What’s Beauty to Do?

Can film clips for bands be little works of art? I think maybe they can. Or if not quite that, intimate moments of history, and with the song they match, flickers of true feeling.

Surfing YouTube one night, I slip into a video for The Apartments’ song ‘What’s Beauty to Do?’ And I find myself near tears as singer-songwriter Peter Milton Walsh walks a monochrome landscape. I recognise this world as one I have walked. The back streets of Sydney’s Inner West: a canal pathway with ghostly thin trees; a main road overpass so high you can’t shake a vertiginous fear you will fall; a leaf-strewn table in a park. Across these images a handwritten lyric … “What’s beauty to do in the face of it all? It’s a light in the dark.”

The song invokes the story of a messed-up year and hovers on a voice and musical drive akin to those thin canal trees when the wind gets amongst them. Strong and fragile at once, bending not breaking, calling from another world. Maybe it’s because I’ve been given a car and aren’t walking as much that this melancholy hits me. My streets, my by-ways. I have left them for too long.

Some days I drive past Peter and see him out there. He used to be in The Laughing Clowns and The Go-Betweens. He’s a cult star in France. Soon he will perform with Robert Forster at Sydney’s Recital Hall. Yet hardly anyone knows Peter’s music here, pop sounds from an imaginary Parisian drama that might have been orchestrated by his beloved Scott Walker in the 1960s. I get this feeling Peter is healing himself in the landscape. I’m going to put my headphones on and play his songs. I’m going to walk into this world.

The Apartments ‘What’s Beauty to Do?’ can be viewed here: