Monday, September 08, 2014

Deadbeat and Gronky.


Half the world is in flames, hundreds of thousands slaughtered, marched silently to their execution, their lives made meaningless. Down here in Auz we’re safe and snug in our beds, too far away for war to reach us, unless our exported terrorists sneak back for their psychopathic orgasm of violence on our streets. I writhe in horror, and shed tears of blood for humanity, at the mercy of "homo rapiens" in this crazed 21st century.

Yet all I have to worry about here is if my act will go down well on a Nowheresville stage. I’ve been treading the theatrical boards all my life and never really gotten anywhere with it, except for having a lot of fun. Show biz sure is a hard road to travel, it should’ve been easy to give up, especially here at the end of the line, when I’m old, fucked-up and deadbeat. But when you get "in the zone", woah, it’s better than sex and drugs put together.

We got in the zone the other night, very high, for all that the club we performed in was a dive, hardly a soul knows about it, tucked away above a record shop, but it's organized by two cool friends who are worth supporting, and being under the radar means you don't have paparazzi getting in your face. Nobody came to our show for I just don't have any clout in this dammed city. It was a cold rainy Thursday night, half of Sydney had the Swine Flu, and I had the heaviest competition as far as old gronky performers like me go: Bob Dylan was in town and if you’re gonna go up against someone, it might as well be the best in the world.


A big pity nobody came as we put on a good show, performing for the other acts on the bill, seven people impatient to get home on a cold, wintry night but hanging in there out of politeness. It was one of the hardest gigs I've ever performed, 7 souls concentrating hard, their eyes boring holes in me. It tested my resolve and resilience, the show must go on, even in the VOID. Dives are the best venues for living out the romance of the "star" on their way UP, or in my case, DOWN. 

The worst part was I had to follow a guy who I had met on the traps many years previously and had prayed I'd never meet again. Back then he'd got himself on the committee of a video festival and my seven submissions were mysteriously rejected. I know I'm always on about getting fucked over but it's one of the most tedious things about life, having to be diplomatic with those who once not only burnt your aspirations to the ground, they then pissed on you to put out the fire. This particular dickhead's reading was so boring he scared away what little audience we'd lured to the joint. To be polite, I sat through his verbal vomit, an honor he didn't grant me, to my relief, I'd rather shout into the empty wind.

To reiterate, one of the through-lines of this Blog is the hard life of the try-hard iconoclast artist. If you really rock the boat then you get fucked and don't have a career, only apologists, inane surrealists and abstract expressionists that talk about nothing get encouragement by a State that's in lockstep with High Capitalist demands. For instance, on global warming, those who run the world, such as multinational corps, fund climate skeptics because having to clean up their pollution would reduce their profits.

Me and my friends are perfecting our act, we hit the mark, and then pushed it further and, repeat, got very high doing it. My 70 year old mate Brian switched on some synthesized tabla and sitar machines that provided a background canvas of droning white noise, and then played flute over the top of it to the accompaniment of my best mate Paul Vassalo playing electric guitar so smooth and ecstatic I went into Nirvana while I told my funky story, “A Numb Bum in Nimbin.” And it's all about how I love to smoke mellow cannabis.

We had two video projectors, one showing 200 pics of Nimbin, the hippies, the festivals, the ganjha buds, the cops, the murals painted on the Aussie frontier shop-fronts, and then the heart of the town burning. The other projector showed 200 images of gods, angels, demons, Buddhas, saints, sadhus, heroes, fairies, visions, from the vast range of myths, religions, spirituals and hippie psycho-babble that the locals are enamored of. All of which provided a psychedelic backdrop, visually informative as to the story I was telling.

And it all went off beautifully, I got with the beat and told of my long love of the area, my voice mellifluous from years of singing in the streets, Paul following the drama of the story with his wailing, crunching, roaring guitar, and Brian adding hippie trippiness with his flute. What a buzz it was, and what a bummer there was virtually no one there to witness it. Oh well, it went into the Akashic Records, above a vinyl record shop, that’s OK I guess. We sure did have high fucking fun though.


I’ve been doing this act for a long time, first just presenting bands and films, then making my own films and slide-shows and walking in and out of them while I told stories or tried stand-up comedy. My first original attempt was in 1979 at a squatted abandoned school, the Marist Brothers at the top of Darlinghurst, where punks put on a cabaret night they called “Side F/X”.

I told jokes in front of a live-action/animated piece called, “We Got It All For You” wherein Ronald MacDonald rapes a woman who later on gives birth to a baby with a hamburger for a head. He then puts the baby through a mince-meat machine to assure the public that Maccas are into recycling. With this kind of subvertizing I was never gonna make it mainstream.

I noticed the eyeballs pop on this one arts-hole in the audience, a year later he’d formed his own group, The Either Orchestra, performing a similar act only his animations were apolitical, cute, inane, arty-farty abstract, just the kind of crap the State Arts Funding bodies adore, they threw lots of money at him for awhile, till he ran out of steam, being unoriginal, he couldn’t keep coming up with the goods, though he did get a job teaching it.

For all he got the kudos and career, and I got accused of copying him (!!!) I carried on with my act, it’s who I am and I rarely let any shit-head get in my way. Here I am, in 2014, still doing it, every time with a different story, many of them told here in this Blog. For much of it I’ve called my mob “Deadbeat and Gronky” but lately I’ve cut it to “The Sydney Deadbeats”, because we’re all fucked-up, with the beat not beaten, and we operate in Sydney, every city in the world having a band called “The Deadbeats” I imagine.

We’ve played every venue possible, from rock clubs to squatted rooms, music festivals to street demonstrations, community halls to movie theaters, warehouses and art galleries, pubs and cafes, libraries and schools, and lately above a record shop, regardless of what others were doing, such as big time rock bands or art-school wankers, always under the radar, always for the love of it.

Membership of my band changed many times over the years, it depended on whoever was available and ready to venture Underground. It never even depended on musicianship, sometimes I wanted a certain grungy “look”, for instance the night we played at “The Slaughterhouse” in Redfern, a dilapidated warehouse that held BAD punk shows. I got a girlfriend to play base guitar, she was a junkie and had never played guitar before, she nodded off all through the gig and made the most awful racket but, with my wise-cracks and animated cartoons, helped create the nasty anti-pop I was forever chasing.


Then there was the time “Deadbeat” got invited to play the Byron Bay Arts Festival, 1000 kms up the North Coast. My drummer, Madhe, had a small wagon in which we crowded four musicians plus movie projector, drum kit, saxophone, guitar and bags. We drove into the night as a storm raged down upon us, an ocean of water through which we sloshed, lightning, hail, wind throwing us about till the car broke down, its ass stuck halfway out onto the highway. We froze there for hours, every minute lit up by the headlights of trucks bearing down upon us, me squeezing my eyes shut and praying this was not the moment of our oblivion.

When we got to the Festival grounds outside Byron Bay we were welcomed by the organizers and when I asked, “Where do we stay?” a young woman pointed to a ditch and said, “You can camp there.” Great, par for the course of being deadbeats, lucky we brought tents and sleeping bags.

The gig was performed in a small tin shed near the front gates, a long way from the main stage and the big name acts, and I kind of felt like an outcast. But my show was a hit, the crowd who filled the shed roared approval and the organizers told me my act was exactly what their Arts Festival was about. To add to our crazy presentation I got Madhe’s five year old son to play bongos with us, it made for cacophonous noise and the crowd lapped it up.

I could rave on and on, about “Deadbeat” successes and disasters, but some of them get mentioned in other stories, especially the next one coming up, “High Noon at the Gunnery”. One of my favorite gigs was the benefit I put on for Vitto of Piccolo Café fame, to raise money to send him on a holiday to Europe. I pretended to be Vitto cleaning the café after a long hard night’s work and sang a song in front of my cartoons.


I was accompanied by Ayesha, famous drag queen from Les Girls, on the stage of the old Les Girls nightclub, in 1995 re-named The Palladium. She came out wearing a mink stole and played grand piano, totally out of synch, off beat, off key, whatever, no matter how much I tried to catch up and keep pace with her, it was like two cats being strangled.

A big laugh anyway and we raised $2000 for the old dick but he complained to me that it wasn’t enough money which pissed me off. Twenty years later in a history video documentary he bullshitted that it was a girlfriend who organized the benefit for him, I got wiped from the record, even close friends forget, that’s the life of a deadbeat.

To sum up I will reiterate a tale about my experience in show biz mentioned early in my opus. When I was about five years old a spoiled rich kid up the hill had a birthday party to which all the locals were invited. Her parents had put up a stage in their backyard upon which the brat and her chosen few were to perform for us plebs. She was quite a little theatrical Prima Donna and, as such, threw a temper tantrum before she’d go on.


Her mates did a lame song and dance as a warm up while the old folks tried to cajole their daughter onto the stage. The audience of mums, dads and poor kids sat glum throughout, it just wasn’t happening. I got impatient and figured, “I can do better than this!” and I jumped up onto the stage and sang a song popular at the time, Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.” The audience got with the swing of it, at last something entertaining, tapping their feet and clapping their hands, and I really played up to them, dancing about, hitting the high notes.

The birthday girl, from backstage, saw that I was stealing her limelight and flipped. She rushed on stage in the middle of my song and, with two of her tiny tot thug cohorts, grabbed a hold of me and pushed me off the edge, to land on my ass. While all the parents laughed in embarrassment, the spoiled brat smiled smugly, as if to say, “It’s my show, I own the stage and you don’t figure.” She then launched into her own song and dance and it was flat, boring, as twee as "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?".

It was a hard lesson to learn early on in life, it's not about how entertaining one can be but who controls the gig and how much one is willing to suck up to the "powers that be". All history is like that, the low-talents with the resources and contacts get the lime-light; you'd think it was the light of Nirvana, the way fuckers fight so hard for it. Whatever, for all the kicks in the ass along the way, I’ve had fabulous fun. I’m an artist, it’s what I wanted to do with my life, no money, no fame regardless: we got high on the night.




If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.