3

The Beatles and me

radiogram

Sunday at the Adelaide Grand Prix. Former Speaker of the House Arthur Whyte and his wife Mary were on pit straight. Respected folk from Kimba, local royalty. Every lunchtime Arthur went to the Kimba pub. Blistering heat or punishing cold, he’d have a stout. Just one. Mostly. Arthur lived to ninety-three.

Being outgoing and with a healthy curiosity in people Mary exchanged pleasantries with the man in the neighbouring seat. He was gentle, possibly even a little shy. Sounded English. He made gracious inquiries, asked about life in Australia, in Kimba, on farms. Nigel Mansell seemed to be leading the race, and with the octane thunder booming about them Mary reciprocated.

“So, what do you do?” Gosh, what was his name again?

“I’m a musician.”

“That’s nice. So which instrument do you play?”

The cars were making astonishing noise. It was hard to hear.

“I play guitar.”

“That’s lovely. Do you play on your own? Or with others?”

Mary took a sip of her tea. He was an agreeable chap.

“I just play by myself now.”

“That’s probably easier. So you were in a group?”

“I was.”

“Oh, yes. What was the name of the group? I probably won’t know them, but you never know.”

“They were called the Beatles.”

*

Mum and Dad had a radiogram. Wooden, heavy, solemn in appearance. The turntable sunken into its teak depths. I remember Creedence Clearwater Revival and Anne Murray and The Carpenters.

But what I recollect most vividly is a 45. In the digital age when artefacts like vinyl are discretionary, these seem primeval, unnecessarily real. It was “Love Me Do” with the B-side “PS I Love You.” Both songs crackled constantly when you dropped the needle, but were exhilarating. John Lennon’s harmonica was rowdy while Ringo’s drumming crashed out of that old radiogram.

I was only five, but I was in.

*

The first cassette I owned was It’s a Long Way There by the Little River Band. I’m pretty sure my first record was Ripper ’77; on which the highlights are, “This Is Tomorrow” by Bryan Ferry and, “A Mean Pair Of Jeans” by Marty Rhone. As catchy as it was my cousins Boogly and Froggy and I thought “Blue Jeans” by David Dundas the superior denim-themed pop confection. We’re still right.

Fresh from uni and working on the West Coast I bought my first CD player, second-hand from old school mate Fats with whom I shared a passion for Bush Biscuits, tepid Southwark, and Mondo Rock. Acutely aware of my personal responsibility I went into Allans music along Rundle Mall- just up from the Malls Balls. I bought two CDs- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.

Living by myself in a big farmhouse I blasted these out into the dusty summer dark; brutally cold July mornings; before cricket; after school. These provided a soundtrack to my early twenties after I’d left home, and was making my way.

*

Having spent a week in Penang my girlfriend (now wife) and I then flew to London. It remains the world’s best theme park. Is there a better way to spend a day than walking the ancient streets before flopping exhausted, in a Soho boozer?

In exquisite St Johns Wood, Abbey Road’s frontage appears modest, giving no indication to the history, and the thrilling, unparalleled creativity that’s occurred within. But the fence across the front is remarkable for it’s a giant thank you card to the Beatles, electric with graffiti and black-texta tributes. It’s re-painted every week or so.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” unfailingly takes me back to this time and place.  I especially love George Martin’s cello arrangement; it’s blue skies in Hyde Park, a string of Routemaster double-deckers along Oxford Street, and planter boxes bursting with late spring colour on the façade of a Themes pub.

*

What are the most exciting moments in music? Guns ‘N Roses’ “Paradise City” and Axel Rose’s whistle urging his band into the song like a mad football umpire? The Who and Roger Daltery’s apocalyptic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?

No, it’s George Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar opening to “A Hard Day’s Night.” The chord’s undeniable, an invitation, a golden promise. Fifty years on, it’s still rock music’s most iconic grab.

*

My favourite Beatles’ album has changed as I have. Curiously, I’ve moved retrospectively through their discography. Starting at the ambitiously expansive church of The White Album, I moved to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and was then besotted with Revolver, and especially George’s spectacular guitar work on “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Is there a sunnier riff in rock?

Where am I now? Rubber Soul.

The record’s a confident transition by a band sensing that the boundaries might be further than even they’d imagined. It’s a languid listen, but there’s telling experimentation- most notably with Harrison’s use of sitar on “Norwegian Wood.”

But it’s “You Won’t See Me” which is the album’s standout.  At 3.22 it was the longest song the band had recorded. It’s perfectly placed, appearing at track three.

It connects to Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In it the author explores some dark themes that are critical of much in America- the greed, the selfishness, the appalling lack of responsibility, but he delivers these bleak ideas beautifully, in achingly gorgeous prose, and I’m always struck by the poignant contrast between method and message. It stays with me, haunts me. I like art which displays a thoughtful divide.

For me it’s the driving jauntiness of Paul’s piano, Ringo’s tambourine and inventive drumming, and the uplifting harmonies of Lennon and McCartney. “You Won’t See Me” has up tempo hooks in counterpoint to the gloomier nature of Paul’s seemingly autobiographical lyrics, documenting his challenges with then girlfriend Jane Asher, who might still be the most famous former girlfriend in rock music. This song marks a maturation for the Liverpudlians. It’s colossal fun.

In time I’m sure I’ll bow before other Beatles’ albums, other Beatles’ songs. Just like I always have. The labyrinthine beauty of their palace ensures this.

But tonight, as my family sleeps, I slide on my headphones and press play. Again.
Beatles

 

0

Home on the Grange

weber

It’s like being down at the park, and finding yourself having a bit of kick to kick with Luke Hodge.

You’re not sure how, but here you are with the finest modern exponent of the drop punt. The elegance, the unforced style. The footy thuds into your chest, and you gasp. But, as great as it is, you don’t feel worthy. How did this happen? You’re enjoying the moment, while being aware of your inadequacy.

*

A Thursday evening, on the edge of the desert. Old Kapunda mate Chris, Eddie and I around my kitchen table.

1983 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. And not one bottle, but two.

The kitchen table cost me a Southwark six pack. I bought it from Bo, fanatical barbecuer, and my cricket captain. Completing the transaction, we then drank the beer. At the table.

In the untidy blur of a Wudinna footy club progressive dinner, we were outside, beneath the cold stars, working the tongs. It was 3am.

“Hey, Bo.”

“Yeah, Mickey?”

“The barbecue’s gone out.”

“I turned it off.”

“Oh. How come?”

“This way we can stand out here a bit longer. You know, have a few beers. Enjoy ourselves. There’s no rush.”

*

As a kid I played footy and cricket in the Barossa Valley’s main towns. Nuriootpa. Tanunda. Angaston. This was its only purpose.

Moving away was the key to appreciating it. To enjoy that it was probably the country’s premium wine-making region. Folks’d ask, “Where you from?” I’d tell them, Kapunda. Next door to the Barossa. Dad works at Penfolds.

And so living six hours away on the state’s West Coast, I began to value the place. It became more than just the soggy oval where as a senior colts footballer you’d hoped to roll the Tanunda Magpies. Or where Bob Blewett, father of Greg, would patiently humiliate you and your team mates on Angaston oval, crafting yet another century.

*

Ucontitchie Road. I loved living beside this sandy track as it seemed elemental, and more authentically Australian than distant Kapunda. About two kilometres from town, the massive stone farmhouse sat on a rise, and offered a view from the wide verandah.

With clothes, books and golf clubs in the boot of my VK Commodore I moved there. A day’s drive. Billy Joel in the cassette player. My interior design theme was Young Bloke Spartan. Bo’s table was the stylistic centrepiece.

During my first Wudinna winter I kept waiting for it to rain. Back home in Kapunda there was a constant twenty inches annually. Here a drought punished the land surrounding my house. A grain farming community, that year saw only seven inches, with two of those just before Christmas.

In the bush quiet I’d think about how big our country was, how far away I was. Our geography confronted me, and I knew if I walked north, I might see no-one before I flopped into the Timor Sea, three thousand kilometres distant. It was very Australian, it was very foreign.

*

Like viticultural blood brothers we vowed to prepare well. No beers from Sunday to Thursday, even if someone, like Bo, suggested a quick snort in the club after Tuesday’s cricket training. We wanted to be drink-fit. During the week I glanced at our Grange bottles on the rack. They were the most valuable things in my home.

What to eat with Grange? The BBQ kettle craze was at its zenith. A hunk of beef. Roasted vegetables. A jug of thick gravy. A heat haze shimmered across the stubble, while on my verandah, the Weber spat and popped.

Dad was allocated two bottles of Grange. We claimed both, and the dark receptacles cost us forty bucks each. As the afternoon sunlight bent through my kitchen, we pulled the corks.

“Good choice fella,” remarked Eddie as I slid in Rattle and Hum, U2’s exploration of America, pre Bono-with-welded-on-sunglasses-wanker-era. We also listened to the first CD I bought, the Beatles’ White Album. As Paul sang “Blackbird” we attacked the Grange, in our clumsy and brusque ways. Gee, youth is magnificent.

Later, with beers as crisp as the descending night air, the Seekers rang out over the paddocks. They were ancient even then, but we felt a happy, ironic duty.

Hey There! Georgy Girl
Swinging down the street so fancy free
Nobody you meet could ever see
the loneliness there inside you

*

We drank the Grange Hermitage in the year of the titanic grand final. The best one ever. If you believe, the one personally attended by about half a million fans. Dermie’s ribs, Gazza’s goals.

So what did we think of the wine? It was excellent, but I didn’t have the necessary vernacular. I still don’t. I was inescapably inarticulate, and without language, there’s only partial meaning in anything, especially shiraz. It was confronting, but I’m glad we had it.

Ultimately, its depths were as incomprehensible to me as watching Michael Holding bowling at Adelaide Oval. Playing for Tasmania in the season our Grange was made, he glided deathlessly to the wicket, released, and instantaneously the ball was 130 feet away. Up in the Edwin Smith Stand I could only see it after it arrived in the keepers’ gloves. Delivery after delivery.

It was metaphysical, beyond the boundary. I could only stare. On this planet much remains mysterious.

*

It’s a coarse deliberation, but I’ll ask anyhow. Would I now rather a solitary Grange Hermitage or, for the same outlay, a dozen bottles of d’Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz? Do you climb Everest once, or regularly ascend the Matterhorn’s pyramidal peak, and risk it becoming routine? What would you do?

*

You nod at Hodgy, and run into space. Spinning perfectly, it rushes at you.

All you have to do is catch it.

grange