Friday, 2nd July 2021 –
LISTENING TO THE WORLD
Early morning in Newtown. Winter mist. Everything in a cloud.
I’ve sat in the car watching YouTube, killing time while my partner gets her second Pfizer shot at RPA. The video is one of those ‘know everything in ten minutes’ about Albert Camus’ The Plague. It’s pretty good. We fight this thing inside ourselves with what Camus calls ‘decency’. Not heroism in a grand manner, but something more everyday and ordinary in how we live, act and get on with our working lives.
I decide to go get a coffee, walking through the backstreets, past the church and the cemetery. It seems right to visit the burial grounds. There are women everywhere walking their dogs. Some kind of human genre in the morning mist. An old man with a walking stick. Young men with back packs.
King Street feels almost deserted – but there’s a slow increase into a pulse as more and more people head for work. I get a takeaway coffee from a hole-in-the-wall place near the old post office. It’s just opening and the barista sterilises his hands and serves me. First customer of the day.
I head down King, then into the back streets again and across the green expanse of the park to my car. I hear fragments of conversation as I pass people walking in pairs or standing in circles. Lone words floating in the air as they define their morning with one another: ‘vaccination’, ‘undo’, ‘pressure’, ‘quarantine’…. They stand apart as they talk. I just pass by, listening to the world.
Saturday, 27th February 2021 –
I come home and there is one of those cylinders the post office uses waiting at my door. I don’t open it for a few days as I am so flat out I have no time and I initially put it aside and forget it’s arrival.
Then I notice it again in a corner and open it up, half expecting it to be a poster of some kind related to my book, Boy on Fire – The Young Nick Cave. It’s much more than that. It’s a gift from the Australian artist Jenny Watson, among the first people I interviewed for the book almost a decade ago.
Jenny writes me a beautiful note to say “I read Boy on Fire twice – it’s fantastic – a masterpiece” and much more about how it might have a purpose for her teaching young painters in Brisbane at the QCA. Jenny was a teacher long ago at the art school where a young Nick Cave dreamt of being a painter himself, and though she’d never teach Nick Cave she’d watch the evolution of The Boys Next Door and see how Nick’s artistic interests fed into the music and the images he went on to create.
She’d also do great early portraits of all the members of The Boys Next Door. And capture some of the suburban dreaming and wounded magic of the Crystal Ballroom scene: a young girl who loved horses, a syringe with letters floating around it (a drug riddle in a darker time), artworks that edged between fairy tale and post modern reportage of things and words.
Jenny was great to talk to about Nick and how she felt about his first aspirations to be a painter, as well as all the people and influenced swimming around St Kilda in the 1970s. So here we are again and I get this letter of praise from her. And I also get this package: a double-sided artwork she has been inspired to send me.
It’s a proof of a print for a lithograph she worked on, its “rawness” something she thought I might like. On the one side, Self Portrait as a Narcotic. On the other side, Death of a Horse. Like two sides of a strange coin, or the left and right atriums of a heart maybe.
It’s an honour to receive it along with such a generous letter. The letter has no phone number or return address. The cylinder has gone to my publisher HarperCollins first, then been relabelled and sent on to me. No way to call or write her back. I’ve lost Jenny’s number from a decade ago. All I have is my scribbled notes from our conversation in a notebook. And this letter from her on curling blue paper and this artwork from a major Australian artist given to me in inspiration. That’s a pretty pure exchange.
Friday, 3rd April 2020 – I see him on the corner. I hesitate at first, then I cross the road and say, “Hey man, are you ok? Do you need anything?” He smiles and nods. I see he has gotten a cup of coffee from somewhere. So I say, “More coffee? Something to eat?”
He nods and smiles and says ‘coffee’. I realise his English is poor. I say ‘my name is Mark’. He touches his chest and says, ‘Dong’.
After a little while, I see he is happy in the sun and even enjoying his time here. And that when he says ‘coffee’ he is just mirroring my words and letting me know he has what he needs.
Dong’s only company is a large, shiny black crow that sits on the brick wall beside him. Dong has a small black trolley bag near his legs that he must pull along when he moves on to wherever he goes next.
He smiles again and nods and lifts his coffee to me in a toast to the morning. I say, “See you later, take care, eh?” Dong shakes his head in agreement and goodbye, smiles his smile as it to gently push me away.
His face is strangely open, nonetheless, and his ragged Oriental look invites thoughts of a philosopher or a poet from another place and time. Like some character in story that got lost somewhere and forgotten. The crow moves closer, seems to amuse him a little. Dong just sits there beside his dark friend, studying the sunlight as moves along the road.
Friday, 6th March 2020 – They say 3am is the soul’s midnight. Woke at about quarter to 3 last night and the handwritten poem above poured out of me. Corona-virus worries, a first visit to the supermarket only to find the now notorious bare shelves, fragments of gossip all day and the night’s relentless news, then a bad headache, a jangle of nerves and fears running through my sleep till it all woke me. Light of day may likely bring more positive thoughts. But there’s something to be said for automatic writing and telegrams from the unconscious when they rise and find form.
Saturday, 1st February 2020 – If you have taken note of the sign behind me, they should change it to read, ‘Watch The Sweat’. It is 37 degrees Celsius here in Sydney, another day where the weather seems to sap your energy and your will to get things done. It has not been much spoken of across these months of excessive heat and fire and smoke, but the state of the environment is having an affect on people’s state of mind.
It seems as if a mix of fear and exhaustion are entrenching themselves in not just how we feel, but our bodily condition. We are only three-quarters of whatever we we were, struggling for enough clean air to breathe and any optimism for what comes next.
The government appears a mix of corrupt, bumbling and arrogant. I have come to wonder if the fires have burnt away not only much of the country, its wildlife and people’s homes and lives, not to mention the reputation of the Prime Minister, but whatever was left in terms of our faith in politics itself. I’d go so far as to say the government has lost its mandate to govern, this disillusionment with politics runs so deep.
Closer to home, it can be strange to have days where the sky is blue. In the city, there is almost a guilty, uneasy pleasure in a good day. Is this something that will last? What about all those people still suffering and fighting fires? What about all those people waiting for the promised help that never comes, or arrives as a fist full of small change with a lot of hassling?
Once these fires finally peter out, and autumn fights its way into life, we will engage with a social justice crisis as we meet a destroyed landscape, annihilated towns and communities, people who are homeless or suffering from post-traumatic stress and grief, all the lost jobs and lack of security now visited on us, the cost of living skyrocketing with food prices…
How will this crisis be met? My suspicion is with half-forgetful platitudes around what caused it – and more of the same neo-liberal viciousness that has characterised our present government from the start.
So yeah, today I sit here feeling the heat. With that uneasy sense of being okay in my own life, but living on the edge of something that cannot be ignored. It’s in body, my being. The summer is long. Watch the sweat.
Monday, 13th January 2020 – Waiting for a tow truck to get here and hitch me a ride to my mechanics now they are open. Broke down a week ago and had to leave my beast to the moon. Strolled here this morning on another Sydney smoke clouded day listening to Curtis Mayfield and Sparklehorse on my iPhone. I guess there are much worse ways to start a day. Bits of lyric from the songs lodged like eternal wisdoms in my mind, then disappeared like dreams you can’t remember. Funny how music helps you see into the world; then the opening closes again. People are out walking their dogs or heading to work; builders are already at it somewhere, that distant clang of metal on metal that is almost peaceful from far away. I can hear a familiar bird call, but I don’t know the name of the bird. The air and the ground has that morning smell to it, the mix of dampness and earth and stone and something fresh that is like a smell and a feeling in itself. The world comes to life again and the city presses on. Here comes the sun…
Sunday, 14th July 2019 – Many moons ago, I had a blog called The Basement Tapes. It functioned as my own little online cultural ghetto-blaster for releasing a whole lot of journalism I’d published and a few literary left-turns I loved, as well as the odd poem I’d been writing and ideas that were just me searching for something that might not have been attainable in words (but reaching for a meaning anyway).
I lost that digital space during one of those identity-theft nightmares that seem to be the way of modern life. The French poet Rimbaud was a wise man when wrote “I is another.” Has it ever been more this way than it is today, as we build temples to ourselves online and engage in the ongoing construction of our identity in public?
The performance of self becomes your real self. The mask becomes the face. Writers, performers and other artists have tended to be more aware than most of this paradox. And making use of it to move forward. But we’re no more immune to disorientation and upset than anyone else as we try to negotiate this brave new world online. How troubling it was, I have to say, to lose my name and my digital address, to become ‘stateless’ and fall through a hole in the Net while some other ghost ran on without me. To become no-one.
Now here I am again, the same but different… “in another time, in another place, in another face,” as Van Morrison so mysteriously and wonderfully put it in his reincarnation song, ‘Astral Weeks’.
I hope you will like this new-old me as I slowly get The Electrified Journalist up and running and fully rewired. It’s just a few cables hanging from the ceiling and some loosely stacked bricks being put in place for now. But I’m building another power-station here, trying to generate a bright new light.
I’m thinking I can make this version of ‘The Basement Tapes’ a place where I turn on the switch, now and then, to take a better look inside the overall machine I’m building at The Electrified Journalist.
– Mark Mordue ©