CHRISTMAS EVE

It’s early on Christmas Eve, just after seven. Still and overcast outside; mild but it will warm up later. Not too much though, the high thirties days are promised for later in the week. This year we get a temperate Christmas.

The house is quiet. Lulled by the low cloud, birds have slept in; their morning chatter drifts through open windows. Inside it’s silent. The boy is still abed and Cal has gone shopping for Christmas supplies. I’m going early, she said, it’ll be nuts by nine o’clock.

Silhouetted against the window is the tree, dark against the grey-blue sky. Even in the semi-dark I can see the drooping fronds. If there was more light I could see the tree’s sagging shoulders and wilted waist.

Cal ordered an Oxfam Christmas tree. It’s well covered with decorations and tinsel, but they don’t hide the desiccated limbs and browning pine needles. The tree arrived on a stinker of a day—a hundred degrees in the old currency—and never recovered. Always striving for perfection, Cal wanted to buy another one and start again but I couldn’t face the dismantle-rebuild, the floor covered with scented hypodermics, so I said no. As each day has passed I’ve felt more mean.

In the afternoons when the summer sun slams through the window she looks sadly at our dying tree but it’s too late to do anything now. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the boy transitioning to adolescence. He’s holding tenaciously onto ‘believing’ and we’re going along because we’re no more ready to surrender the innocence of childhood than he is. A part of me, a hard-nosed bit, wants to announce to all and sundry that this will be the last year of  Santa. Never liked the materialistic old bastard anyway. But I won’t, and even as I write I’m working out how to stop the boy reading this, because he is entitled to his naivety, to his participation in this December ritual. Shit, his Daddy has even played Father Christmas and got paid for it!

Decorating the tree is a Mother and child thing in our house. My contribution is to hang a couple of Christmas LP covers on the wall and a string of lights in the front window.

When I hung the lights this year, there was the usual awkwardness of tangled wires and the nervous tinkle of the glass globes knocking together. As I hooked them around the edge of the frame, they tapped against the glass, a rhythm evoking memories. We used to be on your family Christmas tree, they whisper. A spindly fake pine made magic by the deep, vivid colour of the decorative candlelights. These lights are as old as I am, still intact and still willing to cast their fifties glow into a different suburban street.

When I turned them on this year, they flickered then went dark. I carefully went around the perimeter, pinching the globes into their sockets. After all, they’ve been sitting in an old suitcase in the garage all year. Touching each candle seems a way of re-connecting with them, bringing them to life. When I get to the last globe, a red one (they are the best—deep scarlet with a glowing heart) it breaks into my hand. I’ve squeezed too hard and the glass, a half-century old and more, has fractured. Oh. There’s some anguish in my voice. Cal comes in to check I’m all right.

It’s OK, I say, but there’s a tightness in my throat. She hears it and says nothing. I hold out my hand with the crimson shards. The family Christmas lights, I just broke one. She nods. You OK? I nod back. We’re both thinking of my mother’s death, in April but so long ago. That’s quite all right in one way, but the death of the lights somehow hurts.

I scrabble around in the box, so old it is a collection of bits of cardboard rather than a container, and find a couple of loose globes from another, long defunct set. I screw one into the string and flick the power point. The lights burst into life, except for the odd one. It remains dark, but completes the circuit.

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MORE FANDOM THAN EKPHRASIS

I’ve just completed a long, wandering, engrossing journey with a man I’ve never met. Might never meet.

At the end and during, he writes about creativity, suicide, nature, work, self-absorption and music. Every post there was something I wanted to riff off; grab the baton and run (or at least trot) a few metres on my own, see if it took me somewhere else, somewhere different to where I am with my own writing.

The cage of music. That’s what it’s become. It’s a huge enclosure, none of your two-paces then reverse, bars in your face, shit on the floor penitentiary. No, this is a massive wildlife zone where you can ramble and explore and never quite know what is coming next. Like the Hunger Games dome, but with less teen deathporn and more prog rock.

But still, I have been feeling constrained; there are only so many memoir stories directly relating to albums. Without the personal, Vinyl Connection is just another music blog, jostling for space with a thousand others, frowning as it tries to find a unique voice. A voice about others’ work, others’ creativity. A bottom feeder. The music is made, recorded, it sells, gets played, gets shelved. Hundreds of albums a year, thousands of songs. It’s overwhelming. We carve out niches of expertise; passion becomes a castle. It’s impossible to keep up, so put your head down. Explore the contiguous unknown, buttress enjoyment with opinion, plug gaps with arcane knowledge. Collect.

One of my music pals, Michael PH, loves much of the same progressive music I do.

I remember Michael as a diffident young man in his early twenties, burrowing through my crates at a long distant record fair. I kind of recognised him from previous fairs, maybe he’d bought some of the records I stupidly sold when I bought the CDs. The gif I remember relates to an amazing album by Dave Greenslade and Patrick Woodroffe. The package is amazing, not the music. The music sucks.  Taste the disappointment, if you wish.

I was selling a spare copy (the old record collector ‘upgrade’ idea) and because it is kind of rare, punters kept taking it out of the protective plastic cover to look at the pictures. The pictures are amazing, I shouldn’t have judged them. Most would only have heard about the book/record, never seen it. But I did blame them, got grumpier and grumpier with the tyre kickers, the tight-fisted voyeurs. When young Michael repeated the same moves, I said testily, look, this isn’t a library. He looked taken aback. I want to buy it, he said. And did.

Michael didn’t deserve my grumpiness. Not his fault that I couldn’t spot the difference between genuine dedication to the music and idle curiosity. That was maybe twenty years ago. Michael has gone on to be one of the Progarchives website’s most significant contributors. The student has long surpassed the master in knowledge and appreciation of the music. Still, he occasionally messages me, like last Sunday, to ask what I know about an obscure New Age electronic artist from Germany. (Nothing, but that’s OK). And he added the recent Tangerine Dream record to Progarchives just so I could post my review. Not sure I deserve the respect he offers me. He has grown up, I’ve grown older.

Success—no matter what the field of endeavour, performing or reviewing—is a kind of power. And power separates us, when there is too great a differential.

Quite a few years ago I went to see Steve Winwood perform in Melbourne at the tennis centre. Good seats about half-way back, with two mates both slightly older than I. They wanted “Dear Mr Fantasy”, I wanted “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”.

About half-way through some audience members left their seats to move to the front of the stage. As the heat didn’t immediately attack them with stun grenades and night sticks, I deemed it safe to get closer to this long-time idol. Excused myself, apologetically, I have to do this, do you see? Went down and wriggled forwards to within a few metres of the singer, him up above, me below. Close enough to see the sweat, close enough to feel the chasm that separates performer from fan. Always and forever.

Wrote that in response to a William Pearse piece, The ‘kill your idols’ concept. I’ve become a big fan of Bill. The way he works little philosophical quandaries into his tales, his deft use of circularity, his honesty about his own flaws. And his output. You could say his recent journey has charged my batteries. Michael tells me it’s called a bromance. Hm. Could we call it inspiration?

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