Monday, 26 October 2009

Old silver heirs

Those who are fans of Paul Weller would know that his father and manager of some 30 years, John Weller, passed away earlier this year. He was 77, or 78. Paul Weller has gone on to say that his dad was the best drinking buddy anyone could ever have. But it's quite obvious he was more than just a drinking buddy, and much more than a maverick rock manager even. The man was just plain extraordinary. There he was, uneducated, a worker, a former boxer, turned into one of Britain's most successful and enduring rock managers, charting and following the path his son led as one of Britain's most loved performers and songwriters.
People will associate the immensely musical and talented Paul Weller as the star with his incredible body of recorded work, his awesome live shows and his perpetual suave mod looks and fashion sense. Yet John Weller had that extra-special something, you just have to watch and listen to him talk on videos to see that. He appeared to possess a most convincing psycho-physical presence. With his large, handsome face and big hair, and his persuasive manner of speaking, he was just so captivating. He was blunt, forceful, passionate, gruffly-spoken, and to the point. He had no vestiges of useless intellectualism whatsoever, and he spoke in a kind of broad cockney. But he was smart, very much so. Not all men and women are created equal. This doesn't only apply to talent and ability, but also to presence and personal power. Some people have more pull than others, a certain kind of charisma that you can't help but be swayed and captivated by that person. John Weller had that charisma, totally. That's why, in the space of under five years, he was able to get his son up on the local workers club stage at age 14 to have him headline the Hammersmith Odeon not long after his 19th birthday. "Give my son a gig!" "yessir". Pure working-class street-smarts and bluntness certainly served he and his family a long way. Paul's mum has it too. Paul was amazingly lucky to have the parents he had, and when you look at it, he and his dad made the perfect team, the perfect duo. Each of them, with their unique talents and abilities, have served each other well.
It takes a kind of boundless energy and unerring dedication to do the kind of thing John Weller did for his son's band, The Jam. John was a brickie during the Jam's formative period and he managed the band outside of work hours. But whatever he did for Paul and the band, it worked. Paul not only fronted Britain's most successful band of the era, but managed three distinct careers with John as manager for each of them. Most critically it was John, with his boundless enthusiasm, who kept the Jam going during its sometimes shaky formative years. His was the mind and body of the doer, not the intellectualiser or the pontificator. He was certainly no Hamlet. Nothing ventured nothing gained, being his motto.
I remember my old man when I was growing up and he held similar traits to John Weller. My dad was a brickie too with a very handsome face and big head of silver hair. He was everyone's mate and he always had loads of friends, and his was a gruff, direct manner. The difference between someone like John Weller and my dad was that my dad was very musical himself - and I've inherited my musicality and passion from him - and that my dad was a very sensitive man, although he would never show it. The other difference between John Weller and my father is that my dad was not close to me or the rest of us in the family. He wasn't demonstrable, and sadly he preferred to sozzle himself at the pub on a nightly basis. But if he enjoyed himself, all the best to him.
It all comes back to intelligence and smarts without the unnecessary intellectualism. Neither of my parents - like a lot who fled their war-torn Mediterranean homelands at a young age - had formal schooling. Yet they were both smart, smarter than me that's for sure. My mum had (has) innate poise and wisdom, dad a natural intelligence and social nous.
My dad's sister, my late-auntie Angelina was a true case in point. She lived in farms throughout her time in Australia. A softly-spoken demure thing she certainly ain't never was; she had a loud voice even when speaking softly, but when she spoke loudly or yelled - which was often - she could be heard on farms all the way from Griffith to Wagga and back again. She was amazing for her verbal capacity. She was sharp, witty, cheeky, and masterful with language (albeit Calabrese) though she barely read and had no real schooling. I love that sort of thing - true salt-of-the-earth smarts. Something that appears lost to our generation, especially those of us born and bred in the big cities. I tell you there's nothing more amusing than hearing the Calabrese dialect of Italian yelled out - it's true farm language!!
I think about psycho-physical presence a lot and apply it mentally to the people around me, and to my friends. I can't be objective about myself but I sense that I have this disparity between my gentle and almost effete side, and the part of me that's passionate, determined and even a little aggressive. It could be a generational thing. I think my sister and brother are both stronger than I in some ways. They're of the generation born in the fifties, I was born in 1970. I know I possess a delicate quality that they don't quite have; my brother is certainly a lot tougher than me in outward appearances. He's taller with broader shoulders, more rugged looking with a deeper voice and with a tougher personality. I'm a mixture. I love the beautiful, wistful dreamers like Eva Cassidy and Nick Drake and can relate to them intimately, particularly Eva Cassidy. But equally I'm into fist-wavers and piano-smashers like John Lennon and Beethoven. And Paul Weller.
Ultimately, the spirit of Beethoven within me is what I most relate to. That's where I'm like my father's son.
As for John Weller, what a fucking legend!!!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

the veritable history of the Velvet Road

where to begin, where to begin.... October 1998, me, a 28-year old fresh-faced lick-wounder carries his technics p50 didji piano caveman style to the excelsior hotel in surry hills for a chancy singer-songwriter night and meets a chessboard of players who would determine his next decade's moves and beyond with paul the nice but loopy mcgowan and vee nee vesna who was making a film and i had it on vhs and now it is lost and ahhh and the egghead guy from the blue mountains is there and yawnly interviewed and pennie lennon who's now on the other side of the mountains discusses women and age and rock and she's still wonderful and i find out later she had an album produced by the bass player of the church and i go ga ga and james was pres and he was long haired and audaciously rocked who leads me to a fetchingly passionate guy who's slightly balding and overweight holding pen'n'paper to write the same reviews for the same ol axe-wielders and he's an editor of a great lil songsy newsletter and he has this slightly odd and self-directed manner about him buts lotsa heart'n'soul and likeability an' girly friends behind him doing the butterly dance including the now mizz classify tells me he likes my stuff and i liked his gutsy earthy vibrant bluesy blurts too actually so we said howzabout a jam and i thought nothing of it as i glide into new year and have hole days in new zealand where my inner soundtrack is crowded house and arrive back to find peter day the bass player in tow who's tight an' prissy and a christchurch kiwi himself and amazingly gav runs into the bees nest of serendipity at the x again when he pops out to see his fave band the flaming barstools with those three verbally whipped brothers out front and 'dad' on drums and 'dad' introduces gav to his drummer-slash-chiro mate pete thompson who joins us and is sensitive and fits like gloves in snareskins and remains a great friend of ours and he and gav share legion stories of nights at the pub particularly blues night on australia day in 2000 where we're talkin' kegs-worth of piss and gav surfing the santana thing blind on booze and it's obvious from day dot we're a beer band and nothing else but i'm mostly the observer not participator but gav pulls his spanner trick and invites hana in 'for a jam' and this was a replay from the decade previous and i know what happens when the lead guy brings in a woman in a band just cause he likes her but anyway hana had a deepish voice and sometimes got called a guy and even i get confused with her but her songs are great and we try to name the band and gav likes the word road because "we're going somewhere" and hana clips 'velvet' in her svelte czech accent and so there is born velvet road and we're just the first of dozens of friggin' 'velvet' bands that cropped up subsequently not necessarily the best but some may argue that certainly not me and hana tells stories of escaping the czech prior-to-republic on her brazen knees burning the grass to avoid the barbed wire and rifles pointed in every angle and direction her way and this accounts for her euro-toughness so she flies back in march '00 never to return bar once and we enjoyed it all with seeing wendy sussems play the x late one friday and jamming and meeting lots of new people and it was kind of a magic time really 1999 and gav telling me he got a call from sarah b who was really upset because i approached her to do one of her songs and felt dejected because she was a honey singing this song about donuts and closer to home having cops cumma knocking on the door of gav's cloisted kensington pad to have them find a bunch of farts jamming in the living room as they look embarrassed with their blue hats 'n' uniforms and jaws dropping and this happens twice so some schmuck in another apartment is calling cops for a nighttime's entertainment not letting them catch the real ones and i scrape my car against the bumper bar of the studio truck that's parked at that cursed st peters studio in mary street and the bumper bar is peeling like banana skin and wrenching like the monkey's cry when reversing and i do a runner on my scraped wheels as these alien looking people approach but they were just shimmering with my heightened aura of fear in a bad evil place for i've had bad luck there 3 times and i'll never set foot in that twisted psyched studio & surrounding lots ever again and we nearly lost pete tee to a choking fit mixed with the whooping cough at a steaky dinery called the black stump so musta been bad methane kow-karma but the gigs are bouncy and coming from our regular wynard spot to bigger things like cat'n'fiddle in balmain and my piano keyboard skills rapidly improve coz there's only one way to go and that's up baby and gav's inspired n writing songs like the sweat is dripping from his glistening guitar strings and they're all classics from 'hello' to 'horny' and those seven he wrote at the beach somewhere upa da coast in one weekend sometime in july 2000 with 'evening sky' and 'in too deep' and 'the beach' but pete 'day' decides to call it just that and moves back to christchurch and gets married and grows a garden and continues to work in government department of mental health where he never worked harder than me just earned twice as much so we audition bass players and i don't like the guy we chose and i find that none of us do as he just ain't our type as his ear is good and his playing is fine but cold like pvt wire for he's a smart electrician and no-nonsense big-lad big-face country boy with that slight tinge of aggro menace where he's always fucking right about everything and was great at telling others how to do things particularly gav even though gav wrote the songs and the electrician didn't and he could sink a case of beer with the ease that i'd conversely struggle with for 3 drinks but he was cool'n'respectful with me until late in 2002 i told him i just bought a 30-watt bass amp and we're at a gig and he tells me why on earth would i waste my money on a 30-watt bass amp and i upped and stormed out and signal the guys to come out and i tell 'em he's out and so he is and i still use that 30-watt bass amp most fruitfully to this very day you silly cunt and now with no bass player the table becomes quite obviously distended as four corners becomes three and i pick up the bass after a long period in the bear-cave and take my piano to the cleaners and grow to love the bass more than ever and we spend 2003 going down to pete's pad in coledale to rehearse every second weekend where we're flanked by sea and mountains and we really enjoy it and we have own little rock'n'roll enclave in that place avec swimming pool and we need the leisure for gav's bro died in aug 02 at the same time i was diagnosed with the diabetes that i've since hopefully bashed around the belt and pete was stumbling into the divorce era and we gig and we work on the album we've been at for years and years and it's done and by late-2004 i'm pushing gav & pete and they're getting tired gav particularly and then in 2005 i decide i want to play acoustic guitar and do eva cassidy songs with a singer and the whole thing of lugging amps and arguing about transport and who owns a fucking car and who aint and setting up drums and equipment and worrying about sound and about perennial bums on seats gets to us and me big time so i say i'm out and on 11 feb 2006 i trade-in my fender mexi bass for a maton 325 and that's it buckeroos and gav and pete wished we could've made another album oh well i got mine to do now and that's priority until gav invites us to do darling harbour in 2007 which was almost 2 years after the volcanic split that could be felt on the leaves of a couple of trees in the papua new guinea highlands and i couldn't have faced the band any earlier than late '07 and it was great to play again and hear that bass rumble in my lower chakra yes i felt my balls move under my bass on that warm day at darling harbour palm grove stage and now we continue to play acoustically with minimal fuss and only when it suits us and it rocks out with acoustic guitar and d.i. box for bass and djembe drum and we have fun in pubs and it appears as though so do the audience, depending on who's watching...

10 years, longer....where does the time go? our way of answering that??? click of beer glasses! ;)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Album review: Nick Punal's Revolution

(This article will be published in the 'Songsmith'. But it'll need more proofreading & editing before I submit it.)

“REVOLUTION is Nick Puñal’s first fully produced album. After several years and many trips to Sound Dog Recording Studio recording a song here and there (with plenty of breaks in between) the album finally came together in 2009.” These are the introductory words to Nick Puñal’s official blurb & credit sheet for his new album, Revolution.

The most striking facet of this album release is that it’s only available to download, through iTunes. Those who prefer the more traditional approach of a CD release would likely frown upon this venture, but a line has to be drawn between what is traditional and that which is practical. No one these days – particularly a self-funded artist – is expected to release his or her music on vinyl. The iTunes release is a crafty and intelligent way of selling and disseminating this music. For those who purchase the album, for $16.99, the album is readily accessible in mp3 format on one’s iTunes (and iPod), or computer system in general. The downside to this method of dissemination is that the booklet and lyric sheet are not so readily available. But Nick would gladly email anyone the credit sheet, cover, and lyric sheet as he has done for me. The other problem is that the songs appear to be available in mp3 format only. Most people would be aware that the mp3s tend to sound flatter and more “metallic” than standard audio files, and that’s to be expected given they are roughly 10% the size of ordinary audio wav files. But perhaps there is a method to stretch mp3s to wav files that I don’t know of. In short, I’d have to say that a finely recorded album such as this should be available in some way in wav file – I’d certainly love a copy!

The other tangential aspect of Nick’s album – setting it apart from most other albums by singer-songwriters – lies in is his liberal use of invited musicians to record his songs. Nick is a fine singer and guitar player who’s handed much of the recording duties to a wide-range of pro-level musicians who not only play on these tracks, but sing lead vocal on them also. There are 14 tracks on Revolution, and Nick sings lead vocals on only six of these, with one of these being a duet. (There are two instrumental tracks inclusive of the 14.) There are some tracks in which Nick doesn’t play or sing at all. The result is an album with great track-to-track variation that, most importantly, maintains a unified thread or sound throughout it. If you were to look at the cover of Revolution, you can see that Nick has the word ‘Songwriter’ printed under his name, implying that he’s interested as promoting himself as a songwriter, more so than merely a performer of his own songs, of which he does very well anyway. Nick Puñal produced the album, and with the help of recorder & engineer Stewart Havill (who performed/sampled all of the drums & percussion tracks on the album), he’s created a clean, vibrant sound that’s at once varied in its song-to-song arrangements and yet unified in its overall concept and vision. Nick had Revolution mastered by Sven Tydeman @ Kitty Groove Productions in Sydney, Australia.

9 out of 10’ is the perfect song to start the album with; it’s excellently crafted pop-rock in the vein of U2 with a smudge of Blur or Oasis. Nick Scerri himself, on lead vocal, has some resemblance to Bono, and in another way, doesn’t sound too different to Nick Puñal either. It’s a track that builds up from the piano intro into a verse that becomes wildly exciting as it moves into the chorus with its abrupt major to minor key shift, with Stewart’s drums adding a vivid compliment that lends to this song a Britrock flavour. An impressive vocal range is required for the song that moves from the lower-sung verse passages to the higher tenor of the choruses. Gav Fitzerald’s and Nick Scerri’s “fuzz” electric guitars add the appropriate sonic burst in the choruses. This is brilliantly crafted and produced rock, with its tension-building pre-choruses moving into the exalted choruses that have a most rousing effect upon the listener.

What’s up with you’ features Erinn Sherlock and Ben McFall sharing lead vocals, on a lively song with clever lyrical perceptions on relationships. This is a bubbly song with a fantastic sing-along chorus and a brilliant middle-eight, similar to those of Neil Finn. The songs effervescence is helped along by Stewart Havill’s percussive, rollicking piano in the choruses and Ross B’s poppy, soul-influenced bass lines.

Erinn Sherlock took lead vocals on ‘Yes Man, delivering a bright, energetic vocal performance. The song is underpinned by a late-80s/90s dance production. The programmed ‘active’ sounding bass and incessant drum-patterns lay out the dance grooves. The arrangements are generally sparse, aside from the vocal breaks when the horns and Stewart’s piano come to the fore. Lyrically, ‘Yes Man’ is a wry, lighthearted take on a character akin to Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman). ‘Yes man’ a great, expertly produced, dance track.

The title-track ‘Revolution’ moves into a more traditional folk-rock feel, with Nick Puñal taking on the lead vocal. Like ‘9 out of 10’, the song builds up from a relative quiet verse into a rousing chorus, and featured again is another inspired middle-eight akin to those middle-eights that feature on Crowded House’s first album. The use of sampled background “revolution” vocals and cannon noises are used to good effect. Nick Scerri’s Edge-like electric guitar and Martin Mambraku’s deft, intelligent touch on bass all help to make ‘Revolution’ another great sounding track, with their classy musicianship adding much texture and colour. Nick’s acoustic guitar provides the track’s bed of sound.

The call’ is a vocal skit featuring Erinn Sherlock, Nicky Blaze & Stewart Havill that segues into ‘Pray as you run’. ‘Pray as you run’ is another clean, lively sounding pop-dance track similar in vein to ‘Yes Man’ that maintains its openness and humour. This is a gangster song about being on the run, and the urgency or tightness of sound is enhanced by Nick’s fast strumming on his Ashton acoustic guitar. Nick tells me he used the Ashton – rather than his expensive Maton – to achieve that closed-in effect. Also enhancing this song are the background, spoken vocals underpinning Erinn Sherlock’s terrific lead vocal. ‘Pray as you run’ is indicative of the superlative production inherent throughout the album, and Nick’s great songwriting.

Slave to pleasure’ features Nick Puñal on lead vocal and it’s a song in particular that showcases his wide-vocal range. His humorous-sounding vocal intro to the song is sung down in the lower range of the bass-clef. By the chorus he’s leapt up almost two octaves! This is as good a place to point out that Nick is a fine lyricist with natural writing ability. ‘Slave to pleasure’ is classic pop-rock with excellent musicianship from Andrew Clermont on mandolin and bodhran, Sebastian Salz on bass, and Stewart’s drum programming; a lovely song with a pleasing chord progression and melody-line. Sebastian’s bass duels quite wonderfully with Erinn’s vocal at the outro, a good example of inspired musicianship.

Espanyol (Blue and White)” is Spanish euro-pop to a tee!! This is a blatant soccer team fan’s song that makes for great listening, partly for the wonderful production, partly for Nick’s lyricism and background spoken words and sounds, and also for the beautiful, rousing middle eight that’s musically quite brilliant. Incidentally, the middle eight has Nick speaking the soccer team’s history, an excellent piece of narrative that fits snugly into the section. Whoever it is that composed & performed the keyboard parts, either Nick or Stewart, did an excellent job of aping the classic Mediterranean Euro-pop sound. Deservedly, Nick is receiving good coverage of this song on his website that is dedicated to the soccer team.

On a vinyl disc, ‘On the road for you’ would come in as the 1st track of side 2, as it’s a fresh start from the rousing finish of ‘Espanyol’. ‘On the road for you’ moves firmly into classic, G-major, country pop. Andrew Clermont’s fiddle, which is featured in the introduction and throughout the song, adds that Spanish element to the sound that is never (and naturally) totally amiss from Nick’s music. This is superb, a four-chord wonder. Professional writers in Nashville would spend a lifetime trying to write a song like this, and Nick Puñal has done it. It’s a song that’s bursting with craftsmanship and inspiration, and has the perfect chorus with a terrific balance between its commanding melody, performance, and heartfeltness. The 5th chord of the song, the B7, sounds so good as it comes in toward the end of each chorus. Andrew Clermont’s dazzling musicianship is showcased during the song’s “square-dance” coda, with him performing both banjo and fiddle that are in effect, dueling with each other musically. I played bass on this track and was pleased and honoured to have been asked to play on one of my favourite songs of the “songwriter” crew!

What can I do?’ is beautiful, tender love song with a stirring melody. Nick Scerri’s lead vocal is superb – his is a great singing voice; warm, rich, and totally controlled. Rachelle Medley’s backing and answer vocal is also wonderful, again, inspired and warm. Naz Klendjian’s nylon-string guitar sits well with Stewart’s piano playing to create a rich track that swells wonderfully, enhancing the rich, yearning melody. This is wonderful, stellar ballad, which has remnants of Sting’s music of the mid-to-late 80s.

Nick Scerri takes the lead vocal on ‘Love is just a game’ and in all honesty, I can’t really tell too much difference between his vocals & Nick Puñal’s. This is another brilliantly crafted song, a little reminiscent of U2 – a kind of British feel peppered with a doleful Spanish flavour, with an emotive melody and chorus. Nick Scerri’s vocal scales the tenor heights in the middle eight, and his electric guitar solo rocks the song along – he’s a great guitarist. Nick plays some fine picking acoustic guitar and Peter Suoss underpins the song with a solid bass.

Nick sings ‘Un chico con problemas’ in Spanish. It’s a song that reveals the more passionate, emotive side of Nick’s musical character. It’s an awesome track, an album highlight amongst many considerable highlights. The flavour is totally Spanish, or Mediterranean, with Naz Klendjian performing flavoursome nylon-string amidst Nick’s buttery strummed acoustic – performed on his lovely solid-Blackwood Maton jumbo to tremendous effect, particularly as the song builds with Nick’s vocal becomes more impassioned. Ross B’s bass is recorded to sound more like a double bass, with the bass notes counterpointing the emotive chordal movements. It’s a brilliant song that again, showcases Nick’s great composing and performing talent. ‘Un chico con problemas’ is a little reminiscent of some of the sounds and styles of Sting’s ‘Nothing like the sun’ album of 1987, a reflection of the masterful, professional production that Nick and Stewart have given to this album.

Nick Scerri takes lead vocal on ‘Running out’, backed by Richard Starr’s piano. In itself the piano showcases the rich, emotive chordal shapes of ‘Running out’. Again, it’s a Sting-like piano ballad, showcasing Scerri’s lead vocal, Starr’s piano, and Nick Puñal’s great songwriting.

Espanyol’ is the closing track of the album, and is an instrumental version of the earlier ‘Espanyol (Blue and white)’. This track showcases Stewart’s production, great drums & bass, and keyboard parts. You come away realising that Stewart Havill is a great musician as well as a brilliant engineer and producer.

You almost feel it’s a shame that Nick doesn’t release this album in CD format as the songs and production are so good that they warrant promotion, access and dissemination in every way possible. The songs are very much ‘studio’ songs and part of me wonders what the songs would sound like, and how they’d develop, if Nick were to hypothetically jam them organically with a band, and with live drums. But this is at moot point. Nick’s songwriting and craftsmanship, his talent and cleverness, shine brightly on Revolution, as do his production skills and his artistic vision. He should be proud of this album, an album that fuses his sharp lyrical and pop sensibilities with his English and Spanish roots. To put it up alongside Sting’s ‘Nothing like the Sun’ album as far as production and composing go, is a big call, and I’ll hold to that. Revolution is available through iTunes and Nick can be visited and contacted at or

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


face eviction
from our dwellings, possibly
but from our bodies
we plan and dream for endless tomorrows
and splash around the black muck pool
of yesterdays
that have gone forever
yet live eternally in our emotional inventory
there's no end to it
so better to end it
and to be here now
because 'now' is all there ever is
and that psychic double
awaiting us at that moment of eviction
is as far away from us as cigarette paper
we can feel it within us
those times where we not our memory or our name
our pride and prejudice
we awaken from a delightful morning's sleep
and we sing like perfect nature's glowing, gorgeous morning
until we remember our selves
and slump down like a few tonne of bricks

it is whispered among circles
that continually spiral away
that the moment of release is ecstatic
there is a registration of aliveness and survival
the supernal knowledge that there is no "life after death"
there is only ever "life"
in its positive conscious pole - a body
in its negative unconscious pole - death
we go to heaven
we enjoy
we take our prize
but we face ourselves
as everything we ever had externally
is "I"
we discover that all is one
yet the potential to realise it fully
is drowned by residue of baggage or "self"
it drives us down into another body
where we recreate the circumstances of our lives
determined by our level of consciousness
and what that consciousness "needs"
on an unconscious level
and go around again

there's no point to it
on the surface
all the world's a stage
it's about doing one's best
to face the circumstances of one's life as best one can
and in doing so we raise the enlightenment point
of 'I'
and the human matrix we are all enmeshed in
to be valiant, courageous, have fortitude
to blame or complain as little as possible
be as open and giving as much as one can
and most of all
to be grateful for the life
the formless, blessed life within
that comes into this body
and will fly away when evicted
the life we all share
and are all one big part of

we are never know when our notice is up
we get that blue letter in the mail
it often happens when we least expect it
we all like to think of our long future ahead of us
yet nothing's guaranteed
any minute now, for any body
eviction notices run rampant on the press of the universal will
i hope mine is a long way off
i couldn't bear to leave the people i love
but there's no way out
of an eviction notice
that is the legal clause
of being born into a body in the first place
you just gotta love the in-between bit
as best one can

and life is our greatest teacher, it's said
the curtain draws
the musty smell of an old haunted theatre ensues
the maroon vinyl seats are sticky and smell of the 1920s
dampness on the walls
the plaques are strewn with names of many yesteryears
the tea urn in the green room remains steadfastly in place
the urn was the forthright maid that stood before any theatre
and will be serving refreshments until way after the days
or day
of eviction

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Footy-playin' neanderthal

Another footy season has passed on and yet again, I didn't know which teams were involved in the grand final up until the week before the big game. Most years I never really know until the day, or I just don't care to find out which teams make it to the final. I've no interest in rugby league anymore although there seems to be a small part of me that remains interested. So much so that if I happen to be watching a game with my cousins at the pub (a-once-every-two-years occurrence), I'm as involved as ever as a tv-pub spectator.

This is because I used to watch the game when I was a ween. I even played it, too. I was put in the team in 1978 and yes, I and a whole bunch of eight year old boys met on weekends with our own coloured jerseys on our local grounds and went through the rounds of playing footy. I don't recall what went through my head at the time - not much really - but something inside of me felt this to be a totally absurd charade. I quit halfway through the 1979 season. I preferred to stay home and watch Scooby Doo after school than have to go to those stupid footy practices with my idiot peers. I told my dad I didn't want to play anymore. I think he said 'ok', and then went to the pub. *Slam*

In 1980 & '81 we all had to play rugby union on Tuesday afternoons as a compulsory school activity. We were divided into 4 teams, ainger, brennan, conlon, tevlen. These were all names of past brethren of the school I attended. I was in brennan, the blue team, and we always came last on the points table. That much I remember; it's likely we came last in no small part because I happened to be on the team. I don't remember much of the activity of actually playing rugby union. To me, union was even more hideous than league because the union centred on perpetual scrums. The idea of cavorting and crashing around with sweaty boys in these hideous scrums just to grab hold of some loping brown, leather, ovaloid (and er, run with it) was just the most ridiculous exercise to me. Still is. I'm on the wrong planet. I was 11 and that was the last time I dignified myself onto a field of rugby. The only thing that'll get me back onto an action footy field is if I carry a machine gun. Fucking neanderthals.

And yet, paradoxically, I took some interest in league. In 1977 I collected footy cards. I wish I'd kept them. They would have lost the smell of bubble gum by now though. I vividly recall watching the 1977 grand final between the Saints (St George) and the Eels (Parramatta). Parramatta had yet to win a grand final. I was barracking for the Saints. I really liked the full-back, Ted Goodwin. The game turned out to be a 9-9 draw. It was a cliffhanger and I loved every second of it. I was watching the game on my own. My dad was probably up the pub (where else). Mum was likely in another room or out, my brother was on another planet. Only my cousin was home hanging out with my sister in her room. I remember periodically going up to my sister's room and excitedly divulging score updates to my cousin and sister. They always turned to me in tandem, grimacing at me with taut amusement. I remember the decor too in that room, there was some fabulous colour and paintings my sister had created. The colours and vibes were very much of the time. 1977 was the year that Elvis died, ABBA was king, Cold Chisel were playing up at the Bondi Lifesaver all the time (I wish someone had told me), and Marcia Hines had a hit with the song "You". That, and the Saints plastered Parra in the repeat game the next week. I didn't watch that game, but I was glad the Saints had won.

I recall watching the 1980 grand final. John Lennon was in the studio recording - after a five year hiatis - the Double Fantasy album. My first nephew Alex was being born. Closer to home it was my team Easts vs Canterbury for the final. School. The teacher asks us on the Friday before the game "who goes for Easts?" Most of the class raise their hand. "Who goes for Canterbury?" About three people put up their hand at the expense of cool boos of derision the rest of us give out. One of those renegade Canterbury supporters was Stephen O'Brien. He ended up with the Religious Studies prize in 1987. He was also a pathological liar and weirdo. After we finished school he kept sending me creepy, anonymous mail. He also sent me a yellow t-shirt and surf shorts. I loved the shorts, thanks Stephen. Yeah, for all of his St.Bernard sheen of benevolence lay a very insecure bloke who lied
all the time. He was full of shit.

But his team won. Canterbury beat Easts 18-4. I remember Steve Gearin's dummy kick that resulted in a superb try that sealed the game for Canterbury. I thought East were a bunch of klutzes. Still do. I've never gone for them again. Easts did beat the Saints in the 1975 grand final 38-0 but I was too young to acknowledge the significance of grand finals and teams and winners and losers and tackles and scrums and running around with the ovaloid brown ball.

1981 was the year that sealed for good my fledgling interest in footy. My dad's team, Newtown, made the grand final!! Against Parramatta. Dad barracked for Newtown because he knew some of the players, and because he worked in the brickyard in St Peters which is down the road, and most of his mates lived around there. Like those little workers cottages in Mary Street & Darley Street, Newtown, yes...

So we watched the game together and enjoyed seeing Newtown leading Parramatta by a few points. We were well into the second half of the game. Newtown coach Warren Ryan decides to swap players, bringing in Geoff Bugden to replace the current front-row forward. That's the end of that. Parra score two or three times near the end of the game to wrap up their inaugural grand final win. My dad was dismayed. So was I. Since then I haven't given a fuck who's made or been in the grand final. Youse can all go fuck yourselves!

Parramatta. Newtown. These are two Sydney locales that have changed a lot in the years since 1981. Parramatta was a gaol-town right in the centre of Sydney. It is also an important historical precinct. It has become a pleasant, livable metropolis with a great food strip, one of the best in Sydney. And inner-city Newtown is now a definitely upmarket locale. It wasn't upmarket in 1981. All those mates of dad who lived in those little cottages just off King Street have all died. Cancers, cirrhosis, the usual stuff. Perhaps it was a timely symbol that Newtown made the 1981 grand final, and that 1982 was their last year in the premiership. Newtown was rapidly evolving into an alternative, student hub and a new subculture was rapidly emerging in the area. This was, and remains, a great thing, but it annoys me so much when idiots like the 'whitlams' singer Tim Freedman make such a thing about moving into Newtown in 1987 (from his cosy Northern Beaches home) as if they've pioneered the place. Have some respect for those who've gone before you, who've had their hands dirtied and sullied by working or living there pre-1970s. And to this day, as you walk down the thin avenues of Mary Street or Darley Street and gaze at the now way-overpriced though tiny cottages, you still feel an ever-so-slight menace in the air. The ghosts of many men who were fucked over financially, working to make the other man rich. You notice this quite palpably as you go south two suburbs toward St Peters, which in some parts of it, has a vibe to it that's downright deadly.

I looked at the State of Origin games sometimes, in the late 80s. There were some funny characters involved at the time like Queensland's Sam Backo. He was a huge hedgehog, and he couldn't talk, except to start saying "fuck" on camera, and always realising he'd just said it after he'd said it. He was built like a brick and played like one. A typical dumb-cunt, but a funny one at that.

There's a part of me that's still attached to this game. Glue me to the screen on a Friday night, beer in hand, and I'll be into it. It's just that I don't chase it or look out for it, so I don't watch it. But I could watch it, and enjoy it, given the chance. And after 28 years I'm still sore about the Newtown tragedy. I cannot forgive and nor do I forget. I suppose a part of me feels that a Newtown win in '81 would have been a good gift for my dad, whose life was cut short a decade later. My dad never had many gifts coming at him, just meager acceptance of putting up with his gruel-like lot. I wish Newtown had won in '81, just for dad, that's all.

See, I'm as just as much a neanderthal as those who openly love and play the game. And in more ways than one.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A Wolf at the table

I've finished reading Augusten Burroughs' A wolf at the table. This is his most recent release, of 2008, barring the book he's about to release and tour any day now. I was impressed with how well Augusten's writing has evolved since his first memoir, Running with Scissors. The writing is richer, more solid and vivid. It proves that writing does improve with practice, over time. There's hope for me still.

A wolf at the table is a subtly menacing account of Augusten's relationship (or non-relationship to be more apt) with his cold-hearted, sinister father. The memoir is mostly set during Augusten's childhood days where he and his parents and older brother were living in Western Massechusetts, at the outskirts of the town in a house surrounded by thick, tall pine trees. The sun rarely enveloped the house. The relative nature of the shrouding out of sunlight and the lack of love in the household is not lost on the reader, nor on Augusten himself.

While I was reading A wolf at the table I tallied a mind count as to who was the harder father, Augusten's or mine. I have to concede that it has to be Augusten's. My father, for all of his hardness and gruffness, had a good heart. Augusten's dad was sociopathic, and questionably psychopathic. The author doesn't make a decision either way, but the clues presented by Augusten reveal that the act of murder was a consideration that sped through the mind of his father. As an adult, Augusten tested his dad's intentions by joking to him on the phone that he could kill his mother as she walked alone at the bridge at night. His dad paused, breathing heavily, to finally speak and hypothesise that with all the buildings and windows surrounding the bridge - he instantly revealed the exact number of windows and buildings surrounding the bridge - the chance of getting caught in the act was too great. This confirmed Augusten's worst fears, and along with other similar anecdotes, leaves the reader wondering as to his father's true intentions. He was a man, after all, who wore a mask in his outside life as philosophy professor; shedding that mask to reveal a pained, cold, withdrawn alcoholic at home.

My dad was the gruffest man I ever knew. For all of these autobios where the authors confess to how terrible their father is (and I'm not about to say that my dad was terrible, he wasn't), there are times when these authors revealed momentary lapses of banter with their dads. Augusten's dad, for instance, would be asked inquisitive questions multiple times by the young son before losing his patience. My dad would have just belted out "Silencio" in his gruff, loud voice. That always shut me up. Sting's autobiography has him whinging about his dad not acknowledging him or complimenting him. Big deal. Sting's dad was quite a gentle man in comparison, sometimes laughing at or along with his son. My dad never did that with me, never had a conversation with me as a one-on-one conversation. It was weird. Any long conversation with my dad was him having a long spiel about the life led long ago in Cinquefronde, invariably told during the late of night after a long session at the pub.

When he came home from work, and before he went off to the pub, we would watch cartoons together. In the evening, forget it. The man was sozzled like soaked sausage and that was the end of that. Depression and maudlin self-loathing seeped through the pores of his skin and veiled themselves in and throughout the walls and rooms of the house. The house become damper, colder, and darker despite the outside dryness, or heat, or light. Night after night, every night and day.

Yet unlike Augusten's parents, mine never fought. That's because my mum was obsequient to the nth degree, doing everything right to please him and to avoid arguments. So they never argued. But it was an incredibly weird, strange situation where nothing was said yet I could hear psychic screaming to the ends of the earth.

My dad was naturally very social and everyone liked him. He always had loads of friends. Inside the house it was like we were all strangers. Outside he was everybody's mate. And he was good about me. He was proud of me, he liked my character, he loved me. He would call me "champien" to other people. He'd had stuff to drink, of course; "champien" being a verbal twist on "champion". He could still be a prick, and be brutish, though those occasions were few and far between.

I have a sister and brother who are a generation older than me. My sister is 16 years older and my brother 11 years. My brother, in particular, copped a lot of nastiness from my dad. Dad was often brutish, aggressive, dismissive and a downright prick to my brother. To this day my brother asks me why he got picked on and not me. I guess there can be no answer to that, it's a chicken-and-egg thing. Was my brother picked on because he was the first-born son, or was he picked on because there was an innate personality clash between the two males. I, for example, was a quieter and patient counterpoint to my dad so somehow I never ticked him off in the way my brother did. In any case, I was spared first-hand viciousness from my dad (in later years, on occasions, I copped it from my bro funnily enough); instead I choked on the toxic pungency of psychic sludge. I'm almost 40 and, most thankfully, I'm rid of most if not all of that creepy stuff.

It's with my sister, and not my brother, that I share long discussions about the family and mum & dad and the dynamics we shared and the strangeness and awfullness of our upbringings.

Augusten is a brave writer. He reveals everything about himself, so much so that instead of us being averse to his candidness, we warm to it, mirroring parts of ourselves that we ordinarily would never reveal.

Augusten admits to the fantasy of killing his dad at Martha's Vineyard. (The author reveals in the novel that his dad had threatened once to kill him, during a phone call). Augusten imagined squatting on his backside behind his dad who was standing on the clifftop, using his feet to push forward behind his dad's kneecaps so that the father would lose his balance, to go tumbling down the cliff and land in the shape of a horseshoe some 300 metres below. Oh what a relief, the boy would feel. I remember sometime around 1990 or 1991 I was playing the Doors loudly in my room. 'The End' came on and I was enjoying it. My parents were outside in the back garden doing stuff, like fusty magpies. When Morrison's bit came on about "father...I want to kill you" I felt it, and in an insane, evil moment, I lived it. I peered outside my window onto the back garden below...

Within a year or two, my dad was dead.

I feel no guilt for this, not anymore. Life is life. I've served the penance, before, and after. It's over. He's been gone for 17 years now. How time flies. In 17 years time I'll be 56. Who knows where you, we, me, will be then. We may have fried in a post-nuclear apocolypse by that point.

Augusten lived with the threat of a strange man who played sinister mind-fucking games with the kid every day. His dad portended to look after Augusten's pets but instead he tortured them with slow, gruesome deaths whenever he and his mom were out of town. Either that, or he trained the dog to be the servant to he and he alone, so that the presence of his once friend Augusten and his mom were met with menacing, hair-raising grizzles.

His dad demonstrated no love toward the boy, ever. As adults Augusten would call his dad boasting of his career acheivements, the size of his paypacket, where he's travelled for work. Dad was as disinterested than ever, always calling off the phone conversation by saying how expensive long-distance calls are. Augusten always called his dad, it was never the other way around. In Dry, Augusten recounts talking to his dad on the phone and having a flashback of his dad stubbing a cigarette butt on his son's forehead. My dad would never have done that to me, not in a hundred years. Having said that, my old man had no tolerance for pets, especially dogs, so we never grew up with pets. Yet when we were landed with a cat in 1982 my dad was ok with it. It lived oustide and typically, my dad only gruffly acknowledged its existence, but secretly probably liked it.

My Italianness is a joke. Very little, if any, of my upbringing had the hallmarks of Italianism within it. My dad played the role of a toughened Aussie battler. He had the job for it, and the lifestyle. It is this, rather than my home life, that has affected me most of all. It's as if I carry a so-called chip-on-my-shoulder about the whole thing, as if we were nothings, just renegade lower-middle class battlers. I've continued my life by straddling fences. I work hard, when I have to, and I enjoy it. But I certainly haven't taken on manual labour as an occupation. As far as being in the workforce goes I've decided that I do not want the big hours. 35 hours per week in a nice library is more than adequate, and very fine I must say. And I don't care about big money either. My dad didn't give a fuck, so why then should I?

My dad wanted to be an opera singer but this of course was crushed out of him by his abusive father down in the confines of Calabria in southern Italy. People talk about their parents doing this, what they've been, where they've worked what they've done. I've got nothing to say, other than my dad had the spirit of Beethoven who never had a chance to reveal that. So he just put the finger up and worked hard in some crappy brickyard to make some cunt rich, all the while drowning and dampening his spirit and fire with beer, amber fluid.

I work in a good place with great people. But sometimes I glance over the fence from my performing arts college standpoint, and all my muso/writer/art friends, and gaze at the world of financiers and real estate operators and decide I do not like it out there. Growing up in a moneyless environment has made me diffident and chiding of those who are out there for a quid and for a quid only. There's a part of me that continues to want to stick the finger up at a lot of people out there, but I don't need to because I don't associate with them. Suffice to say, I've saved some money now so I am richer than Roosevelt, it's been said.

Augusten finishes his fine memoir by zooming to the present day and relating a story of getting picked up at the airport in Boston to attend a book launch/talk. The man who picks him up diverts to a room near the bookstore to where graduation robes are held. The man's son is graduating from Med school the following week and is curious to see firsthand his robe with the engraved name on the breastplate. Augusten joins in and they are hunting for the robe. They couldn't find it and the man is conciliatory albeit a little deflated. As they leave the man continues to slide a couple of robes up and down the rack in a last hope to find the name of his son. Augusten cracks. His head's about to blow off. He is choking back his sobs. He's never encountered this, the love a man feels for his son, ever. He felt it for the first time in his life then, and it floored him,

"...there was so much of it, so much love, so much adoration, so much of everything that is fine and good and wonderful and right with the world inside this man that he could not contain it. The grief is crushing as we leave the room..."

I've had my epiphanies too. I was with a date at the Rose Bay hotel in 1999. We were discussing film and we came to talking about 'Star Wars'. I started relating the finale of 'Return of the Jedi', with Luke Skywalker sword-fighting the evil Darth Vader, until at the end, as Luke has Darth pinned on his knees, Darth unveils his mask to reveal that he, the evil one, is Luke Skywalker's father.

I was floored. I was a frigging mess.

I have psychically fought my dad with a sword. And my evil has won, to the detriment of his spirit, and mine too. I do not fight anymore. I am at peace with it all, and am proud of my dad, his strength, his inherent artistry and his passion, to which I've inherited much. I may have carried his coffin out of the church, happily dried-eyed, and shoved the coffin in the back of the hearse thinking good-riddance. I paid for my insolence. The next few years were not good for me. The karma is paid for and I can say to him now, thank you for your life, for my life, and that which you showed me, which was and is priceless, and very much. To be grateful for my life, for being here, and to be thankful for what I've got. For what is without, is within.

My dad, after all, would say to me in his gruff voice that if anyone gives me trouble, to let him know. Very few people gave me trouble so I never let him know. And if they did, I internalised it, held it in.

My dad is a viable living presence around me. He has been gone for 17 years in the flesh, but he has never left me, nor me him. Augusten's dad, fading away on his deathbed, turned away from his son. He had nothing to say to him. He said a few parting words to his brother, but none to his son, Augusten. Such was the nature of their relationship.

What I share with Augusten Burroughs are dads who we feared, and who gave us no true attention, no succour at all.

I recall this dream, a dream I had around the mid-90s some years after my dad's passing, that reverberated with me and is beyond forgetting:

My dad is sitting in his chair in the living room. He is tired, disheveled, utterly wasted and fragile. He has no fight left within him. He is virtually gone. I'm thinking of my car outside on the kerb. It's my car at the time, my little speedy red Barina. And I think of my dad's car parked on the other side of the road, facing south. It's a white car that's as old and unlooked-after and beaten about and as dishevelled as he is. My father croaks out some words to me, he doesn't look me in the eye. "You can take my car if you want". He sounds so utterly defeated, like he's given up on life, as if he used up all of his strength to muster these words, words that oozed out of a beaten, crushed soul.

Recording, Sound Dog Studios, Oct 09

I had so much fun and fulfillment today. I was doing what I loved. I was asked to come into the studio to lay down some bass tracks for six songs. I'd already recorded five tracks for my friend's album three months ago. And this morning he calls me and says he can imagine a ukulele on one of the tracks, so I tag that along and hope for the best, even though I haven't touched the uke in months.
Gav gave me these songs to learn, with accompanying charts, about six weeks ago. Naturally enough, like just about everything else I do, I've left it to the last possible minute to learn these songs. I flipped open the charts last Monday night and finally listened to the songs. I was beginning to sweat faintly, my stress levels rising, thinking that there's no way I could learn these songs in 5 days. The next night, still slightly stressed, I attacked the mp3s and charts again. On this night I fell into the groove and started to feel and understand these songs. I felt by that point that I could do it. The only other time I could rehearse the songs was last night, by which point I felt I had them up and running ok, and good enough to learn the 'optional' sixth song and shove that in the bag for recording time.

So today I carry my bass and uke to the studio during the mid-afternoon. It's always great to see Stewy, the owner of Sound Dog recording studios. He is a super-good guy and one of my favourite people, and I always love working with him. There they were, a bass guitar and ukulele, really one and the same thing though one of them is bonsai. Four strings, one's an elephant, one's a baby turtle.

It was fun and soulful to play these songs, and I got off on hearing the fender jazz bass groove warmly through the speakers. The uke added a vintage, 20s element to the song we used it for. I got paid a hundred bucks for the gig. What better way to get paid than this!! Fun, personal satisfaction & fulfillment, and a hundred bucks. This is the life, and I want more of it!! :)

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...