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The Lastdrager ChroniclesChronicles 1 | Chronicles 2
It was getting late. The pubs had shut over three hours ago and here I was still entertaining an old friend in town for the weekend. We stumbled toward the city; his demands for more booze were exceeded only by his incessant waffle about female companionship.
"Where to next man? Where are the nightclubs? Where are the women? This town's got to have a bar open somewhere for Christ's sake!" he whined desperately. We'd been at it for well over twelve hours and I was starting to lose interest. My guest however was having none of it. "I'm still up for it man, I feel good!! The drinks are on me," he added in a final act of persuasion. "C'mon you bastard, I'm only here once a year" he scowled as we finally hailed a cab and headed for the nightclub strip.
After entering the dark, cavernous club we wandered around three levels of throbbing dance floors. Home to the perfect people, there were androgenous androids, boys and girls beautifully luminous in the ever-changing coloured lights. Hundreds of them, all perfect, no fat, no flab, no bad haircuts, no cheap clothes…. just perfect teeth, perfect tits, and perfect asses. I knew I was out of my depth.
After a long hour of going through the motions with no luck, I knew my evening had come to an end and I began to search for my friend. I found him dancing on the third floor, drooling gibberish into a girl's reluctant ear. "Just another half hour" he pleaded with me, "I'm feeling lucky mate, I'm telling you."
"Listen. I'll wait downstairs for thirty minutes - then I'm out of here" I replied. Wearily I threaded my way through the crowd and took up position on a barstool to wait. After a few more lonely beers I began to nod off. I woke to a bouncer shaking me fiercely and barking, "Go home if you want to sleep!!" "It's okay, I'm waiting for a friend, we're getting a cab," I slurred apologetically.
After that I decided to light a cigarette to keep myself awake. Then as I waited to order my final beer, I saw a beautiful face leaning toward me as if in a dream. Through the smoke haze, flashing lights and thumping noise, the only woman who had spoken to me all night murmured, "Your cock's on fire". Her words astonished and satisfied me; I straightened up and smiled, nodding my head in anticipation of what was to come next, revelling in the triumphal lust of having this pretty barmaid vying for my attention. I felt reinvigorated. "Oh really babe?" I warmly encouraged her. "LOOK! YOUR COCK'S ON FIRE!!" she began to shout, pointing her long slender hand in an urgent stabbing motion at my groin, her face contorted with a mixture of disgust and derision. I looked down to see my cigarette had fallen into my crotch. The glowing end had burnt a moon-sized crater through my best jeans, with the next stop being my left testicle. "FFAAARRRRKKK!" I screeched, leaning back and nearly toppling as I frantically fanned the spot fire before dousing it with the remains of my beer. My humiliation complete, I lifted my eyes sheepishly to meet the cold, demonic stare of the bouncer at close range. "Yeah mate," I agreed, "it's time to go home."
Every year as the weather warms up and Christmas draws near, an important and time honoured Australian ritual of car maintenance is observed before we take the family on the annual summer holiday. And so it was that I duly had the car serviced – she got the works; oil change, plugs, points, radiator coolant, some new tyres…I was safe in the knowledge that despite the heat and distance the car was prepared for anything… or so I thought.
On a 35-degree day I headed out early to get ahead of the crowds and do my Christmas shopping. En route the first sign of trouble came when I stopped at a railway crossing, part of a long line of cars waiting for the trains to pass. Without warning my car horn began tooting unbidden in prolonged aggressive bursts. It reminded me of a scene from Spielberg's film "Duel". People in front of me were visibly alarmed, glancing in their rear view mirrors to locate the menace. I thumped the centre of the steering wheel in an attempt to stop the erratic honking but to no avail. After what seemed like an eternity the boom gates lifted, the cars began to disperse and inexplicably, my car horn finally fell silent. Relieved that the malfunction had apparently fixed itself, I continued on my way.
Once at the baking hot shopping centre car park I looked for a spot as close as possible to the entrance. As I waited in traffic an elderly lady with her shopping jeep ventured onto the zebra crossing in front of me. Suddenly my car horn released another volley of loud, sharp bursts, like a Spitfire with a Messerschmidt in its sights. I tried to apologize but with my voice drowned out by the noise I received only cold glares and sneers from the people at the bus stop as they watched the old lady struggle to escape the barrage. I soon realised just how hard it is to gesture an apology without words.
With the shopping done I returned to the car with my mind racing. I couldn't get the vision out of my head of that little old lady jumping into the air. Now I knew what a false sense of security meant. When would it blow again? About 500 metres down the road as it happened. On a skinny two way street behind a mother with two children in a small Japanese sedan it released its sonic assault. She looked worried (and I didn't blame her) as I lifted my hands into the air and mouthed the word "SORRY" before she made a desperate manoeuvre to slip down the first available side street. Its work done, again the horn fell silent. Now it wouldn't even toot when I pushed it…finally it was in total control.
I'd had enough and decided to head straight to the auto electrician and get the problem seen to, but not before stopping behind a large council truck with five burly blokes sitting 'not so squeezy' in the cabin. My mild mannered family wagon let them have it right between the taillights. The traffic lights seemed to stay red forever as the horn screamed a continuous warlike death cry while I held my hands in the air and stared out the window shaking my head and murmuring a few little prayers and expletives.
On the green light I took off, driving through the suburbs like a demented ice cream van. By this point I had become oblivious to the horn's endless blaring and desensitised to its evil, impartial choice of victim. Past crowds of glaring, staring pedestrians and motorists I drove until finally I reached the workshop all guns blazing.
Work stopped as mechanics, secretaries and customers alike covered their ears and gathered around the open hood of my car while I shouted my predicament to the auto electrician. Calmly he reached in and expertly disconnected the horn. Silence. "You'd have been a popular fella this morning then? You should've just yelled out Merry Christmas every couple of hundred metres," he said with a grin to the giggles of the small but appreciative audience. "I wish I'd thought of that!" I agreed wearily. "Next time I'll wear my Santa suit." Merry baaaaaarp Christmas!
Originally published Big Issue 2008
Institutions come in all shapes and sizes and many wild and varying ideologies. During the nineties my dogma-riddled ideology was a mongrel called rock and roll and its kennel was the Punters Club in Fitzroy, Melbourne Australia. On hearing the news last week that the hotel will be remembered and celebrated with a series of reunion shows I immediately experienced a powerful flashback during breakfast, and reflected on how much the Punter's Club at the time personified the vibrant and accessible inner city music scene. It was a great gig no band ever took for granted.
Like an old brown boot the Punters Club had a character and cosiness that I have yet to find and feel anywhere else. The public bar had a particularly colourful clientele from young hard rockers to philosophising country and western outlaws through to ornery and elderly inner city stalwarts, who were all ultimately side show fodder to the hectic roster of explosive and innovative indie music bands on offer at the time.
Apart from the hundreds of local and international touring acts to play at the venue, one fond memory was a cold and wet Tuesday night as Telly Savalas (aka Kojak) entered the near-empty bar. Savalas told us he was filming a mini series about boxing World Champion Lionel Rose. The only other punter in the bar asked Mr Savalas if he could sign something for him.
"I live round the corner in Rose Street - I'll be right back."
"OK Kid, but don't take too long," Savalas drawled in his laconic New York television cop voice. Within minutes the young bloke returned with an old vinyl album with Kojak on the front sucking his trademark lollipop in front of a Christmas tree. Savalas signed it with good grace and a ton of cool. It was simply hilarious.
Another strong recollection was a case of mistaken identity I experienced as the drummer for local country rock band the T Bones on a hot Friday night. As Nirvana's Come As You Are pumped through the PA and the guitarists tuned up, I sat behind my drums making the usual last minute adjustments and checks including the set list, beers, towel and spare sticks.
Waiting for the performance to begin I peered through the smoke and bright lights, scanning the packed crowd for friends or acquaintances. I noticed someone frantically gesturing in my direction. A large, highly agitated bald man I'd never seen before was pointing at me, clearly mouthing the words "YOU'RE DEAD" while clearly miming his intention to cut my throat.
Initially mystified, I looked around the room for his target before looking back at him, pointing to myself, and mouthing "You mean me?" He gave an exaggerated nod as he continued his tirade and sinister slow cutthroat motion.
"This has got to be a joke," I thought, as the DJ set ended and our singer welcomed the noisy crowd amidst the squeals of microphone feedback. Counting in the beat with four sharp clicks we launched into the opening track. I glanced to the left of stage, where to my growing discomfort the maniac's cold stare met my eyes. His sneer turned to a malicious smile as he raised his thumb like the Roman emperor Nero, before he dropped it sharply and mouthed again, "You're dead." Then he was gone, vanished into a sea of flannelette, smoke and leather.
"Probably just a crazy drunk, someone playing a joke…. Who knows and who cares?" I reassured myself and focussed on accenting the change. I pounded the ride cymbal with such pent up force and nerves that the drumstick shot out of my sweaty hand like a greased lightening bolt. Wreathed in smoke and coloured lights it tumbled like a bullet in slow motion. Between the guitarists and past the lighting guy it flew toward the audience, where inexplicably it slammed into the baldhead of a punter hurrying for the exit.
Spinning around with mad bulging eyes, it was the same Neanderthal. He picked up the stick that had hit him and used it to give me a final definitive cutthroat sign, before pointing to his watch and retiring ominously to the public bar. "What are the odds of that?" I thought, groping for another stick and rejoining the final chorus safe in the knowledge we had twelve songs to go and I had another ten sticks in my bag.
The Punters Club was a live music venue whose impact on the local and wider Australian music scene is still felt today. This weekend's planned reunion shows are not only a celebration but also a testament to all those great independent bands that called 376 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy home during that time.
All written material © 2010 Rob Lastdrager