Saturday, 30 May 2009


I've finished reading Augusten Burroughs' Dry last night, his second memoir written after his runaway hit Running with Scissors. I loved both books instantly. I loved reading Dry and wished it didn't end. I have ZaraMeow to thank for putting me onto Augusten because he is without a doubt one of my favourite writers. (And people). One of my other favourite books is by another of my favourite authors and that's Last Drinks by Andrew McGahan. I seem to have a fascination and a seemingly inexplicable attraction to reading about alcoholics; inexplicable because I'm not much of a drinker myself. Besides, I've suddenly developed this romantic notion of going teetotal for a while, the influence of Dry no doubt. No more beers at the pub, no more sharing bottles of wine, just soda and lime thanks, or plain godly water. I'll be able to say to people ~ no thanks, I don't drink. Then I'll feel like Augusten Burroughs whose books I love and who's writing I'd like to emulate more than anyone else's.

I grew up with alcohol without
realising that I was growing up with alcohol. When you have a dad who's at the pub every night getting lewered you don't question it as you grow up. If I was at the pub drinking 6 schooners of beer each and every night, or day, and increasing that amount steadily over the years, I don't think I'd last very long. Or it's likely I would last a few paces but I'd feel like crap most of the time.

The concept of alcoholism and my father is a bit of a moot point in our family. Alcoholism is a disease and an addiction, and although my father never seemed to drink to "alcoholic proportions" - well, he kind of did towards the end of his life - he never abstained from nightly drinking, even if it was only just 'beer'. As far as I remember the beer glass and that frothy cold amber fluid that filled it was his most consistent and reliable companion. That, and the passing parade of boozers and smokers that graced the local pubs back then, not to mention the pack-a-day Rothmans or Malborough Reds. Nowadays there are fresher, newer generations of snappy drinkers who grace the Robin Hood Hotel in Charing Cross, whose daddies are rich and who maintain sharp clothing and stylish gels in the hair. They're more aggressive than the generation of old boozers that preceeded them because they seem more moneyed and arrogant. They yell when the football's playing on the big screen. Ah, the folly of youth. There'll be a percentage of these patrons who'll be barfing like mules outside the pub in twenty years time, their permanent home away from home.

The bitch of the matter is that alcohol can be so damn memorable. I sometimes think back to a beer I had somewhere and how good it was at the time, or a glass of wine, wishing I could recapture that moment, that beer, that wine. But it's a fine line between pleasure and pain with booze, it makes a wonderful servant but a rotten master, and the line between the two is very, very thin.

But fuck, this stuff destroys lives. And it destroys families too, if not obviously then covertly, imperceptively over time, like rotting emotional corpses yelling and writhing for release yet choking in the flooding rivers of drink that's been drunk, the damage done.

Horrible stuff really, but don't we love it...

Diamond life, diamond decade...

I listened to Sade's Diamond Life last night. I'm not sure why, but there's something in this music that highly evokes my senses and feelings. It kind of takes me away to this kind of neon blue spaceship bar where it's permanently 1984. I feel like I'm trailing the galaxies when I listen to this album. Granted, it is very much 80's r&b, it sounds great and the songs are very well crafted. Songs that hit at the heart and at the feeling centre of body. 'Frankie', 'Your love is king', 'Sally', 'Smooth operator' etc do the whole cruisy Major 7th thing over pleasant beats that slide under sinewy sax lines that ooze a kind of snaky sexuality.

I have this thing about the eighties. When I was in it - from age 10 to 20 - the decade felt like it could never end. It felt like the "right" decade. The music was poppy, the images were glam yet clean and despite what's often said, great music did come out of that decade. The Cure and the Church are but two examples, and then there's Suzanne Vega and many other albums or artists one could care to think of.

Yet, there was no general internet service in the eighties, and the era of mobile phones was commencing close to the end of that decade. There was no myspace, no youtube, definitely no facebook and not to mention twitter either. If you mentioned these words to someone back in 1985 they would have looked at you strangely.

The fact is, the eighties have ended and 1989 was twenty years ago. It feels like yesterday to me. And twenty years behind 1989 was 1969, the year I was conceived and that around which time the Beatles produced Abbey Road, Brian Jones of the Stones had his head shoved under the water in his swimming pool and Joni Mitchell was writing Ladies of the Canyon.

We're close to midway into 2009 and it's inconceivable to think ahead another 10 years let alone 20. I just hope it's gonna be alright, y'know - he says in a Liverpool accent....

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Mt Victoria songwriter night

Society member Pennie Lennon, along with her partner Bruno Koenig, run a singer-songwriter night right up at the heart of the Blue Mountains, at the old Imperial Hotel in Mount Victoria.  You can’t miss the Imperial, it’s a foreboding white pub/hotel to the right as you’re coming up from the east into Mount Victoria.   More information about the gig and the pub, and contacts, are in Pennie’s words at the bottom of this article.  Mount Victoria is about a fifteen minute drive west of Katoomba and sits at a regal 1000 plus metres above sea level, or 3,500 feet.  Pennie and Bruno, of the duo My Hearts Dezire, run this gig every Tuesday night.  It invariably features a full night of performers and 3 songs are given to each act with more songs given to a feature act for the night.  Most of the performers are local singer-songwriters although occasionally Sydney people come up for the gig, which in this instance, comprised of ZaraMeow and myself.  At any one time we had up to about 30 people in the room watching and listening.

The gig itself is set in a charming tea-room to the left of the pub’s entrance.  The hotel is old (1878), grand, regal, and quite likely, delightfully haunted.  My Hearts Dezire comprising of Pennie and Bruno started off the night of music.  The yearning lead strains of Bruno’s Gibson Les Paul sounded sterling next to the aromatic, arresting tones of Pennie’s lyrics and piano.  My Hearts Dezire are superb and are one of my favourite acts in the local (or extended-local) scene.  Pennie herself had an album produced by Steve Kilbey which of course always makes me salivate (and a great album it is too), and it was great to see Pennie and Bruno again, both personally and musically, and to just watch them just enjoying and relaying and loving their music to the nth degree.
Dave Griffiths took to the stage next.  Dave was actually at the very first Songwriting Society gig I ever attended, back in October of 1998, at the Excelsior Hotel in Surry Hills.  More recently Dave is content to be a regular at Pennie’s gig given that he is a resident of Katoomba.  He was backed by drums and Bruno on lead guitar and it’s great to see him enjoying his performing as he always had.

I got up and sang one song, ‘Secrets’, that I’ve just taken to the studio to record.  I was pleased with the sound of the guitar in that room; my valued piece of US Rock Maple sounded shimmerier than ever.  Next up I joined ZaraMeow for a set of her brilliantly sung material that fuses strands of jazz, folk, and contemporary piano, matched with a strong and melodic lyrical push.   People were as quiet as stones as we performed her songs that drew comparisons with Tori Amos.   Our reception was rapturous.  The sound was good and we enjoyed playing at a place we hadn’t played before, and that somehow suited the ambience of Zara’s music better than many of the pubs around the Sydney circuit.

Mad Cow Disease were a great country-blues band that featured electric violin, and Bruno sitting in on some lead guitar.  The songs were wryly humorous and were indicative of fun, rootsy country pop.  It was all quite brilliant and very uplifting.

Toni Farlow got up and performed some very intimate songs that were made all the more personable by her performance on the nylon string guitar.  This was folk that was at once haunting yet very warming and intimate.  It was a brilliant set and the nylon string guitar sounded so good!

Roman performed a terrific set that somehow had European tones to the music.  The chord changes seemed unusual yet were so effective.  These songs were heartfelt and lyrically true with a subtle yet strong musicality weaving them through.  He wore his heart on his songs and the crowd responded to them warmly.

Egg Malt was graced by a very charismatic lead singer who looked the part of a seventies metal singer morphing into 90’s grunge.  He sang brilliantly and strongly to songs that were Led Zeppelin in flavour and that featured Bruno on 2nd lead guitar.  This was great rock and I hope these guys can go places with what they do – they rock!!!

Wild Man Bru got up to do a set of his shimmering, electric inspired folk-blues.  The songs were zany, humorous and lyrical, with Bruno’s trademark guitar sound shining through each phrase.  Bruno is an exquisite player; his phrasing and expression on the electric guitar is like gold slipping through his fingers, brilliant stuff Bruno!
At this point Zara & I had to leave to make our windy way back downhill to Sydney but next time we plan to stay to drink a few more drinks, watch all the acts, and take advantage of the cheap room deal.  It was a lovely night and I recommend Sydney singer-songwriters make the effort to get up to Mt Victoria for a Tuesday night at some point when they can.  It’ll be warm, friendly and toasty!  All the details of this gig, and the overnight stay deal, in Pennie’s words, follow:
Great atmosphere, great room to play in, be there from 6.45pm on to sign in, first in best dressed.  Three songs limit each perhaps more, depending on numbers- minimal setups so we all get a go.
PA provided.
Hosted by Pennie and Bruno  (My Hearts Dezire)
All welcome
Original material ONLY all styles welcome,  NO COVERS.
 Electric piano will be set up for those that like to play the keys.
Come and play or come and have a few drinks, be entertained and have a good night
What we (Pennie and Bruno) intend with this night at the Imperial Hotel in Mt Victoria, is to enable and support songwriters, whatever category and expertise.
A space to try out your new material, hone your skills or just come for the fun and entertainment.
 To find spaces to explore creativity and the joy of expression.
Mt Vic is a wonderful place, if your coming from the city take a few days to wind down and enjoy the sights and special places.
The boss of the Imperial Hotel says if you want to stay at the hotel he will only charge $50 for a double room.

that spiritual feeling...

I feel this need to qualify my standing as far as spiritualism goes.

You see, I consider myself a very spiritualistic man although I am as far away from dogma and religion as the ends of the earth are (although where i live it happens to be close to the ends of the earth..)

In my opinion there is
no spiritual 'life'. There is only, ever, Life. And if life is an experience of spirit then the encompassing moment-to-moment experience of life must be all spiritual and this includes the death, the torture, the agony, starvation and misery that is the trodden, unmovable fingerprint on this earth of ours for our times.

It also includes the beauty of the natural earth and all that is on it. Nature, animals and humans, when they are true and being what they are rather than acting out the infestation and stench of unhappiness and greed.

Religionists believe in God in some form or other. Not only is "belief in God" a pointless pursuit, it is also responsible for the untold deaths of millions of innocent victims over the past 2 millenia (and more), and is responsible for even more guilt, repression and unhappiness for those who've had to live under its cloudy, gray sway.

If you have to "believe" in God, it simply means that you do not know if God exists or not. So why do you bother believing? And why take up a mantle of righteousness and division in the form of a "faith" that serves to merely perpetuate ignorance, mischief and unhappiness amongst us?

God, if such a thing exists, must be universal; universal and encompassing all of us as individuals and sentient creatures on this one planet, this one earth.

Certainly there is some universality to all of our existences. We are born to die. This renders us ultimately equal in the scheme of "life".

It is said that God is another word for Life, or Being. And what's this "being"? Being is the energy that illumines, ultimately enlightening, every individual on the planet. Whether or not the individual is cognisant of this "being" is another matter altogether. Some individuals are meant to merely act their part as bodies with a head and arms and legs. They murder or steal or commit foul acts on innocent children. It's all part of the tapesty, the matrix, of existence. Horrible? Yes, but undeniable.

Ultimately we are responsible for ourselves. When a man walks around saying "I am the truth, the way, and the life" you have to see that on closer examination, this is an obvious truism for anyone who's become self-realised, ie, mastered the energy within the body as a recognition that this is the universal source, without dogma, without memory, without religion, without any remembrance of what's been told or learned in the past. Idiots and usurers have used these words to point to a man who lived 2 millenia ago, that he is the way the truth and the life. The facts are obvious, you follow someone else, even if they are purportedly God, you will be led to idealised hope at best. More often than not there is dissatisfaction, fear, and violence in protection of one's own faith, one's own upholding of their 'god', or religion, one's own need to belong to something that will
save them.

he was, or may have been, I am that. I am the truth, the way, and the life. I didn't say You were the truth the way and the life. I said "I" am the truth the way and the life. Who is I? Ask yourself. There is only one I in the universe. And that's where the truth lies in all its splendid "I"-ness and universality. And am I unhappy, am I being true in my life? That's practical, that's spiritual, and this shines the spotlight on "I" and not upon a statue of a plump Buddhist hippie or a nubile Jerusalem hippie who lived a long time ago and whose bodies do not exist anymore.

Everything has its place. Everything has its time. There is no "sin" because people do what they must according to their decisions, their circumstances, their backgrounds, their time and place. We do what we do. We have all done "good" things and "bad" things. We have all received much good in our lives, and bad too. This is a tapestry. We learn, we grow. Moreover we shed the baggage of circumstance and the repression of the universal psyche by becoming more the responsible one, the "I", the being within that is "good" without the concept. It is good to be alive. The animals and trees certainly think so, just look at them. That is the "good", and that is where the
formless, nameless 'god' is at work.

Perhaps there are natural laws at work in the universe, and more closely to home, on our planet earth. The problems begins to manifest when theologians and spiritualists - and religionists - begin to make these laws into written statements that serve to coerce and even enforce upon people ways upon they should think and live their lives. The dichotomy is that by this point, the natural laws have been subverted by mindful,
willful, intervention.

Natural laws don't need to be written down. They only need to be
discovered by the individual man or woman operating in their own life, and only if they are meant to discover them according to their lights or consciousness.

These "laws" may include the law of karma, which really isn't about "punishment" at all. It's simply about being responsible for one's own life. And we take responsibility for our lives as much as we can and is possible. We do what we do. That's life, that's spiritualism.

We live and learn. If we are nasty to someone we ourselves feel that horrible energy of contraction within ourselves. Our bodies know something's not right with what's happened. Sometimes we wake up in the morning not knowing who or what or where we are and we feel so alive, so
good. Is this perhaps the 'God' everyone talks about, the purity of consciousness unsullied by the personal self or personal considerations?? That is, it's greater than the personal mind, the personal emotions, the personal self. Perhaps that is what's meant by the kingdom of heaven is within.

Within. That's the operative word. Not 'without' where the holy robes are, the scriptures, the rigmarole, the coercion, the fear. Within where there is pure life that animates us and everyone and every living thing we see. Could this be the one god?? If so we don't have to learn it or attempt to live by man-made rules surrounding it. We just be it as much as possible, and live our lives the best we can.

There is no right or wrong. There is just life. And that purity of life, perhaps that is "good", but it certainly is not to be worshipped in a church or in a book. It is too real, too alive to be shut up in a book or ordained hall. But you can see it in action. When you're out at a beautiful beach or some wonderful forest you know without a doubt that something magical is at work. Perhaps this is all "god" and we're all a part of it.

But human interventionism has made an awful hash of it all. And "God" allows the most unspeakable horrors to be bestowed upon us in the form of violence to each other and other sentient beings.

Our civilisation is a mere blip in the scheme of things, a barely recognisable flash in the scheme of some untold, perhaps timeless, evolution of a time-span that is inconceivable to the mind in its largeness and scope. We just happen to be riding this huge, one wave that happens to be westernised civilisation, now. The wave is likely to crash at the shore and dissipate like all civilisations that have come before us. We can't know for sure until it happens but we are here and we have to take responsibility for it and for ourselves.

And it's been said that all the stars, heavens, everything you see externally is but a reflection of what is within, as a projection of that part of us that is deepest and truest. I don't believe this although I do accept it, yet I don't believe it.

It's been said that in answer to "What's it all about?", well, I've heard this, "'s about doing your best". Glib, maybe. And to continue, this went something along the lines of seeing that in the course of one's own lifetime, that the enlightenment point within, ie, the enlightenment point, may raise itself for what is done for the impersonal I is done for all (the "matrix", all is one, etc etc). Practically this is to live as truly and wholly as possible according the the circumstances of one's life, to be valiant and have fortitude and to blame or complain as little as possible. Simply to just get on with it as best one can. There are no rules, there is no 'god' looking down at us from a distance. We just do as we do and we do our best. There it is. That's life.

To be continued, no doubt...

Monday, 25 May 2009


I've uploaded a freshly recorded track onto MySpace, a song called Secrets that I'd written some six years ago. It's the last of my "production" songs that didn't make my Sea in June album of 2006, partly because I felt that it was too much of a musical and thematic departure from the songs that comprised that album. The other reason for not including Secrets on that album is that it's quite a "big" song, ie quite linear and almost complex, thus deserving in my mind a standing on its own. I plan to put this out on an EP with some other recordings that are subsequent to the album.

Pleasingly it only took us about 2 1/2 - 3 days to record this song. I was expecting the recording to take a little longer. I teamed up again with Stewart Havill who recorded and engineered the track at his Sound Dog Recording Studios in Lane Cove. Stewart created the drum track with my assistance, otherwise the track is totally my performance. Stewart again assisted with the production and mix and his masterful expertise with eq-ing and mixdown helped along the process so much. Stewart is always able to take any of my ideas and find concrete solutions within Logic Pro 8, and also with the programs that allow you to choose any "real" amp, piano, or drumkit you like and tweak it from there.

This song was musically influenced, at least initially, by the Style Council with all those major 7th chords in the choruses etc, and the prominent Bm7 within the verses. To some extent 'Secrets' does have an eighties feel to it. I feel faint strands of Sade as I listen to this albeit this is a lot heavier than Sade. The track has a kind of "Canadian" vibe it, but most likely that's my own personal impression due to Vancouver being name-dropped in the lyrics, and that I used a Canadian electric-guitar to record the song. Still, I do whiff a bit of Toronto in this track. Go the maple leaves.

It also sounds like the very early Cure, particularly the intro. The ending is a little tongue-in-cheek in my opinion. I wanted that outdoor stadium-rock sound with the cock-rock 70's guitar sound where you can imagine 80,000 arm-wavers in unison with cigarette lighters in the air. The song is fairly universally themed. Here are the lyrics. Do go into MySpace and listen.


© Ross B 2009

Coming home with me
Some good old fashioned company, making love and making free
I never asked about your past
It haunts you to this day, but I’m aware it makes no difference

You came to my life
You hit me like a freight train
blasting through the trees the pigtail breeze
It was all I need, until you halted in your tracks

Your secret’s safe with us
You can’t afford another relationship that turns to dust
Your secret’s safe with us
And when it’s over you cry swim or bust

Sheltered in the rain
I’m held up in Vancouver
I’ve flown around the world to lose the pain
but you won’t fly with me
you’re anchored to your past, you’re weighed down by emotion

Your secret’s safe with us
You can’t afford another relationship that turns to dust
Your secret’s safe with us
And when it’s over you cry swim or bust

Thursday, 21 May 2009

the recording process

I'm well into day 2 now of recording a song at Stewart Havill's Sound Dog recording studio. I had to cancel one day of recording due to this slow-recovering flu I have, nonetheless I'm pleased with the progress made thus far after two solid days of recording, throat bug and all.

I've recorded all the guitars, bass & keyboards and Stewart has almost finished the drum programming. All that's left to record are some backing vocals. This afternoon I performed the arduous (nee onerous) task of recording the lead vocals, a process I almost ditched half-way through because my voice was husky and I just didn't feel up to it. Thankfully I persevered and did six takes of the song. By the last three takes I was quite getting into the flavour and character of the song. The first two takes were warm-ups really and we ended up using track 5 as our main take with a lot of cutting and pasting from other takes for all the dubious bits. Right now as I type this (and I'll finish this at home later) Stewart is streamlining my cut'n'pasted vocal line to make it sound like one organic take. "No one will ever know". The marvels of modern technology.

I love recording on-board instruments because the program interfaces are so "live" now and make the whole experience quite fun. For example, when recording the drums, Stewart is able to bring up a multiple of brand-name kits to the screen and we can choose any of which we like, eg, Pearl or Yamaha etc. We are able to configure the components including things like dampening the snare, ie, everything we can think of doing organically we can do via computer programming. It's the same with recording guitars. We can choose the amp it goes through, what type of microphone to stick in front of it and the distance from the microphone to the amp, and what position the microphone should be. If say, you're after a Vox AC30 sound you simply call up the AC30 and the amp appears on your screen, with the speaker cabinet, and the panel of controls in full view. You then tweak the controls to obtain the sound you're after, just like you would on the amp itself. Stewart has all the old keyboards as well like Fender Rhodes and EVP88 and the tremolo controls and the like. I love it!!! I wish I could do this everyday but it does became a tad expensive.

The first thing I do is collect the tempo of the song and record a 'ghost' track comprising acoustic guitar and guide vocal along to a basic drum pattern concocted by Stewart. At that point I paste on the electric guitars - I usually go for the Rickenbacker or early-Cure sound. I'm not an electric player so I always stick to my usual palette of electric guitar sounds I really like, ie, Motown, John Lennon and early Cure / Paul Weller. My electric guitar is a Godin standard. It's Canadian made and is made from Silver Leap Maple so it does have the kind of resonance I like in guitars. It's a fine guitar actually. It's less expensive than the cheapest Mexican-made Fender and much better too, though that has to do with the wood configuration rather than the make of the instrument.

I can't see myself recording my songs at Stewart's anymore after this one. I plan to set up my GarageBand on my computer to do demos, or just to put down live takes of songs with either a guitar or piano and some covers as well. I haven't written a proper song since February 2004 when I wrote
Song to Eva completely and finished off Rosalina in one day. I've spent my energies since learning covers, particularly Eva Cassidy. And for myself there was always Paul Weller and early Church as two examples of artists I'd love to cover.

But who knows?? When the muse takes me I may go off and write another batch of songs and be fired up to record those ones.

But it's good to get back in the studio and produce a track from scratch. It gets that side of my brain going. It's like real work, not drudgery work, and it keeps me alert and enthused.

It must be a satisfying life to make and produce music full-time, as I'm about to find out...

Monday, 11 May 2009

CW wrap-up

I've finished my creative writing course, and have done so triumphantly. After a shaky start, I found myself improving week-by-week so that my last submission received a very positive accolade from the tutor. This thrills me, because I wasn't sure if I could do creative writing prior to starting this course. I know now, in my heart-of-hearts, that I can. I may not venture forward with creative fiction, but at least I'm now armed with some new writing tools, concepts, and greater confidence. Writing creative fiction, I've discovered, is a buzz actually. The bug has bit me and I may well indeed come back to it at some point in the future.

Here are the tutor's comments for my final submission:

"A powerful piece, which has strong underlying tension in spite of the apparent passivity of the scene. You have created a believable agent, and a prospective tenant who gives mixed messages with her dress sense juxtaposed with her decisiveness and cool possession of so much money. You have used a range of senses to enhance the characters and the setting. You build the scene so it increases pace as we reach the unexpected climax. Well done."

I wrote this as a send-off to the post-course forum:

Dear Cathie,

I’d like to say I feel it’s been worth my while doing this course and that it was worth the money spent. You see, while I’m interested in writing, I wasn’t too interested in exploring creative fiction in any depth. I’m more into reviews, analysis, diary & surreal writing. More of a, um, “teller”, in other words! ;) So I did the course to see “if I can do it”, ie, creative fiction, and to enhance my writing skills generally.

And now, after a bit of a shaky start to the course, I know in myself that “yes I can”! I listened to each module at least twice over, often taking notes during the second round of listens. I regret that I didn’t have the space to truly absorb myself in the modules, but I’ve realised that the information given in the modules had stuck with me so that each assignment I submitted seemed to be an improvement on the previous submission. I was right when my instincts were telling me that this course would be a “slow-burner”. For example, I had no idea about the ‘show don’t tell’ concept that you told me about after the first module, and even when reading about it initially I just couldn’t see myself doing it. It’s only now, after about 5 weeks, I can understand the concept better and I can see myself applying this concept or technique if I’m to continue with creative writing. I have the modules and the handouts. I plan on utilising them continuously.

I am thrilled with your appraisal of my submission for Week 5. This actually was my very first attempt at a piece of creative fiction, and I must say, I caught a buzz writing it and I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise. I made it up as I went along and the punch-line caters to my quirky, obtuse sense of humour. I can see room for some redrafting and edits. The point is, I don’t think I would’ve been able to write this had I not gone through each module. I’m thrilled at the possibilities of writing and I feel armed with a new confidence!

It’s been great reading everyone else’s work and your comments corresponding to our submissions. I don’t think I’ll continue on to level two at this stage, I feel I’ve only just begun to absorb the lessons of the past five weeks. And while I say I don’t wish to explore creative writing in any great depth, there is a part of me that wants to write great, masterful stories like Peter Carey’s ‘Crabs’. I think I have caught the bug of creative writing, yes!!! ☺

Best wishes, Ross

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Agent

The agent shuffled his way through the creaky picket-fence gate, his suit sagged with the weight of work and worry. Agnes followed close behind, upright and resolute. The shimmering early-morning sun illumined the poplar trees that lined the street, although the houses, as well kept as they were in their post-colonial weatherboard splendour, remained curiously still and silent. Sleepiness and silence seemed the constant in this historic, leafy Australian town.

“The main bedroom’s window faces the street, the second and third bedrooms run along the hallway”. The agent glanced over at Agnes wondering if she’d need the three bedrooms. Agnes remained silent throughout the tour, her eyes were bulging, her head perked in all directions, a tight, bird-like smile remained pasted to her lips the whole while. Her demeanour and colourfully loud dress sense unsettled the agent. He’d never known anyone who wore violet velvet skirts – certainly not in this township - and not since being a teenager in the 1970’s did he witness these fashions en masse, the long-forgotten days when he would venture into the big cities to soak in some purpose, and excitement.

They reached the sunroom at the back of the cottage. The floorboards they’d trod on had retained their vintage magnificence despite the neglect and the mould. The sunroom faced the garden that was adjoined to another’s garden on the other side, separated by majestic flame trees in full blossom. For a moment the agent was captured by the still beauty he saw as the sun was beaming in from its northerly aspect, until he was returned to his anxious present, realising that Agnes was the only tenancy applicant for the house and he desperately needed to bag the commission.

“So, are you interested in taking this house?” the agent asked doing his upmost to sound professional and exact.

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Agnes, “This is precisely what I’m after…”. She was wiping some of the dust off the wooden sill as her voice trailed away into some deep thought.

“I will need you to fill out these forms”, the agent’s voice cracked as he fumbled through his files, “er, are you moving in on your own or do have a spouse or dependents with you?”

“I’m on my own, yes,” she said nodding her head. Her piercing gaze froze him into shaky submission.

The agent cocked his head downward and peered upwards towards Agnes who was trying to make the pen work against the paper on the agent’s folder. “Um, Miss Agnes, what kind of work do you do for a living, do you have a viable income?”

Agnes threw down her pen and folder onto the ancient, immovable drawing board and let out a hoarse laugh that shattered the house of its immovable stillness and ghostliness. “Of course I do”, she almost yelled, and continued softly, “I’m a practitioner, of cards”.

Ok, thought the agent who waited for Agnes to fill in the tenancy application. Agnes filled it in quickly and her writing was almost illegible, her pen pressed too firmly onto the page.

“So you’re from Sydney, or Melbourne…”. The agent was peering through the application trying to make some sense of the jarred scrawl.

“Oh I’m from everywhere!” Agnes bellowed. “Now will you take me?”

“Yes, yes Miss Agnes, let me get back to the office to process these forms and the place will be officially yours...”.

“Well here’s the bond then, and however many weeks rent you want in advance”. Agnes pulled a large sum of money out of her shoulder bag that hung on her like a purple sack, with the folded notes bundled neatly together by elastic bands.

“Er, you can take that into the office with me Miss Agnes”. The agent was sweating in his formal blue suit, unsure as to where or why she’d come to settle in this halfway town from whatever past had trailed her. Instinct told him not to pry.

“Fine. But I need to start working now”. Agnes was holding out the money to the agent, her elbow was resting on her waist, her palm extended upwards and outwards.

“But you haven’t even moved in yet Miss Agnes, what work could you wish to start today?”

Agnus turned away and chuckled, then broke into a strange belly laugh that unsettled the agent further.

She coyly cocked her head and fixed her narrowed eyes upon him again. Her smile was thin and wispy.

“I kill people.”

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

like the furniture...

My parents were like the furniture.

I recall this quote from an interview with Bruce Springsteen that I must have read some 20 years ago.  This quote sure has stuck with me.  My parents were like the furniture.  Springsteen had a point, and perhaps a universal one.  Basically, in a nutshell, the olds would sit in front of the teevee, not saying a word, and i'd sit there too, in front of the teevee in that gloomy front room, numb and silent.  Sometimes mum would cover my eyes if boobies or bums came on the screen (this was the seventies??!)  This ghastly situation remained like this for a number of years, from about the age of 7 to 12, where i'd be the mute, restless and anxious boy silently and subconsciously wondering what the fuck was going on.

Mum was inherently sweet, yet she was negative and anxiously caring, communicating silently through narcy vibes.  Dad was chipper when he got home from his daily dose of hard-yards at the St Peters brickyard - of which he'd later graduate to driving a truck for telecom - until he would whiz off the pub shortly after coming home at which he'd remain for hours on end, always for at least 2 hours, and often up to four hours or more.

Sometimes he'd sit and watch cartoons with me.  I recall he liked Tom and Jerry.  But what he seemed to like most of all was his time at the pub.  He had mates everywhere.  Everyone was his mate.  For a Calabrese Italian he was far more of an ozzie than a wog, more of a Bob Hawke type character than say, most other Italian men you could care to think of.  His was an impressive stature, he was well-built and handsome with a thick-set mop of curly hair that never thinned, possessing a natural intelligence and nobility and a musicality of which I've inherited.  Dad loved opera and had a great voice, a strong, rich baritone.  By outside appearances, my father was the visual and celebral tower of manly strength.  It took my dad many years to finally beat himself to the ground, it was tragic, though in my opinion, inevitable. 

Charing Cross, Waverley.  Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.  In the 60's & 70's it was not the fashionable end of the East and the village contained many milk-bars, pizza parlours, hardware stores, fish'n'chips shops, and pubs.  To this day there are 2 pubs, a club, and a drive in bottle-o.  The locality is a drinker's dream, in other words.

Every night when Dad came home from the pub he sat down to eat.  Mum always prepared his meal, it was usually a big grind of steak with a few soggy vegetables.  He would then get up from his meat and go to sit on his lounge chair upon which mum get up, pick up the plate and clean it, all of which was done in silence.  Then the two of them would sit in silence in front of the television.  They never talked unless they went out, or had people over.  Every night my dad would be inebriated by alcohol, by the amber fluid.  He said he used to drink 6 schooners of beer a night.  I suspect that toward the end of his life his intake of the amber piss increased substantially.  Every morning without fail he'd cough up loads of black gunk into the wash-basin, the result of copiously heavy smoking.  When you grow up with that, you kind of think it's very normal, however unsettling it all actually is.

It was dreadful growing up in a household like that.  There was no communication, no affection, no bonding whatsoever.  I was a depressed child.  School was terrible, worse than home because I sensed the teachers didn't like me at all.  To them I was probably a smelly, kooky wog-child that just needed bypassing.  Little do they know how much of a maestro i've become, unless they google me, and I'm sure they wouldn't bother (they don't have memories as good as me).  I wonder how many of my teachers could write songs and record them and play all the instruments and mix and produce them.  I wondered how many of them wrote blogs???  They probably wrote children's books back then, or at least, songs to make up the Patsy Biscoe songbook. 

My sister and brother, both a generation older than me, left home as soon as they could.  By the age of 7 onward I was on my own with these strange fucks of parents, more like grandparents than parents really.  Sure they loved me and for that I am very grateful, but they damn sure had strange ways of expressing that.   Dad could be, and often was, horribly gruff and he could be a mean prick, a hurtful sod.  Mum unfortunately played the role of the passive-aggressive bystander, making sure I didn't "upset" my father.  My siblings tell me of my father's anger and constant yelling.  Thankfully I didn't grow up with this but I did grow up to see a powerful and intelligent man, a man with artistic and musical leanings, destroy himself slowly and surely with cigarettes and alcohol.  

Sometimes late at night when it was he and I my Dad would tell me stories of growing up in Cinquefronde in Calabria, and of his own father, my grandfather, who was a brutal and selfish man who gave his first-born son, my father, absolute hell.  My father was verbally and physically abused throughout his childhood, until my grandfather was sent away to Sardinia during the war for allegiance to communism.  His punishment was to remain mute throughout the period of encampment, speaking was forbidden.  When my grandfather was released in 1945 my dad ran away from home.  He spent four years up and down Italy living with other relatives and working, until he migrated to Australia in 1949 upon which he settled in North Queensland for some time cutting sugar cane and making friends with the local aboriginies.  My father had many fond recollections of this time.  His greatest strength was his ability to make friends easy, for people to like him.  He packed out the church at his funeral.  I was proud of that.  And he returned to Italy only once again, in 1971 where he reunited with his parents and probably partook in some unfinished business of which I know nothing about.  

My late teens were a fun and explosive time where I discovered sex, drinking, and the joy of playing in bands.  Yet as 1989 turned into 1990 a shadow seemed to cast itself on me and my family.  We entered a global recession, for starters.  My dear sister - my one ally in the family - had moved to the blue mountains so I barely saw her and my brother was stuck in a hellish marriage in a town in the Southern Highlands that was notorious for the number of male suicides and mass-murderers that used the nearby national park to chop heads.  Closer to home my dad's drinking seemed to escalate.  He was now lawn bowling on Sundays, so he'd rise early, eat a biscuit, and leave the house before anyone else was up.  He'd make it home in the late afternoon, totally sloshed and sauced on the grog, barely able to walk in a crooked line.  He started to piss in the bathroom leaving the door open, our bathroom being a kitchen knock-off given that it's a Victorian/Edwardian terrace.  He'd piss everywhere.  I'd often go in afterward and clean up this boozy nicotine-stenched piss that was all over and around the toilet bowl.  Nothing was said, nothing was ever said.  I'd begun learning piano at this point and had retreated into my own world that didn't have to deal with what or who I was living with, or any conception of my own impending adulthood.  I just soaked in the music, wondering how it was all going to end...

A couple of months before my dad became sick he'd thrown a party while my mum was away.  I really enjoyed that because we had a good time together.  Mind you, he'd had a few beers by then so it was a boozy good time, rather than a good bonding session with my dad, which I've never experienced.  My dad finally succumbed to illness, needing a colostomy bag, until the final prognosis became evident, that of pancreatic cancer.  In mentioning this to a local astrologer his sotto voce words to me were that he "held onto too much pain and hurt himself".

My dad's absence has affected my entire life.  At 39 I still have mixed emotions about fatherhood.  I feel strangely ungrown-up in many ways.  When I meet dads, particularly dads of women I'm dating, I often feel melancholy and a little depressed.  It's at those times I've longed for a dad I could love and bond with, or at least, sit easy and enjoy myself with.  

When I was 23 a Scorpio girl at my work who I went out with for a short time told me I had a "fatherless energy", and she cited her ex and other people like me who'd lost their fathers.  This girl's dad taught me history at Uni a couple of years before.  She looked like a lizard and her tongue was even quicker and the sting in her tail was horribly severe.  

I can't help having that "fatherless energy".  I never had parents, only grandparents, figuratively.  My only saving grace was my sister who is 16 years older than me and who treated me like a genuine human being from day one.  She herself is a pioneer, a liberal spirit who had to wade through the quagmire of a horrid and murky generational past of ignorance, brutality, misogyny head on.  Not our parents necessarily, but moreso their parents and their parents, revealing itself in the guise of our parent's unhappiness, their "stuckness", their generational pain.  

I am thankful for all my dad has given me.  He did the best he could for me given his pain and conditioning.  He made sure I received the education he never had and he was proud of my academic achievements.   He instilled in me some basic principles that have generally kept me satisfied, "you got food on the table, drink, a roof on your head, that's all that matters".  I know that he loved me.  He may have had a funny way of showing it but I do know that he loved me.  For that I'm forever grateful.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...