Sunday, December 27, 2020
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Now I’m at the end of my life, in my seventies, I look back at my long travail and I feel weary, beat, depleted of my reserves of optimism, hoping to end it all. Yet at the same time I can say, for all the beat-ups and betrayals, I still had a great life, I went for it like a whirling dervish and squeezed it of maximum euphoria, adventure and achievement. I didn’t need to push my way to the front to receive some gilt statue, it was enough to read an inspiring book, hear some soulful music, dance abandoned by a fabled sea, and watch a sunset from a temple atop the highest mountain in the world.
So before I go let me tell you about one man’s tough journey, a tale both harrowing and informative. In the veritable dark ages of 1955, a five year old child was left to run wild on the streets of an inner-city Melbourne slum. He didn’t seem to have any guardians, no mother or father, only an old grandmother who was always in the front room of the house attending to his dying grandfather. He was as cute as a kewpie doll, with huge blue eyes, a Tony Curtis cow-lick hanging down upon his forehead and an angelic, shy smile. He was new to the neighborhood and lonely, desperate for friends.
When he tried to befriend the bigger kids across the road one of them, for no good reason except heartless cruelty, kicked him viciously in the balls. The pain was explosive, the attack incomprehensible, as if innocent beauty had to be destroyed. He ran home holding his crotch and writhed upon his bed in an agony that lasted several days. Yet he didn’t relinquish his desire for friendship and he tried again to approach the nasty lords of the flies as they played upon their veranda.
He was fascinated by a pile of glass baubles they were fingering, the scintillating lights of which were psychedelic in his impressive mind. He put his hand upon the gate and asked if he could join them to which they yelled, “No! Go away!” And then they slammed the metal gate upon his thumb, crushing it, a fountain of blood spurting out upon their precious gems. He shrieked in dismay as they shuddered in horror. He ran home to his grandmother who quickly bandaged the wound and soothed his broken spirit.
To compensate for the trauma she took him to his first movie at a cinema nearby, a convict melodrama starring Alan Ladd and Patricia Medina called “Botany Bay”, the protagonists in chains and getting whipped, a fitting allegory for what life held in store for him in class bound Australia, of slaves, whip-masters and callous captains. Yet at the same time the silver-screen magic of sailing ships and exotic destinations thrilled the boy and fired his imagination with the possibilities of life entwined with art, if one could only find the wherewithal to realize one’s dreams.
Not long after a little girl up the street was having a birthday party and her parents built her a stage in their backyard upon which she was going to perform a song and dance, like a spoilt Shirley Temple. An audience of local kids and their parents gathered to watch the little genius, only she had a hissy fit and wouldn’t go on. They waited an eternity and our little blue-eyed scene stealer lost patience and jumped upon the stage and performed Doris Day’s latest hit, “Que Sera Sera”, tap-dancing to the beat and singing perfectly note for note.
The audience clapped along, enjoying his act enormously but party-girl was furious, she'd been upstaged. She enlisted a few cohorts and they rushed upon the podium and pushed him off the edge to land hard upon his arse, and everybody laughed at his humiliation, as if it were a clown act.
All this drama was a reality check for the little boy who henceforth sang the blues. The world in general was not fair, people could be insufferably cruel, and even the smallest ray of limelight was precious to ego-maniacs and fought over with no compunction.
For the rest of his life his path was blocked by the (not so) hidden agendas of class, tribalism, nepotism, fame-whores, backstabbers, plagiarists, brain-washers and power-players from desperate wannabes willing to sell their souls for money and fame. And in the face of this ugly rat-race many applaud the brats, winners are grinners no matter how they won, and losers are boozers no matter what great work they’ve done. For a gay boy from skid-row it was hundred times more difficult, more tortuous, more unjust.
This flawed human condition left him bewildered as he believed in caring, sharing, co-operating, informing, entertaining for the joy of it, remaining that naive five year old at heart for much of his life. Beware, for those who snigger at this story are probably one of the cold fish who screwed him over and cold fish they remained, all their lives with just a hook in their mouth to show for it.
Possibly the greatest betrayal of his life happened at the very beginning when, as a one year old baby, his father hit him because he was crying and knocked him off the bed to crack his head against a dressing table. It was a rude awakening. Next, after beating his mother to a bloody pulp and having her taken away in an ambulance, at three years old he was told his mother was dead, never to return. This was devastating and untrue, a betrayal he could not get over, perhaps leading him to grow up queer and recalcitrant, with an oppositional defiance disorder.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
There have been many other vicious incidents in my life such as rape by a so-called fellow of my "gay community", but I will give a last example of another kind of meanness, not particularly heavy, more like the repetitive rat bites a feral capitalist society inflicts upon one. Not so long ago I was just back from a tough travel sojourn in India, exhausted and emotionally flat, and while lying prostrate upon my couch I received a phone call from an acquaintance asking me if I'd do a gig for him at his deadbeat club as he couldn't get any artists to confirm their appearance. I politely refused as I was too tired, it meant a lot of work for no recompense, no money, no taxi fare, not even a cup of coffee.
Two weeks later he rang again and begged me to perform in his shaky line-up as still very few acts had agreed to turn up on the day. He pleaded on and on and eventually I reluctantly acquiesced for I considered him a friend and wanted to help him out. A few days before the gig I went over to the venue to suss it out, donated a video screen to the space as I would use it in my act and other bands might need it for a light show, again telling him I was doing it purely for him, there was nothing in it for me except trouble, I'd already spent hours getting my show in shape, writing a story and putting together a slide-show to illustrate it. This time, as I talked to him, he had a weird scrunched-up look upon his face and I wondered what now was his problem.
The next day I got a phone call from him telling me he had too many acts on the bill, there was no room for me and he was bumping me from the gig. I spat chips, called him a father-fucker for bothering me and wasting my time. I'd done my act for him a few times, it was good, it seems he'd decided he too had an act of story-telling and video/slides, (only he was a wanker with no through-line, no punchy urban folklore to relate and his music was cacophonous noise), but still he dreamed of some stodgy fame with his klunky, purloined act.
He lied to everyone about begging me twice to do his gig then kicking me off the bill, and to really put the boot in he trolled me on Facebook as a tizzy, complaining prima donna.This is what I mean by a back-story to every myth about Toby the Punk Poofy Cat being a dick, mostly it's from some arsehole who has screwed me without compunction: shit happens and it comes from arseholes and Sydney is full of them. To this day he has blackened my name: I'm used to it, he should join the queue, there have been many dead-eyed careerists who have fucked me over in this shitty city, I just don't turn the other cheek and politely whisper, "That's Ok, all's fair in the middle-class war to get somewhere and stay afloat." No! I'm tired of being trodden on. I tell them to "Fuck off!"
2) Being a working-class queer, a bit of a sissy from childhood on, I've had to fight my way from the gutter up. I spent my youth on a social housing estate and went to state-run schools, where every bully, bigot and bastard it was my bad luck to run into tried to bash me, throughout the day, after school, on the streets, at home, and outside the rock clubs when I made it into my teens.
As an adult my queer sexuality has followed me everywhere, when trying to get a job, rent a room, deal with police or fellow workers, mix socially, just walk down the street, the first thing my associates see is my queerness and then position me low on the pecking order of humanity. Until we homos were decriminalised in 1984, (and ongoing), I was seen as a twisted monster, a beast of the night, to be hunted, locked away, bashed and tortured, converted and straightened out. I've had to fight hard, to survive, to stay sane, to achieve, to be myself and not some milk-toast department store mannequin putting on a squeaky clean act. I am tired of pea-brained, atrophied hearts and ignorant bigots seeing me as less than zero and having a go at me. I give them the punk snarl, maybe even a bitch slap if they come on too strong.
3) As a palliative care night nurse, usually in charge of the ward, the buck stopped with me. There would be seven emergencies a night, often a death, and I had to solve every problem, bleeding, fits, comas, falls, heart attacks, irate relatives, absconding clients, you name it! I'm also a world traveler, which can be hard work, from having all my papers in order, to keeping to my itinerary, to beating off all interlopers, ( clever thieves, horny hustlers, serial killers, unwanted fellow travelers.) To make sure I have a great time instead of a tedious trial, I have to have my act together.
And I'm a tireless artist, either preparing gallery shows of my paintings or nightclub performances of my story-telling and films. Then there is the creating of the paintings, stories and films, like climbing Mount Everest, especially if you're an ignominious, underground artist like me with no money or connections. To make sure I complete my art projects to the best I can, to get the applause, prizes and sales, I have to be on the ball, with one-pointed, goal oriented concentration and a clear idea of what I'm after, and not be thwarted, fucked around or distracted.
To do all these things, to stay alive and brainy, to research, study, practice, pay the bills, struggle on, I do not suffer fools gladly. So many fools get in my way, bullshit me, blow smoke up my arse, stab me in the back, fuck up the simplest of jobs I give them, that I end up snapping, I say rude things, sack them, avoid them when I see them coming. Thus I get a "bad reputation". I don't really give a shit, I've survived up till now and done a lot of it by myself, with brains, guts and heart, for very few put the butter on my bread.
4) As an artist, with some talent and notoriety, having operated in Sydney for 40 years, wall-papering the city with my posters and paintings, performing in innumerable venues, and winning local and international prizes, I've experienced some desperate, low-talent flakes trying to suck off me like human tics. They think any charisma I might have could rub off on them if they get close enough, they flatter, knock on my door, give me gifts, buy my art and think they own me, all the while sucking, sucking, sucking like vampires, but I don't swoon, I shudder.
When they think I won't notice, they plagiarise my work, claim me as their partner, steal my gear, broadcast that they were my muse... uurrrggghhhh! Till the very sight of them makes me sick and I want to scream and lock myself in my apartment. And I'm not even famous. No god help those who are, everybody wants a piece of you. I don't mind genuine appreciation and regard, I live to inspire the sweet hearted dreamers, I just don't like desperate wannabes who'd sell their grandmothers to the glue factory for a bit of celebrity, and I let them know it!
5) I'm a political animal, my art not only talks about the human condition as it has evolved into these contemporary times but also cuts to the bone on how wrong it is that neo-capitalism, the corporate State and an elitist class system rule and destroy the world, 1% of the population owning 95% of the world's wealth. I've been arrested 7 times on issues ranging from prisoners' rights to womens' rights, housing for the homeless to anti-nuclear industry and the environment. I've put my heart where my art is.
I'm nearing 70 years old, I've eschewed money, fame and power, (or it avoided me), preferring to nurse the dying and for the most part give my art away. Instead I have been an outlaw, a vagabond, rocking the boat, risking it all, unwelcome in polite society. Considering the urgency of world problems, the wars, climate change, environmental pollution and exploitation, animal extinction, the upsurge of neo-fascism and racism, there is no time to fuck around. I find it hard to humor flakes, pseudo arm-chair revolutionaries, apologists for the system, reactionaries, spoilt brats, wannabe celebrities, faux experts, wankers. I don't want to waste my breath on them, I get that look of disbelief, even contempt on my face, turn away, I'd rather be alone, or with real radicals, though very difficult to find them, (I know, this rave is probably a wank also, what to do, I'm 70 and retired.)
Still, I'm only impressed by people who want to change the world, improve what is bad, and they are around, trying to stop freeways, save forests, rescue animals, run shelters, protect the indigenous, nurse the dying with compassion.) Sometimes real honest humans are refreshing enough.
6) Life for many of us is a challenge, a hard slog: working for little reward, paying the bills, looking after a family, keeping a roof over one's head, getting down the street without being mugged. I've been unemployed, homeless, threatened with imprisonment, had the police harass me and frame me for a crime I did not commit, a cult tried to brain-wash me, psychiatry tried to chemically castrate me. I was threatened with conscription during the Vietnam War, my free speech and freedom of congregation is curtailed under a repressive government, I could be annihilated at any moment by a Christian come fascist dictatorship. And I'm alone, no family, wife, few friends, no clubs or support group, I face the chilly winds a loner, a freak, a punk outsider. No wonder I'm grumpy.
7) So now maybe you're thinking, "I figure why this guy is uptight" or "This fuckwit is one of the most narcissistic curmudgeons I've ever come across!" After 42 years of ducking and weaving in the gladiator pit that is Sydney, always impoverished and disreputable, I've got nothing to lose by continuing to tell my truths, bitchy though I may be. I've met a long chain of whores, hustlers and arseholes, and every day I run into one of them and can't help but give off the cold vibes, maybe even say something, such as, "Hey, you dickhead loser, where did all that Machiavellian backstabbing get you? Nowheresville in a hessian bag, that's where, ya pathetic piece of shit!" Needless to say, I'm not popular with the shit-heap climbers.
Take today for instance. I went to the Piccolo Cafe to arrange a print of my artwork for a friend of Vitto when in walked Crim Candy looking like an ICE leftover in a shrunken bother-boy suit. I immediately froze, wondering whether I'd get the king hit he's dealt out to the unwary who'd got his goat, and I stiffened my backbone ready for it, looking for a weapon I could break his arm with. He'd once run into my flat begging me to hide him as he'd just knocked out an unhappy driver at a pedestrian crossing and now the cops were after him.
He then went on to ask my for my door gizmo that would allow him into the main building of my housing complex so he could crack some empty flats and rent them out to traveling backpackers. I refused for if he was caught they'd trace the door gizmo back to me as it was numbered. He then snarled, "What kind of anarchist are you?" I curtly replied, "One who wants to keep a roof over his head, thank you very much." We've never spoken in a friendly manner since.
Let me describe a few other contretemps that involved me being bastardized then bad-mouthed across town when I fought back. These stories mostly involve the world of film-making, where the competition for funds, credits and awards is cut-throat. First off, to be supportive I agreed to partner my animated, musical short, "The Thief of Sydney" with a lesbian thriller, "En Guard" for its cinema release at the Paddington Twin Theater. On the night of the premier the crowd went wild in applause over my colorful sci-fi film and then went glumly silent for the feature length klunker, "En Guard". The lesbian film-makers seemed to blame me for their flop and to this day have held it against me and I get only peeved resentment whenever I meet one of them. Especially as "The Thief" went on to win a Bronze Dragon in 1985 at Krakow, Poland International Animation Festival and has shown around the world many times.
I was going to tell the sorry tale how I was ripped and thrown on my arse from the ruthless careerists at the Australian Film Commissar but I've bitched about that plenty of times in other Blogs, and it will be a major sore spot in my forthcoming novel "Punk Outsider." Instead I'll tell of a silly incident I've never told before, proof that people can destroy your well-being in the smallest, nastiest way.
In the mid '80s I was at a lecture being given by an American, gay cultural historian at the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington Town Hall. He was discussing a book called "The Celluloid Closet" involving homos and lesbians in Hollywood, from pansy characterisations to total gay orgies held by the stars in their swimming pools. He showed slides and movie clips of many of my silver-screen heroes and I, of course, was fascinated.
Thus my guttersnipe reputation precedes me, right across the city, I think the word got put out, to the close-knit dyke fraternity and the squeaky-clean government gays, Toby Z is a bastard with balls and is a challenge, don't cross him and don't give him an even break. To reiterate, I don't have a respectable career, I'm from the gutter, I'm used to being trashed, I'm forever pushed to the edge, and I relish being the outsider. Even other outsiders think they're one up on me, it keeps my work punchy.
I experienced great pain but oh, what wonderful times I've had, family outings to drive-in movie theatres, slam dancing to rock bands in funky '60s night clubs, communing with nature in the Australian bush, trekking in the high Himalayas, winning art prizes in cognoscenti France, smoking hashish in Morocco, grappling with punks in the mosh pits to thrash bands, having sex with the hottest guys in existence, abandoned ecstatic dancing in Goa by the Arabian sea, being mesmerized in spectacular movie houses to great works of cinema art, being swept away by awesome classical concerts by great masters in the Sydney Opera House, I can go on and on, my joys are never ending.
Always someone steps out of the mist, when I least expect it, and gives me a helping hand, lauding my efforts and promoting my art. Or takes me to some extravaganza, such as last week when a girlfriend took me to see Richard Straus's opera "Salome", very Oscar Wilde salacious, Fellini-esque psychedelic in its staging and costumes, the dance of the 7 veils performed by several erotic dancers, John the Baptist's head cut off with red lighting washing the stage with blood while Salome wailed her curse and the orchestra zinged, blared and thumped, imagery that will stay with me for ever. Fuck life can be grand, all because people can be generous and compassionate as well as mean and cruel.
For a moment, high on the beat of a diamond bright heart, which we all share, for those who are lucky enough to feel it.
Aunty Dolly Feeding Me, Eternally, at Northcott Housing Estate.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
I first met Vitto in 1979 at Garibaldis Cafe in Darlinghurst when I put on a benefit to get the old Italian man who ran the cafe some money as he was going broke. I enlisted Cabaret Conspiracy with the great drag artists Doris Fish and Jacqueline Hyde as M.C.s and created portraits of Fifi L'Amour and Doris striding out of Kings Cross, the poster depicted above, me pasting 300 copies on the walls of Sydney to advertise the gig. The heavy fleuro colors against a black background enhanced my ribald cartoon and created quite a stir among local artists and within a year the style became ubiquitous in Sydney. I found Vitto drooling over the table where I'd stacked some of the posters, hoping to sell them for one dollar each. (In 2019 they sell for $2000 and more if you can find one). He refused to part with a dollar and I told him to fuck off. That's kind of been the style of our love/hate relationship ever since.
For the forty years since then, I've been watching him as he's sung like a canary given the third degree, to any and every magazine, newspaper and pamphleteer that's shown up to interview him on his favorite subject, himself and the celebrities he's waited upon at the Piccolo. A bad joke on him would be if he mistook who his interlocutor was and his face got printed on shiploads of toilet paper. (Sorry, my humor is black and half the reason Vitto and I fight like cat and dog.)
The role-call of stars is endless, Marianne Faithful. Jeff Buckley, Geoffrey Rush, Chrissy Amphlet, Penny Arcade, Noah Taylor, Martin Sharp, on and on, to satisfy shallow, celebrity mad Sydney, forgetting all the mere mortals that were regulars and gave him his bread and butter. In forty years of going there nearly every day, I rarely spotted a celebrity, they bought one cup of coffee every six months, hardly enough to pay for the juke box let alone anything else. (Richard Roxburgh is showing up there in the next week or so to be interviewed by the winner of a Peace Prize, he's reprising his "Rake" persona and a jolly good fellow he is for doing it. I'm not that blind to the comings and goings of celebrity!)
Thankfully Vitto never forgets to mention his particular favorites, a gang of friends who did regularly patronise the business to gossip and promote their shows, darlings whom I also love such as Elizabeth Burton, Fifi L'Amour, Jeannie Lewis, Danny Aboud, Ayesha, Paul Capsis and a few others, but in all the years, no matter how many shows I did or support I gave, he absolutely never mentioned me. I'm just one of the faceless nobodies who spent a lot of money there, helped pay his bills and buy his flat in Randwick. It's not that I want my ego stroked, I've had a great life with enough limelight to satisfy me. It just grates on me that stars are the only worthwhile humans in his world.
There was a whole mob of us gathering there over the last fifty years, many of them now dead and their names remembered on the site "Vittorio Bianchi and Friends" in a long list that Terry Johanson started and we've all contributed to. But many of us are still alive and kicking, (or getting our arses kicked) and as I've said, we're nobodies, non-stars and monstars. Tramps, junkies, hookers, sluts, thieves, hustlers, paupers, artists, strippers, dealers, potheads, rockers, pagans, witches, maniacs, the entire crew from "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Desolation Row", fighting, squabbling, philosophising, loving, smoking, fucking, keeping each other company.
Oh, and let's not forget the quiet angels that sat among us but didn't blow their trumpets, yet are the real stars of "society": nurses, carers, teachers, pro bono lawyers, street musicians, single mums, low-paid cleaners, the place was a sanctuary for them to also rest their tired feet and get some attention, from Vitto and us unruly mob, we were company of a sort. The Piccolo was often referred to as "the artists' cafe", sadly 99% of artists don't get famous, they die in penury. Given the "hell's kitchen" nature of Kings Cross for much of the twentieth century, I suppose I should be grateful to never get a mention as a patron of such a disreputable "lifeboat for losers" on "freak-show alley", it would be bad for my artist's non-career. Still, it's the thought that counts.
(In mid February 2019 I'm sharing a show with Martin Sharp called "My City of Sydney", we've supposedly both dedicated our lives to plastering Sydney's walls with our artworks, otherwise we're opposites, he was born in Sydney into a wealthy family, went to top art school, was famous, heterosexual and his work wonderfully decorative. I was born in Melbourne and am from an extremely poor family, was rejected from art school, am an ignominious nobody, unashamedly queer and my work is political.)
I'm sad that all those years of pleasure and pain have been wiped, forgotten, ignored by Vitto's selective memory. There was the time when the electric transformer for the area blew and we sat in the gloom with candles barely lighting the dark for four days and nights, a storm raging outside, me and Vitto freezing our arses off, this event forgotten by his celebrity obsession. The few times Vitto got dragged up to Kings Cross police station to be questioned, psychologically tortured by the pigs, accused of selling marijuana, us anxiously waiting outside for him, this never to be mentioned by him, (him selling pot, oh no!) The many times the pigs raided the cafe, locking us in while they searched us all, going over that "hole in the wall" cafe with a fine tooth comb, a pot dealer kicking his deals under the table to land between my legs, me kicking it back, it becoming a deadly soccer match till the cops caught the mug trying to dislodge the baggie from high up in his lap where I'd kicked it. All of this a contretemps to be written out of history
I cried with Vitto when his Clayton's boyfriend, David, took his life-savings and squandered it on a truck which he then crashed and destroyed. He sold the wreck to buy a motorbike, then ran away to Queensland with an Asian girl riding pillion. I hurt for him when a certain drag queen who lived across the road took that same useless boyfriend home and Vitto stood under her bedroom window and wept as the lights in her inner-sanctum were turned on then off.
I winced with him when a rough-trade Lebanese hunk named Tony slapped him across the face because he wouldn't give him fifty dollars and I was ready to jump upon the bastard and get myself punched out only he ran off. I giggled hysterically, like Jimmy Dean in the police station in "Rebel Without a Cause", when Vitto showed up one afternoon with his head shaved and a huge lump/cut on his skull, making him look like a concentration camp victim. He'd been attacked by some home-invasion thug in his flat and again his savings robbed from under his mattress. He mistook my sympathetic hysteria for callous laughing at him and ran up Roslyn Street weeping, Lorenzo having to fetch him back. From that day he never went on night shift again, only daylight would get him to the Piccolo, and thus the good old "Nights of Cabiria" at the Piccolo wound down.
When he let it be known that he longed to go back to Europe in 1994 to visit his old family and home it was me who put in the hard work, hiring the venue, (Les Girls), lining up the acts, creating the posters and pasting them up, and organizing the show on the night, me being one of the acts, and getting him $2000 for his trip. It hurt when he not only claimed it wasn't enough money, it really cut me to the bone when many years later he announced from a stage in Redfern that it was Elizabeth Burton who organized the show for him. I don't want any medals or gold cups, let him keep them all, and while I think he's an amusing character who has put in an inordinately long time sealed in a concrete box shouting "helllos" and expletives from the doorway, I don't see him as a saintly Mother Theresa looking after all the down and out, though he does look a bit like her.
I've been bashed up there 7 times, no kidding, once actually knocked out and dropped to that "strange attractor" spot in the middle of the cafe with Vitto screeching like a mother hen and trying to protect me under his wings. I've also received 7 awards because of the help I've received from Vitto and the Cafe's patrons in putting on my shows and distributing my art by handing out my flyers and posters, thus I have a lot of appreciation for the joint, I wasn't completely left off the dance card. Lately it's been Eulalie and her family that have got me back in there with their honest friendship. And the tussle with Vitto is ongoing. The other day I called him "Mary Poppins" and he flipped, saying he hated Julie Andrews and I'm a cunt. Like, who hates Julie Andrews?
Vitto's an amazing guy made up of angel and devil, like most of us, the human condition we all share. It hurts to hear him lionize a mob of fame-whores who wouldn't piss on him if he demanded a golden shower. I was there the day in the Noughties when Cardinal Pell was brought in by Father Syn from the Catholic church down the street. Pell's eyes popped when he clapped them on me like he'd seen Lucifer, then he turned his back on me and was introduced to Vitto. The old devil held out his hand and Vitto kissed his ring, like a good, somewhat deranged, lapsed Catholic, (I was reminded of the hallucinatory scene from "Rosemary's Baby"). Smugly satisfied he'd received obeisance from the queen of Roslyn street the monstar retreated with nary a look my way and after he'd gone in a puff of smoke I rounded on Vitto and hissed, "How could you kiss that man's ring, you silly old queen?"