Thursday, March 31, 2005

Farewell to Paul Hester

I referred to him in this very blog as "the quintessential Aussie smart-arse", and that he was. He was the one-time drummer of Split Enz and Crowded House. He was a cafe owner, a TV presenter, a natural comedian. A larrikin. But he was also a father, a partner, a mate. He lived his way always, or so it seemed.

And in the end, none of that was enough to make him stay.

Paul Hester took his own life last weekend. His body was found in a park near his Elwood home.

His daughters are 8 and 10.

I saw him late last year at a reunion of sorts. It was a live and intimate gig of his former bandmates Neil and Tim Finn (ex Split Enz and Crowded House, currently The Finn Brothers). Hester was hosting the gig. He was, as always, irreverant and jokey. And seeing him and the boys together again onstage made you feel all warm and fuzzy. I never knew much about what went on inside his head or in his private life, not even from the press, but in the aftermath I can only imagine the terrible searing sadness. Imagine without understanding, and--probably--without even coming close to it.

Monday, March 28, 2005

"You! I want to take you to a gay bar..." (Electric Six)

("Get thee to a nunnery!" Quoth Hamlet to Ophelia.)

I tell ya, sometimes it feels that way.

Mostly, I love being single. But there are times when it sucks. Not single-dom itself, but the stigma attached. The judgement, the constant interrogation from friends and rellies, the unsolicited groping in nightclubs. After last weekend tho, I say hang the nunnery. Get thee to a gay bar! It really is a kind of nightlife Mecca for the straight girl. Allow me to tell my story...

I was nearing the end of a nine hour shift at work when the call came: a guy I work with was at home on his day off, drinking beers with mates (and I think I heard the faint strains of the Connie and Carla soundtrack in the background and male voices singing along in a kind of drunken harmony). Brad was calling to ask Ryan (straight boy, another colleague) to bring more beer when he knocked off, but I answered to phone. When Brad heard I had nothing planned for the evening he ordered that I get thee to his place and onto Diva's, a delightfully tacky gay nightspot on Commerical Rd. I obeyed. What did I have to lose?

I have other gay friends, but none quite so gay as Brad. And none of them have ever taken me to a gay bar. Brad took the responsibility seriously and, when he wasn't dancing like a pro or doing schtick in any one of the many exaggerated stage accents in his repertoire, he briefed me on where Diva's fits into the gay landscape, the fact that its drag shows are fun but sub-standard ("but nobody cares because noone's that gay", he says dismissively, referring to his mates) and gay culture in general. He was not without irony. Because I was driving, and therefore, not drinking, I was not without inhibitions (mainly of the what-to-do-with-my-limbs-on-the-dancefloor kind). But by the time the sounds of the Village People had faded into Denise Williams' Lets Hear It For The Boy (and I was done being shocked at just how cheesy the music was), I was having fun. I danced my arse off, I drooled over the perfect specimen of half-naked manhood that joined a rather unconvincing drag queen onstage. I didn't get groped or inadvertently caught in the crossfire of a macho drunken fight. I just showed up and danced. And there was no pressure, no feelings of disappointment or inadequacy, Just dancin'. And, frankly, sometimes thats all you ask of a night out.

I went home with cigarette smoke woven through my hair and these words ringing in my ears:

My baby, he don't talk sweet
He ain't got much to say
But he loves me, loves me, loves me
Oh know that he loves me anyway

And maybe he don't dress fine
But i don't really mind
'cuz every time he pulls me near
I just wanna cheer:

Let's hear it for the boy
Oh, let's give the boy a hand...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

"...had it up to the gills/ makes you cry/ while the milk still spills..." (OK Go)


But almost everything worth doin' is.

Now all that's left is for me to make sure the nervous stomach acids don't kill me before I've had a chance to enjoy looking back on a life that was hard without needing to be but oh so worth it.

And that's all.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

the way we were

I can see us now: pale, stockinged and pleated. Fresh-faced, back-row dwellers whispering in-jokes and scathing remarks about our more vapid classmates and trying to laugh quietly. Fifteen and faultless, at least in our own minds. And maybe we were more right than we knew. Fuck knows, we'll never be quite that self-assured again.

Our world was tiny. That wasn't our fault; we were fifteen after all. But it was ours, and in it we were queens. We despised the shallow high school hierarchy--the arbitrary laws that made "some girls more equal than others", to borrow from Orwell. If we'd thought to make the comparison then, we would have taken smug satisfaction in our knowledge that those girls would fail to appreciate the reference. Wouldn't know George Orwell from George of the Jungle. Orwell or Sylvia Plath or Radiohead. They even failed to appreciate Ewan McGregor when we studied Brassed Off in our Film As Text class. (It wasn't until much later, when he appeared opposite Cameron Diaz, that he was sanctioned as a 'hottie' by the airheads). But I digress. They were idiots, and we knew their sunlit days of spotless leadership were numbered.

We invented a nightclub together, before we were legal age ourselves. We called it The Doctors and planned and schemed everything from the decor to the playlist, the drinks menu and the staff costumes. It was sheer brilliance, as far as we were concerned and we imagined ourselves appearing at the opening of its sister venues in London and New York.

We wrote a book together, too. I say "book" because that's what we called it at the time ("Have you got the book? It's your turn, you know.") It grew to the length of a short novel, too: 93 pages, 38 000 words. What it was though, was a long-winded mutual fantasy in twelve point Times New Roman. We wrote the lives we wanted. We were successful talk show hosts who were admired by those we admired. A commercial radio DJ we listened to religiously begged us to appear on his show and in the off-ratings season we flew to London where we sang karaoke with Robbie Williams and drank with Oasis. She was the Oasis fan, I preferred Blur and this rivalry bled into the narrative. We would gently war over our heroes. I wrote Blur frontman Damon in as my mate and had him attend a soccer match with us, she had the Gallagher brothers "glass" him and land him in hospital. We had plans to de-throne Ben Elton from his chair as recurrent Brit Awards host, because we suspected we could do a better job.

And so it went. We mercilessly mocked our more inept teachers and were kept after class for stern but usually futile lectures--futile because one of us could not stop from making the other laugh and its difficult to reprimand two smug, mildly hysterical teens. We managed marathon phone conversations in the evenings, despite having seen each other all day. As time passed, much of these conversations were devoted to how much I thought she had changed and how things "weren't the same", an accusation she vehemently denied. More than once I hung up feeling depleted and miserable. Sometimes I went to bed, weeping and wounded and not knowing why. She later told me that our conversations had made her cry, too.

At our high school graduation we breakfasted on hash cookies and giggled our way through the farewell mass. That night we got drunk, got a crush on our waiter (an exquisite African bloke named Sis-sea-lay) and got blisters dancing along-side the girls we'd always disliked. We spent the obligatory period of post-high school revelry known as Schoolies' Week on the Gold Coast and we saw each other less and less after that.

It was almost an accident that we caught up for dinner the other night in Brunswick St. I had my reservations. The few times we have seen each other since high school I've been struck by her new confidence which borders on cockiness (and sometimes crosses the border entirely). I've had trouble relating to her: her new raver lifestyle and the apparent pride she took in empty relationships. I've wondered if by seeing her I was simply trying to go back to a place that no longer existed--a childhood hideaway that had been bulldozed and redeveloped to the point of being unrecognisable, till only the geographical location remained the same. I was trying to return to a place based solely on latitudes, when everyone knows Place is made of so much more than that. You can't go home again.

But for some reason this time was different. She's still cocky. She's still a raver. She's lost weight. 18 kilos, she tells me, and the amphetamines have nothing to do with it. (She looks great, but I wonder). But she's there. The redevelopment has not been absolute. People don't change so utterly and completely after all, I discover and my soul sighs in relief. It's her. The intelligence, the unexpected wisdom. While I nibbled on my risotto with button mushrooms and she polished off a sleek portion of Atlantic salmon we reminisced. About our nightclub (we still agree it is brilliant) and our book and the way we were. Outside, as I shivered in the crisp night air and she chain-smoked the conversation turned to what we had, what we were still hoping for and whether we were happy. Then, in an after hours bar, where she ordered a Coke and rolled another cigarette while I took in the velvet walls and funky furniture we spoke of love. She told me about the one boy who had been different from the others, the butterflies in her stomach, the break-up he initiated. I told her about the boy I'd just met, the ways in which he was perfect and how I'd learned that he wasn't free. And we told each other, with the bravado and blind optimism of the young and the lovesick that it wasn't hopeless. Everything had changed. We'd each found someone who made us feel the good kind of queasy, and just knowing we could feel that way was enough. At least for now.

Then she stubbed out her cigarette and we walked back towards Johnston St where our cars (both red hatchbacks, hers equipped with an overpriced sound system, mine with a nodding purple dog on the dash) were parked, said goodbye and told each other we should do this again sometime.