The Basement Tapes

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.

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‘Albatross’. Handwritten poem and notebook photo by Mark Mordue

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.

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Coffee and smoke. Photo by Mark Mordue.

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.

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Break down reveries. Photo by Mark Mordue.

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…

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Demolition Blues. Photo by Mark Mordue.

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 ©