4

21st birthdays- good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay

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How great was that procession of 21st parties? Footy clubs, town institutes, trotting tracks, backyards and in my case, a cosy golf club. It was a time of fuzzy optimism and innocence and skinny leather ties. It was the eighties.

*

One lunch-time in the Kapunda Golf Club when we were nineteen Davo and I learnt a key life skill. An elder statesman of both the club and the community Gus Higgins lined up some glasses and began.

“Now boys, you want to keep it tilted. That’s it. Don’t panic, but snap it off quickly.”

Gus was teaching us how to pour a beer. We were excellent students. We wanted to acquire this universally-admired expertise so we could take our place among the men of the world, or at least those of Kapunda. His gentle tuition continued.

“Don’t over-fill it. You want to leave a nice head on the glass.” As Davo eased the West End amber into a butcher, Gus uttered his final, terrifying command, “Make sure you don’t choke it.”

This was a rite of passage. Happily, we passed. My 21st was another.

For my party, I recorded four TDK cassettes of music. Six hours’ worth. Much like Rob Fleming making a mixtape in High Fidelity I saw myself as an artist who was curating an artefact of considerable beauty. If this is possible with The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

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The tapes are long gone, but I remember the Hoodoo Gurus featuring prominently, especially “Like Wow – Wipeout” with its urgent rhythms and connotations of Sydney beaches and oddball Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews. Johnny and June Carter’s “Jackson” was on there too, as I loved, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.” When Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” played there’s a youthful, exaggerated drawl as we sang along- “How does it feeeel?” And we didn’t really know, for we were twenty-one.

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I was also a fan of sixties music, mostly British bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks, so this became the dress theme. My dear friend Trish designed the hand-drawn invitations. On the night, much paisley and purple swirled about the brown timbers of the club house. Wide ties flapped. Nick came as a blonde Mick Jagger, complete with Union Jack flag flowing behind him as he strutted about the bar and dance-floor, most notably when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasted the room.

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Woodsy made a VHS video of the night including the speeches. Mick Dermody told a joke with the punch-line concerning train passengers pooping in each other’s shoes, but said some lovely, touching things too. I made exactly the speech an unworldly country boy would make.

Woodsy and CAae

In the photo album there’s happiness and smiles, but sadness too for some of these people are gone, and some have drifted away. I think of the Australian writer Tim Winton who views life as a series of corridors of time and space. And then we or they move through a door.

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But what a fun corridor this was. Not a school kid anymore, but not really yet an adult either. At uni and on the cusp (cups). A honeyed place in which you’re finding your way, and the world’s opening up, beyond the dusty town you call home.

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“Eagle Rock” was a preposterous badge of this confidence, this unarticulated need to separate ourselves from the generation that came before. There’s a belief that this tradition originated at the University of Queensland and migrated to South Australia. My first recollections of it were from 1985, at a St Anne’s College toga party with Rocket and Stolly and Harmesy and others.

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This Daddy Cool classic saw you instantly crowding in a circle, dropping your trousers and then swaying along to the song with your Levi’s bunched down over your Adidas Romes and dragging onto the brandy-sticky carpet.

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 Of course, it doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny. It does, however, have an undeniable tribalism, even an evangelism that functions as a crude declaration of independence. But these broad churches held no salvation for some of the older adults who departed soon after, grim-faced and steering their Holdens north.

Around breakfast on Sunday the cold sun bent through the windows and the captain came in. Some of us had slept on the floor. I was near the honour board, as near as I would ever get, under one of those brown, laminated tables that’s compulsory in country golf clubs. Watto simply announced, “You’ve got an hour to clean up before the first group tees off.”

I stood up and adjusted my tan velour tie. I started picking up beer glasses.

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19

Philip Road, Elizabeth- Holden cars and me

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There was still a post-Coronation glow across the Commonwealth when Holden started making cars in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. Indeed, our Queen had only been in Buckingham Palace for a few years, and with this respectfully in mind, those mapping the satellite city instead decided that the thoroughfare next to the car manufacturing plant should be named Philip Highway, Elizabeth. I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950’s.

I’m not a petrol-head, but as a country boy, I was always going to buy a Holden for my first car. Purchased from solid farming folk near Greenock, it was a pale blue HR Holden complete with two-speed Powerglide. It had razor-blade thin tyres, which had the unfortunate habit of prolonged squealing as I gently rounded a corner, or accidently drove in circles at the intersection just up from the Kapunda Pizza Bar. Prior to buying an FM radio, for my driving pleasure I had a portable cassette player and a kazoo. The HR’s registration was REM-097.

Part way through my degree I upgraded to the model I’m confident was made in greater numbers than any other at the Elizabeth plant: a HQ Kingswood (white). In our little country town, there must’ve been twenty of these, and they were mostly driven by us young fellas. Sometimes there’d be three or more of these in a diagonal row, outside Nugget’s Clare Castle Hotel*, late on a Sunday. Owning one seemed almost compulsory, and it functioned as a type of vehicular uniform for our silly army. Its rego was UXA-100.

CCH

For a few months, my friends commuted to uni and back with me. Claire and Trish* were Abba fans and musical theatre devotees, and I now confess that I took fiendish, even megalomaniacal delight in controlling our musical accompaniment. They’d holler, “Put on the radio” and “We want SA-FM.”

Deaf to their words, I’d then lean over and pump up the volume on a ten-minute blues song like, “Key to the Highway.” Somehow, we’re still friends.

Nineteen. There may well be an age at which Australian males are more stupid, but I doubt it. With sudden and inexplicable urgency one Friday night, when I was barely nineteen, three friends and I decided that we needed to race down to one of the Kapunda main street’s four pubs (or possibly, all of them).


So, we left the home of the mate that for legal reasons I’ll refer to as Woodsy* and failing entirely to navigate the dirt road behind Kapunda High School, my left fender prised open about twenty feet of the corrugated fence like it was a tin of Whiskers*. The car came to an immediate halt. Our friend was studying electronic engineering at Adelaide uni, so I said, “Chris*, you’re smart, fix it!” He couldn’t.

Subsequent crash analysis revealed a major cause being the HQ Holden’s front bench seat on which, for now obscure reasons, all four of us were, for want of an ergonomically accurate term, sitting. Apparently, this lack of physical space made it difficult for the driver (me) to successfully operate the steering wheel.

Later, another mate, Crackshot* remarked that despite it being only eighteen months since I’d somehow won Kapunda High’s Paul Giles Memorial Prize for Character and Leadership, I still clearly wanted to make a lasting mark on my former school. Under the cold light of Saturday morning, in grim conversation and looking at my Adidas Rome-d feet, neither the headmaster nor the town’s police officer, saw my yearning for scholastic legacy as a legally relevant issue.

The final Holden I owned was the most expensive of the three, and certainly the least likable. Heading off to the West Coast to teach I bought a VK Commodore from Hage’s in Tanunda. It drove well, if thirstily, but the stereo was terrible and the front speaker rattled like buggery whenever I’d turned up a tape, like Billy Joel*. Billy deserves better.

One evening after a prolonged cricket fixture and raffle-ticket selling duties in the Wudinna Club, the VK batted last and was dismissed, run-out by a Ford at a railway line on the road back to my farmhouse accommodation (I wasn’t driving). After extensive rehabilitation, during which I drove Jock* and Snook’s dune buggy, I sold it.

I didn’t know it, but my relationship with Holden’s was finished. I’m unsure whether I’m yet to have my mid-life crisis, or if I’ve been having one all my life, but I often think that one day, I’ll buy myself an EH Holden.

I might even take it on Sunday drives, and do a lap of Kapunda High.

Thanks, Holdens.

 

*names not changed

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0

The Killers in The Taminga

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AFL Grand Final morning is fantastic. Buzzing expectations, glancing yet again at your watch, and finding stuff to distract the racing mind. At this point my cousin would apply Sparkling Ale, but today we choose modest exercise.

It’s cool in the Clare Valley, and the sun’s out, and the trees and the fairways of the golf course burst with warm promise and stratospheric, if fragile, hope. We only play nine holes, so we don’t need a lunchtime Zimmer or gopher. I take it as a minor omen that I don’t lose my ball.

The town has three pubs and these are, of course, the Top, the Middle and the Bottom pubs. Australians really do enjoy a rare and efficient grasp of geography. With an alluring alliterative splash, the Bottom is also the Bentley’s, and the Top is, yes, you guessed it, the Taminga.

Our tables were by the open windows overlooking the street, and as the breeze dashed in and out, we could see trucks and utes, lazily circling the roundabout. Opposite was Pink’s Mitre 10 Hardware, and I was fearful that this sleepy winery village had been invaded by that dreadful wailing popster. Imagine my relief upon learning that the Pink family has run their store for six generations, and never released a hideously overwrought album of faux-feminist tosh.

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In order to set the afternoon’s rules of play I said, “What do you reckon? Every time Bruce (the match commentator) says, ‘clever’ Mozz has to woof down his beer.”

All agreed, except for Mozz.

In truth, drinking games are best left in our juvenile past, and we quickly recognised that no earthly good could come of my idea. Plus, there was the after-dark, safely back in our room, Karaoke to follow, and we had Ol ’55, Glen Campbell and the enormously patient Neil Diamond to cheerfully demolish.

Is there anything that generates such excessive expectation as complimentary party pies? No, of course not. And there were also wedges put out by the bar staff, but these conglomerates of oil and mistreated potato put me in mind of a semi-mythical fat-berg, easing along a London sewer in a decidedly sinister fashion.

Don’t you love suddenly remembering a great song? One you’ve not heard in a while? The pre-match entertainment was American band The Killers who I’ve always admired. Their fifteen-minute set was a treat, in contrast to Meatloaf, universally known as the evil mastermind responsible for the “Massacre at the MCG.”

But it’s only at the post-game concert that they played their finest song, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Included on their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, it’s a classic of heartland rock. For days now, I’ve had it on repeat at home, in the car, and for personal health reasons, at work.

It reminds me of U2 from their Joshua Tree era, when they were the mightiest band on the planet. There’s a rousing intro which is reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” as the pounding drums and catchy guitar conjure an anthemic boldness, and a soaring gospel quality.

Like so much of Bono and band’s output, it’s about the seeking of redemption.

I want to stand up, I want to let go

You know, you know; no, you don’t, you don’t

I wanna shine on in the hearts of man

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Now, Bono is largely a git wearing glasses around the clock, but for two decades the Dubliners were remarkable. They combined words and music with singular mastery.

As the Sweet Inspirations choir bursts to joyous life on the refrain- “I’m got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” I’d love to be at a huge, summery football stadium when the crowd sings along, with front man Brandon Flowers waving his microphone at the bouncing masses. A sign of modern esteem is parody, and the British comic Bill Bailey once pronounced in response to The Killers, “I’ve got ham, but I’m not a hamster.”

“Mr Brightside” may be more popular, and a track on which Richmond Tigers star Jack Riewoldt guests, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is a stirring song that takes me to splendid places.

Places offering party pies, for free!

Taminga

1

Meatloaf: Horrific Fun at the 2011 Grand Final

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I dare you to watch it.

Appropriately, the execution opened with “Hot Patootie” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a title more representative than commonly possible, as the following quarter hour is hide behind the couch, can I come out now Mum dreadfulness.

Meatloaf presented early, and sitting in front of the mercifully miniscule 42-inch screen, I wondered if John Farnham might’ve been lured from his retirement tent for the aural health of our nation.

“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” was next, with a terrifyingly extended outchorus during which Meat alternately surged ahead as if gasping for the Kool-ade, and then inexplicably dropped back a length behind his band. By its conclusion all in earshot wished they could, somehow, insert those mangled words right back into the rotund Texan’s mouth.

Tellingly, the band all had their sunglasses on, as if wishing for anonymity, and to escape this netherworld, courtesy of a Star Trek teleporter.

I must point out that I reckon Bat Out of Hell is a remarkable rock album. For many it’s the music by which they first stole a kiss, or turned the key in their own set of Holden wheels. That something like one in every dozen Australian homes owed a copy isn’t a surprise.

But, to suggest that a gap exists between that exhilarating vinyl and this afternoon at the MCG is like noting how John Howard’s bowling action doesn’t quite offer the elegance of Glen McGrath’s.

Flanking the stage were two giant Carlton Draught inflatables. How must those CUB executives have felt watching that? The music was more Death Valley-aged Budweiser than passable domestic brew.

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I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) then polluted that grim, little stage. What do we make of its central theme which speculates on the very limits of human endurance? Happily, there was no Kiss-Cam that day. Scream at an Elderly Relative-Cam might’ve had the broadcast director paralysed for choice.

Our vocalist seemed to be playing a perverse game of anti-bingo in which he was determined to not sing in the correct musical key. Mr Loaf clutched a Magpie scarf as if this would help, and from this moment, a Cats’ victory was certain.

In the corner of the screen the Channel 10 logo featured proudly throughout, and anthropologists and financial analysts have since traced the network’s woes back to this thirteen-minute microcosm of existential pain.

On the Classic Albums documentary series, the composer Jim Steinman explained how, “Bat Out of Hell” was conceived as the ultimate car crash song, following in the tradition of “Leader of the Pack” and “Dead Man’s Curve.” Watching that afternoon, I wondered about life imitating art, or was it life imitating life, or art imitating an open sewer?

By the stage you could see a throng of spectators all wearing orange caps. In Buddhism, orange is connected to vitality and illumination, but I suspect if actual monks had been at the G, even they may have erupted into sudden and colossal violence.

How jealous must the crowd have been when the Harley motorcyclists, musically and thematically, so central to this song, rumbled off down the players’ race? They were paid to speed from the arena, and the sonic strife warbling about its unhappy bowl!

Towards the end Meatloaf received an oversized prop, and squinting at the screen, it appeared to be an enthusiastically circumcised penis. On it is a trigger of sorts. He handled this briefly, as it were, but then abandoned it, perhaps realising, along with the rest of the audience, both immediate and televisual, that today, there’d be no climactic finish. Indeed, if you listen carefully to veteran AFL announcer, Craig Willis, you can detect the tiniest irony, in his stentorian thanking of the Wagnerian rocker.

As Channel 10’s Stephen Quartermain then cuts to a universally welcome block of vacuous advertising, he comments that Meatloaf was, “Extraordinary.”

Aside from “Leo Barry. You star!” this is his finest moment.

Go on, I dare you to watch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZdiaFXW2U8

 

0

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

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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.

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0

Weirdness and Tom Waits

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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.”

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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

The Shortest Song in the World

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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.