WEEKEND

Your letter arrived as I was starting work on a record review. It nudged me out of the slightly prosaic place commercial writing seems to have carved out. That sounds negative; maybe it is. After seven years of blogging and two of paid music writing there’s a rhythm, a beat I can call up fairly easily. But there is less ‘me’ in the writing. Eventually we run low on stories, I guess.

But then, unexpectedly, tales reappear (re-mixed and re-issued) and we are gently shaken, perhaps stirred. Quoting back words I’d written years ago in response to your own writing, via the connecting tissue of a sharp-eared listener certainly took me by surprise. Not your generosity and appreciation—those attributes permeate your blogging; indeed, are its heart—rather, reading what I’d written. The urge to create in response was strong and I started writing a notional piece for Lonely Keyboards. Some day we must discuss the exhibitionism of blogging, or perhaps creativity in general, but for now, here is what was written around 10:30pm that night…

We watched War of the Worlds, eating pizza out of the box. Friday evening down time. Greasy fingers and grubby Tom Cruise carrying his daughter around. Shared a bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc (the parents) and leaned into the edge blurring gift of poison. Somehow the end of the world seems less diverting these days. Ms Connection retired soon after the boy, both tired. Tiring times. Scary times, which we ignore by reciting statistics that do not comfort. Noting places worse off than here; higher figures, more deaths. Tom was taking his daughter to Boston, mostly on foot. I thought about my blog friend in the city people say is a little like my own and wondered if I would ever travel again, after all this hiding from an alien virus. Shook myself. There’s a music piece to write for the paying gig, an album I know so well I could write without listening. If the tinnitus continues to worsen, that might be the end point; a bottom-feeding Beethoven. Mood can take a nosedive, unexpectedly. This afternoon I was excited to be making a Click and Collect pickup from a multi-story carpark. Only novel thing this week. The band I’m writing about started in New Zealand, arty and eccentric, and broke through (to commercial success) with easier, catchier songs on their 1980 album. Be simple, be accepted. Wine’s finished. If I have a liqueur it will full-stop the writing, or at least semi-colon it. Tom’s daughter screamed an awful lot. Mrs Fanning, could you ask your daughter to scream please? Wonderful, she has the part. An incoming email distracts. An acknowledgement and expression of gratitude from the Boston fellow-writer I’d been thinking about earlier. Giving back something I wrote six years ago. Do I recognise that person, six years younger and at least six aches fewer? More arty and more articulate? Reflections on the glass being three-quarters empty are a speciality of the house. Yet this is a thing of beauty, appreciation circulating the globe. This is connection, between people shackled yet perhaps not. These are ripples, that spread and touch and seed new life. This is thank you to a deaf universe.

That should be the end, but it isn’t. I’m pasting the words into WordPress and bustling to take a photo of the pizza box because that is all I can think of for the feature image, when the sound of moaning distracts. It’s coming from our bedroom. Ms Connection is the source and she is not good. It’s a carbon copy of an attack that happened earlier this year while we were in the rental and it scared the bejeezus out of me. What to do? We agree to call an ambulance. Two young masked paramedics attend; calm, competent and firm in their recommendation to take a ride to ER. I rush around collecting a few things and bundle her into the van. Hands against the glass I mouth, message me. The paramedic nods; the patient is too distracted to notice.

Waiting up until she is cleared, I settle in to watch a rubbish movie I’ve recorded onto the hard drive. Another DC bullshit superhero story and a part of me is yelling ‘garbage!’ at the screen, but silently so as not to disturb the boy. He got up after the ambulance left, reassured by my calming report but unsettled by the sound of a parent in distress. He goes back to bed, I return to the film. It fills a couple of hours until I can go collect her at 2:30 am.

Saturday was a recovery day, except that I’d booked to collect some plants for the rear decking. We need a screen, more for the neighbours than us, so a shrubbery is called for. Driving out of the contactless carpark, some kids in a nearby vehicle laugh and point. I have a small forest in the car. I grin and wave through the fronds. That afternoon the hard drive with twenty years of family photos dies. The boy’s entire digital life from bump to 180cm, sitting in an inert metal box. Until I can get out and about, there’s no way of knowing whether that pictorial record lives.

He mooches along in lockdown, the boy. Ticking off school work with mature efficiency and a minimum of fuss. He’s amazing, really, though he doesn’t like to hear how much I admire him. Fifteen is an awkward age. But I want to do something with him and wander into his room. The door is open; reading on your bed is a teenage universal, I think. Browse the games on his shelf. Gloom. That sounds eerily appropriate for the world at present. Have we played this? Nup. And he’s had it a year and a half. This afternoon, I say decisively. Yep, he agrees. You read the instructions, and explain it to me. OK.

The game involves each player having a family grouping of odd and macabre characters. The goal is to reduce their self-esteem until they die, with the winner being the one with the lowest self worth. You gain points by having a picnic and lose them when bears attack you. I’m up for this. We’re ready to play, later than expected but keen. Except the atmosphere in the house has changed. Ms Connection’s mother, slowly descending towards the big sleep, has died on the other side of the world. It wasn’t unexpected, but it is a sea change. Something seismic shifts when the second parent dies. The boy and I hover, unable to help but ready and willing to hug. Play the game, she says. We play as she watches from behind the breakfast bar, making dinner. Gloom. The irony is laid on with a shovel. It’s surreal, and we laugh, shaking our heads at each other.

I propose the Simon Pegg film Paul for evening entertainment. It goes down well.

After the others go to bed I want to write, but I’m tired and a little dazed. I remember a poster I saw in a shop back in the mid-seventies.

I try to take one day at a time

But sometimes several days attack me at once

Brushing teeth, I look at the face in the mirror. So conscious of ageing, diminishing; the undertow of depression tugs strongly sometimes. I shake my head at the bald bloke with toothpaste dribbling down his chin. There is this family trio in a warm house; there are friends across town who will be there after lockdown; people to connect with around the world whether you see them or not; a child who replenishes wonder every day. And of course, wine and music.

Looking up through the frosted glass the moon is three-quarter full.

 

EGGS

I

Trauma obliterates memory,

drowns feeling in a silent tide, misery deep.

A crown of thorns that sits just inside the skull.

II

Kind is warm, fleeting.

Compassion, connecting;

a current of tears.

III

One of my friends came out as trans.

I said courage, he said need.

I’m scared for him. And by her.

 

TIKI EVE

Some people are really good at casual social interactions. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I have to be convinced, cajoled or corralled into attending gatherings larger than four adults and even then it’s usually all I can do to avoid glancing at my watch with insulting frequency.

On reflection, my partner would probably substitute ‘and’ for ‘or’ in the previous sentence. Convinced, cajoled and corralled. I am just not that good at small talk.

It’s not that I dislike people. In low-density situations (preferably one-to-one) I relish human connection. In fact, I’ve made a career out of bounded intimacy. But parties aren’t my best thing, especially ones full of strangers. 

As we pulled up outside the New Year’s Eve party of a couple we’d never met, I glanced at said partner with a slightly troubled expression. Is this a bit odd? Rocking up to a tiki-themed NY party with a bottle of Margaret River Rosé and a garish pink shirt? She managed to roll her eyes and look lovingly amused simultaneously, which has a degree of difficulty of 4.2. I did wonder, she said mildly.

I knew the answer, of course. For the first time, a blogosphere entity was beaming from hyperspace into the real world. A fellow of diverse creativity, restless curiosity and a peppery reaction to intransigent stupidity, the source of our party invitation is also a prolific Facebooker, being responsible for more of my ‘Like’ clicks than anyone else during 2018.  (I recognise that last one, partner said in response to this observation. She does irony too). He’d also promptly and generously offered a sound production tutorial to a young musician friend and alerted me to one of the concert highlights of recent times: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Pity we didn’t actually meet on the night. 

Walking down the driveway, a little ahead of Ms Lonely Keyboards and the boy, I felt a pang of anxiety, instantly dissolved by the warm greeting and firm handshake of our host. We both grinned. Good to meet you. Come inside.

As we passed through a jungle of exotic decorations—all tiki-themed, of course—I realised that we were, in fact, the first to arrive. Gulp. The hostess was jamming small coloured edibles onto toothpicks, her smile of greeting just a little strained. Preparations were still very much in progress. We were unfashionably unlate. Double gulp.

Well, one thing I do know is that if you have a task, you feel less at sea. Ms Keyboards knows that intuitively, probably because her work rate is about triple that of normal humans. Or perhaps just mine. Anyway, within moments she had taken over the toothpick business, freeing the hostess for something else. Our host was also into spearing; bits of chicken onto pointy sticks. A-ha! Let me relieve you of that job, I said. Stabbing diced dead animal is a culinary task within even my limited capacities. As people dribbled in, I cheerily said hello and promptly forgot the names, but it didn’t matter. I was on the team and the pyramid of impaled chicken was growing steadily. 

When our jobs were done, we adjourned to a little table on the verandah and enjoyed the summer night, the wonderful range of tropical set decorations and even the tiki-themed music. Our host joined us for a few minutes, which was nice. It didn’t matter that our conversation was interrupted by welcoming duties; that’s the role of host, isn’t it? To facilitate the enjoyment of others. These particular others were a friendly couple; Peter said, sotto voce, you’ll like David, you have a lot in common. Off he bustled, off drifted the new arrivals, off drifted Ms Keyboards to see if there was any food for the boy. I wandered too, noting that the barbeque was starting up. Another job! Within minutes I’d commandeered a spare pair of tongs and was rotating the very same kebabs I’d prepared earlier. And sausages too. And some things with pineapple on sticks. You can take this Hawaiian thing too far, I said to the host. Fortunately he took the crack with good humour. There is a bond that forms when you’re sweating over a hot BBQ; a camaraderie forged in smoke and sweat and grilled meat. It’s a primal encounter where you also get to chat and drink. Having a yarn confirmed all I’d gleaned from this new friend’s posts and our email correspondence. It was really nice, and if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not cracking the halloumi, I’d have noticed I was remarkably relaxed.

Later, after supper, I was chatting to the musician Peter had introduced earlier. That was great too; lively, funny, filled with forays into different topics and random jumps from sound compression to Steve Winwood joining Steely Dan for an encore. 

Later again, Ms K and I were chatting to David and his wife. So, asked David, how do you know Peter? I just met him tonight, I said. What can only be described as a guffaw exploded. Seeing you barbequeing together, I assumed you’d known each other for years. I grinned back. Couple of hours.

Which just goes to show that what the world really needs is more barbeques. 

Or maybe more Tiki parties.

LAVA BAR

Lava Bar constructed by Peter and photographed by Wendy

IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

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