Lucky Apples

On Rock Shows, Lifers & The Circular Nature Of Time

I was born with what I was once told as a child is called a ‘lucky apple’ in my eye. Ostensibly just a little brown marking in my right pupil. I was told it meant I would have good fortune, and being a little depressed at the knowledge that I was a ‘Thursday’s child, full of woe’, I have clung hard to that concept ever since. My son asked me about it the other day, and so I Googled it to prove/show/explain the amazing joys of being blessed by ‘a lucky apple’ in one’s eye and absolutely nothing came up on any corner of the internet, except a few weird Bible quotes, a hotel in Taipei, some intriguing Japanese restaurant menus and a very cool rhinestoned apple. 

I was lucky enough to get to play a real rock show a few nights ago, with the sublime musicians I get to call my band, warming the stage for Gareth Liddiard and Jim White, not only two of my favourite musicians in the world but also two of my favourite human beings. Our sound on stage was nice and fat and swampy and swirly, the house engineer was also kind enough to give us smoke and bathe us in cool coloured lights for which we were extremely grateful. Many opening acts are left to fend for themselves in terms of attempting to create atmosphere on a large and unforgiving stage. It can be a brutal experience without the sympathetic stagecraft to lift you in the rock’n’roll stratosphere. One thing I particularly love about playing on a big stage is that because my eyesight is terrible, all I can see in front of me is a slightly glimmering, inky ocean stretching out forever, creating an almost religious experience, wild and free and full of glorious space and sound. These are the moments we live for.

Photo by Katerina Stratos

First time I met Gareth and the Drones was after we had both just finished playing sets somewhere in the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne, sometime in the early 2000’s I think, and we made friends bonding over our love of Joel Silbersher’s secret EP ‘Spondooly’ and a few drinks backstage with mutual friends. They came to Sydney to play a show at the Annandale Hotel a couple of months later and I went, along with about twenty-five other people, standing as close as I could to the empty area in front of the stage without being a total weirdo. They were phenomenal, but no-one really seemed to notice.  Sydney is generally the last place to be in-the-know. Of course, that all changed pretty quick…

First time I met Jim White was also on tour in Melbourne with my band White Trash Mamas, must have been early 90s. Tex Perkins had told us we absolutely had to go and see his friends Dirty Three play at their Saturday night or Sunday afternoon or evening residency. Everything is murky and I forget the name of the pub now, but we dutifully went with no idea of what to expect. I walked into a dimly lit room, with a few exceptionally cool Melbourne people sitting round tables chatting, and there was a girl standing at the back of the room, who seemed to be staring at me expectantly. I slowly walked towards her, squinting with my bad eyes, thinking maybe it was someone I knew. I cautiously waved and she appeared to wave back. So I continued to walk towards her. It wasn’t until I was about six feet away, that I realised the girl was me, reflected in a mirrored wall. I tried to casually act like I had walked all that way just to check something in my eye but all the cool people watching me with raised eyebrows knew. After backtracking out of there trying to keep my head held high, I found the right room with the Dirty Three making their glorious noise in it and immediately all was right with the world and I became a lifer. 

I like that expression. I was reading an article about Spencer P. Jones and other legends of Australian rock’n’roll who seem to be disappearing from this world at a heartbreaking rate in which he stated ‘In music, there’s two types of people — wannabes and lifers’. I feel lucky to be part of a strange little club of music lifers, even during the lean times and the mean times and barely seen times, of which there are sometimes more of than the flowing green times. But I always take great pride in writing ‘musician’ on official forms, even though there are many reviewers who would tell you my ‘singing’ and ‘guitar playing’ are nothing to write home about and might suggest I check that accreditation first.  The great thing about doing something you love, for a really long time, is that you really don’t mind what other people think about it, because you do it because you have to, for yourself, and you get to understanding that its simply not possible to please everyone, so you just have to please yourself. A pretty good philosophy to apply to all areas of one’s life really.

The second time I saw the Dirty Three play was at the Manly Boatshed in Sydney. It was probably the first time I had ever gone to Manly, way across the bridge on the other side of the city, and it seemed like the other side of the world. There was a handful of us who were excited beyond belief about what we knew we were about to be lucky enough to experience, sharing a table up the front. Most of the other punters in the place seemed to be yelling ‘Play some fucking Chisel!’. There were Western saloon undertones going on, some serious Blues Brothers vibes but the band played on and they were stupendous. My girlfriend bought me a copy of their record and planned to get them to sign it for me, but we all got talking and she forgot, so she forged their signatures with an eyeliner and covered it in kisses and I didn’t know any better for a very long time. 

A good ten or twelve years later, after being in the front row for every Dirty Three show I could, I asked Jim if he would play with me on a few shows I had booked in New York, the actual other side of the world, and much to my joy, he agreed. They weren’t fancy gigs, and certainly weren’t well paid, so we just arranged to rehearse at Jim’s before our first show. It turned out he was staying at Marc Ribot’s apartment while he was away, which was a thrill because I am in total awe of his playing, so we rehearsed sitting across from each other in Marc Ribot’s tiny NYC kitchen, sink full of dirty dishes, me playing an unplugged electric guitar cos I didn’t have an amp and Jim using cutlery for drumsticks on the kitchen table. Undoubtedly one of my favourite rehearsals ever. I have a desk recording of our show that night or the next at Pianos, our names scrawled on a CD somewhere, but I’ve never listened in case its not as fantastic as it was in my mind. 

Looking through an old tiny red vinyl covered ‘appointment diary’ I had aged thirteen, I was astonished to find that Sekret Sekret was the first band I saw when I was a very fresh faced teenager and had just moved to Kings Cross from Adelaide with my family. The magnificent Ken Gormly who plays bass with me now, was in that band at one point in their existence. I don’t remember the gig, I was only thirteen, kids could get into clubs to hear music without any questions or demands for ID back then so long as they were sporting a lot of black eyeliner. He would have been a young inner city paisley shirted indie rock’n’roller just getting his groove on and way cooler than I could ever imagine. I wish I could rewind the cameras in my brain and see us both that day. I bet we looked good.

Life is long, and somewhat circular, music makes everything better and I feel lucky to be alive, when so many of my musical heroes and friends are gone.

Like I might have said in a song once, life is short and time is fleeting. But music can bend time, it can make time stand still, take you back in time, make you dream of a future, a past and get you lost in the right now, sometimes all at once.

These are the moments we live for.