Friday, April 17, 2015

Leatherbacks and Syrup



I never considered myself a troubadour, or a traveller or a restless soul. I always felt I was a solid, down-to-earth dude with his roots firm and deep in that part of the earth upon which I happened to live at those times when I had such thoughts.

I don't just write sentences that way... it's the way I speak, too.

Only thing that's removed with the written word are the often-times very long pauses in between thoughts. That sentence might have taken a week to write. That’s the majesty of the written word. You can figure it out over time.

That's why I often use so many dots. Some people hate little dots. "Over-punctuation"  they call it. “Sloppy, juvenile.”

To me they are essential.  At their most powerful they are like punctuative footprints walking across a literary gravesite.

You can hear the silence in them ... 
Sssshhhhshshshsh ... hush ... quiet ...

They are made of sheepskin ...

I remember when I wrote certain songs because I remember which putrid, hole-in-the-wall apartment I was living in at the time.
My apartments were usually less than savoury because I didn't give two hoots about such things.
All I needed was six walls: one below, one above and four surrounding - a place to put my writing desk, good acoustics (and the less furniture you have the better the acoustics get) and a window ledge upon which to rest my ashtray and my cigarettes.

One such dive was in Gladstone Road in Highgate Hill, Brisbane.  Gladstone Road is a busy thoroughfare and it has some steep segments and some grinding turns up alongside some raised ridges that drop down toward the Brisbane River.

When the dude showed me  the flat it was a sunny winter's day and the sun was streaming in through the west-facing living room window and cutting deep golden-yellow beams across the two plush-orange sofa chairs that sat there like wide-hipped Godfathers just returned from a month in the tanning studio.

I saw the perfect spot for my writing desk against those windows and salivated at how wide the window ledges were... you could fit two dozen ashtrays on there and still have room for a half-dozen unwashed coffee cups.

Perfect.

That's where I wrote "The Party's Over".
I wrote the song after I took a night off from sorting mail at the state mail centre in favour of playing a half-hour set at the Shamrock Hotel in Fortitude Valley. It didn’t get any more downtown than Fortitude Valley.

The dude who invited me to play, Vinnie, was the singer in a punk and rock band who's name I can't remember. I do remember they were pretty good, but the bikers who hung out at the Shamrock on a Friday night were unmoved by their punk antics.

The bikers were unreservedly terrifying. I was duly terrified.

I was relieved that the punk band cleared the room during their first set. Turned out the bikers couldn’t stand punk. By the time I got up to play during their break the room was empty.

I had never been so happy to play to no one.

But when I started to play my acoustic guitar and sing, a couple of massive, leather-clad bald men with huge moustaches and beards and tattoos sauntered into the bar, sat on bar stools and swivelled their tattoos toward the stage to listen to me play. They seemed intrigued by the mellowness in my voice. 
Try as I might I could not make it sound non-mellow. I tried to roughen it up but it just came out like sickly honey. I thought for sure they were gonna take me out back and drive over my syrupy head after my set. I couldn’t have imagined that they actually enjoyed it.

Then a few more came in. Then others. Pretty soon they were all back in the room, listening with a kind of childlike innocence at me singing my songs. I also sang a James Taylor cover, Fire and Rain, and still no violence was triggered.


I played the whole set like a deer caught in the glare of  headlights... and only when I'd finished and gone home and written the song, and then gone to bed, and then woke up and practiced the song again and then later told some friends about it, and only then after Vinnie offered to be my manager and I refused his offer did I realise what a strange but beautiful moment I had been a part of. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Necessary Accessory


Mexican four-piece flamenco guitar bands confuse the living daylights out of me. 

Not because of any flamenco rhythm they got going on, or the wild Disneyland-Zorro-Exhibition-tourist-office hats or anything like that. 

No. It’s none of that.

It's the short dude with the handlebar moustache and the jumbo guitar. He blows my mind, every single time.

I'm like: "Is that guy really short, or just a long way away...? And if he's such a long way away... why IS that?  And why is his moustache so... so... present and enlarged?"

And then I'm like: "But his guitar looks so much bigger than everybody else's guitar. So maybe the guitar is like real real close, up against the camera lens, with the moustache, and the dude himself is way way back."


And then I'm like: "But how can it beeeeeee???"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mum Drove Getaway



I went to a family reunion once in 1982. You might wonder about what sort of lack of cohesion there existed in my family that we needed to have a reunion. Most families, after all, are never so disjointed that they need a reunion. Like the cast of Gilligans Island or the Brady Bunch. Now they needed reunions, but us?
We had the reunion because somebody realised how many of us there were and most of us had no clue about the extent of exactly who we were related to. The winters in my home town were legendary and there were few distractions from the task of populating the planet.
At this reunion in 1982 the organisers, who I assume I was related to, hired or took by force the show grounds at a town called Crows Nest. It was an outdoor event and no non-family members were invited. In excess of 2000 people turned up, all related by blood in one way or other to me and my mother and my brothers and sisters. They weren't blood relatives of my father - that was for another reunion which would probably never be held on account of bad blood over real estate, money, domestic violence, and various internal squabbles all loosely based on various teachings in the good book. Not "On Our Selection". I'm talking the first boy band: Mathew-Mark-Luke-and-John.
The family reunion I went to in 1982 at Crows Nest is where I discovered that my family on my mother's side had a kind of predilection for endurance sport. I had won the boys section of my school cross country race a couple years earlier and as it turned out the winner of the girls section that same year was one of my cousins. We met up at the reunion and shared gasps of disbelief. I should have known we were related because she had the same surname as my mother's maiden name: Blinco. Blinco always reminded me of that TV show "Sgt Bilko" starring Phil Silvers. Fogarty always reminded me of two things: CCR and first mates on Victorian-era sailing ships.
The 1982 reunion came at a sea-change moment in my life. It was then that I'd decided I had to start posting my poems and short stories on the University notice board next to the cafeteria so I could sit and watch people's reactions to them and it was also then that a dude I knew, now a world-worn journalist, came around to my tiny flat to appeal to me to keep writing stories even though I had just in fact quit university.
"You got to keep writing," he told me in all earnestness.
"I know," I said, simply. "Thanks…"
So I kept writing and have never stopped. It's a central part of how I make a living and always has been except for brief stops and starts in pointless clerical jobs and non-writing jobs over the years.
The reunion was a misnomer for me particularly because I'd never met most of the people who were present and who I was related to. A reunion implies re-connection, uniting again. To me the whole day was a blank slate of unfamiliar faces, upper arm fat, home baking and slightly out-of-date family cars.
There were no formalities to the day, not that I remember. It was like a music festival with no music. We all sort of camped out for the day around the perimeter of this enormous field drinking hot tea from thermos flasks and eating sandwiches while nothing went on out in the middle.
After a few hours my mother turned to me and my brothers and sisters and said: "Shall we?"
So we left.
Before we left though I felt it necessary to steal two chairs that had been dotted around the place for us to feel welcomed by.
My mother didn't want to know about the theft. "Well just look the other way while I put them in the boot," I said.
And she did.
Then she drove Getaway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Facooglebook

The ultimate aim of Google and Facebook is to merge with each other, to know each other in the biblical sense, to surround themselves with the accoutrements of the civilised world, aka the cream of the apps, and to provide us all with an alternate reality, another dimension.

In this other dimension we will know, once and for all, not how we see the world and our place in it, but how the world sees us, in cold hard facts as well as in socially acceptable and easily digestible chunks,  and our place in that world.

In this other dimension Google earth will not just show models of buildings, and photographs of forests, and glue all the satellite images of world geography together to make a kind of patchwork quilt, a familial hand-me-down version of planet earth, it will instead show us everything that is going on everywhere at any given moment... and even perhaps, those moments which are yet to arrive. Aka the future.

Because to piece together everything that is knowable now is to open the door to predicting which way any given marble will roll, any given smoke particle will float, any given wave will radiate, any given mind will think.

In a sense we have been preparing ourselves for this world for some time. Think of how much more alert we've become, how much more savvy we've become about so many things... simple things like computer graphics, like film technique, like art and photography, like writing, like sculpting, like children rearing, like treatment of others, like integration, like the blending of musical styles and genres, like corruption, like pollution, like warfare, like drug trafficking, like arms dealing...

We can now see clearly when someone comes on TV and is lying about something.
We see it in their eyes, in their body language, in the wavering of their voices. We now know that athletes dope, that politicians betray, that corporations steal and lie and cheat and kill and deny and quash. We now know that governments murder, neglect, abuse, and favour. that policemen bash, that singers lip sync. We are evolving. We are getting better at providing ourselves with background information that is helpful and which informs us and the decisions we make in reliable and even wise ways.

Google and Facebook are leading us in all directions at once. But the most worthwhile direction is the direction inward... the mapping of the inner self. The inner world. By relating to those around us, and by having those relationships documented, we can see more clearly where we fit, how we fit, what our limitations are, our habits, our strengths, our weaknesses, our pros and cons. It's a fascinating study of humanity. We are watching ourselves evolve, interact, become somehow more present in the physical world while traveling somehow through both cyberspace and through non-space, through the realm of dreams, of energy, of spirit and in the final analysis those two, or three worlds will meet and mesh and intertwine and lose themselves and their perceived barriers in a single new dimension which we will all recognise, once we see it and feel it, as home. 

Whirlpool With A Good Idea

There's a place you go, when you are making music. When your voice enters the picture, and slots down inside, in between the two bristling azure-blue mountain ranges of stereo to your left and right, and it shoots along like a neon jet fighter, like the ghost of Luke Skywalker, like an improbable bird of prey, down the throbbing, lucid length of that ravine of sound and when it clicks in it is effortless and eerie and brutally real and insanely now and the sound, the song, that thrusts up from deep in your soul and erupts out into the atmosphere is muscular and hollow and transparent like a tube of water and pulsing and ecstatic and it is so totally your own voice that everything else about you disappears into it, feeds into it, until you yourself, as others know you, are no more.
The amount of energy required to deliver the song is the exact amount of energy that makes up your totality. So you have to continually circle yourself around the song, the sound of it, keep feeding through it, into it, out of it again, looping your entirety through it until you become a blur, a whirlpool with a good idea.

The Audient Will See You Now


My younger brother Andy used to come to just about every gig I played for about two years. He was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome when he was very young and while it can sometimes be considered a limiting condition it has other aspects that more than comfortably make up for any perceived shortfalls. His sensibility and knowledge about music, for example, is astonishing. When he was ten years old he knew the names of every band who made the charts, the names of their hit songs, who they were signed to, who they used to be signed to, and who wrote the songs they sang. That's just a glimpse, though. Knowing my baby brother is an ongoing journey of discovery.
One time a documentary maker came to one of my gigs and explained how he wanted to make a documentary about me and my brother. He thought it a fascinating story and worth pursuing. He was all excited about it and told us his plans for how to shoot it.... how he had contacts...
you know the drill.
My brother and I were like..."Sure, dude. Give it your best shot. Count us in."
Then after the gig, on the way home in the car, I turned to my brother and said: "Documentary, huh? You think that guy will do that documentary?"
He looked at me, smiled, and said "brother Paul.... t's never gonna happen."
And we both cracked up in fits of laughter. He had an instinct about people and situations and it was an instinct I came to trust over the years. It was like his instinct about music. He just had it.
Once I was sitting at the piano and Andy came to the door and poked his head in the room. I played a note on the piano without him being able to see the keys.
I said "Do you know what note that is?"
He said "E".I said "Fuck."
Then I said "How do you know that?"
He said "The sound of it shoots off at a certain angle to the right. Not as far to the right as the F or the G. But not straight like the C."
Then I played another note. "What note is that?"
He said "That's A."I said "Fuck."
And this went on for about ten minutes. And every single note, he got right. The octave didn't matter, whether it was sharp or flat didn't matter. He just knew by where the note went.The two years we lived together were our Rainman period. My brother Andy was present at very many of my live gigs and at several of these gigs he was the ONLY person in attendance, apart from me. I, as the performer, the expositor, the elucidator of mine own soul, was not part of my own audience. That just wouldn't be right.
Although there have been many many times when I have traveled out away from my body to view my own gig from some other place (while the gig is actually taking place), usually above my own head, sometimes off to the right, but usually to the left, and sometimes through a little thing I call the "Window of Freedom" which sits there, right between the stage and audience, a little off the side of microphone, these do not amount to me being a part of my own audience, at least not in the sense intended for this particular story.
So Andy would take up prime position at my gigs while I would set up my gear, do my sound check, tune the guitar, forget to write a set list, and fumble around for my cigarettes. And he would wait there, get comfortable, and be ready to adjust his position when and if the audience, the crowd, would come in. There were many times, my friends, when almost no-one else turned up. And once, when almost no-one turned up, Andy spontaneously came up with the perfect word to describe that person. --------------------------------------------------------------------


Usually when almost no-one turned up it was because I was doing a gig in Caloundra - the first city in the world to turn itself, whether by design or by default it doesn't matter, into a nursing home. I mean the whole town. They got Barry Manilow piped through the streets, through the canal estates, across the bowling greens. They got low-impact yoga classes. They got dry-land aqua-aerobics for folks too brittle of bone to lower themselves into the pool. They got non-slip matting outside the ice-cream shop. You can go to a bar in Caloundra and there is a rack under the bar for your walking frame. It's retirement heaven. I'm going there when I retire. But for an up and coming, independent singer-songwriter it was not the town in which to find your audience.
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At one of my one-person-in-the-audience gigs my brother came up to me during my first set break and uttered the perfect word to describe them. It was the most brilliant thing anyone has ever said to me...He said: "You better do a few of your alternate tuning songs in the next set... your audient is getting restless. I think he needs to pee."I said: "My what?"He said: "Your audient."And we both laughed for the rest of the night. All through the next two sets. All during the packing up of my P.A. gear. All during the drive back to the little dive motel room we had booked for my "run of shows". I laughed so hard a cigarette popped out of my mouth and blew into the back seat among the PA speakers and almost burned my car while we cruising along Highway 1. "Audient" became a word that leaped out above all other words. It became a word that other words worshipped. It took its place alongside Peace, Coke, Rock n Roll, Elvis and Cartman. Audient. The one word said so much on its own that it didn't need an adjective. That's how you can tell a great noun word.... any adjective added to it only diminishes its impact. The incredible Elvis. Loving Peace. Diet Coke. They all are weaker because of their adjectives. I wish someone would come out with a product that used the name Audient. "Audient aftershave.... you need never be un-alone""The new six cylinder Audient Sportster... drives fast, won't come unstuck...leaves other cars wondering WTF?"My brother and I came up with many similar words or phrases, situational motifs, story-boards, ideas and themes during our two years gigging five and six nights a week. There were no taboos. Just free-flowing consciousness, and we each fed into it, poured our ideas into it, no matter how left-field, how out-there, how certifiably insane. In fact my brother would often let me know when something I said or thought was unfit for contemporary public consumption. Or maybe super-fit....He would turn to me... take a pause from laughing... and say "Most of what you say, big brother, is insane or bordering insane. But that was certifiably insane..."And we would explode with laughter all over again.And at such moments, behind the laughter, I always had a private sudden thought. In those moments I knew I was really on to something.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Road To Freedom Is Paved With Words And Numbers

When I was fifteen and sixteen and seventeen years old I used to work for my dad at the horse race meetings every couple weeks. 
He preferred me to work as his Penciller because I loved the pressure of making mathematical calculations on the spot with drunken adults waving wads of cash in my face. I thought it was the perfect job because it combined my natural proclivities for mathematics and stress management (i.e.: couldn't give a shitness) in one career choice.
Only thing was, it wasn't a career. You only worked Saturdays. Still, I made 60 bucks for four hours work which wasn't bad back in the day. Dad was only making 120 bucks a week in his full-time job at the wheat board. I know this because he used tell mum to take it easy down the shops cos she was spending 130 bucks a week on food.
So at 15 I was rolling in it and it happened because I was good at math and in not taking people too seriously.
So dad was a bookmaker and people would line up and make bets and he'd shout out the amount they were betting, the horse they were betting on, the race, the city, and the odds. He very often changed the odds according to how the betting was stacking up in the lead in to each race. I had to write down all these numbers and make calculations every few seconds and keep up with Dad's frantic pace as he was raking in the great wads of cash. If he wasn't fast enough getting through the betters and their outstretched fists of money they would get antsy and jump over to the next bookie or the next. In order for Dad to get through them and rake the cash in fast I had to work at the same frantic pace. Only difference was, I was doing all the calculations on the fly. I didn't use a calculator. I worked out my own system and from the bare bones of this system I could fill in all the other details after the rush had passed and the race itself was on.

We took bets on the local races right there in the paddock, and also the Sydney and Melbourne races that you could hear over the radio and public address system at the course. I would often go out and look at the horses in their stalls, and check out how they were being walked soon as we arrived at the course. You could tell an awful lot about how well a horse could run just by doing that recon around lunch time.
Occasionally if he was undecided what odds to offer on a local race and the odds were getting all out of proportion he would ask me my thoughts about such and such a horse and I would tell him. This information came in handy on more than one occasion. It was my way of feeling like I was adding value to the whole bookmaking enterprise.

Also when I was 15 I had a job at Target, the department store. I made 51 bucks a week there over my three days a week, and I sometimes mowed a couple lawns on days off, plus I did the races with Dad. So I was making as much money as Dad some times.
I bought surfing magazines, and custom van magazines cos I fully intended to take up a career in creative spray painting of panel vans and other recreational vehicles soon as I was able.
I bought myself expensive running shoes and started running every day. The running led to writing every day, to keep a journal of the running, and then eventually other stuff that occurred to me to write down.
Pretty soon songs were coming into my head. I figured everyone did that when they were fifteen.
The songs started flooding out of me, along with poems and other stories, like this one here even now in 2014.
So I was thrilled today when my wife and daughter arrived home from an afternoon at grandma and granddads place and seven-year-old Bonnie was able to recite all the squares of every number from one through ten: one times one is one. Two times two is four. Three times three is nine. All the way up to 10 times 10 is 100.
Numbers and words, dude. I love them. The road to freedom is somehow built out of them. I can't explain exactly how, but it is.