I've only just returned to Tantawangalo from five fairly intensive days in the great musical city of Melbourne. I thought it would be good to write a bit while I’m still in that transitional space between everything that I experienced down there and all the things that are calling to me now that I am back home.
The city turned it on exceptionally well for me, I feel. I found myself amongst many thousands of extra visitors in town for the Australian Football League Grand Final, but in spite of this a very warm Melbournian welcome came through. Suzanne and her staff hosted a great little in-store show for me downtown at their wonderful record shop, The Basement Discs. My new CD, Not The Express, has been a featured album at The Basement for the last month. I played to a fine group of listeners from a very colourful stage that looked like it had been set up for royalty!
I also had an invitation to attend a concert of classical Indian music at Monash University, featuring master tabla player Dr Aneesh Pradhan and Dr Adrian McNeil, Eastern Music Lecturer at Monash. Dr McNeil brought his sarod to Candelo Town Hall for a performance some years back, so I already had a of hint of what I might be in for. But I have never seen or heard anything quite like the 50 minutes of solo tabla interpretations and improvisations that Dr Pradhan gifted us with. Memorable in every way!
On my very last day in town, I spent a relaxed afternoon with Pugsley Buzzard and his faultless New Orleans stride piano at the Drunken Poet Pub in Peel Street. Pugsley’s got the blues down to his bones, that’s certain, and he delivers his message with the low-down, raspy authority of Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits. The perfect mix with those couple of pints of Guinness served up by Siobhan who was tending the Drunken Poet bar on the day, with genuine Celtic grace and charm.
Along with these highlights, of course, there were any number of those sudden little cafe or on-the-street epiphanies when, all of a sudden, you just make contact with something: with a person, or a mood, or a sound, a smell, a sight, or simply with the almost overwhelming energy of the passing flow of the city itself. The pulse, the beat of the place. The sorts of gifts that fall to the traveller.
While in town I also had the honour of appearing live one evening on ABC Radio 774, Statewide Victoria.
When I returned to my accommodation after this encounter, I wrote a letter to an old friend about the experience. It’s a pretty fair summary of the event, so I'm including it here in its entirety, knowing with certainty that Bob won’t mind.
I was thinking of you tonight, walking up and down the main street in this suburb of Melbourne that I’m staying in.
In a place about as small as The Plumb Crazy* (*Bob’s sailboat, where I stay when in the SF Bay Area) I might add. An old single-room house trailer (called a caravan in these parts) in somebody’s back yard. Complete with a funky (but private) kitchen and bath house. Airbnb. Itinerant accommodation, and pretty friendly.
Anyhow - back to why I was thinking of you. I was actually looking for a bowl of noodle soup - you know, like we’ve done together at an early AM hour in Oakland a few times. And what came to mind was: damn! If this were Bob’s town, he’d know exactly where to go! In fact, he’d know exactly how to drive us there, and would do so almost effortlessly, in the middle of talking stories as we usually do when we’re together.
Too bad. But perhaps another time. And who knows - maybe then it will be tacos in the Mission District of San Francisco!
Anyway, before this unsuccessful noodle search I had an interesting on-air interview with a fellow who’s a musician, writer and composer - of a hit Aussie musical, amongst other things. The two of us clicked. Especially when he asked that almost inevitable question about who my influences were - who I had listened to that had made me want to write songs.
I’d heard it before. This time though, I was ready. I had done some thinking about it.
Without hesitation, I answered “William Shakespeare. My first and most enduring influence. Classics Illustrated Comic Books. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth. I read them as a kid. They were illustrated comics alright, but the language … it was Shakespeare in pure form, verbatim. It knocked me out. How could I not become a writer after that?”
While I was answering, I looked across the studio console at my interviewer. He was lit up. I could tell he was inspired.
Almost instantaneously, he began quoting first lines from his favourite Shakespearean sonnets. He then spoke of the condensed nature, the compactness of the language of poetry and theatre, and of how the craft of songwriting calls the writer to something different. In his words, to find air, breathing space, for the words. Space for the listener to come into the conversation.
I don’t know if our talk set any red lights flashing on the ABC Melbourne complaint line (if they have one) but who cares? In so far as I am concerned, we were participating in a moment of truth. A moment of communion. A moment so powerful that I forgot that I was live on radio!
Casey Bennetto is the fellow’s name. He appears to be one of those people who are tuned in to the great Cosmic belly-laugh. As I was halfway through performing my first song, he picked up the big Maton Dreadnaught that was sitting next to him and started playing accompaniment spontaneously. He played pretty well, too. You have no idea how much looking over the console desk at him smiling and having a great time just had me relax. And it was totally appropriate, in view of our talk, to be doing the song together.
So anyhow - that was my night. And now: unaccustomed planes flying overhead, unaccustomed city noises. And out in the streets and neighbourhoods, everything sectioned off. Different from home. An unfamiliar place, yet full of possibility.
And here I am, answering the call of the troubadour.
Such a call as it is!
(With Casey Bennetto, ABC Radio 774 Statewide Victoria)