Posted December 19, 2006

Earl and friends.


Immediately after finishing this piece, I headed to the supermarket over the road for cigs.  The big doors were coming down as I got near, so I ran and, dropping onto my hip, slid under the door with 400mm space.  Ridiculously, I somehow regained my feet pretty much straightaway to face a young Sikh guy inquiring kindly: “Are you alright?”  “Never better! Softpack of Stuyvo Classics, thanx.”

Truly, it has been an extraordinary year, for all manner of reasons, few of them directly connected with rock and roll, in the gigging sense, but all of it informed in some way by the nature of that rock and roll attitude that makes life worth living.
It kicked off in an unusual manner.  I took some offence at the all-round urge to PAAARRTY!! on NYE and rode down to Jervis Bay, found myself a quiet beach, laid back and looked at the stars.  Fuck, the stars you see out in the country!  It was pretty neat , the phosphorescent foam on the waves hitting the beach, the distant fireworks – in Nowra, I guess.  I dozed off and was woken by a couple of local cops who’d seen my bike in the carpark and decided to check out the beach in case I was doing anything other than smoking cigarettes.  But I wasn’t.
I dozed off again, and woke up cold and uncomfortable.  It was damn cold; ironic, given how NYD in Sydney turned out.  I decided to ride home and it took a good 20 minutes to walk the 300m to the carpark, it being seriously fucking dark under the canopy of foliage.
It was too dark and the road too broken and unfamiliar to hit it real hard.  North of Berry, on a long downhill run, I was overtaken by a big interstate rig, which was a blessing.  Truckies drive this road a few times a week and have enormous batteries of super-bright fuckoff lights.  It was great, took some pressure off.
Once I crossed the Cooks River, I started seeing groups of people staggering home.  Outside Newtown’s Town Hall Hotel, I saw a mate of mine trying to line up his New Year root.  I got home, smoked a joint and drank a bottle of wine in the backyard while the sun came up, then slept a good honest sleep through most of that dry, hot day.
Though, as I’ve learnt the last few days, this year started just before Xmas, when I broke up with the sweetest woman I’ve ever known, in a stupid, confused and distressing manner.
I next saw her at the BDO, where I had a fucking ball and would’ve writ a total fucking screed, only the puta ate my homework.  I really dug Sleater Kinney, Magic Numbers, Soulwax and a few other bands, but seeing the Stooges was seriously something fucking else.
Now, if you, like me, enjoy drugs, remember this: oven bags.  I walked straight past several drug dogs with a good chunk of speed base and several fat joints in my pocket.  I was tempted to pat one, but didn’t want to push my luck.  So by the time I got into The Enclosure, I’d drank several cans of vodka and lemonade, eaten this wicked base and smoked a lot of great bushweed.
I’d met Kel at a Viet restaurant in the city and we had a good feed before we headed out there.  We were hanging on the outside of the barrier when I saw Bruce and he made that “Why aren’t you in there?” gesture.  We got in the queue, ate the last of the base, slipped in, I shoved my way toward the front and then someone else was shoving me.  I turned around and met three 14 year olds.  They dug the Stooges, loved the first two albums and were hanging out to get right up the front.  I gave them the benefit of my hard-won wisdom, so to speak, about waiting until the band appeared and the crowd would shift and then you’d have your opportunity.
So we chewed the fat (fuck knows what they must have thought of a long-haired freek near their dad’s age) and when the Stooges first appeared, I found myself point man on a teenage flying wedge that took me to the crowd barrier and copped me some abuse.
“What ya whinging about, ya dumb cunt,” I told ‘em, “it’s a fucking rock and roll gig!”
Iggy wrote in “I Need More” about the influence of the steel presses in the Ford factory, and you could hear it.  A massive, clanking, industrial noise, an enormous fucking WEIGHT that cranked on, cranked up, I was smashed up deep in the mosh pit, lost a pack of cigs and a set of Rayban Aviators but, fortunately, not my last fat joint.
It was truly impressive.  For as long as I’ve known and enjoyed those albums, they don’t make sense until you see the band and really catch the physicality of the music.  Didn’t hurt that Mike Watt is a far superior bass guitarist to Dave Alexander.
About 20 minutes in (or whatever) I needed some space, rocked on back about 30m from the stage – just as the crowd were invited on stage (a mate got on stage in Brisbane, tripping) but it was okay, I needed space, found it, lit that last fat joint just as Steve Mackay came out, and, between Steve and the joint, the mood shifted, from a stamping machine to a wild funky jungle beat.  Steve’s skill, background and general loose feeling really lifted the band to another level.  It was a devolution, from the industrial age to the primitive, the most base primal id crawling up from the jurassic murk, crying out “Here I am, whatcha gonna do?”
With some space, I danced and shook and kicked out.  Chatted to the young folk around me, even offered the joint, but none of them took it.  What the fuck!  Kids refusing free drugs?  What the fuck, more for me.  I had a righteous fucking blast, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever caught.  F’sure, the drugs helped, but so did the fact that I’d been digging this music for 25 years before I saw the Stooges live.  Simple, really.  It made perfect sense.  Everything you might’ve read about the Stooges, as writ by those who saw them live, achieved a perfect clarity.  There really is something deep, primitive, frightening almost (to those who aren’t ready to give in to the feeling) about a band that can somehow touch that ol’ primeval Id.  
I ended up rocking around the boiler room with a beer and a cig in each hand, people just got out of my way.  Mentioned it later to Kel, she wasn’t surprised.  “You had a scary look about you.”  Me, scary?  Well, after a show like that, maybe.
Come March, I took off on a roadtrip.  3200km in 13 days, 6 of those days spent drinking, drugging and listening to loud rock and roll in Lismore.  On the road between Premer and Coolah, I had one of the greatest moments of my life – even better than The Stooges.
It was about midday, I was doing 140 down a two lane blacktop, slouched behind the fairing.  Dry yellow low hills rolled away all around, spiked by the occasional dead tree.  The sky was an enormous bowl of perfect blue.  I was surrounded by space and not a single thing that was about to trammel the freedom of my mind to go wherever it wanted.
Words fail me.  I’ve tried to explain this to people.  One or two great friends understand where I’m coming from.  It was just an utterly epiphanic moment, the feeling of the most absolute fucking FREEDOM I’ve ever known.  I’ve known, sought out, such feelings throughout my life but this one encapsulated everything I’ve ever desired, so beautifully, so perfectly…
So much so, that it was no surprise that I got home, went back to my shitty job and plunged into depression.  Oh, there were a few reasons for it, related to the trip and the friends I caught up with (not that they’re bad folks or anything, it was all about my reactions) and I caught the Beasts of Bourbon at the Metro in May, saw the afore-mentioned sweetest woman and ended up desperately wishing the earth would open up and swallow me whole.  She rescued me, I ended up with her just before dawn, and I’ve never been so grateful to someone for being there for me.
By this point, I was deep in a depressive moment.  I grouched at everyone, sought arguments with my boss (dunno if I would’ve if I didn’t think I’d win them, eh!), I pissed off and fucked off everything and everyone around me.  A couple of good friends were there for me, too good friends to fuck me off.
Come late June, my fortieth birthday, I decided to ask only the good ones, I didn’t want a big one, just a good one.  And it was a good one, a very good one.  Greg gave me a bottle of top shelf bourbon, and the most memorable moment was when Jeff, Bill, Doc, Jarred and I were sharing joints and knocking back shots, while Kelly, Mandy and Sweetheart, were talking.  And I still think…
How fucking lucky am I?  Here’s a bunch of of the best folks I’ve ever known, they’re smart, cool, great people and they’re my best friends.
That was the turning point in 2006, a moment I’d been groping toward for at least eight years.
Life speeds up.  Kel gave me a ticket to the Strokes gig at the Hordern, where I met a cute and (so I thought) cool chick who turned out to encapsulate everything I disliked about my third ex-wife and none of the good things.  I think fate sent her along to teach me a lesson.  Two weeks later I picked up a 23 year old babe in a lesbian bar.  Hey, that’s gonna make a guy feel good!  Then I bumped into an old fling and we had another crazy fling and by this time I was telling people that my life was as good as it’d been for at least ten or maybe fifteen years, and I actually liked myself, I liked the person I was, and if I still drank too much, I only drank out of boredom and habit, not out of a desperate desire to wipe out the conciousness of my crippling self-loathing.
I gotta interrupt the flow of my first draft to write a bit about music.  I haven’t caught much live music this year, for a variety of reasons…  Ah, who am I shitting, I just preferred drinking at my friendly local, or in my backyard, to going out.  I scored about 60 CDs this year, and the only ones that came from a shop were those I bought on gift vouchers.
Not that I didn’t catch some great live shit.  Radio Birdman at Yallah were outrageously fucking awesome, and Dead Set were pretty fucking cool.  Hytest at the ‘Dale were close to one of the best local bands I’ve seen.  Roddy Rayda’s set at the Hopetoun was wicked fun.  There was Rod, Paul Loughead drumming, Phil Hall on bass, and they were massive great fun.  Roddy’s a great showman and he can always pull a great band behind him.  Phil’s youngest daughter (youngest?  Last time I noticed, they were all in primary school) played some guitar and sax, even tho she was too young to be in the pub at all.  They were a fucking hootload of fun.
Might’ve been that night (or maybe the night Six Foot Hick headlined the Hopetoun) that I met a mate I hadn’t seen in years.  Took me a few minutes to recognise him, what with the short hair and healthy demeanour.  “I used to be a rock star” he told me, and, indeed he once was.  Now he’s got a wife he aint too impressed with, two kids and a day job.  I got the serious impression he’d swap it all for just another 24 hours of rock-god-dom.
He could be right.  I wouldn’t know, I’m single and, as far as I know, child-free.  At any rate, I caught a few other live bands this year, but they mustn’t have been too good, cos I can’t remember them.  There’s a few bands, like the Bellrays, that I didn’t catch for one drug/sex-fucked reason or another, even tho I wanted to.
Greg continues to feed me comps of the New Rock he downloads.  I don’t know who most of these bands are (but I did discover Alexandra Slate, who deserves to be a Rock Goddess) but the music is fan-fucking-tastic.  Maybe all these bands have only one song in them, but one great song is something to be proud of.
I’ve dug a lot of neat shit – Johnny Marr and the Healers, the Pontiac Brothers (and I don’t care if these records came out a few years back, I only heard them this year, so fuck ya!) Tokyo Sex Destruction, Babyshambles, Slobberbone, Clarksville.  And the Twilight Singers.
Greg Dulli is a fucking genius.  ‘Genius’ aint a word I bandy about too lightly, but there aint a guy who can write romance and cynicism and bitterness all in the one song.  I doubt I’ve ever heard someone who has that rare and special ability to encapsulate such a huge chunk of my life in one killer song.  And extend it over and across an album.  No surprise, then, that he writes film scripts for fun, is a huge fan of James Ellroy (as am I) and, as Afghan Whigs were the best band of the 90s, so Twilight Singers are shaping up as the best band of the Noughties.
And how naughty this year has been!  While destroying my life and everything that matters to me, I still managed to fall into, mostly when I’ve been too drugfucked to really notice, some wicked fun.  Danni did a beautiful sexy naked dance in my loungeroom.  Lynette was up for anything I tried on her (which got a bit scary, when I realised that she really would do anything…).  Melodie did this amazing thing with her mouth.  Kerry was just a hell of a lot of utterly uninhibited fun, and an absolute treasure of a woman.  I’ll hang out with her anyday, we’re good mates, and that is a great thing.
Once I started to feel better about myself, I started to have these feelings deep in my guts about my true Sweetheart,  I didn’t understand them.  We’ve always liked each other far too much to never be friends, but I’d get kinda tongue-tied, feel weirdly nervous – with a woman I’d known for three years and shared everything with – and get this knot in my stomach.  It got to where I’d think about her every day, and then I went to her birthday party.
There was a huge range of people there, for instance, a bunch of shaven-headed Leb-types, who’d been at a Nomads party earlier (they later reported that the birthday party was much, much wilder) one of whom I had a good chat with about cultural diversity (I went to school in Bankstown).  When the pills started coming out, it all picked up a few gears, like when you’ve been puttering along in the traffic in first and then the road opens up, you rip the throttle open and click up to fourth in one-and-a-quarter seconds, hammering at 7000 revs.
All the while, I’d been looking at her – she was so gorgeously sexy!  I’d already talked to a few of her friends, especially one I knew I could trust for a sound opinion, about her and whether she’d ever have me back.  She was the perfect hostess, the life of the party, the absolute goddess of the evening.  She handled the cops when they came around, talked to everyone, passed out shots of evil white liqour.
It all gets blurry, as the best parties do.  Tripping, drinking, talking, passing out fat joints, rocking around from the backyard to the front verandah, dancing in the loungeroom, up the stairs and down again.  Sometime around 5:30am I saw her dancing, arms stretched above her, head back, eyes closed, surrounded by men.  Next thing I know, I’m saying to her “None of them will ever care for you like I do” and then I left, having known true jealousy for the first time in my life, and utterly heartbroken.
I spoke to her a few nights later, and, despite my best intentions, blurted out exactly how I felt about her.  I love you, I want to cherish you and adore you and care for you every day for the rest of my life.  I am truly, deeply, desperately sorry for hurting you and I will atone for it every day of my life.  Of course, she was shocked and surprised.  I delivered a dozen long-stemmed red roses and gave her a beautiful brooch when I next saw her.  We hugged (she’s the best hug I’ve ever known, don’t knock a great hug!)
We went and saw ‘Gimme Shelter’ at the Vanguard the next Monday week (a date arranged two weeks before the party and before I told her how I felt, two days later).  We had a great time – we always have a great time together.  Sam Cutler did a Q&A.  He was witty, charming, gracious, articulate, pretty much everything you’d imagine and hope that Keith Richards would be.  He made interesting observations about the biz, the band, the people.  "Every one of the Stones has soul - except Mick."  And so on.
I walked my Sweetheart home, I got a little kiss on the lips and a beautiful smile.  I’m 40 years in this life and feeling like I haven’t since I was 20, or probably ever.  We’re gonna see ‘Black Dahlia’ next week, ‘cos we’re both big fans of James Ellroy, I’ve got two weeks off work and wanted to do a roadtrip; when I said to her that I couldn’t really afford the $30 pub rooms every night for a week, she invited me to stay at her sister’s place in Brisbane, where she’ll be.  That’s gotta be good, eh?
Growing up doesn’t mean growing old.  Twelve months back, I’d been acting 25 for 14 years.  I’ve barely touched on all the great music I’ve listened to this year (I’ll be at Twilight Singers at the Metro on 13 January, will you?).
If rock and roll means anything at all, it means standing up for yourself.  Standing up and saying “Fuck it all, this is what I believe in.”  And if anyone wants to bitch about it, then they just don’t get it and never will.  It aint about arguments, cos you can have arguments without hating each other.  It’s got a lot to do with respect and love and an intolerance of idiotic bullshit  It’s about opening up and taking it, cos the alternative is some kinda death.  
Fuck, it aint just the Stooges, it’s Alexandra Slate, it’s Weezer, it’s me and you and ripping yourself open to everything the world is gonna throw at you, ‘cos you’ll never know unless you try.  You gotta have some courage, gotta try, gotta take a risk.  Bitter cynicism and wholehearted romance.
7AM Boxing Day, I’ll be heading north.  Love impels me.  Rock and roll gives me the courage to try.