dad comments like, “I can see a convoy of cars coming!” or “What if we pass the Hell’s Angels?” We pass the ubiquitous Pelican Point and its advertised Nudist Resort, but don’t call in as we’re overdressed. Along a fence there’s a teapot atop each of the strainer posts. With the bitumen curving about, vehicles might suddenly emerge as they make their way around the glittering lake.
After the ceaseless slog of parenting the boys as babies and toddlers they’re blossoming and rewarding company, and now choosing shared rather than solitary fun. Our daily Lake Lap represents this happy change, and I hope in years to come it’ll remain a keenly anticipated holiday routine and one they’ll discuss with affection and gentle mockery of their Dad.
Reaching the Sturt Highway today’s game concludes with Max again victorious. We’ll drive back to the cabin for a barbecue or to the Cobby Club for schnitzel night or maybe a swim in the parched, motionless evening.
In June I chronicled our first pub visit in 92 days, and now I describe our final pub experience for, well, dunno.
Back then it was at the Broady in Glenelg South, and on this occasion circumstances allowed us to swing by the Excelsior in the inner suburb of Brompton.
The government’s lunchtime press conference saw our lockdown outlined, and so, with a singular wish, we made a booking.
I’d last frequented the Excelsior about twenty years ago as part of a loose, but committed collective which attempted to visit every hotel in Adelaide under the cross of a Wednesday Schnitzel Club. Back then the pub’s interior design was Phantom-themed as in the ghost who walks, man who can not die. I’ve since discovered this connects to Marvel comics hero Stan Lee’s lifelong catchcry- excelsior.
Now, this motif has been retired and the pub is a little more anonymous with standard boozer carpet and taupe walls and a circa 1998 Triple M soundtrack. But, its location is trendy Coglin Street and the mise en scène as we alighted our cars was suggestive of Melbourne’s Fitzroy given the proximity to the CBD, and aspirational and artsy population.
The service was friendly and the staff were certainly approachable. There was no gloomy subtext which in their position would’ve been fair. Ordering a Big Shed American Ale the advice was, “It’s highly drinkable and quite fruity.”
Claire opted for an entrée of parmi (not parma) bread and this got our last supper underway in a fashion of which JC may have nodded his Neoplatonist approval. It was a warm evening, but C’s glass of red was both generous and pleasant in that luxurious, midweek way.
Despite the swirling uncertainty in our city-state the pub patrons appeared calm and accepting. Nearby, a family with three young girls coloured in their books in functional silence. Even their pigtails were cooperative, laying still on their narrow shoulders. Thinking of the boys at their age, I shuddered at the likely fiscal and psychological tolls of a similarly modest mealtime.
My beef burger was satisfactory although I’m constantly dismayed at the absence of beetroot in these. Surely, its inclusion is as Australian as pineapple on a Hawaiian pizza. My chips came in one of those petite wire baskets about which I have reservations. Still, they’re better than suffocating them beneath a schnitzel which must soon enjoy a Royal Commission.
Claire’s salad was plentiful and enjoyed. The roast capsicum, red onion, baby bocconcini, and bacon all played their roles like a young Meryl Streep, whatever this means.
Strolling out into the early evening a clot of lads was settling in for the night on their apartment balcony and judging by the hollering were each about five beers deep.
We were all on the cusp of lockdown, but I remember that excelsior means upward and I nodded to myself and glanced again at the balcony.
“Some hats can only be worn if you’re willing to be jaunty, to set them at an angle and to walk beneath them with a spring in your stride as if you’re only a step away from dancing. They demand a lot of you.”
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
“You can never have too many good hats.”
Phil Klingberg, Kimba Cricket Club (1993)
On this gusty afternoon I’m on our patio writing. I’m just up the road from where the Chappell brothers attended St Leonards Primary School in the palindromic suburb of Glenelg.
It’s sitting on the table quietly, but has a full and boisterous past. Faded and frayed, on its front an emblem; two golden stalks of wheat embrace the acronym KCC. Kapunda Cricket Club. Down one side; the crowded loops of a celebrated signature.
It’s in its fourth decade. Mothers, wives and girlfriends, everyone, please look away now for it’s never been caught within twenty-two yards of a twin-tub.
It’s my Greg Chappell cricket hat.
I was at high school when the Kapunda Cricket Club distributed these hats in 1982. Cold Chisel had released Circus Animals, the Violent Femmes erupted with their eponymous debut, and the Eagles presented their second greatest hits album, meaning there were only forty-three such offerings to come (thus far). On average each Australian household now contains six separate versions of “Desperado.”
My hat was there as I featured in four losing grand final sides on the West Coast (South Australia, not California). This doesn’t bother me as cricket was always more social than showdown, and provided a fun, often protracted afternoon and post-afternoon structure to my Saturdays. I enjoyed the temperate rhythms, wit and mateship because if you played cricket with a chap, then bumping into him at Adelaide Oval guaranteed a happily frothy conversation.
How’d you go if you could face your own bowling? Would your eyes light up? Or would you cringe at the crease? Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn attending their own funerals it’s delicious to ponder, but unattainable. I’d endured a poor season when I made more runs than I took wickets. And my bowling wasn’t fearsome. More Les Paterson, than Lenny Pascoe.
I’d my cricket hat with me when old mate R. Bowden and I flew to New Zealand for that shamefully compulsory rite of passage, the Contiki Tour. On the South Island we visited Fox Glacier, where our tour guide advised us to take a hat. Yes, a fox hat.
It was summer, however in the photo we’re huddled on the bitter, elevated tundra. I’m petrified as I’ve climbed many icy steps to the frozen plateau, but know in that nagging way going up is easy; it’s the coming back down which gets unpleasant. I didn’t want my distorted limbs, innards and freshly bloodied cricket hat sent back across the Tasman in a chilly bin.
Like any commendable cap it’s versatile. An enthusiastic but fabulously incoherent golfer, on a par four I can go from Greg Norman to Norman Bates to General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (I’m assured he’d a hideous slice) in seven shots. I like to wear my Greg Chappell hat up and down, but more often, across the fairways, and remember a coach telling me, “You’ve got it arse-about. You hit a cricket ball in the air, and a golf ball along the ground.”
It was shielding my boofy face just before the change of millennium when, up the Riverland on the wonderful Waikerie golf course, I lipped out on the last. This would’ve given me a best-ever back nine of 39. The next morning at Renmark, sure I’d the sport sorted, I bludgeoned my way to, and swiftly beyond one hundred, like David Warner in a feisty frame of mind.
At Kimba playing Buckleboo during harvest an unspeakable northerly roared down the desert, blasting sand and flies and primordial horror. While umpiring in the reddish apocalypse a team-mate signed my hat with the names of West Indian cricketers Viv, Joel and Clive. He even spelt most of them adequately. But that was ages ago, and his ink is submerged beneath the yellowing cloth.
While we lived in Singapore my Greg Chappell hat spent three years in friendless and dark storage. How did I do this? Retrieving the hat from its tomb, I felt the antique brim, creased from its slumber, but still sturdy.
Now like a retiree forever doomed to two-fruit-and-ice-cream its solitary excursion is accompanying me and my Victa across our lawn. Given its unattractive capacity for making babies cry and dogs growl, my wife’s banished the hat from public appearances.
But on the backyard table it’s looking at me like Wilson the volleyball, from the Tom Hanks’ flick Cast Away. Later tonight with the wife and boys in bed I’ll continue to write and reflect over a Barossa shiraz, and when nobody’s peeking, I’ll stick it on my head.
I might even take a selfie.
In August 2022 a version of this story featured on ABC Radio National’s ‘Life Matters’ programme. Here’s a link-
A massive cold front lashed the Adelaide coast as we placed our order. As required by the new regime, we moved outside to the footpath and the rain blasted in, piggybacking or, maybe, rodeo-riding on the howling wind. It was not an archetypal evening for fish and chips by the seaside. No picnic rug accompanied by carousel music as a blue sky stretched above us.
Late May and all week I’ve screamed at TV news anchors as they’ve crossed to the weather reporter with variations upon, “So Amanda/Jane/Kate, how’s the last week of autumn looking?” With the winter solstice weeks away, it seems season change denial remains as incurable as climate change denial.
Semaphore is Adelaide’s most idiosyncratic beach suburb. There’s a range of compelling shops and eateries and attractions. The jetty is quaint and the wide lawns attract families and all types. While other strips such as Jetty Road in Glenelg and Norwood’s The Parade might present as tired, Semaphore is a vibrant and diverse village.
On this elemental evening, Claire and I order fish and chips from Sotos Fish Shop, established in 1949 and occupying a grandfatherly position in Adelaide’s seafood scene.
There’s a sturdy torrent of customers and, once I’ve got our food, we head to the foreshore where the diabolical conditions dictate that we eat in the car. I suspect the seagulls have clocked off for the day. Already the dark has closed in and the broiling ocean is hidden.
We’ve a medium chips and it’s a most generous pillow. The front seat of a mid-sized car is not an ideal dining venue and I’m worried that the floor may become a chip graveyard. Chips deserve better.
But casualties are minimal and the chips are excellent: crisp and golden and soft in the middle, and not too big. Pleasingly, they are far beyond the french fry’s absurd, Lilliputian dimensions which are a design and gastronomic parody. Who actually likes them? With its addiction to the huge and the excessive, I can’t believe these haven’t been outlawed in the US. Additionally, I recall seeing this online (not Sotos) and am still struggling with its paradox-
I’ve a piece of battered hake and it’s a treat too. Belonging to Iceland’s favourite family, the cod, I devour it as insulation against the peninsula’s cold. The staff at Sotos are also a deft hand with the salt shaker, achieving a balance between taste and imminent heart surgery.
Given the beverage restrictions, Claire has packed a thermos of hot chocolate. Is there a word as suggestive of huddled winter gatherings as thermos? Fish and chips followed by hot chocolate is a unique pairing, but Semaphore is a unique destination. Outside, the storm passes, on transit to the Adelaide Hills.
On the way home I listen to Triple J which, in a break with their usual brief, has been playing requests all week. Yesterday I heard Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C minor’ and the Mamas and Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Happily, I missed Axel F’s ‘Crazy Frog’, and the Antiques Roadshow theme song but, navigating through Henley Beach, I hear ELO offer up ‘Mr Blue Sky’ with its magnificent coda.
It’s been a day of welcome peculiarities – culinary, musical and meteorological.
Glen Campbell is waiting in the studio for a song. He has an album to finish. A courier rushes in with a cassette. The Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians, gets to work.
The song is ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the writer Jimmy Webb. Under pressure to finish it, he sent an incomplete version, but heard nothing back. Bumping into the singer weeks later Webb said, “I guess you guys didn’t like the song.”
Campbell replied, “Oh, we cut that.”
“It wasn’t done! I was just humming the last bit!”
‘Well, it’s done now!”
Yes, it was.
Indeed, Webb had scarcely completed two verses totalling a dozen lines. He’d intended to add a third if required. In this space Glen Campbell put his now famous and improvised solo.
I wonder if Jimmy Webb ever finished his lyrics. What might he have said? What else might he have taken from the lineman’s interior monologue? In the original he moves between the immense three of love, self and work. What else is there?
It’s a great unfinished artwork like Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and Gaudi’s Basílica de la Sagrada Família.
If Webb had now penned a third verse I’m unsure I want to read it. Would it be like painting a hat on the woman in the Mona Lisa?
The song’s superb just as it is.
Lengthy songs have always fascinated me for their enhanced narrative possibility, and I enjoy entering these protracted sometimes strange worlds. I find The Doors’ ‘The End’ (11:43), ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’ by Father John Misty (9:58), ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival (11:04), and Frank Zappa’s ‘Billy the Mountain (24 minutes) are all, for me, enduringly absorbing.
Early in our post-Sweden isolation, I was scanning the alternate music website Pitchfork when I found a post on suggested music for these uncommon times. Seeing the song title ‘Wichita Lineman’, I leant closer to my screen. It was the famous song but a cover version by the Dick Slessig Combo. No, I hadn’t heard of them either.
There was a YouTube link and my search indicated that the song wasn’t on Spotify. Indeed, trawling the internet I’ve discovered that they’re from LA and formed after the demise of cult group Acetone with guitarist Mark Lightcap common to both. They pressed a few hundred CDs. That’s about it.
Clicking the link I hear a slowed, almost eerily subdued set of notes. The iconic melody only arrives after seven minutes, and the entire piece – ‘song’ seems inadequate – drifts and hovers with guitars quietly climbing before falling away like an elderly priest. Over its 42-minute duration it’s entirely instrumental.
The soundscape conjures both the empty landscape of Kansas and the protagonist’s mindscape with graceful use of tremolo and reverb.
Vast and sprawling, it evokes Webb’s everyman “apparition.” It’s not sad or lonely but rather about aloneness. There’s deep beauty carried in the music and a compelling, respectful fragility. It probes and portrays.
Like the original, it’s inward-looking but also a meditation. Given the deep and universal thoughts of Webb’s character, the existentialism is expressed perfectly with the sound flowing like an ancient holy river.
The occasionally maligned Billy Joel once said “Wichita Lineman” is “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.”
The Dick Slessig Combo offers an exquisite tribute and exploration of the song’s haunting, singular image.