Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...
29 March 2006
From the brasserie it was amazing! It was that extra half hour of light at the end of the day, before the gig started, before the backdrop to this incredible place slunk back quickly into the usual black-green gloom. But it was there all right, and you could feel it in the audience.
So yeah, it's Spring here in Western Europe, and although it's sometimes one day nice, two days crap, there's still that optimism that at least you know it's changing, for the better....
Got the last minute call again for Oxo this Monday just passed, and it improved some more. I could almost feel it in my chest, almost a physical feeling, of excitement at the warmer months ahead...this is definitely part of the UK experience, something we don't get back home.
My compatriot and employer for that evening, CL, was loverly as ever. I can't believe how chilled out she is about London, music agency work, doing gigs, running a family - everything! It chills me out as a result - a perfect person to work with. And such a rarity too - why aren't there ten more of her out there?
CL is one of these people where the interpersonal skills on the gig are totally smooth. One of these people that seemingly by accident gets into other people's conversations, makes the contact, gets the gig, and makes it appear effortless. Maybe because for her it is effortless....
27 March 2006
Anyhoo, on little sleep and growing exhaustion, I decided to burn off another precious free night last night and venture down to one of London's better venues, having been prompted by a friend currently in town from Melbs, a great singer here for a vocal competition. Tonight's gig was for the winner and finalists of the competition, and the grapevine yielded to me earlier in the week that the Oz muso mafia struck again (three singers no less reaching the finals), so this was definitely a hang worth hanging at.
The place I was travelling to totally lives up to all the cliches....I had to catch a bus, change for the tube, and then walk for 20 mins down an industrial back lane to an un-signposted metal grill off the street. As you peer down a yawning open brick stairwell lit by one yellow light, you push a buzzer (sometimes twice or three times) until you hear the sound and a guy sticks his head around at the bottom of the stairs to let you in.
And this is the real doozy...you get to the bottom of the stairs and there's two doors, one which leads directly to the back of the piano on to the 'stage' (on the floor), and one which leads into the mixing desk room/coat room/cash register room. I found myself bustled into holding a door open for numerous grey-haired couples who had pre-booked, before being remembered and shown through the full room to a table.
Okay, so I'm all for this music being viewed by a discerning, selective audience, but I gotta say I'm feeling a touch alienated here!
On the way, brushed past abovementioned friend...kiss and hug...see you later on....can't drink here without eating, and in a moment of weakness was duped by the pushy Kiwi waitress into ordering a main instead of just a starter, which of course wasn't the case last time (sigh) but I guess I can afford it. Most of the first set later I am presented with something I paid eight quid for which wasn't as good as I could have made myself. At least the wine was quick I suppose. Strange vibe from this girl all night - it's her turf, and I daren't mess with that!
The early survey of the room upon being seated registered a large number of what I correctly guessed to be Phillipinos. Asian people are something of a minority in this town, so to see two table loads in a Jazz club was pretty unusual. Friend gets up to perform and tells us all that it was a Phillipino guy who won the competition! and at first I'm surprised, but then, I realised it kind of figures - cue yet another one of Mike's lengthy reminiscences (wavy vision, harp music ensues)....
For those of you who might not have known, I spent September 04 to January 05 aboard the good ship MS Zuiderdam, weekly touring various ports in the Caribbean. It was a professional engagement, playing piano, doing what I love most to do in the world and getting to travel as a result, and despite my reservations about the whole ordeal...er, I mean experience, there were parts of it that were quite amazing.
It was a ship, and so of course there was quite a hierarchy involved - captain at the top, usually from the Antipodes or Europe, then officers, largely Dutch, then crew and us musos, usually from Canada/US/Oz...and then the two largest groups on board were the Indonesians (hotel staff) and Phillipinos (bar staff). Goes without saying of course that the hierarchy continued in terms of pay.....certain days we would be skimming across the glassy, waveless fields of the Doldrums, but the boat would still be rocking around becuase the stabilisers were off, which would conserve fuel. Why? Word on the ship was that if the captain saved fuel by the time we got back to home port then he received some stupid $US10,000 bonus, to accompany what he already must have been getting for lunching in the ports and giving the odd command to steer a ferry of oldies around the equatorial baby pool of the Americas.
Let's drop way down the pay scale to the Indonesians and the Phillipinos. These guys were working twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week, sometimes for half and less of what I was getting sitting around drinking myself into a stupor every night in the officers bar playing guest shows three (sometimes two) times a week for US$350 (which any professional muso will tell you is not much).
And yet the Phillipinos were some of the most good-natured, fun-loving people I met on the whole thing, with this amazing musicality and passion I hadn't quite seen before. In the first two months of the contract I played solo piano in one of the bars, and Jesus was one of the local waiters. So one quiet night he ditches his tray, walks straight up to me, and we end up doing 'Lately' (Stevie Wonder), with him belting out from his heart, at nobody! Extraordinary!
About every three weeks, despite working long hours, these guys would get together the traditional costumes and dances and put on the Philipino crew show. Musically quite dodgy, but they were so into it. They'd split up the program between bamboo dancing and belting out these huge passionate aria-like ballads! showing a musicality far greater than some of my fellow musicians. Harking back to another ethnic group I've had some musical dealings with over the years, I'm guessing it was the Latino in them.
So snapping back to the reality of where I was last night, this guy who won the competition, he was all that! Totally into every word and phrase, a crooner from way back.
A word must be said here for the Indonesians on board the ship as well. Presumably on the same or possibly a lower pay scale than the Philipinos, it came time for the Christmas concert, which involved four different choirs assembled from the different countries on the ship, and due to some technical fault in the raising stage platform, I was the sole accompanist, for everybody!
Most of the Indo's on board were obviously Muslim, but the Christian minority on board got a choir together.....undoubtedly the best musical experience I had on the high seas was staying up late with these guys, backstage after the main rehersal, running through their two part arrangement of my favourite christmas carol, 'O Holy Night'. They sang their hearts out.
True enough, I hadn't slept in a week, and was totally disillusioned with my fellow band members and the whole thing, but after they left I stayed up for another two hours working on my accompaniment. It felt like the right thing to do, something I could actually put my time and energy into that I would get something out of.
And so the concert came together, with choirs from the Dutch (bloody horrible, couldn't sing to save their lives), American/Canadian/Australian (all mushed up into one), Philipino, and my faves, the Indonesians, all accompanied by Your Humble Correspondent on the Steinway. The majority of passengers on that week were Jewish, who (word had it) would ditch the mainland that time of year in droves to escape Christmas. Presumably they weren't out there in the darkness, so I suppose the concert was put on for the remaining masses of white-haired Floridian retirees, you know, to show the oldies that the world really was a ethnically harmonic, brotherly-loving place after all.
Coming back in from that extraordinary tangent, the Philipino comp winner was great, and so was Friend! I hadn't heard her in a long time, but I knew she'd still have the goods and she did...ripped the roof off of the place!
Whole thing was accompanied by this jumpy looking piano guy with great stage presence and charisma, accompanied by two silver haired veterans (you know, guys who look like to do the gig they've had to take time off a busy schedule of making those little ships that stand up inside glass bottles on your mantlepiece! But then of course I think, is that me in 40 years!?). Got to hear the other two Aussie finalists as well, a bloke who's good mates with Uncle Dave and this extraordinary young singer from Sydney, currently living in New York.
The whole night had been truckloads of showbiz, especially from Phillipino winner guy, and I'm up for all that, but this girl got up and just sang the song. The song just...happened, no big 'sell', and because of that, it actually drew my attention into her and her performance so much more.
Great stuff, and gorgeous to hang with after - others were great to talk with too, as well as another friend who dropped by who I knew would be there - lots of fun had by all.
20 March 2006
Through all this sudden cold, London has brought us one golden spring Sunday as F and I drive down in the packed car from NW10 and into EC1. At this moment, I crave summer with every fibre of my being, more so than ever before! The pallid white English sunlight of the warmer months can never compare to the giant yellow flesh-cooking skyborne inferno of Down Under, but nevertheless it's more than welcome.
This afternoon's stop on Mike's Grand London Tour of Restaurant and Hotel Duo Gigs is at the end of Kingsway, the one big straight(ish) street running north-south from Euston Road to Aldwych. Our engagement is at the Bank Restaurant, a generic name for a generic place. Kind of reminded me of the ship a bit (ugh!) with its red plastic cushioned chairs and green glass ceiling, but it was a welcome contrast to the dreary grey of Bush House across the street.
Big windows, lots of mirrors - some light and air, and consequently quite a different crowd to the usual herds - families with little kids (some little toddler came up and gave us a £10 tip!), and thirty-something women out for lunch with friends, some of which may or may not have caught my eye as they passed by. Me, I was too busy trying to keep bass tumbao in the left, piano tumbao in the right and trying to sing unison lines in Spanish with F, so I probably looked a little confused - d'oh!
No grief from the management, a nice, free lunch, and we wrap up the three-setter no troubles. The diary is filling up with engagements of this sort, and I love all the work, but I need some other stuff now to counter it - some more band work, a hipper scene to hang on (maybe talk to some girls!?) - F and I talk of plans for maybe a night sometime down the track, proper advertising and all. Could be something....
17 March 2006
The breeze comes up and I'm at the river....in what's the usual case for me regarding this town, while I don't actually like the river, I do like being at the river, as the whole place opens up for a while. The panorama from the bridge is quite an awe-inspiring sight as I begin to cross, as from that view one can see how the city's history is openly reflected in it's buildings. I guess that's like any major city I suppose, but for this town it's a strikingly available cross-section.
Over my left shoulder is St Pauls, still just as amazing every time I see it, a timeless landmark of a city levelled by fire and flood, and also of it's architect Christopher Wren and his boys, enthralled in their 17th century Masonic conspiracy to transform the place into the new Jerusalem of the West. Just behind, the gloomy fingers of the Barbican, an incredible cultural centre, point defiantly into the grey green glow of the night sky. A little further along is St Mary's Axe, infamously known to Londoners as 'The Gherkin', a gleaming geometric wonder of upwardly sprialling steel and blue glass, a rocket ship that could take off at any second.
One's eyes sweep past the old City and across in the distance to Canary Wharf, the silvery eastern outpost of rampant commercialism, banking, finance, big business. Thoughts turn to a particular afternoon with D-Funk, sitting at the All Bar One on the other side of the square from the tube station, surrounded by hundreds of the work crowd, a sea of black and grey, all strapped in for the Thursday night booze up. Two musicians trapped in a horrible Orwellian nightmare of clocks and that big screen spewing out share prices, stock market figures, other such useless information - hemmed in on all sides by those buildings clustered in on each other, strangely fragile looking, like a big gust of wind could just blow them all away....so inhuman, so impersonal....
Couldn't help but look back at that dark area, between Canary Wharf and the City, to the area known as Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest areas of England sandwiched between historical glory and big business. Reminded me of the time I worked there, during my Temping Tour of Greater London, and a certain manic morning in July, just when I thought things couldn't get worse. Determined to get to my job, I walked for three hours past closed Tube stations and helicopters and thousands of confused people on the streets and endless sirens, and strangely never thought to ask anyone what was going on. And then, the next morning on the Tube, no-one, like Day of the Triffids or something.
Coming back round to Southbank ahead of me, my gaze crosses the bridge in front of me and to the right, and there's Oxo Tower, bastion of middle class consumer culture. There's a certain reminiscent charm in the Art Deco period - fronting the Thames, this particular building rather resembles a big white cake, complete with purple coloured icing (the lighting atop the restaurant and function centre) and one big fat candle with large red neon letters.
I can't help but smile. There's standing proof of how through a load of determination, a bit of luck and being a nice guy, things did turn around. My full time in the office world did wrap up, the gigs did come in, as well as the teaching....
The river winds back and the various bridges and railway stations pop up, with the tower of Westminster off in the distance, and I continue down into the South bank.
Is this a nice place? An inviting place? From this particular inhabitant, having lived here just over a year now, that's a categorical no on both counts. But I won't deny for a second that this is an incredible, awe-inspiring place that entirely captures one's focus and attention....
16 March 2006
So after the usual tedium and personality clashes, the terrace at old 322 Cardigan Street was nearing an end. We were all looking for places to go, and Mel dug up an ad in the papers that happened to be about half a block away, so one Saturday morning she walks up to this guy's apartment. Turns out it's on one of those little side lanes that come off the main street into the block (yet another European echo in Melbourne that I can now recall), and so it's got that nice off-street vibe.
Mel rings the door bell and is invited in by this 20-something business executive guy. She takes a seat in the living room nearby to a strangely non-caring Japanese housemate knitting in the corner, while the owner-landlord-executive-whatever guy is apparently tearing strips off a worried looking former tenant before his (the former tenant's) rapid departure. Mel's a little curious, but decides to stay.
Executive now starts talking to Mel, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not one of those usual rent deals. The guy earns a truckload of money, and consequently owns or is paying off the place, while possibly doing copious amounts of recreational drugs. He's also got some sort of interest in being a film director, and suddenly produces a small white rectangular plastic sign that says, in large black print:
'No Junk Mail'
and then in smaller print below,
"The Junk Mail Watchdog Is Watching."
The unusual rent deal that this guy would like Mel to participate in is as follows; Executive does not want Mel to pay the $100 a week rent, instead he wants her to buy a hundred of these little signs at $1 a piece and sell 100 of them each week. Executive would follow Mel around with his film camera and make a documentary of said objective, and in doing so would possibly create and perpetuate some sort of mythical Junk Mail Watchdog.
Executive was quite enthusiastic about the prospect, and to assist the now comically perplexed Mel, he puts on a 'training video', which sounds like just some random DVD he's pulled off the shelf, and disappears back off into the apartment, while Mel watches on in amazement.
She turns to Japanese girl, who through the whole time hasn't moved or said anything.
"Is this how you pay your rent?"
Japanese girl looks up, shrugs her shoulders, sighs:
"I don't have the time."
Executive emerges, and Mel decides to leave. She'll get back to him, stay in contact (which she might have actually meant for a time), see how the project goes.....
The concoction of the plan alone astounds me. Also, Mel's a professional actress, so whenever she tells stories in the flesh (like this one), they're always ten times funnier.
Speaking of local 'rent deals', here's a link that old mate J-Sax clued me up to yesterday, an equally bizarre situation that might amuse you all....
15 March 2006
Today I am celebrating Purim, the orthodox Jewish version of Halloween. Why, you may ask? Today the orthodox Jewish boys primary school, at which I teach keyboard classes, is closed, providing some respite from sixteen loud and rowdy little boys who never do their practice and talk Hebrew amongst themselves while I am trying to explain to them the beauty and wonder of a C major arpeggio.
Back at Chancery Lane, while ruffling through a folded up 'Metro' I found on a seat somewhere, I come across a highly amusing article in the entertainment section on 'Hebe Hop' - this is worth an out-loud laugh - it lists artists like 50 Shekel, Dr Dreidel, Ice Berg, and offers a lyric quote: "My nose is so large so you know I'm in charge." Hilarous!
Conga player F comes around in the afternoon and we run a couple of things for the gig this Sunday, main focus being singing some coro's together, sometimes unison, sometimes harmony. "We'll just sing quietly to ourselves," says the eternally-cool F, "just so we can get it together - maybe no-one will be listening." For now, that suits me just fine! I'm getting into this singing thing...long overdue.
Trooper that I am, I pack up the keys and put in the usual Herculean effort in lugging down to the overland station for my next rehersal with 'Yes Brazil', this new showband I've just joined. Originally it was 'No Brazil' for me, but after much tedium it looks like I'm back in. I'm doing lots of restaurant gigs at the moment, but I'm hanging to get back into more band work (and that scene, strangely enough). That being said, the main reason why I've joined this band is not for the the music but for the troop of ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS dancing girls that we do most of these corporate gigs with. Seems funny that after ten years of being a professional musician, this is the first band I've ever joined for non-musical reasons!
As requested, I get to Acton Town bang on 7pm, but thanks to cars and delayed trains and lifts and stuff, we don't start until 8.30. Somehow, most of the rest of the band all bailed today, leaving over-energetic singer (currently running the band), bass player, tired hungry disgruntled Oz keyboard player slumped in the corner, and nice older woman saxophone player, who can't read any of the charts because she's an alto player and they're all for tenor.....
My three teaching groups this morning are not responsive. We had lots of fun last week, but today I am ill-prepared and they aren't doing their practice. Leaving the Bakerloo at Oxford Circus to change for the Central Line, I enter the platform to find loads of people, an unmoving train, and no announcements. No-one knows what's going on - bad vibe, time to bail. I come back out to find a bus, but as I get on my Oyster card suddenly has no money on it, and these buses on Oxford Street don't take money.
Sighing the Londoner's sigh of frustration at this whole place, I cut through the crowds to the next Central Line station, Tottenham Court Road. Waiting behind one person at the Oyster top-up machine, I go to present my card and the machine closes in front of me. In the middle of a weekday. In central London.
Back up into Oxford Street, I walk past my bank to deposit a cheque. The queue is as long as forever, and the one machine that takes cheques is, strangely enough, not working. I press on, walking the length of Oxford Street, past Holborn, and finally to Chancery Lane, my turn. I get into my desk job a little late, to be expected, and crackly crazy Kath, my co-worker, probably in the midst of yet another panicky afternoon, starts with:
"Right, now, first things first...you're meant to be here at 1.30."
There is little work to do and she's not my boss.
"The tube was delayed," I mutter frustratedly.
"Yes yes, I know, not having a go at you, it's okay, these things happen...but try to be on time, okay?"
The randomness of spring weather has brought us central Londoners a cold snap this past week, and a breeze springs up, a real London winter breeze - cold, steady, relentless. Without knowing, my hands perform the simultaneous movement of the English winter-dweller, pulling the scarf up out of my big grey coat, and pulling my beanie down over my brow as I stride down the long straight road.
I turn a corner, take some stairs, and a cold wind like loneliness blows across my shoulders, down my neck and the backs of my arms, seemingly straight through my big grey coat. But tonight I wear it inside my big grey coat, because I'm off to a gig. I'm off to meet a friendly employer and do the one thing that I love to do the most in the world. I give a shrug of the shoulders, and the feeling leaves me, as quick and as whimsical as the wind, and I press on, in my shiny new black shoes.
Tonight, I'm doing a job, so for now, everything's all right.
12 March 2006
"It's all about relationships," says Uncle Dave, and he's right in more ways than one - in a job which primarily relies on who you know, the relationships you have with your employers and fellow musicians can have a profound impact on one's own musical outlook, as well as providing the fodder for some bloody good stories.
Some people you meet on the scene become lifelong friends....some give you the cold shoulder and you hopefully never see them again, or maybe you end up joining a long-standing band with them...most are just faces along the way....all have some sort of influence.
Henceforth, I'm going to start with a preface of sorts...at the risk of over-sentimentality, I'm going to delve back into the pre-history of it all, to write briefly of a non-musician...
1. Dr Rouse
Some of you may not know this about me, but.....wait for it.....I'm not from London originally! Nor Melbourne. Nor Canberra even. No, I grew up in Cootamundra, a small country town in New South Wales - small enough to know plenty of people down the main street, but big enough to not know all of them. Surrounded by rolling fields of grazing, crops, not too far (by Oz standards) from the mountains or the ocean or major cities - a nice place to live, to bring up a family.
A conservative place - churchgoing, RSL, bowls, pubs...the bellowing tones of a loudspeaker from the local pool on a Saturday afternoon, and the occasional siren from the local firestation (on my block funnily enough), were about the most noise and action you got.
People from other countries? Hardly any. Live music scene? Not much*.
About the most interesting people in town were my parent's friends, the drama society crowd. Aussies love eccentrics - it's a big place with lots of space and you can do whatever you like, and if you have your own idiosyncratic way of doing it, then people will love and respect you. So I guess from an early age I was already used to being surrounded by crazy characters (which maybe says something about the profession I've ended up in!).
So it came about in my early high school years that I needed braces, and so a trip to an orthodontist of repute was in order. An initial consultation was arranged for which we had to take the usual drive to the nearby city of Wagga Wagga (yes housemates, it's an actual place, not just a funny word said twice), about an hour away.
I couldn't believe how cool this guy was! An orthodontist for goodness sake! Here's my folks earnestly questioning him about their son's future dental health, and he's comprehensively answering every concern, and at the same time doing it in an amazingly charismatic, self-assured manner, throwing around x-rays and charts like it was nobody's business! And here's me, nervous teenager in the chair, awestruck at how easygoing this guy is. Until then I'd known people eccentric and outgoing, but never as chilled out as he was.
Sadly I never got to see Dr Rouse too often after that, as he was leaving the practice for an early retirement trip around the world (nice for some!), but the personality traits that I first saw in him would be ones that I would see again and again in the people that would become my musical teachers and colleagues.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, musicians are attracted to playing music because of the music, but the personalities involved also play a hugely important part. Of course, what has kept me at it this past ten years is the musical stimulation, but at the end of the day, music is made by people, for people, most often about people, and it's only recently, in the last couple of years say, that I've realised how important a part people and their personalities play, and how often they are intertwined with one's own musical adventures.
Sometimes it even makes you wonder, do you do it for the actual musical reasons? Or do you do it for the social reasons? Or maybe a hazy mixture of both?
More characters to follow.....
* Just wanted to drop a word in here for The Old Zen Master (you know who you are!), who actually does run a couple of things in the Wattle Town....
10 March 2006
.....start the long walk up the hill to the tube, stopping to pick up a Time Out on the way, see what's on in town this week.....sans Walkman which has just broken down, oh well, pick up another one in town sometime soon....
....rush hour, tube is packed.....I stand physically close among these people but I am no longer one of them, as I was last year....just cruising into my day job, no worries, no angst at any kind of messed up situation. It used to be like that, but not anymore....
....sit at my desk, typing merrily away....decided to take the plunge and become a full member of the dating site I've been checking out, after seeing someone that quite caught my eye....wrote my message, laughed out loud, a little self-consciously, but had some fun with it, hopefully as always....
.....incidentally, it's a week's anniversary of my first gig on BACKING VOCALS! After a long and tedious story, turns out it really is Yes!!!Brazil (that's the name of the band)...the opportunity was there at our gig last Friday, and I had a bash, with quite mixed results, but I gave it a go....what's that thing about doing one thing a day which scares you?....it was all in Spanish and Portuguese too, by the way!....
.....met former housemate B for a coffee around the corner....talked about how our lives are going in astoudingly different directions.....showed me the photos....couldn't quite believe it, on my second coffee of the day, sitting there in that cafe on High Holborn on a spring Friday afternoon, across from her, seeing those fuzzy black and white pictures, looking at her face, knowing that that little life is growing inside her body.....
....back to desk job, ho hum, surf the net, spend too much time on my own and other people's blogs....thinking about a couple of things....like the sound of the sea on a beach off in the distance - the sound of those thoughts is always there but sometimes you forget to hear it....gotta start thinking some things through this weekend, can't put them off....
.....hour's tube ride to my one Friday student this afternoon, easy....back home to change for my gig tonight at Quags - more or less easy....it's gonna be a pull-together affair agian, as usual, but if I keep my thinking cap strapped on it'll be okay....
.....weekend at home - easy.....gotta think through some things....it'll be okay, as long as I start now....I don't own a watch, but for me the sound of the clock is always there, always ticking......
Right now, it's all great. After a whole bunch of mistakes and some unfortunate chance occurences, I finally made it here, but London, she didn't like me when I first got in, she wanted to work me out for a bit, see what I was made of.
But I righted the ship, I turned it around, I sailed out of the storm, and as far as I'm concerned now, it all really is clear weather....
So what now?
Income? No worries....Friends? Loads.....House? Great....Housemates? Top blokes....Gigs? Could always be more but I'm not complaining....Continental jaunts? Got the hang of it.....
I've done all this before.
What's the next bit? Where's the coda? When are drums and bass gonna ditch the quasi latin feel and rip into the swing like they were always going to before the tune started? Where are the hits to bring in the montuno section?....
There are a couple of plans afoot, but I gotta start checking them out NOW. And that means confronting a couple of things which led me to those mistakes before, the lead up to and including the madness between Septembers...
They're a hazy mix, that lot, more determined than you might imagine, stronger than you previously reckoned. But some days, when you take a deep breath - one of those truly inspiring ones that you can feel in your diaphragm at the bottom of your lungs and your chest fills out, one of those ones when you know you're alive - when you take a deep breath and exhale at them, or exhale them out of you, then you realise that they're not so determined, not so strong, that in fact they melt away, to your own astonishment, revealing the energy and potential beneath...
My ex-girlfriend is an opera singer, and being with her was an opera, in every possible way you can imagine! Dizzying highs, terrifying lows, and everything in between. Despite everything that happened, I still hold her in the highest regard as a truly amazing person.
And during the final climactic act of our relationship, in that crazy summer of last year, some of the most important lessons that I ever learnt from her came to the fore.
As your protagonist (a tenor, I suppose) was wallowing in his own seemingly desperate situation, the soprano would enter briefly from the wings to sing various passages of amazing truth and beauty.....
"We've all got our demons," she said, "and they might be walking behind you right there, but the thing is, you walk with them."
You walk with them.
That is, you do your utmost to beat them back, and sometimes it works, but even if you never manage to.....Radiohead, 'Optimistic' - "If you try the best you can....the best you can is good enough"....the effort put in is worth it....
Okay, enough morals this time round....whew, that second coffee is a killer!....
08 March 2006
And so, in this vein (but of course not of the same literary standing), I present to you a scene from a play in which your correspondent has been a sometimes unwilling character for the past, I don't know, seven years!? It's a truly enthralling saga, based on the undying paradox that emotions are so high, and yet the stakes so low, the events taking place almost fatally boring...or maybe this could be a radio play, you know, found on some AM station between 2 and 3 on a Saturday afternoon while painting ceilings or something....
I proudly present to you:
Scene #6457 - In The Kitchen (again)
(Curtain opens. It is the kitchen, around 8AM. The kitchen is small, with cupboards at stage left, oven/range at stage right, and the sink beneath a large window at the rear. THAT GUY, our main protagonist, sits at a stool at the counter with his back to the audience, slumped over breakfast and some papers. Some light jazz is playing from a dodgy CD player close to his left. The small room is lit by a pallid English spring morning light.)
(Enter DJ, wearing black pants and white shirt with tie. The tie is part of his work ethic these days.)
That Guy: All right, geezer?
DJ: All right.
(DJ makes himself some toast and a coffee and quietly sits on another stool at the counter opposite to THAT GUY, facing the audience.)
DJ: What you got this kill-yourself music on for!?
That Guy: (amused but far too seriously as usual) I happen to like this album!
DJ: (laughs) No, it's all right (trails off).
(A moment in the quiet of breakfast time passes. Suddenly, ex housemate B, recently moved out, startles in.)
B: (to THAT GUY) Hello chicken!
(They exchange pleasantries. B goes to the sink to pour herself a glass of water. B and DJ's disdain for each other is obvious. The tension in the air is palpable, at least to THAT GUY.)
That Guy: I didn't know you were coming over this morning?
B: Well, neither did we. The delivery guy rang us, said, "Oh, I'll be over in twenty minutes." Stupid English.
(BING! there it is....A brief moment...DJ, ever the staunch patriot, cannot resist the cue.)
DJ: (turning in his stool to face B) What the fuck did you say that for?
B: (instantly) Well, it's true. Anyone knows that the morning is like, well, eleven to three, but this guy calls up at eight...it's like the whole country.
DJ: Yeah, but how the fuck can you say something like that? Don't say shit like that.
(THAT GUY, truly tired of seven years of putting up with this kind of thing, but ever the diplomat, decides to pipe in with his two bobs worth.)
That Guy: Yeah, bloody English, what's the good of them, eh?
(The comment somehow disappears into the ether. B is staring daggers at DJ, who is returning her gaze.)
That Guy: And the French, what a joke.
B: Yeah, well it's this whole country, you know...everyone knows that morning is eleven till three...
That Guy: And while we're at it, I think we should all hack on the Swedish! They can't do food, they're all bloody gorgeous, and all that Ikea stuff is crap anyway (trails off).
(THAT GUY looks on amused, satisfied at his own dumb humour, marvelling at how morning now includes two hours of the afternoon.)
(B swiftly exits stage left in a flurry. Enter D-FUNK from stage right.)
D-Funk: All right?
That Guy: All right geezer!
(D-FUNK picks up the CD cover from the top of the player, has a look.)
That Guy: That's awesome.
(D-FUNK returns the cover. Gaze distant, stance affected, D-FUNK walks to the sink to pour himself a glass of water. Clearly there are other things on his mind.)
(As it always does with D-FUNK, a moment passes.)
That Guy: What you doing here this morning?
(Another moment passes.)
D-Funk (in patented quasi-American accent): Oh, you know, just shipping these boxes off to France.
That Guy: Right.
(DJ has just finished his breakfast, exits stage right. Yet another moment passes. THAT GUY sips his coffee.)
That Guy: Did you get the photos of it?
D-Funk: No, but we saw it...going back for the photos on Thursday....saw it kickin' around...it's gonna be a groover, that's for sure.
(Another moment. D-FUNK exits stage right. DJ reenters, sits back down at the counter. A moment passes.)
That Guy: I'll turn this off now (moves his hand to the CD player. Music off).
DJ: No, that one was all right!
(Lights out. Curtain.)
Watch out, West End, it's a hit in the making!
Got to the gig mid afternoon - what a place! Big long rectangular room, Sunday night hang for the locals - all the trademarks of a rockin' gig in the making! The band are all right too. They run the tunes, I sit in for my little bit, otherwise hanging back for moral support.
M comes back with the baby after the rehersal, and we meet up with great friends for dinner before the gig, before returning 9pmish for B's set, the middle of three.
And she rocked the place, like I knew she would! Funny audience too but in the best way - usually these gigs people are doing their own thing and they come to the band when they want. This one, the whole audience was just standing there, watching the stage, for the whole night, like it was the focus of attention or something. I sat in on my little bit ('Don't Know Why' by Norah Jones), got my eight bar solo, clocked up my Netherlands rep, scooted back down into the crowd - party night was had by all.
Next day, M had to go to work, so B and I went into Goes (pronounced Hoo-es with a guttural G sound, for those not in the know)...bought some shirts and a box of truffles....she took me to the station and we said our goodbyes. So great to get out of the house, out of London, and across to continental fairyland with mum and dad and the baby and do things like watch TV and by clothes....
It was all so easy! Train back to Eindhoven for the flight, watching flatness and windmills (old-school brick ones, as well as the tall modern ones), changing trains...effortless. And all up, what a gorgeous place.....buildings new-looking and clean but not cold or inhuman....pretty little statutes of things like squirrels wherever you go....people were NICE to you in shops....public transport was CLEAN......the place was quite INVITING....and I'm jumping back on a plane going back to where again?....
04 March 2006
"How do you wrap something up like this?," I thought to myself in my bleary caffienated state. "Okay, so I've got tape and paper handy, no scissors somehow, but it's such an awkward shape, and the books, what do I do with them?"
By Schipol (first stop), I had gotten it all on to the paper, but it took me until about Roosendaal, indeed half the bloody journey, to get it all up and around....I ended up using the whole roll, but it was well worth it. It was a huge one of those soft toy jangly things that you hang up in a cot, plus half a dozen carefully selected Mr Men books, and I got it all in there somehow. It was my present to Simone, newborn daughter of my dear friend B and her new husband M, the first child of any one of my friends that I have ever known.
Goes is about two hours into the south-west corner of the Netherlands, closer to Antwerp, in fact it's on a "three-quarters island" with all the dykes and stuff...Lucky thought it out of the way, and it probably was for a country the size of Tasmania!
I embraced B as she charged in the railway station foyer - she hadn't changed a bit. Out the other side of the station, I was intrigued to meet her new husband, a Dutch sailor that she had met shortly after our two months together on the ship. We had all lived in such close quarters that I figured I'd recognise him, and as soon we shook hands, we almost said at the same time, "Yeah, I know you"!
We drove back to their tiny cottage by the canal and had a great afternoon, catching up on a whole year, and I finally got to meet little Simone, a whole one month old, such a placid little baby. Mum and Dad were okay with me not only holding but feeding her - a strangely electric experience...I never knew how long it took to feed babies - I was there for at least half an hour!
B and I spent two months together working contracts on a cruise ship in the Netherlands, and I have to say that my time on that ship changed some opinions I had about Americans. One thing that I especially learnt about them is how much fun they like to have, and their incredibly infectious enthusiasm. If they decide to party and you happen to be around, then it's fasten your seatbelts! This was definitely the case with the ones I met and hung with - Big Bass Drum (see links) and his gorgeous family were that way, and B was the queen of that.
In this spirit of gusto, we all jumped in the car shortly afterwards, speeding off to a nearby village (totally Legoland!) where we took a place on some street and watched the local carnival parade. A town of no more than a thousand, and there was this huge parade, featuring floats that had taken months to build....a house-sized race car crawls noisily by, follwed by a giant rotating Elvis head two storeys high, complete with army of impersonators....and the highlight? This big stoner hut on the back of a truck, complete with three-metre long joint pouring smoke! With little kids running around in hippie costumes! Wicked! B and I couldn't believe it, with Simone in the kinderwagon and M looking on calmly from the side of the street - a yearly occurence he's obviously grown up with. Got the full driving tour around the local area, did some shopping...a great afternooon melting into a lovely evening back at the house.
Seeing these two great people and their newborn, I couldn't help but let it all put my own bachelor life into perspective....cooking food for ME, earning money for ME, buying clothes for ME, getting up on the weekend whenever I want to, doing whatever I please whenever I please it. It's a charmed life I know, but spending time with this beautiful young family got me thinking about a few things.
B tells me that at the moment, you take a little longer to leave the house, you got to think ahead in a couple of different ways, and other than that it's the same...they're still the same people, plus the fact that they have each other and this amazing little life growing daily before their very eyes. Concerns for the future? Probably - who doesn't? - but they have each other, and will face these concerns together.
Quite a perspective....
02 March 2006
I'd been pretty fired up about this particular adventure - five years of tredley power was my principal method of transport back in the BC, and yet in London I'm still yet to purchase, not having ridden regularly for a whole year! Add to that no sleep for most of the week preceeding, caffeined to the eyeballs, suddenly realising that it was right-hand drive, and with back-pedal brakes (like I'm suddenly eight years old again), I chuckled out loud with delight (getting to be a habit on these little continental jaunts) and set off in earnest.
You have to have a spare set of eyes in the back of your head in this town...everyone drives everywhere! Cars drive where the trams go, scooters go where the bikes go, and pedestrians and bikes go wherever they please. My excitement found me rapidly overtaking the locals for a couple of blocks until I realised I'd lost my map! Regardless, fearless, the spirit of adventure overwhelming, I pressed on....
First stop the Jordaan, the cute little burb just to the west of the city. This is where musos would live if they could afford it. Saw some gorgeous streets with local cafes and restaurants and stuff and dropped into an awesome CD store with the biggest soul collection I think I've ever seen....
Dodging construction sites left right and centre, I moseyed on back into town and down to the Vondelspark, the big rectangular stretch of green a little outside the centre. Even in winter it was beautiful, and I could see that in summer it would be THE place to hang. As I cruised along the eastern side, the houses got bigger and more amazing until I got to the bottom corner and was astonished at these small palaces, set on a canal which came up to the park, with a little stone bridge off in the distance. Intrigued, I came back up the other side of the park, and then down to said bridge to have a look around at probably the plushest part of town.
Working my way back up a big street and one of the canals, I ended up in Museumplein, a truly amazing area....fronting the park are the Rijksmuseum (home of Rembrandt's works), Van Gogh museum, the music conservatory and the Concertgebouw (main classical venue in town)...a real cultural precinct....
After returning the bike I wandered off for another five euro special before finding an electro-acoustic gig...can't remember what the place was called, and the music left something to be desired, but the set-up of the venue was awesome...big restaurant place downstairs, then up some stairs to a bar, then through two sets of doors (i.e, the bar is close but not in the same space as the music) and into the performance room, with full lighting desk and sound system setup. Never seen anything like it!
Back to Lucky's place, out in the 'sticks' apparently (a whole 15 minute tram ride), where we put in a late night drinking session with Lucky's delightful girlfriend....
01 March 2006
Zooming down the freeway, a freeway like many others I've seen before...looking out the window at factories, houses, apartment buildings, like loads I've seen before. Sure, the odd canal and river pops up, and there's a triangular nature to the houses, but it's all variations on a theme, all seen before....
Wait, I know where....Legoland! That's where I've seen it all - being an avid builder in my kiddie days, suddenly recalling that this is the place where those plastic little bricks (killer if stepped on the wrong way in the dark) come from...
This travelling on your own thing, there's still a bit of a knack to it for me...spending all that money and time on oneself is a little unsettling somehow...just gotta get in the right frame of mind for it and I'll be okay....
Still feels unusual, staring off at the horizon, to have your view interrupted by things like a telecommunications tower, windmill, or block of flats, and not the childhood-programmed golden wheatfields and grazing pastures streching off to beyond....come on Mike, this is Western Europe, not the South West Slopes!
Aussies have no troubles travelling across this continent. The Europeans I speak to are boggle-eyed when I tell them about eight-hour drives from Melbourne to Canberra, or the time I caught the twelve hour overnight train from Melbs to Sydney (let alone the day and a half it takes to get back to Oz) and how us Great South Landers take all that for granted.
As we hurtle along the long, straight, grey freeway towards the city, the peripheral vision is caught by some flocks of birds passing overhead in the soft blue sky...naturally perfect delta wings, their effortless flight path at right angles to our own, the surprising expanse between us lending a striking visual effect. A bookworm friend of mine once paraphrased a Jose Luis Borges passage that talked about animals being immortal, as they have no sense of their own mortality. These small herds of black specks in the sky are confident at least in their purpose, their sense of direction....
Listening to Mos'Def, 'Black on Both Sides' again, MC'ing from the heart about his home town of Brooklyn....indeed, as we pass the 'Hotel Breukerleun' (or some such spelling)...it's all related....and yet through the dialogue about how at home he feels across the East River, the phrase springs up, "It's not where you're from, it's where you're at"...
So I stepped off the bus at Centraal, and do you know what the very first thing I smelt was? There wasn't even a coffeeshop nearby! To be expected I suppose. After a couple of errands I set off in earnest into the heart of town. It all goes in circles with the canals (the primary navigation reference among the locals), but with the streets it's all up down left right as well, making it the perfect town for a wandering tourist. Once I got past all the lame shops and stuff that the traveller is instantly presented with in any major city, the winding lanes turned on their charm.
And so it was quite inadvertently that I wandered into the infamous Red Light District. I later learnt that the Dutch have a proud defiance in leaving the curtains open in their windows, for passers-by to view directly inside their shops and homes. And in this part of town, the working girls were there, mostly naked, sitting, posing, standing in their neon-red-framed windows, for all the world to see...anything you want, keep walking around and you'll find it! Being Thursday lunchtime and all, it was a bit quiet in the hood...a large black woman peels an orange...an Asian woman sits in a chair and chats on the mobile phone...but on occasion you would see some guy in front, usually older, white-haired, go knock on a door to see what he could get for whatever was in his wallet....
I pass a larger window and one is warding off a potential customer with a look of consternation. She is small and thin with long white hair, and all of a sudden I feel sorry for her, for this whole situation...instantly followed at wonderment as to why I should only feel this for her in particular, and not for all of them...
I cross a bridge and a guy in a big jacket carrying a plastic bag suddenly switches a look over his shoulder, darts off down a laneway...DJ clued me up to this breed, to be found especially in this town...."It's like they've taken a bad acid trip in 1985 and haven't done much with their lives since"...an accurate observation, and I start to notice more and more sketchy characters as I stride along the streets...
Moving back into the main part of town, I made my way down through Dam into Rokin, picking up a tourist map, and eventually ended up in the Van Gogh Museum, a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours. A text beckoned me outside to meet up with Lucky, my connection in town. Lucky's an old friend from BC (the Bush Capital), great trombone player, and we've done our time in a couple of bands together. We repair to the nearest bar, catch up, have a laugh, and then he's off again. I keep wandering, ending up at a five-euro pizza place near Leidseplein, tipsy enough by now to ensure that I have an excellent time dining by myself, watching the restaurant cat (?) sitting at the bar with the other punters...
And so I find myself returning to the Red Light District, strangely fascinated, and it's business as usual...more windows are open (whoever's got the contract on neon-red in this town is on a goldmine!). Less old men this time, more packs of three and four guys, shaved heads, jackets and jeans....and straight couples ducking in and out of video stores, arms linked, pointing and giggling...
Passing the windows, I catch some winks, glances, poses, grins, and I grin politely in return....in a neighbourhood teeming with sexual attraction, how does a working girl ensnare her prey simply off a pose, a look?
Another BC mate, L, told me once of his adventures in Thailand, how the girls know what kind of person you are as soon as they see you. And so, in a moment of self-centredness, I am wondering, through that brief moment of the walk-past, in a glance exchanged between total strangers in an extraordinary situation, what these girls would perhaps make of me....
I walk by a row of half a dozen smaller booths, and in that split second, one laughs at me and taps on the window to draw my attention. Chuckling to myself, I am suddenly quite tired of the whole experience, and turn my stride towards the next meeting spot.
I hook up with Lucky in a cosy pub just down from his gig, across from a cute little canal bridge lit up by fairy lights. A day's walking with two bags has me beat, and so we down a couple of pints and then tram off into the suburbs...