THIS BOOK IS OUT OF PRINT AND PROPERTY OF THE AUTHOR.
SORRY: THE WRETCHED LIFE OF LITTLE STEVIE WRIGHT BY JACK MARX
From reviews in the Australian press: ‘Sorry is no ordinary biography, but more of a novel…an intensely personal, uniquely written and intricately observed portrait of failure.’ The Mercury ‘This seedy tale of fan-meets-fallen star is a gripping one, enlivened by fearless, high-energy prose…Marx has achieved something great here.’ The Burnie Advocate ‘A writing tour de force…Sorry is worth reading just to catch a glimpse of Marx’s awesome talent.’ The Townsville Bulletin ‘Original and riveting.’ The Melbourne Age ‘Brutally candid, poetic and profound…You’ll not find sharper dissections of drug users, or the users of the music industry.’ The Daily Telegraph
‘One of the most harrowing rock books ever written.’ The Bulletin ‘Illuminating, disgusting and wonderfully vague…Not to be missed.’ The Big Issue ‘A grotesque spectacle, Sorry should be required reading for any deluded innocent still aspiring to either rock stardom or salvation through narcotics.’ THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
~ I remember one day when he was about two years old. I put him to bed in the afternoon and he fell into a very peaceful sleep. No noise at all. He was still asleep well into the night and, after a while, I became a little worried. He seemed to be breathing alright, though, so I tried to forget about it and eventually went to bed myself. Of course, when he still hadn't stirred by the morning, I panicked and called the doctor. Well, he couldn't find anything wrong with him either, so he left. I began to do some housework to try and take my mind off it. Then, some hours later, I heard a noise and went to his room. There he was, standing up in his cot, asking for marmalade, of all things. Well, I was just so happy that he was alright that I gave him whatever he wanted. You know, you do these things. It was much later when I was washing his clothes that I saw themâ€”tiny, little chewed-up seeds on his bib. Poppy seeds. From the poppies in the back garden. He's been chewing them and they'd obviously sent him into that deep, peaceful sleep. Now, I know it's far-fetched, but I often think about that time, with the way things have turned out and all. He was sleeping so peacefully, so perfectly peaceful in sleep. And I've often wondered if he hasn't always been looking for that same peace. Dorothy Wright, 1993
~ When Stevie awoke, he vomited with such force that it spattered the people around him. They began barking at him, slapping his face and wanting his name. He instinctively knew not to give it that easily. Besides, he wasn't entirely sure of the correct answer. It eventually came to him. And, when it did, it was only momentarily comforting. For with it came the memory of why he was here. A junkie had promised he could get what Stevie wanted, provided he received cash up front. He told Stevie to wait in a cafe and he would return shortly with the goods. Stevie told him noâ€”it wasn't that he didn't trust the junkie, but he'd been burned before and would much prefer to come along too. The junkie shook his head. His friend didn't dig strangers coming to the house, especially over unsavoury matters such as this. A fine compromise, suggested the junkie, would be for his girlfriend to wait with Stevie. Like a hostage. Stevie knew the junkie's girlfriend was bad collateral. Even friends are fun vouchers to junkies. But the bluffing duel had run its dismal course and there was little else to do. He handed over the cash and the junkie wandered off to fetch what Stevie wanted. Stevie sat with the junkie's girlfriend, drinking coffee and talking monolithic piles of bullshit for quite some time. She was ugly and apparently quite stupid. She spoke of no bright future or colourful past. She had no goal
and it appeared she didn't dream very much. She was dressed like a slut. She was not his chosen company at all, but simply a junkie's girlfriend. And it just so happened that, tonight, that junkie was necessary. Otherwise, Stevie would've been somewhere else entirely. Too much time had passed before Stevie began to suspect monkey business. There were suspicious chasms of silence and, when not, the bullshit banter was almost comically uncomfortable. She was looking for an exit. Stevie expressed his grave fear that the junkie was not returning. In the ensuing silence, he reached for her hand, begged for the truth, then prepared himself for the customary avalanche of lies. The junkie's girlfriend shook her head. She couldn't understand what had happened to the junkieâ€”he was usually very reliable indeed. Tonight's behaviour was wildly out of character. Bah! She was angry. Bah! Where was that blasted junkie of hers? Stevie was near enchanted by the complete absurdity of her routine. Even he had not the dash to attempt such an outrageous performance. Who but an imbecile would fall for it? Eventually, her little exhibition wound to a close, and Stevie seized the moment to put an end to the evening's piracy once and for all. He wanted the truth, now, or he would make a noise. The junkie's girlfriend began to cry. No, the junkie wasn't coming backâ€”it was never his intention to. He had fled with the cash and she was to meet him later for a grand old time. She had known so, right from the very
beginning. But she was sorry. Her tears, she said, were proof of that, surely. And to show him just how sorry she was, she would like to make amends. She had a small amount on her, which they could share. She knew a place they could go. It wasn't far. Stevie paid the bill with what cash he had left and they made their way out of the cafe and into the rumpus of the city street. As they moved purposefully through the crowd, Stevie caught sight of a handsome young couple walking in the opposite direction. The girl had her head on the boy's shoulder, laughing at something he had said. They were on their way somewhere fun. Or perhaps home. For a moment, Stevie felt buckled by a lonely crush, like one who feels he belongs with those who don't even know he exists. The couple passed, the feeling dissolved and he followed the junkie's girlfriend. As they made their way from the main street and into the narrowing lanes, Stevie felt as if in descent. The clattering night sounds, though only seconds away, grew muffled and distant. The excitement was rolling away. He knew now that the evening was over for him. And yet, something propelled him forward, an allure that would forever triumph over whatever waited at home. There was something happening beyond the moment. A party in his honour. Salvation. The feeling was one that had disappointed him as often as it had promised deliverance, but it was one he was always to trust, even when all hope had disappeared.
The junkie's girlfriend turned into a dark alley between two apartment buildings and stopped. To Stevie's astonishment, she began to prepare a fit right there. Stevie didn't like it. They were under the sky, in the eyes of the universe. They were amongst the garbage. Someone in an apartment above had the television on. This wouldn't do at all. But the junkie's girlfriend, her humble stupidity suddenly replaced with the authority of a witch, declared they would do it here or not at all, for there was simply nowhere else to go. Reluctantly, Stevie allowed her to tie his arm and prepared himself for the sting of the needle. Crouching against the brickwork, he felt the warm, liberating wave flow through him. He reclined his head and, looking up, noticed the silhouette of a man watching them from a lighted window. The figure seemed to be softly pulsating, fluttering, as if underwater. Instantly, Stevie felt sick. It was familiar and terrible. The junkie's girlfriend had vanished. The man in the window was saying something Stevie couldn't understand. Everything became thick and hard and blackâ€Ś
Now they were shining a light in his eyes and shaking him, demanding an answer. He knew that if they learned his name it would be all over the papers in a twinkling. He feigned sleep, praying nobody would recognise him. As if the prayer had fallen into the wrong hands, a voice murmured, â€˜His name's Stephen Wright.â€™ The price of fame. Why couldn't they just leave him in peace?
‘You know him?’ a voice asked. ‘No, I've never seen him before in my life. Some guy over there reckons he knows him from detox.’
~ The rise of the pop musician as the most rewarded of all artists in history is the twentieth century's insulting gift to the story of mankind. For, pound for pound, there is no more repulsive personality than that of the pop musician. His ego is a whopping engine housed in a machine of breathtaking frailty. The peak of his genius is realised with the purchase of his instrument. From there, it's all dumb animal training and theft. Anybody can do it. If you want to rock’n’roll, the way to the top is, in fact, short. The reason only a tiny percentage make it to the top is because the way is so crowded. And the way is crowded because it's so laughably short as to attract every thick and ordinary teenager in need of a quick, valueless victory. The pop star's importance is engineered and operated by the dollars of children. This fact, if it occurs to him at all, doesn't dampen the pop star's enthusiasm for himself. For he, too, is a child. He thinks like one, for he doesn't have to do otherwise. People—the industry, the press—treat him like an adult already. Why should he change? He thus remains, for the duration of his stardom, retarded. The pop star is duped into believing that people want him for his exceptionally creative mind. It must be so, for the media want him to speak
constantly. His thoughts are displayed in public more than those of the pilot or the doctor or the engineer. People must believe his words are nourishing and good. The pop star doesn't dare realise that the media want him simply because it knows that the children are infatuated with his music, his image, his whole kit, and will therefore guzzle whatever he spouts. And so, the poor, silly pop musician remains happily oblivious to his own depressing insignificance. The pop star is not to be trusted. If you are in his world, you are naught but an ingredient in his mighty recipe. He sees the world not for what it is, but for what it could be when laundered through the apparatus of his magnificent creativity. He wanders the earth seeing potential lyrics in his relationships and video frames in fields of flowers. He is a consumer. The world is either a backdrop or an audience for his art. If it is neither of these things, it is a stupid obstacle—a benign enemy he may befriend later, when he's too old to be bothered being brilliant anymore. I hate every pop star's guts. I was a pop musician once. I didn't make it. I'm not bitter—Jesus, no. I was…ahead of my time. Stevie Wright, on the other hand, is a rock’n’roll winner. Thirty years ago, he made it to the top. His stay was brief and he misplaced all the prizes, but his consequent ruin doesn't change the fact that he won. Muhammad Ali can scarcely punch out his own shit without assistance these days, but a champion he remains. Little Stevie Wright, likewise.
And nobody sees this more clearly than he. This tale of loss, when told by the loser, rides on a whisper of victory. It's as if Stevie Wright never actually lost at allâ€”rather, something always beat him. Something. Our time together appears to have come to an end. A few months ago I didn't know Stevie Wright at all. I loved him then. I hate him tonight. Three months on his back in this shithole has driven both horse and rider spare. Relations reached critical mass a few hours ago and exploded in a furious squall of abuse and colourful language. Vowing never to return, I fled the Wright house and took a room at Lynch's Hotel. I only had time to churn out a hasty manifesto on why the pop musician is the worst type of person the world has ever known when Fay called. Stevie wants to see me. He wants to patch things up. And so, for the last time, I go. As I approach the house, I wonder whether this is a genuine gesture or simply the product of vanity. Stevie would think it imprudent to let me go on bad terms. Fay answers the door and ushers me inside without a word. Stevie Wright, the pop star, is sitting on the edge of his bed, facing a blank television screen. The lights are out and the curtains, as always, are drawn. There is a gentle illumination in the room, from the dim, red glow of the radiator at Stevie's feet. The only sound is the whir of the fan on the bedside table. Next to the fan is a needle, used. His bottle is next to the radiator. His bucket is next to the bottle. Everything left in the life of Stephen Carlton Wright is within his reach: heat, cold, darkness, dim light, anaesthetic, sickness and a show that
won't come back on. What a nightmare this life would seem if it were to appear to one suddenly. If the Stevie Wright of 1966 had awoken one morning, with the fame and the glamour only hours behind, to find himself inexplicably here, he would surely have killed himself. To go on living would've been an outrage. But conclusions like this don't happen suddenly. They creep. They are secretly conceived by our every weak move, no matter how seemingly trivial. The slide is long and the tilt so shallow it seems we're simply moving forward, not descending at all. And when our dungeons arrive, they are already familiar and comfortable, for we've acclimatised on our way down. Every minute, every day. The child never grows. It wilts. Stevie turns and offers me a drink and a place by his side at the edge of the bed. His tone is uncharacteristically humble. He is sorry about our little conflict and he wants to make amends. After all this time, it would be a shame to part like this. We've come a long way and there is more to go. He apologises for Fay and the things she said. They both believe me to be a decent boy. A few social problems, perhaps, but nothing too ominous. I'm sorry too. I didn't mean that thing I said about him being up himself sidewards, and I don't really want Fay to shove anything up her ass at all. If we can get along, I'm happy to stay. After a while, we are talking again as we have in the best of times. Stevie tells me another daffy story and we laugh like juiced pioneers around a campfire. Fay does not sit with us, but stands by the door, as if waiting for
something to happen. Stevie offers me a shot, as something of a peace offering. It seems inappropriate to refuse. As Stevie ties my arm and prepares the gear, Fay asks me one more time whether that tale of the newsreader and the Coke bottle is true. Once again, I explain that it's probably little more than an urban myth, but a fine one of which the author should be very proud and pleased. The flick and flare of the lighter draws my attention toward the action on Stevie's bedside table, and I am astonished at the amount being cooked in the spoon. I require less than half of such a grotesque quantity. Stevie laughs. It's not all for me. I should know that by this time. Fay thinks the story is silly. Nobody would believe that a decent girl like the newsreader would allow something like that to be put inside her body. Anyway, why would any ordinary boy want to insert a Coke bottle into a pretty girl? Why not his penis instead? I suggest that maybe the boy has inserted his penis so many times into the bodies of pretty girls that it has become unchallenging to do so. Such things happen to popular boys. Perhaps his pride has become used to the wonder of a girl saying yes to his penis. It is commonplace now. He needs more. He does not wish to do simply what is allowed. He needs friction. He needs to change her law through the force of his character. Depredation is the will of all men. Stevie remarks once again on the handsome state of my veins. And
with that he plunges the needle in and I wait for the moment to happen. Fay doesn't believe me. She says all men think with their penises and the boy with the Coke bottle is sick. I say he's an ordinary boy in a sick situation. Fame has made life too easy for his penis and now it won't come out. It couldn't be fucked. It's redundant before its time. The feminists have got it all wrong. Penises are neither here nor there. You could cut off the penis of every man in the land and eventually we'd all be using Coke bottles. Stevie agrees. So, Fay asks, why the newsreaderâ€™s arse? I tell her to forget it. It's an urban myth. I feel sick all of a sudden. It rises so swiftly I don't get the chance to announce it. I want to throw up but my throat is closed. Everything in the room seems too close and thick to the touch. Fear swarms in my head. I can't remember how human beings survive. I've never been here before but I know the meaning of it. I'm overdosing. I stand and manage my way to the door. My steps seem to cover great distances. The walls in the hallway are drifting slowly past, as if they are moving and not me. I feel no earth. I'm levitating. I see myself in the mirror and I'm sure I've a hump on my back. My feet pitch forward and upward until I'm inverted. In the darkness behind, I am alarmed to see Fay and Stevie, their faces blank, following in mute procession. Gravity disappears and something big hammers my head to God.
I am now sitting on the kitchen floor and Fay is feeding me water. Stevie asks if I feel I am among friends. It's an odd question and I don't answer. I appear to have vomited several times, but I can't recall. This isn't right at all. Against local advice, I stand and make my way to the front door. Fay asks me if I feel alright and I don't answer. I walk up the drive and it's raining and cold but it feels good. My body feels like a machine with all the bolts loosened. I'm confused and shaken by what happened back there. Fancy dying in that house. Before Stevie. That's so dark. By the time I arrive at Lynch's there are already several messages from Fay. Brian says I look sick and I tell him I am. I buy a bottle of Bourbon and take it to my room. I pack my crummy belongings into my suitcase and lie down, making a pathetic tape recording of myself as I drink and weep like a bunny. I will lie like this until morning, when the bus comes. The next time Fay and Stevie hear from me I will be far away and home.
The man driving the bus says that if we want anything we just have to ask. I ask him to please turn the music off. He says he can't. For the first time in my life I just want a dumb job in a shop.
~ Little Stevie Wright was good with customers. Nobody suspected he was just a kid straight out of school. They found him genuine, his smile a familiar one
they could trust. So they bought things. Suits and shirts and ties. And they looked fine, most of the time. Sometimes, when a customer tried on an outfit, Stevie would tell him he looked much smarter than he really did. That was part of the job. It is the way of the gentlemenâ€™s outfitter. Some people knew the drill, and were wryly amused by Stevie's bogus routine. Others swallowed it wholesale. For this reason, Stevie could live with the deception: the wise ones never suffered, and those who did were too stupid to suffer badly anyhow. One day, the manager called Stevie into his office and asked him to close the door. He was impressed with Stevie's performance and had decided it was time for a promotion. From now on, Stevie would not be just a messenger boy, occasionally allowed to assist with sales, but a salesman proper. A true gentlemenâ€™s outfitter. And to mark the transformation, he would present Stevie with a fancy new suit. One of the ones Stevie liked, with the banana pockets. Stevie was thrilled. With his new suit and his old routine, he would make a dashing salesman. The streets of the city would cascade with gentlemen outfitted by Stephen Carlton Wright. That afternoon, he was measured for size, and the next day the suit with the banana pockets was ready. Stevie tried it on, looked in the mirror and liked what he saw. Mature and responsible. It was good to feel that way. Clothes, he thought, really do make the man after all. That evening, as Stevie strode home in his brand-new suit, he decided
to go by the migrant hostel, where he and his family had once lived. He knew he'd feel grandâ€”he and the suit, marching through his old slum. The houses were little more than huts set in dirt that would turn to sludge when it rained. Then, when the rain dried up, the flies and mosquitoes would rise from the earth and jazz about until everyone prayed for the rain to come again. Stevie and his family lived in a proper apartment now, and it seemed the mud and the flies and the prayers were gone for good. But he often went back to visit, for he missed the spirit of the hostel. It was alive with youngsters and music and a sense that something wonderful lay outside. Sometimes, he'd visit the hostel at nights and pretend he was still captive there, praying for a chance to get out. The desperation excited him. As he turned the final corner, a robust figure stepped from the shadows and stood in his path. It was a boy from the neighbourhood who was known to be 'going' with a girl called Maria. In the past weeks, Stevie had 'been' with Maria a few times, but he never 'went' with her. There was a difference. 'Going' with a girl was a serious business, while 'being' with a girl was just something boys did every now and then. It meant nothing. Stevie remembered the first time he had been asked if he was 'going' with anyone. He asked where he was meant to be 'going' to. Everybody laughed. These days, he wasn't so naive. The boy asked Stevie what his interest was in Maria. Stevie replied that there was no hanky-panky going on, just friendship. Then the boy asked why Stevie had told Maria that he was going to 'do' him. Stevie insisted that
he had made no such bold declaration. The boy then accused Stevie of calling Maria a liar. There was no way out. Stevie was going to be 'done', and the best thing he could do now was try to save his new suit. He explained to the boy about the suit, how it meant a lot to him and shouldn't be dragged into this sorry affair. He invited the boy to 'do' him by all means, but pleaded for the suit to be spared. The boy agreed to let Stevie go and change into some fighting clothes. Just then, Maria appeared. Stevie took her aside and explained the situation. She was genuinely bewildered. No, she hadn't said anything to the boy about Stevie wanting to 'do' him. The boy was obviously confused. She told Stevie to wait while she spoke to the boy and sorted out the whole silly mess. Stevie watched her bounce over to the boy and whisper in his ear. What could she be saying? Why should it be a secret between her and the boy? The answer occurred to him too late. The boy's first punch broke Stevie's lip and fell him. He heard his suit tear as he was dragged along the ground and kicked. Blood flowed from his nose and formed a little lake in the dirt. The boy spat on him and called him a poof. Under his breath, Stevie called Maria a liar, but one of his teeth came out as he said it. He watched from the edge of the little lake as the boy and Maria held hands and strolled away, like giants into the night. Stevie picked himself up and lurched home in the bloody, tattered new suit that had once made him feel mature and responsible.
Tattered and bloody, Stevie ambled into the hostel, where he encountered George and Harry. They were particularly friendly tonight, even though he didn't know them very well at all. He knew they played music, and they spoke for a while about that. They said they had heard that Stevie had quite voice, and Stevie told them they had heard correctly. They also remarked on his wild appearance. The young ones, they said, admired such reckless beauty. They suggested that Stevie might like to join themselves and a friend called Dick - they were planning a musical enterprise that may make them all giants of the revolution.
~ Getting to a pop musician is never easy. The way is a tedious gauntlet of managers, publicists, redundant agents and various record company harlequinsâ€”all doing sterling impressions of people who are somehow necessary. Industry-sponsored technical faults, the lot of them. But I suspected Stevie Wright would be one of the easier shooting stars to catch and put in my pocket. With no more product to sell, he has no need for the insulation the music industry provides. And the music industry certainly has no need to protect him anymore. Nevertheless, Stevie is housed in a little labyrinth of his own. Here is where it starts.
For reasons unknown (save, perhaps, sentimentality), Stevie Wright has a manager—Terry Hunter. There is a dog in Terry's yard. An Alsatian. He notices my approach and snarls, freezing me just outside of the gate. Then he gets a better idea and lays down, as if not to care. I take another step and he bolts upright, ready to rip and tear. I freeze and the cunning bastard reclines once again, looking at the sky, the birds, the ants in the grass, anything but me. He'd whistle a tune if he could. This dog doesn't care to repel strangers—it wishes to entrap and destroy them. It's the dog of a crook. Terry Hunter named him Staunch. I don't know much about Terry Hunter. I do know that, as well as Stevie Wright, Terry manages the careers of a man who pokes steel prongs through his cheeks and a woman who dances naked with snakes. Not a glittering stable. I recall when a friend and I were collecting debts for a music magazine some years back, we were advised to forget about Terry's debt and avoid him completely. For our own safety. I am also aware of the fact that Terry orchestrated Stevie Wright's ‘Last Stand’ concert and reserved VIP tickets for underworld overlord Abe Saffron and shonky detective Roger Rogerson. Some say that Terry is just a low-level hustler and little more besides, his acquaintances all grifters with reputations for not quite doing the job right. There are, however, three rather disturbing tales of Terry Hunter that I've picked up along the way—all somewhat unbelievable, but worth keeping in mind nonetheless. In the first, Terry finds himself sharing a cell with a double-murderer
who has informed the authorities that he will kill anyone who is paired with him. It is not clear why Terry Hunter is chosen as this fellow's roommate. Facing a well-broadcast and imminent death, Terry has to think fast. He tells the murderer that he has well-placed contacts on the outside, and anything required can be easily obtained. To Terry's surprise the murderer requests a regular supply of Quick chocolate milk powder. The following week, several tones of chocolate Quick are the spoils of a daylight truck hijack. When interviewed by police, the driver remarks on the unusually shabby nature of the heist, saying: ‘They didn't seem to know quite what they were doing.’ The second tale, equally incredible, involves Terry, the nightclub manager, delivering such a brutal hiding to one of his employees that those who witness it are physically sick. The now ex-employee worked for Terry as a bouncer. In the third—not so much a tale as a warning—Terry sucks his little finger when he gets ‘randy’. Armed with this information, I am surprised to find Terry such a friendly looking character. A big, blond-haired, brotherly type. A king-sized Barney Rubble. He seems trustworthy. Perhaps it's just that he has a firm hold of Staunch. Inside the house, Terry reaches into the kitchen cupboard and produces a dirty cardboard folder crammed with newspaper clippings and photocopies. He gently places it on the table in front of me.
‘So,’ he sighs, ‘you want to write the story of Stephen…Carlton… Wright.’ The words are delivered with a tired weight. They've been spoken before with all manner of glory and hope. Today, Terry can't summon the spirit. He is sick of this, the parade of enthusiastic biographers offering tickets to comfort only to deliver their resignations. As far as Terry is concerned, I am simply the latest. It is my turn to raise his hopes and dash them. ‘He doesn't make a lot of sense a lot of the time,’ says Terry. ‘He's on his last legs, you know what I'm saying? Fay looks after him as best she can…’ Fay? ‘She's his woman, but more like his nurse, really. She's an old fan, you know what I mean? But, y’know…it won't be long now. Like, he's coherent. He talks and remembers some things…’ The voice lowers to a concerned whisper. ‘…but he's done a lot of damage, you know what I'm saying? It won't be long now.’ There's something phoney about this but I can't place it. ‘He's a bit non-compus, understand? He just gets a little confused sometimes, loses the plot a bit, you know? His memory's alright, he's just not too good with details. He becomes a little vague. And what he doesn't remember, of course, he just makes up.’ What? ‘Oh, yes, he spins a few yarns. It'll be a bit of a job sorting out the
truth from the, you know, the other thing. Not long ago, another fellow tried to get the story from him, but when he played the tape back it was just gibberish, really.’ A little flabbergasted now, I ask Terry if, in his professional opinion, there is any point in going through with this business at all. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he blurts, his enthusiasm reappearing with thunderclap surprise. ‘The only thing you really have to watch out for is giving him money. Don't, under any circumstances, give him money.’ I nod, but this doesn't seem enough for Terry. ‘No,’ he insists, ‘I mean that. If you give him money, you've had it. Once he realises that he can get money from you, he won't do anything unless he's paid for it. It's just a junkie thing, you know what I'm saying? Don't give him any money.’ Terry pauses for a moment, then smiles broadly. ‘Don't feed the bears, alright?’ He then picks up his mobile phone and ushers me out the back door. Poolside. Terry, his black Ray Bans on (closer inspection reveals they are an imitation brand called Roy Bans) and lounges in a banana chair. I'm wearing a suit and hat. We must look ridiculous, like a couple of Hollywood Mafia clods on working vacation in Havana. But I can tell Terry is enjoying the scene. We're doing business. This is the poolside I've read about, where Stevie once told a reporter
of his Homeric battle with drugs, all the while gargling Southern Comfort 'concealed' in a lemonade can. This is the pool where Stevie was photographed with plump, naked cuties for People magazine, later claiming he was forced into the idea against his better judgement. There is a sense of history here, I can feel it. Like the air of spiritual magnitude one must feel when standing, say, on the spot where Alexander defeated the Corinthians in 300BC. To celebrate the moment, Terry's mobile phone rings. ‘Hello? Oh, hello, Free-drick, how are you? Yes, Free-drick, I did… Yes, she did…Very nice, yes, very nice…Did she?…Did she, Free-drick?… What else did she say?…Really?…Did she really?…’ As this remarkable conversation escalates, I see it—from behind the phone, Terry's little finger is coming out for some action. It curls from the handset and begins worming around Terry's moistening, leering smile. ‘Did she?…Yes, I would, Free-drick…Yes, I'd like that very much indeed!…’
~ Stevie, Harry, George and Dick played music at nights, in the laundry of the hostel. It was quite a way from the dwellings, so they didn't have to worry about making too much noise. Sometimes, they'd play until the early hours of the morning, copying the tunes of popular groups. Stevie didn't have a microphone, so he had to sing with all his might
to be heard over the instruments. Often, screaming was all he could do. He wasn't always sure of the words, either, so sometimes he'd just make them up out of nothing. Words such as ‘yeah’ and ‘alright’ seemed appropriate, and phrases like ‘make you feel good’ worked very well too. That's what kids were interested in hearing about—things being fine and getting better. Soon young people from the hostel began to hover around the laundry while the group rehearsed. Stevie and the others couldn't resist the temptation to show off, so they'd play the songs they already knew, instead of learning more. The rehearsals became little concerts. During these affairs, Stevie found himself in something of a pickle. Performing any function in front of a silent crowd was an embarrassing business. The others could disguise their humiliation by concentrating on their instruments, but Stevie played nothing but a tambourine—he'd look like a simpleton if he concentrated on that. He could only stand there, a terrified witness to his own public inspection. He tried closing his eyes, as he'd seen other singers do, but that could only be sustained for a few seconds at a time. He'd always be compelled to open them again, just to check and see if the crowd was still engaged. One evening, Stevie was running quite late for a rehearsal. As he dashed through the rain toward the laundry, he heard the smoky sound of Harry and George and Dick playing their guitars. When he arrived, the usual crowd of youngsters was nowhere to be seen. At first, Stevie thought it might be because he hadn't been there to excite them, but he quickly banished that
vainglorious thought from his head. Apparently, an audience had been there earlier, but had become bored with what they were hearing and left. It was a song they didn't recognise, because George and Harry had written it themselves. Stevie listened as the others played the song, and soon joined in with some of those words that always worked well. The next morning, Stevie told his mother about the song he and the others had written. Dorothy didn't like it. She didn't want Stevie to become too serious about this music thing. What about his job, his future? Few make it in showbusiness. And, even if Stevie were to do well at music, he couldn't be a pop star forever. There was also the matter of his hair. It was getting longerâ€”well past his ears nowâ€”and Dorothy hated it. She preferred it short and neat, like he'd had it years ago. Stevie tried to explain that all the kids were wearing their hair long now. It was symbolic of youth on the move, and the longer one grew one's hair, the further ahead one appeared to be. Dorothy laughed. What malarky! It was symbolic of youth being silly, that's all. And if Stevie wanted a symbolic trademark on his body, he need only keep growing his hair until his father returned from the war to brand his hide with the strap. Stevie recalled the time when he saw his father off to Vietnam. There was quite a crowd at the terminal, bidding the same miserable farewell to their fathers, brothers and sons. Suddenly, the tender atmosphere was broken by a male voice crying out at Stevie, taunting him for having long hair. Stevie
was staggered—this was not the time or place for such excitement. He tried to ignore the man, but the insults became more outrageous, reaching such a pitch that several of the crowd put their touching goodbyes on hold, pending the conclusion of what seemed sure to become an entertaining joust. Stevie was stirred, but refused to be baited, swallowing every broadside—even the one about his apparent preference for the company of men—and turned his back. This was his father's day, and there was no way that Stevie was going to let his own head ruin everything. His father's last words to him before departing for battle were: ‘Best cut that hair.’ At the next rehearsal, Stevie told the others of his hair problem. Dick sympathised most, for he was in a similar quandary. His mother, devoutly religious, was not only concerned with his hair, but deeply upset about his interest in the group. She believed that people who followed pop music were followers of the creative, rather than the Creator. She had no time for such folly, and often prayed that one day Dick would stop listening to music, wear his hair sensibly and choose to lead a normal life. Harry and George thought this was all nonsense. Jesus had hair longer than any of them and nobody ever told Him to cut it. Maybe not, Stevie ventured, but they did manage to curb His interest in performing. Eventually, they all agreed that if they were going to make it, they had to keep their hair long. And write their own songs. Harry and George had another.
The following night, as with every Saturday night, a dance was held at the hostel. Youngsters from all around would gather to drink tea and coffee and dance to popular records. Tonight, Stevie, Dick, Harry and George all went together. Stevie didn't care much for dancing. He thought himself no good at it. Most of the time he would just wander about the room, standing in prominent positions, smoking, being aloof. This would gain him more respect than if he were to gallop onto the floor attempting some bughouse dance routine. During one of these sober journeys a girl caught his eye. She was sitting with friends, drinking tea. Stevie positioned himself just far enough away to watch her without being noticed. He was enchanted by how she held herself. Her legs were elegantly entwined, stretching like smooth vines toward the floor. As she spoke, her dark hair cloaked one eye, creating an allure that moviemakers spend days trying to capture. There was a turn in her mouth that Stevie adoredâ€”a slight tilt when she smiled. He wanted so much to get closer. Just then, Stevie felt a hand on his shoulder. It was George. He and Harry had met somebody they thought Stevie should meet too. His name was Gordon, though his friends called him Snowy, on account of his pitch-black hair. He played the drums. Stevie took one last glance at the girl and, to his excitement, she was
looking at him. She quickly averted her gaze before Stevie had the chance to throw her his finest smile. There would be other looks, he thought. He would save the smile for then. George took Stevie by the arm and led him through the crowd to meet the man who played drums. Snowy had arrived only two weeks earlier from London, with his mother and father. He believed he was fairly handy with the drumsticks. Stevie and the others agreed to give him a try in the laundry the following week. George would borrow the drums from a friend. As the youngsters filed out of the hall at the end of the night, Stevie scanned the crowd for the girl, but couldn't find her. He wondered if he would see her again. Surely he would. She'd come here again. Then a thrilling thought occurred to him. If Snowy were to work out, and the band became good enough to play in public, the girl might see him perform, perhaps even grow to like his style. Then, when the performance was over, he could talk to herâ€”or any girl, for that matterâ€”without any responsible reason. Musicians have such privileges. Stevie determined to take it up with George at the next opportunity. Meanwhile, he had to try harder to think of those words that the kids liked to hear so much.
~ Moruya is small, flat and motionless, with not enough visible heritage to
deem it charming or interesting at all. Just some roads and some shops—a place where a bit of existence happens and nothing quaint about it. It appears there's been a conscious effort by the townsfolk to ensure that nobody talks about Moruya except Moruyans. This spirit of aesthetic neutrality reaches mighty heights in the pub, a no-fiddlestix beer machine where desire for interesting surroundings is clearly the sign of a homosexual. I don't complain. This is where I first clap eyes on Stevie Wright. His hair is long enough for him to sit on. He wears a denim jacket and pilots’ sunglasses. Apart from an obvious limp and a conspicuous absence of certain teeth, he looks alright. He does, in fact, look like the type of guy you'd meet in a pub. And as he shuffles into the beer garden, I realise the magnitude of the Stevie Wright lie. I am not crushed by the pathos or the pity or the disgust that has pulverised just about every journalist for the past decade. There are no dead eyes or scars of life's horrid battle or corny symbols of rock’n’roll decrepitude. There is but a forty-six-year-old man who isn't a supernova and the word ‘anymore’ seems superfluous. So little does this fellow resemble the singer from the Easybeats, it's impossible to identify any place where erosion has occurred. Stevie Wright is simply a different man, and to compare him to his youth is an act for tiresome melodramatists. One might just as well stare at the Grand Canyon and weep for the river that carved it. Fay, on the other hand, is no surprise. She has pale, freckled skin, a bulbous shock of red hair and large, harmless features, like those that
decorate a fluffy toy one might win at a shooting gallery. She is so precisely what I had imagined that I am actually quite shaken by my own premonition. I decide that this is a good omen. We shake hands, buy drinks and exchange introductory declarations of no import whatsoever. The weather and such. I've watched this man on the television since I was a child, and with all manner of admiration and suspense. Today I feel flat in his company. Unmoved. I'm familiar with this sort of anti-climax, but it always takes me by surprise. One strives to make contact with heroes and, when the time finally arrives, the sudden dagginess of it all can be unsettling. Coppola really got it right in Apocalypse Now. For two hours, Colonel Kurtz grows gargantuan in his own absence. Famous, even. But when we eventually see him, he is bald, fat, draped in a caftan and sounding a dead ringer for Captain Pugwash. The awesome moment has arrived and its magic is more than just a little vague. But something is there— the noise of the myth has ceased, leaving a silence deep with possibilities. Keen to cut to the chase, I announce my intention to stay with them for a while. ‘Aw, naw,’ Stevie cries in mock horror, ‘he's coming to live with us!’ I explain that this will be the best way, considering Stevie's, well, somewhat casual occurrence of memory. For when those elusive little details make an appearance in his head, I will be right there to record them. Stevie does not look thrilled. I can't blame him. ‘What about, y’know…’ he asks, rubbing his fingers together in the
â€˜vast sums of cashâ€™ gesture. I explain there is none. Not yet, anyway. He closes his eyes and nods. He's used to being told there is no money. I notice that Fay continually looks to Stevie for confirmation before committing herself to so much as a nod of the head. She laughs only when he does, unless he makes the joke. Fay's soul is anchored in Stevie Wright. After a time, Stevie announces that he and Fay are driving to Sydney later this afternoon. I can ride back with them, if I like.
I suppose it was naive of me to think that Fay would do the driving. With a can of Southern Comfort in one hand and the other on the wheel, Stevie makes a colourful captain. He drives fast and floppy, occasionally veering onto that side of the road where things get interesting. Fay seems nonplussed and that's comforting. This is how Stevie has lived for near fifty years and he's far from dead. Stevie is obsessed with showing me the Kiama Blowhole, an oceaneroded funnel of rock on the south coast. He says we shall be there within the hour. Last week, two children were washed into the blowhole to their deaths. They went too close, Stevie says. They didn't understand the power. It entrances and draws one near with secrets and all sorts of promise. When I see it up close, I will know. We arrive at Kiama and Stevie is out of the car before the engine has
stopped. His long hair trailing in the afternoon breeze, he hobbles a few feet ahead, occasionally turning to beckon enthusiastically, like an old Indian witchdoctor from a naive western. As we approach the blowhole, surrounded today by a reverent audience of a few families, it becomes apparent that this will not be one of its better performances. The ocean is on good behaviour. ‘Aw, it's a fizzer!’ Stevie cries, for the benefit of all. But the man has no teeth left in his head, so the declaration comes out more like, ‘Ith-zha fith-zha!’ There are no laughs, no polite nods or smiles of acknowledgement. Just vacant stares from the kids as they try to make sense of this curious outburst from such a strange little man, and stubborn nonchalance from the adults as they realise why they can smell Southern Comfort all of a sudden. Stevie is aware of the attention—he's experienced every known kind of the stuff—and he doesn't change course, spluttering disappointment until the crowd trickles away and is gone. And there the sunset scene ends: Stevie Wright, the vanishing crowd, and the rock that sucks people away forever.
~ George organised for the band to play in a talent quest, to be held at the regular Saturday night dance at the hostel hall. They would only be allowed a
few tunes, and they would be paid nothing if they didn't win, but it was a beginning. Maybe something would come of it. The night before the quest, Stevie dreamed of the show. The dream was in two parts. The first dream happened while he was still awake. He saw the crowd and heard the music and soaked the attention. He felt as if he'd been finally adopted by a world that had spent sixteen years making up its mind about him. Stevie swept into sleep on a wave of unknown relief. Then came the second dream. George was not George, but another man whose face Stevie could not see. Something was wrong and the music was not happening. The people watching, few as they were, became restless and silent. Stevie desperately tried to impress upon the others the critical nature of their situation, but the band was mute, ambivalent and irritated by his pleas. Suddenly, they were not music makers at all, but sellers of trinkets and smallgoods of mediocre quality. The people filed passed, examining the group's wares. Heavy with frustration and defeat, Stevie swallowed his heart and did his best to assist with any transaction that took place. When he awoke, Stevie considered the two dreams. It disturbed him that the first, the perfect dream, had been conducted by him alone, and thus could not be trusted. The second had occurred in a place where the course of events was out of his hands and none of his business. He wanted to find the engineer of this vision and ask him why he had built such a thing.
Stevie dressed and made his way to work, where he fancied the evening ahead as he outfitted gentlemen in inferior clothing. By the time Stevie was to enter his bedroom again, The Easybeats had won the evening and been offered a regular spot at the dance every other Saturday night. One of the judges said he could get the band work at a proper nightclub in the city, provided they had more tunes to play. Within the space of a few hours, Stevie felt he had leapt the gorge that separates the dreaming child from the active adult. His past now belonged to a boy who no longer existed. He opened his window, leaned out into the world and lit up, watching his own smoke as it ribboned perfectly into the still night sky.
~ ‘Hello, is that Fay? ‘Yes.’ ‘Fay, it's Jack Marx. How are you?’ ‘Oh, good Jack. How are you? ‘I'm good. Well, when can we get cracking? I'm ready to come down whenever you sound the bugle.’ ‘Well, yes…Stevie can't come to the phone at the moment, but he told me to tell you he's interested in getting started.’ ‘Well, that's beaut. I can come down to Moruya tomorrow, if you like.’
‘Um…that's a bit soon, I think. Stevie's got to get himself ready, you know. He's very excited about this, though.’ ‘Swell, so am I. You just let me know when you're ready to rock, OK? I'll be waiting.’ ‘OK. Um…Jack?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘In the meantime, Stevie wondered if you wouldn't mind sending him a few examples of your work.’ ‘Oh. Yeah, sure. That's not a problem at all. And do you think he might be able to send me a few examples of his work as well? I haven't got a blasted clue what the guy sounds like when he sings.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘Heh, heh…just a dumb joke there, Fay.’ ‘Oh, ha, ha, I see. And…um…also…’ ‘Yes, what is it?’ ‘He wants to know if you think you could see your way clear to maybe sending a few packets of cigarettes as well…’
~ The emotional intensity that came with performing was narcotic. Waves of terror and power surged through Stevie with equal velocity. The sound— their little tunes from the laundry—was gargantuan now. His voice, loud as
that of a god, flooded the room. And all the while, people watched and listened to what had been created, as if it were their gift to open. Stevie couldn't always see faces, but he could feel them. At times, it didn't matter that there were people or not, for the music, when it swelled to a certain reckless pitch, consumed everything like a hungry storm. But these moments were fleeting. Stevie knew there was something more precious at work here. A young man will do shameful things to be noticed in a crowd, and, half of the time, he will only succeed in exposing his own desperate greed for attention. And here was Stevie, his desperation and greed shining so brilliantly that nobody could escape the glare. But there was nothing shameful about being a creator of music. Surely making music for others to enjoy was an act of benevolence, and any desperation one might show along the way—say, a wild kick in the air or a baffling flail of the arms—was welcomed as a sign that the artist was so in touch with the primal spirit of his art as to be overwhelmed by it. It was as if the rock’n’roll artist was some sort of medium, wrestling this violent, untamed phantom on behalf of those less gifted and courageous than himself. A bit of a joke, really, for Stevie had no doubt that he was enjoying himself more than any living thing in the house. What a splendid position for a young man to find himself in. Such a magnificent shortcut to have been presented. Rock’n’roll—what a wondrous thing for the impatient soul! After the show had completed, a young man approached Stevie to
congratulate him. He said he thought the band had a fine sound. Stevie thanked him and was about to turn away when he noticed the young man made no move to do the same. He just stood there, wishing to speak some more. Stevie turned back toward him and waited. Nothing. The young man's eyes seemed to harbour a gentle plea and he gulped like a thirsty lizard. Finding the whole relationship a trifle distressing, Stevie excused himself and went to the bathroom. But, when he emerged, the young man approached him again and offered a cigarette. Stevie said no, thank you. Then the young man began talking about other music, asking Stevie whether he liked this group or that, nervously humming any tune Stevie claimed not to know, gesticulating like a mad scientist. Stevie talked with him for a few moments until, thoroughly disenchanted, he excused himself again, explaining that the others were waiting for him. The young man nodded enthusiastically, thankfully, as if Stevie's precious time and attention had been appreciated. When Stevie stepped outside, he found George surrounded by a group of rather lively young ladies. Not wishing to cut George's grass, he kept his distance, leaned against a wall and lit a cigarette, figuring he'd eventually attract his own herd. Then he saw her, the girl with the smooth legs and the cloak of hair. She was standing with friends and was about to leave. She couldn't leave without speaking to him. She would have seen him perform, surely, so she must be intrigued by now. Stevie wanted to approach her, but knew it was wrong to do so. Boys are meant to approach girls, that's true, but Stevie was
not simply a boy anymore. He was going to be special, he knew it. And she was the girl he wanted. That made her special too, even though she didn't know it yet. Their union, when it happened, would not be the product of some weary social contrivance on his behalf. It would be a divine occurrence. The girl glanced over her shoulder and caught Stevie's eye. In a flash, she returned her attention to her friends. She had known he was there. She was curious. Stevie felt the miracle approaching. Just then, the gulping lizard stepped out of the hall. Stevie looked away, praying that the boy would not approach him and ruin his chances. What would the girl think of Stevie associating with such a doodle? When he eventually raised his eyes, he was astonished to see the lizard talking freely with the girl and her friends. They seemed comfortable with his presence, as if he weren't a fool at all, but a comfortable friend. After talking for a while, the group began to move in Stevie's direction, on their way home. The lizard was walking beside the girl. He was close to her, and she wasn't blanching at all. Stevie was too bewildered to reply when the lizard saw him and nodded goodnight. His faith in divinity failing fast, Stevie lunged toward the girl and, seizing her by the arm, quietly inquired as to why she was going home with such a maroon. Without a word or a look or a pause in her step, the girl removed Stevie's hand from her arm and gently pushed it back toward him, as one might pass a howling baby back to its mother. Then she continued on her way. So effortless was her every move, it seemed as though she'd expected Stevie's action and had planned her combat long in
advance. Stevie watched her glide away into the night, on the arm of the lizard. George tapped Stevie on the shoulder and said he'd performed very well. For a moment, Stevie thought he was being smart. But George was talking about The Easybeats, an entity that Stevie had almost forgotten existed.
The rise of The Easybeats accelerated, each performance demanding another. The crowds billowed at the hostel hall. People began using the group like a part of their clothing, a sound to be draped in and identified with. As Stevie's confidence swelled, he learned how to move. Certain parts of his body, when twisted or jerked or thrown, produced a greater reaction than others. He noticed girls watching him as if hypnotised. Boys tended to watch Harry and George. The band grew too big for the hostel, and began playing at a club - a small city foxhole with a grand reputation. With scarcely any ventilation at all, the club would become a cauldron of smoke and sweat and temper. The walls seemed to bleed perspiration. It was as if they were all boiling in the belly of some fierce but satisfied creature. Sometimes, the crowd would kick up a fuss if the band tried to stop, and the owners of the club would be forced to turn off the electricity to make the music quiet. One night, after The Easybeats had finished, a man approached and asked for a word. His name was Mike and he sold real estate. He was a good
salesman, he said, and he thought he could sell The Easybeats. Stevie was not sure what he meant, but Harry and George were interested. Mike said that it was all very well to create a scene in places such as this, but music was different now. It was recordings and sales and ledgers. There was money to be had and there were those who would steal it from bright young men such as they. The world had woken up to what a sterling racket the music scene was, and this ravenous new industry would fleece The Easybeats as the shearer does the lamb. Mike could help them. He knew business talk. They could leave the puzzles to him. All they would have to do is make the music, spend the money and deal with the girls as they pleased. The first thing to do, he said, was make the band their sole interest. They must all quit their ordinary jobs, himself included, and leave them to ordinary folk. They must concentrate on the mighty task at hand. In doing so, they would appear as unyielding professionals, and not just boys having a frolic. They must begin by documenting the band's sound on record, for all the world to hear, not just the rabble in this dump. Stevie became terribly excited. During his lonely time, he had fantasised about having records. Hidden in his bedroom, on crusty scraps of paper, was a mythical blueprint: lists of songs and sketchings of record covers; hit parade charts with The Easybeats at the top, trouncing disgruntled acts like The Beatles and The Stones; reviews by critics hailing The Easybeats as the finest of the new breed; tour posters from the continent; interviews with Little Stevie Wright in newspapers and magazines; maps of the globe
showing the band's movements; some lyrics yet to find a song. Stevie and the others said they'd give Mike's proposal some thought and said goodnight. A few days later, George telephoned Mike. The Easybeats agreed to quit their jobs and Mike began doing business the very next day.
~ Weeks pass without me hearing from Stevie or Fay. It's unsettling, for the definite impression they gave me at the blowhole was that I was their last hope. What could they be up to? Against the judgement of some inner voice I don't respect or fully understand, I call. Fay says there's been another offer. Somebody is going to give them ten thousand dollars for Stevie's story. They're considering it. Stevie likes me â€”he really doesâ€”but the offer is just too tempting at present. Unless, of course, I can match it. I wish Fay well and suggest that if there is any change in the situation she should call. That is all. Good luck and goodbye. Later that night, I wander into Kings Cross, looking for something that will bury my disappointment. I knew a kid at school who used to sit on a pin to bamboozle the pain of a headache. That's the spirit. I need a pin. I see a particularly beautiful prostitute. She smiles as if she's been expecting me for hours. Her name is Bronwyn and she's a real sharp tack. She takes me to her dastardly room and we shoot up cocaine.
Strangely, my desire for sex disappears and we just lie there, floating about. She is inquisitive as an old school chum and for the next hour I'm a talking fool. As I leave, she suggests we meet tomorrow night and do this again, only for much, much longer. She feels a bond. But the cocaine has worn off and I accept the invitation simply to facilitate a smooth retreat from this shithole. I leave with no intention of seeing Bronwyn again. At dusk the following evening, my phone rings and it's her. She obtained my number through the operator. It was easy, she says—I'm the only Jack Marx in Palmer Street. Struggling to disguise my rising sense of alarm, I try to convince her that I'm tired and cannot meet her this evening. But she won't hear of it. In tones of mock derision that one might hurl at a heartbroken, housebound friend, she insists that I come on out and play. At least for coffee someplace. I agree to meet her in half an hour, at a cafe I've never been to and do not intend to ever see. I switch on the answering machine and get into bed with a book. One hour later, her voice cracks from my machine and it's chilling. ‘Jack…either we got our wires crossed somehow or…you stood me up. I hope you didn't do that, 'cause, well…I'm a vindictive girl, Jack, and…I know you wouldn't want to stand me up, that's all. Anyway, I'll see you shortly. ‘I'm in the area.’
Moments later, there's a knock at the door. Despite the impossibility of her having found my address, I know it's her. Life will go this way for a while. Something has decided so. I open the door and the face that greets me is mangled with rage. I instinctively look to her hands for the weapon, but there is none. Nor is there any evidence of the elegant angel of the night beforeâ€”she is wearing no shoes, a T-shirt and track pants, for crying out loud. She asks me what happened, why I stood her up. It's a loaded question, designed for me to offer some flaccid excuse, which I do with impressive speed. She then goes through the performance of forgiveness, claiming she knew all along that I wouldn't have avoided her deliberately. After all, I'd promised her an evening of business and I surely wouldn't go back on my word. What sort of man would do that to a girl? I slam the door hard and dash to the phone, frantically dialling the police as Bronwyn uses every bit of strength in her Gumby body to punch a way in. By the time I've convinced the cops to act (predicably, their reaction to my panicked tale is such that I can hear their eyebrows raising from over the telephone), Bronwyn has gone quiet, but I dare not open the door. I sit and wait. The police arrive and I gingerly follow them out into the stairwell. It appears that during her silent time Bronwyn has been scrawling lipstick graffiti on every door and wall within the building. As we descend the stairs,
we examine her bold declarations: JACK MARX SCREWS OVER PROSTITUTES FOR DRUGS; JACK MARX OWES ME $300; and, one that manages to raise the eyebrows off all, JACK MARX SUCKS COOKS! She's there, at the bottom of the stairs. For all she's concerned, the police are invisible as she proceeds to inform me of exactly how she's going to turn my life to shit over the coming weekend. She remembers everything— who I work for, who I care about, where my parents live—and she will use it all. As she hollers at me from point-blank range, I face the cops, arms outstretched, mouth agape, like some corny vaudevillian straightman imploring the audience to listen to his partner's song. Everything's sure to be going my way until Bronwyn is asked whether she has a criminal record. Defiantly, she reveals she has not, and if they want further proof of this they need only contact her good friend, Sergeant Whomever, of the Kings Cross police. I don't hear the good Sergeant's name—I'm too absorbed in the reactions of the police. They glare at each other and I'm sure I see two cartoon 'bleat' droplets spouting from their heads—two Tweetie Birds who've just been told Sylvester's coming to town. Apparently beaten by the mere utterance of the good Sergeant's name, they turn to me and suggest that I wait until Monday to file a restraining order with the courts. I ask what the Dickens they expect me to do about Bronwyn in the meantime, and the answer is such a bum trumpet that it's not even worth remembering. Bronwyn's eyes follow the police as they leave. As soon as the wagon
disappears around the corner, she turns to me with a hellish little smile. She was never in danger of losing this tournament. As we walk to the bank, she metamorphoses back into the girl from the night before. She says she actually likes me quite a lot—that is the reason why she was so annoyed at me breaking my promise. As I hand her the three hundred dollars, I have an explicit feeling that this is simply the first instalment. She gives me a hug and skips down the street, turning at the last moment to justify my hunch: ‘I'll speak to you soon.’ It's time to leave my apartment in Palmer Street, and there's only one place I can think of to go.
I call and Fay answers. No, they haven't decided and are still keen to know if I'm going to make them an offer of some decency. I ask what has happened with the other party. They're still considering, she replies. What I am in the middle of here is an extraordinary game of attrition. There is no other party with fuckloads of cash - a man drilled in twenty years of quick fixes would accept such an offer immediately. Stevie has sensed my enthusiasm and knows that I will surrender something, at least something better than the nothing I have offered. He can wait forever. While he says ‘no’ to my nothing, I am potentially something. If he says ‘yes' to nothing, nothing is the reward, final and irreversible. The strategy is a wedding of fine business sense and junkie short-sightedness and, just like Bronwyn's play, it's going to
work. At this point in time, there is nothing I want in this life but Stephen Carlton Wright. And I need to get out of town. After some thought, I tell Fay that, yes, I've done some numbercrunching (?!) and found that I can match the offer. I'll give five thousand dollars now and another five thousand on completion of our stay together. Fay says she'll talk it over with Stephen and call me back. I've scarcely had time to splash my boots when the phone rings. Yes, my offer is acceptable enough. But, as a gesture of good faith, they'd like me to put the money into Fay's bank account as soon as possible. Today would be nice. I seeâ€”the junkie's gambit. And fall for it I will. I agree to put the money into Fay's account at my first possible convenience. Overcome by delusions of corporate grandeur, Fay declares that it has been a pleasure doing business with me.
~ Gail said that she had always thought Stevie to be an arrogant soul. She'd see him swagger about with his head in the air, as if nobody else knew where to go but him. That is why she had ignored him so. That is why she had taken the arm of the lizard, who was simply the friend of another girl. She wanted Stevie to know that she was one who would not fall for his conceited charm.
She would be a challenge, all the more precious once acquired. Stevie asked how, pray tell, she had noticed all of this about him, as he had rarely seen her looking at him for any more than a second. Gail said that women weren't like men. Women were cats and men were dogs. A dog loves very obviously. Cats are slinky and clever and pretend not to care most of the time. But their needs are the same. They simply don't broadcast or advertise. Stevie asked if his interest in Gail had been obvious to her from the start. It had, she said, but she had never been sure of the exact nature of his interest. There was some evidence, for instance, that he was interested in little more than her legs. Stevie said there was just as much evidence that she was primarily interested in him because he was rapidly becoming a star. Gail told Stevie she'd much rather he be a bum than a star. The stardom frightened her, for such a life presents all sorts of opportunities, some of which are not meant for ordinary people, or people at all. And she could never feel safe while she knew that stargazing girls would be presenting themselves to Stevie like sacrifices. Stevie told Gail that all the opportunities he cared about were right here, that he was not into the sacrificial types, and that he would never be a bum while she was in his life. In the end, she would know. He drew her close. Soon, she'd know. After taking Gail to her house, Stevie decided to keep walking. He didn't want to be still, sitting in a bus or a taxi or something being driven by
someone else. He was electric with joy and wanted it to propel him home. It astounded him, how little he had known of Gail's feelings. How wrong impressions can be. How unfair that two people can be sitting in the same room, or talking together, or lying in the same bed, and be utterly incapable of knowing what they desperately need to know: the thoughts of the other. Now that Stevie knew, this need was an instant memoryâ€”gone, like fear of the dark. He felt he'd known all along. A car sped past on the near-deserted road. As Stevie watched its taillights shrivel into the night, he wondered who it might have been in the driver's seat. What were the chances of the driver being someone he knew, or someone he didn't know, but one day would? In time, he and the driver could have the most crushing impact on each other's lives, and they had just passed within feet of each other and didn't care and would never know. Stevie knew that dreams were necessary, but planning for the future was foolish. Everything dies with the day, and all things born in the next are the sons and daughters of the dead.
Mike's task was proving ticklish. Few promoters, he said, were aflame with the idea of a new group with no records and a crowd made up of hostel kids. They simply had to record, no matter what the cost. He would take control of all money earned from the regular weekly show they already had and, in a few weeks, they would have enough to record cheaply. And so, The Easybeats began to starve. After performing, they'd share
a packet of crisps and a jug of water as the other kids drank and prospered. One night, before a show in a provincial town, Harry found some potato peelings in the cupboard of their hotel room, discarded by some well-to-do crowd who'd been before them. The peelings were boiled to make soup for The Easybeats. Surely, thought Stevie, this was meant to happen at the end of one's career, when favour had been lost among the madness of some new generation. Nevertheless, he had no doubt The Easybeats would reach the top. Stevieâ€™s dreams had always been loyal, and success was barking its way down the street. It was only a matter of time. Stevie moved from his home to join George and his family in the outer boroughs of the city. He and George urged the others to do the same, to live together. The Easybeats would be stronger this way. They had to be a family, an army. The sufferings and pleasures of one must be absorbed by all. Dick, however, had a problem. His mother was now wild with grief over this music affair. She wanted it all to end. The fun had been, they'd had some good nights out, and it was time to come home. Dick told her he couldn't stop now, it had gone too far and was becoming rather large. She urged Dick to see a priest, for his seduction at the hands of rock music was clearly the dawn sign of spiritual haemorrhage. But Dick reassured her. The band was simply a job, a good way to make lots of money. What possible harm could come of that? Months passed without the promised glitter, but in that time The
Easybeats matured. Stevie and George were writing songs together, nearly every day. Good ones. Their performances became tight and almost impervious to chance. Stevie's act was now quite sophisticated indeed, each part of his body primed and ready for the signal to do its business—a shake, a shudder, a heroic toss. The girls screeched and the boys threw their heads about and whistled smoke into the air. Sometimes, Stevie felt as if in slow motion, bouncing at the bottom of an invisible pool. The gaze of the crowd seemed to press with a weight that warped all common sense. The mass attention to his every move broke time into seconds, rather than the minutes or hours by which one measured an ordinary passage of the day. And when he walked from the stage, the speed of the world would thump back to normal, where it stayed until he next stepped onto the trampoline. Quite simply, the life of Stevie Wright was more important when he was on that stage. To him and to others. Living was becoming an extended withdrawal, until the next performance would deliver its triumphant, luxurious peace. Eventually, The Easybeats recorded, and Mike marched about the city, spruiking to all who'd listen about the exciting young lads who could be heard on the tape. It was only a few weeks before Mike returned with some top-stripe news. A big record company agreed to release an Easybeats single. They were keen on a tune called For My Woman, in which Stevie sang of a girl who made him feel ‘alright’. The song was recorded in a few hours, pressed in a few days and released within weeks. Stevie scarcely had time to tell the people he knew
before it was on the radio. City disc jockeys began to play it regularly, referring to the band as ‘our own Easybeats’. Mike began to take calls from club owners who wanted the boys to play. Performances ended with impromptu autograph sessions. The engine was lit. The record sold admirably in the city, but barely at all in other parts of the country. Stevie found this puzzling. Why was recorded music, which could be bought and sold anywhere in the world, which travelled through air and wire to speakers as big as balloons and small as biscuits, be restricted by the bounds of an atlas? Did the people of the bush resent Mozart because he hadn't set foot in their fields? Stevie felt his mood sink. He had dreamed of their first record being a flash hit on the face of the world, and he feared his dreams would escape through this mystery hole in the bucket. It was, he felt, the band's first consolation prize. He would rather have bungled the talent quest than this. But the good people at The Big Record Company were impressed. The Easybeats had proved themselves attractive to the scrupulous DJs of the day—one radio station had even voted the single the best of the week, no less. For My Woman had carved a passage to radio, and radio was everything. The Big Record Company were scratching for another single to be released with all speed. Stevie and George had written a song called She’s So Fine—a song about a girl who Stevie wished ‘was mine’—which the rest of the group thought might be the ticket. Stevie didn't agree. He thought other songs were
more the speed of the time, and Sheâ€™s So Fine was a comparatively tiddly bit of work. To release it after the debacle of For My Woman would plunge them further into the well of mediocrity. But Stevie was unanimously outvoted, by the rest of the band and the good people at The Big Record Company, and Sheâ€™s So Fine was recorded with no more argument. This time, Mike had a foxy idea. He would cordially invite as many of the local disc jockeys to a lunch at a local drinking house, a lunch to be hosted by The Easybeats themselves. Once charmed by the lads, and giddied by free spirits, the guests would then be presented with the new single, which, after such a mirthful afternoon, they would surely feel obliged to play. It was a trick he'd learned in the real estate industry. Buy him a beer. Give the wife flowers. Reel them in with beads and mirrors. Most importantly, show them the people who will suffer if they do not buy. The more obvious the gesture, the more obnoxious their refusal to purchase will be. People are basically nice, and will naturally be embarrassed by their own hesitancy, no matter how serpentine the salesman's pitch. Stevie understood this perfectly. On the day, however, as the disc jockeys solemnly sipped their drinks and fondled the food, The Easybeats squatted in silence. Even Stevie found it thick going, the witty comments being forced like lava through a hose. After a while, it was obvious the afternoon was beginning to rot. Suddenly, a group of workmen at a nearby table began to growl. They were offended by the look of The Easybeats, and began busily amusing themselves with loud insults of the usual nature. A pack of girls in suits, they
said. Borrowed wigs from their sisters, they said. The little one is just the right height, as one could rest one's beer on the top of his head while he, standing, performed an oral exerciseâ€Ś Stevie and George sprung as if thrown by the same horse. George tackled one from his seat, while Stevie brought his fist crashing into the head of the brute who'd made that last comment. The room erupted in chaos, as the other workmen and the remaining Easybeats threw themselves into the squall. Chairs were broken and high words flew about. Stevie's first punch was to be his last, and he was repeatedly belted until the sight went from his eyes. By the time the publican squared the two sides, it was clear that The Easybeats had indeed been easily beaten. Both Stevie and George were bleeding like raw steaks, their suits torn and spattered with beer and pasta. The publican ordered them all to leave his establishment at once. The disc jockeys, sensing the afternoon had perhaps come to an end, bade farewell, wished good luck and wandered into the streets, whispering to each other as they went. Mike flew into a rage. The boys, he thought, had dissolved his slinky scheme into a fiasco of boof-headed thuggery. Airplay was now unlikely, he said, save for in-between bouts at the wrestling. Stevie and George weren't so sure. Perhaps the disc jockeys had been entertained by the towering drama of the afternoon. After all, there had been precious few memories for them to take prior to the escalade. The story might even get around, and show The Easybeats as a determined, working-class
army to be admired. A few days later, Stevie was listening to the radio when the DJ announced he was going to play the new single by ‘our own Easybeats’. He then went on to mention that he had met the band days earlier, in what had been an extraordinary afternoon. ‘And believe you me,’ he roared, ‘these lads have got spirit by the bushel.’ She’s So Fine became the best-selling tune in the land.
~ I arrive back in Moruya to find that Stevie and Fay have skipped town. A smorgasbord of notices flutter from the front door: a card from the real estate agent, imploring Fay to contact him urgently; a disconnection notice from the electricity department; a note from some kind of acquaintance. Peering through the windows, I see that the house has been sacked. There's shit everywhere but nothing of value—just the type of rubbish usually generated by a high-stepping exodus. The car is still here, but it too has been transformed into a trashcan. What I'm looking at is surely the wild aftermath of my five thousand dollar deposit. They've leaped about, whooping like Apaches, before bolting for some place where such cash means happy days.
On the way back to the hotel I stop at the real estate firm to enquire as to whether Fay and Stevie have left any forwarding address. The agent is not entirely sure they have vacated the premises, but he wouldn't be at all surprised—they owe him quite a bit of money. I soon discover that similarly jilted creditors exist at the pub, the petrol station and the local pizza shop. We're all looking for them. My search for Stevie Wright is turning into a Benny Hill chase scene. I return to my hotel room and proceed to get hideously drunk. At exactly 3.00 am I have one of those dreams where I've clumsily fallen off the roof of some barnhouse and I bolt upright, sucking air. I know I won't get back to sleep so I decide to go for a stroll. Moruya is deceased, with not a sound but my own footsteps and the cold wind hooning past my ears. The streetlights illuminate the town for no reason I can fathom. I spy a figure a few hundred yards up the street and coming my way. To pass within feet of each other in this joint, at this time of morning, seems too weird an experience to deal with, so I cross the road. To my astonishment, the figure does the same. I cross again. The figure, the same. And so this dopey midnight tacking duel continues until the clown is upon me. ‘After some wizz?’ A dealer. Jesus. ‘Not this morning, thank you,’ I say, ‘but it's clearly fine shit.’ ‘Aw, I'm not on it now. I'm just going to a mate's joint across the river.
But if you need some give us a yell.’ ‘Right you are, then,’ I cheer, not bothering to ask exactly what I should yell or into which of the four winds I should yell it. He continues on his merry way, to his mate's joint across the river. Because it's the only landmark of any significance to me around here, I drift towards Fay and Stevie's junkyard humpy. There's a new communiqué poking from the letterbox—a flyer advertising a second-hand record fair. ‘Rarities, collectibles, pre-loved oldies…’ I look up at the house and notice something about this place has changed since I was here last. At first I can't place it and, as if I'm wrestling with one of those spot-the-difference picture games, I study every inch of the place, trying to find what's wrong. Then I get it. The notes have vanished from the door and the curtains in the living room are drawn.
I wait until 10am before I call. Fay sounds surprised to hear my voice. She's slightly breathless and clearly panicked. They've been in Sydney, seeing a few pals. As well as Stevie's mother. This is interesting, as I had called Dorothy the day before and she hadn't seen Stevie for quite some time. Months, perhaps. Fay's explanation for this discrepancy is that Dorothy Wright hasn't got both oars in the water any more.
People never let go of the idea that they are children playing peek-aboo with their faces in their fists. It's the old 'If I can't see you, you can't see me' delusion . In adulthood, it becomes 'If you don't declare that I'm lying, then I haven't been caught.' Some have even refined the idea to become, 'If I haven't been caught, then, technically, I haven't lied.' The truth becomes irrelevant, and the impact of the lie—or lack of impact—becomes their reality. People are always more embarrassed by the foolery of others than they will ever let on. We depart the bars and bedrooms of society unaware of the reputations that take our places, and lies aren’t as bashful as their utterers. Fay knows I know she's lying. I know she knows. I am lying in order to keep her lie out of sight. Our relationship is rotten to the heart. I let the lies howl away and proclaim my intention to arrive on Fay and Stevie's doorstep at six this evening. Over dinner, we'll have a general quack about what's going on in the land and then hit the hay. In the morning, we can begin work on this fucken masterpiece. Fay green-lights the idea, but cautiously. She's not sure if Stevie's expecting to start so soon. I say it's time. Six is minutes away when there's a knock at my door. It's Fay, and she's in a hubbub. Stevie and her must leave their house. It's not good enough for them any more, they've decided. The germ for this idea was born shortly after we spoke, apparently, and grew in the turbulent hours that followed until it was simply impossible to ignore. Now, there is no time to fiddle. They must move immediately to a caravan park a few miles down the road, where they shall lay in wait for their new home to be prepared. They've found one
already—a delightful structure just outside of nearby Bateman's Bay. Stevie, says Fay, is sorry for the suddenness of all this. I tell her not to worry, that I admire a man who knows what he wants, and that 'Action this day' is a motto I've embraced myself, whenever the time was right. Fay smiles and stands still in the doorway. For too long. The purpose of her visit, I fear, is two-pronged. ‘Um…Stevie wants to ask one more favour.’ ‘Continue.’ ‘Well,’ she begins, after that deep breath of the frightened, ‘we need to get the furniture for the new place and Stevie was wondering if it wouldn't be too much trouble for you to advance us a bit more money.’ ‘Christ with AIDS, Fay! What happened to the five grand?’ ‘Oh,’ say them rolling eyes, ‘we had sooo many bills to pay and things to do.’ ‘So there's nothing left at all?’ ‘Well,’ she Gidgets, ‘it just…went!’ This is unreal. They've backed out five big ones in a matter of days. What hope is there for this enterprise, my bank account shrivelling towards single figures fast. ‘Plus,’ she adds, ‘we bought a new car. Stephen thought we needed a new one. For when your book comes out. He'll be able to drive to interviews and things like that. It'll help you with sales.’ I see. It's all for me.
Fay says that the furniture will cost around two thousand. ‘Fay,’ I sigh, ‘let's go downstairs for a drink.’
Fay met Stevie when they were at school together. There was awareness between them—Fay felt it. She remembers the first time she saw him, standing at a bus stop outside of the school. The other children were milling around, chattering among themselves, but Stevie was alone, waiting for his bus. Every now and then, he'd raise himself up on tip-toe and stretch his head back, craning to see over the heads of the other children. Fay felt for him. Being short must be a terrible disadvantage for a boy. Among this crowd, cackling and carrying on, Stevie had no choice but to ignore the fun and pay attention, elevating himself constantly to see above the mob. Otherwise, he'd miss the bus. When Stevie left school, Fay doubted she'd see much of him again. But something told her it was not yet curtains for them. Soon, she began reading about The Easybeats in the papers. She watched as the legend of Little Stevie grew. One night, she went to see them perform at a club in the city. There was the boy she'd first seen at the bus stop —on tip-toe, head back, determined to tower above the crowd. Fay was so proud for him. After the show, she went backstage where she and Stevie had a fine chat. He was attentive and charming. He seemed interested. On her way home that night, Fay felt like some kind of royalty. She
knew she would never amount to anything much. Having a friend do so, and remember her always, was the best thing she could imagine. Years passed. Fay married and had children. Love fell in and out, her marriage came down and her children grew away. Approaching forty, Fay felt she was losing touch with the little she had acquired. Then one night, a friend called Fay and asked her if she'd like to go out on the town. There was a group playing at the local hotel, and the singer was Stevie Wright, who used to be in The Easybeats. Over the years, Fay had followed Stevie's perils in the papers, and there were times when she ached to hunt him down and save him however she could. Or just be with him during the hard times. Fay knew the boy instantly when he walked onto the stage. He hadn't changed. He was older, that was all. He no longer stretched himself as he once had, but he didn't need to any more. He had risen above the mob, it had been proven. But the determination was still there. He was struggling with something other than his stature. And in this place, with few people as his audience, Stevie was courageously taking a beating. Fay wanted to take his side. She spoke to Stevie after the show and found herself comforted by the news that Stevie no longer had a partner. Within weeks, Fay had packed up everything her life amounted to and moved in with Little Stevie Wright. â€˜My kids didn't like the idea at first,â€™ she says. â€˜They still aren't comfortable with it, even after nearly five years. I've had lots of problems
with them, but’—she brushes her hair from her eye, and I get a hint of the young girl in love with the rock star—‘it's Stephen. We go such a long way back. ‘He likes you,’ she says, prompted by nothing much at all. ‘He's glad it's you doing this, and not somebody else. He says he sees a lot of himself in you. When he was younger.’ I ask if Fay wishes she and Stevie had stayed together, right from the start, right from school. ‘Oh,’ she laughs, ‘I don't know about that. Who knows what might have happened?’ She gazes into the dregs of her drink. ‘With me tagging along, he might not have made it to where he did.’ Fay defends the ghost of Stevie’s greatness as forgotten Japanese soldiers still guard tiny Pacific islands. And there's nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Once a star, always a star, time is relative and the body is dirt and a thousand other clichés we hate because no argument can kill them or make them untrue. Fay walks with me to the telling machine and I give her as much money as I can, promising to give more tomorrow. This doesn't seem like a loss any more, or even a deal that's shaky. I've got some money and I'll doubtless toss it over a bar somewhere anyhow. Fay and Stevie might as well have it, the poor bastards. It'll come back. I think like this after several drinks. That's why I drink. I'm a better man.
Fay says I can stay with them in the caravan tomorrow, if I like. They'll get a big one. I bid her good evening (she kisses me on the cheek) and retire upstairs to my room. I hear her car start in the parking lot around the back and, as I pull the curtains to see, she is driving away. Stevie has been waiting in the passenger seat.
~ The Easybeats were asked to appear on television. They would mime to Sheâ€™s So Fine while an audience of youngsters looked on, and the program would be broadcast to every television set on the continent. They would be seen and heard by millions. The others were nervous, but Stevie was tickled pink. He knew the camera would be focusing on him most of the time, and his moves would go a lot further than they normally did. He was told to sing into the camera when he could, as the camera was the eye of the multitudinous audience. When The Easybeats were introduced, the small crowd of youngsters cheered so loudly that, when the music began, it caught the band unawares. They stumbled through the song, laughing like children most of the time. When the performance was finished, the little crowd hollered again. Stevie noticed a young girl, probably no more than fourteen, standing in her seat, crying. She had her hands over her mouth and her eyes bulging, as if she'd
seen some horrible phantom. For a moment, he thought something was wrong. Perhaps the set was falling down on them. Maybe she'd written a song just like Sheâ€™s So Fine, and was horrified to hear that somebody else had stolen her future. It soon dawned on him that she was excited beyond reason, like he'd seen girls become when the great group The Beatles showed their faces. Stevie watched as a friend comforted her, and gently nestled the sobbing wreck to her seat. The Easybeats had driven a human being to become temporarily insane with rapture. Everything was going so perfectly. The television station switchboard crackled with calls from people who wanted to know more about the group. Newspapers and magazines wanted photographs and words. Radio stations demanded an audience. Offers of work poured in for The Easybeats from every club that had ever housed a racket. This, from three minutes of television. Mike thanked their days of starvation. After all, would this have happened if The Easybeats were three-hundred-pound beasts? A few days after the television broadcast, The Easybeats played at a club in the city. It was chaos. Hundreds of teenagers had to be turned away, and those inside found themselves in an unbearable squash. The Easybeats could no longer play in clubs like they had before. They were becoming too big. Mike thought they would soon graduate to playing stadiums, supporting big names from overseas. In time, they could well fill a stadium themselves.
One night, Stevie arrived home to find George's family house surrounded by policemen. A bolt of dread stopped him in his stride. Who had done wrong? Was it George? Were the police simply assuming that The Easybeats, being a strong voice from the rebellious youth of the day, were up to no good? As he approached, a policeman asked him who he was. When Stevie replied, the officer ushered him around to the back door of the house and told him to go inside and stay there. Inside were George, his parents and Angus, George's little brother. A few hours earlier, Angus, home alone, had been listening to the radio when he heard Sheâ€™s So Fine. After the song had finished, the disc jockey mentioned that Stevie and George lived together in a house in the suburbs, and went so far as to read out the address. At first, Angus felt proud to hear his address read over the airwaves, as if he were part of some noble family. Some time later, however, he was disturbed to hear what sounded like a flock of wild birds in the front garden, their flapping and scuttling growing louder by the second. As he drew the curtains and peered out the window to see, a piercing scream went up as hundreds of young girls stampeded towards the window. They began charging the front door, battering on the windows. Angus was retreating to the depths of the house when he heard a window smash and the door give way. The crazed mob flooded into the hallway, shouting the names of The Easybeats. Angus turned, held up and hands and pleaded that he was just Angus, nobody special. Before he could convince them, he was pinned to the wall, his clothes being forcibly removed. There
was a momentary halt as the girls who had hold of him paused to conduct a quick examination. Word went up that this wasn't one of them, the screams returned to full throttle and the rabble thundered along on their way, trampling Angus to the hallway floor. Sensing trouble, one of the neighbours had called the police and the girls were soon dispersed. But there was plenty of damage and missing things. Someone had even souvenired the letterbox. George's parents were furious, and neither George nor Stevie knew what to say. This was their job—how could they control the clowns they attracted? Secretly, Stevie viewed this scene as magnificent stuff. The Easybeats were creating havoc. Even if it was in their own front garden, news would get out soon enough. People would start to talk about how spirited youngsters couldn't trust themselves where The Easybeats were concerned. This was the ultimate goal of the modern musician—to make an ordinary mortal as mad as a meataxe. Bring several of these dingbats together in the one place and you have hysteria—the basic ingredient of every energetic epoch in world history. Later, when the police had left, Stevie and George retired to their room, where they spoke on the matter. George agreed with Stevie and believed this situation could be exploited. One afternoon, a few days later, Stevie and George returned home to find, as usual now, several girls sitting by the road in front of the house. Upon seeing the boys approach, the little crowd jumped to its feet and gathered
around, thrusting notepads and records at the two Easybeats, for them to write their names upon. After a few minutes of chitchat, Stevie approached two of the more excitable girls standing just beyond the throng and asked them if they'd like to come inside for a cup of tea. At first he thought they were going to faint, but they pulled themselves together just long enough to voice their acceptance of the invitation. Once inside, Stevie and George warned the girls that, should anyone arrive while they were here, they were to hide themselves, as the people who governed them took a dim view of the band fraternising with the fans. There would be all sorts of strife, they said, and police might even be called. The girls could hide in George's room. There was a good spot under his bed, and a closet for another to stand in. Stevie looked at the clock on the wall. It was only a few minutes before a journalist from a major newspaper was to arrive with Mike, to interview himself and George. He, George and the two girls sipped their tea and talked, like Bligh and Christian to two quaking Tahitian natives. There was a knock at the door. George hurriedly whisked the two girls into his room and snuggled them into position. Mike introduced the journalist to Stevie and George and the interview began. When the journalist mentioned the girls on the lawn, Stevie and George rolled their eyes and laughed. It went with the territory, said Stevie. There was simply nothing they could do. Toward the end of the interview, George became startled. He was sure he'd heard a noise coming from his bedroom, and asked Mike, who'd
been pacing in the background, to investigate. There was a flurry of activity and the squeaks of two frightened female voices, before Mike emerged holding two girls by the arm. One he'd found under George's bed, he said, and the other—believe it or not—was cowering in the closet. The girls tried to protest that they were guests of The Easybeats, but Mike would have none of it, frogmarching the two bewildered young ladies out onto the street where they belonged. Stevie and George looked at each other and shrugged as the journalist scribbled excitedly into his notepad.
The wise people at The Big Record Company thought it was time for a longplaying record. The fans were tonguing for tunes, and sometimes two songs just wasn't enough. And so the band recorded Easy, a collection of fourteen songs to show the world that The Easybeats were not just two-song dandies. The group went on an expedition, promoting the album to the people —a mighty tour involving all the vital cities and their most generous venues. Everywhere they went, the finest disorder ensued. The mob was in pandemonium now, the screams a landslide through which the music hollered to be heard. After a performance in one city, the band was mobbed as they left the hall for their hotel rooms, and teenagers, clearly out of their minds with excitement, forced their way into the back of the getaway van. Police officers wrenched the howling creatures from the vehicle and the driver sped away through the crowd, accidentally leaving Dick behind to be
wrestled and pecked until saved by a passing squad car. Another time, in a city on the west coast of the land, thousands of berserk youngsters flooded the airport to greet the band, who, for their own safety, had to be smuggled past the delirious mob in a hot dog van. There was another television appearance, this time featuring songs from the long-playing record. One of them was a sentimental melody called In My Book. The idea of the tune was to make girls cry窶馬ot hysterically, like they did most of the time, but softly, privately. A gentle, genuine blubber. To give the affair a credible boost, Stevie decided that he would weep while singing the tune to the cameras. Moments before taking the stage, to give his tears a leg-up, he took his two forefingers and violently stabbed his own eyeballs. The phoney tears flowed perfectly as Stevie sang to the camera, and the studio audience, their former frenzy frozen for a moment, wept at the tenderness of it all. Midway through the tune, Stevie was alarmed at his own passion. His tears, initially a forgery, were now true, and he had no idea why.
Mike had been in contact with big record companies in America and England. They were downright encouraging, enough for Mike to put up several thousand dollars of his own money to journey across the sea and investigate the possibility of his musical phenomenon becoming trans-global. To impress the company heads, Mike took with him tapes of the group's songs, along with photographic evidence of the lunacy they inspired at their performances. One photograph featured a policeman carrying a girl off to hospital. This,
Mike thought, would show them that The Easybeats were no laughing matter. He returned with marvellous news. A Big American Company said they’d be delighted to release the band's music, while the men behind The Beatles were eager to help The Easybeats tour and record in Britain. Stevie and the others agreed that a move to England was a terrific idea. Australia was a fine place to grow up, and the scarcity of local talent had served them well. But there were bigger fish to fry, and the real test for The Easybeats was to see if they could match it with the internationals—The Beatles, The Stones, The Hollies—groups Australian pop enthusiasts viewed as unapproachable denizens of the air. So Mike went ahead and planned The Easybeats’ conquest of Britain, to launch in just a few months’ time. The journey would be announced before a farewell tour of Australia—one last hurrah to the wild and confused mobs who'd helped construct this forthcoming international achievement.
Gail was nervous about England. She was worried that Stevie would become overwhelmed by the excitement, find affinity with some model or daytime television star, make London home for everything he cared about and never return for her. Stevie told her that was all nonsense. He would wait for her to come over later, no matter what manner of temptation lured him toward other paths. The only reason why she couldn't come with him now was that the fans wouldn't like it. The girls in the crowd, he said, like to think they have a chance with any one of The Easybeats. That's why they scream out so
much, to be noticed. If they were to hear that the boys they fantasised about had firm partners, they'd be most disappointed indeed. They'd probably stop coming to the performances, stop buying records and start spending their money on boyfriends of their own, which of course wouldn't do The Easybeats any good. This, Stevie said, was Mike's belief and it seemed to make good sense. Mike once produced a graph showing how The Beatles' popularity had plummeted after their wives were revealed to the public. Gail understood, but she still didn't like it. The others were encountering similar misgivings from their wives and girlfriends. Harry, in particular. Harry told Stevie that his wife, Pamela, had never been comfortable with having to remain in the shadows. She wanted to be a normal wife, as she felt she was when they'd first been married years ago. After the arrival of their baby son, Pamela began to descend into depression. While Harry had been away on tour with The Easybeats, she had remained at home, tending to what felt like a broken family. Her doctor had prescribed her some pills to deal with the situation, but Pamela said they seemed to stretch out the desolation, making her feel as if there were an invisible wall between herself and the real world. Now that Harry was going to England, she was beside herself with anxiety. Harry had tried to placate her, promising that she and the baby would be flown to England as soon as the band was settled. But nothing seemed to work. One morning, only days before the band's scheduled departure for
England, Mike called Stevie to tell of a terrible accident. Pamela had taken a fatal overdose of sleeping tablets during the night. Harry, said Mike, was destroyed. The newspapers roared with stark headlines about the suicide of the pop star's wife. Pamela's father told a reporter that Pamela's death was an accident, that she was simply trying to scare Harry into staying home. The Easybeats were now in a quandary. To continue with the tour might appear a beastly move, but to cancel it might give the public the impression that the future of The Easybeats had died with Pamela. And, of course, there was Harry himself, whose heart was beating in utter darkness. But Harry wanted to soldier forth. An overseas journey, he said, was just the thing he needed to escape the grim nights ahead. Pamela's parents would look after his son until he returned.
Nearly one thousand youngsters sobbed pathetically as The Easybeats prepared to depart the land. The band had planned to perform a swift concert at the airport, on a stage separated from the mob by a high wire fence. But, as Stevie and the others stepped into view, the mob lost its mind, vaulting over the sagging fence and bolting toward them. Young ladies dashed like mad things, with policemen in pursuit. A girl took hold of George and embraced him ferociously, wailing love into his ear. Another fastened herself to Stevie's leg and begged him not to leave. Airport vehicles were crushed. Reporters were trampled. A long-haired photographer was accidentally kissed.
Somebody wrote something in lipstick on a police car window, and Stevie was sure it said, ‘Fuck off, then!’ A dog barked somewhere. Girls began losing focus completely, flying in directions where no Easybeats were to be found at all. Policemen ordered the performance cancelled and hurriedly whisked the band into a police wagon and sped away. On the plane, Stevie was settling in to his seat, watching the dwindling chaos out of the aircraft window, when a hand touched his shoulder. A policeman asked him politely if he would leave the aircraft—a bomb was suspected to be on board. Stevie and the other passengers lurched down the stairway, to the reprised cheers of the mob, who must have thought The Easybeats had changed their minds. After some time, it was revealed that the bomb was nothing more than a daft gag played by someone who'd obviously been having a dark day. The passengers reboarded and the mob trickled away, having realised their apparent reprieve was just a cruel tease. As the aircraft shot through the clouds, Stevie looked down on the land below him. It had been conquered, and Stevie wondered how long it would take before he was a king of England, too.
There's a double bed at one end, for Stevie and Fay, and a couch bed at the other. Mine. There is no privacy, although it's arguable who's going to need it most. I'm going through a fairly weighty midnight masturbation stage at present, which is clearly going to have to be curtailed. Being busted wanking in a caravan park by Stevie and Fay would surely constitute a low point in the life of even the most confidently reckless of gents, and I don't imagine the vision would nudge the packed Sydney Stadium on Stevie's list of memorable spectacles either. In any case, arousal is not likely in this little house of inelegance. There is a thick stench of something stale, an odour so heavy I can almost feel it when I move my hands, as if every pore in my skin has been forced— against its will, I'd wager—to evolve into a nose. It's an exotic blend of Southern Comfort, vomit, that smell of food specifically stewed for a man with no teeth, and…something else, which I imagine, for some reason, to emanate from Stevie's crippled ankle. Not, in fact, likely to be bottled and marketed by Calvin Klein. But this test of olfactory endurance is cut short as, on my first dawn in Palm Court caravan park, Fay corners me outside the van for a chat. Stevie, she says, is a light sleeper, and last night I snored like a thousand bastards. Fay says it was relentless—a donkey, then a falling bomb, a donkey, a falling bomb—and it fair rattled the cutlery. I agree to take my own van. The one next door looks vacant. Fay suggests, coyly, that the van beyond that is vacant too.
‘Really, Fay, was I that bad?’ She smiles the smile of the one who has noticed your dick hanging out of your tweeds. I pack up my things and tell her I'll call around later, just before tea. Stevie has spent the entire episode on the bed, facing the far wall. Feigning sleep, probably. In the afternoon, I go for a run along the nearby beach and, returning from the water's edge, I see a lone figure sitting in the dunes, waiting for me. It is Stevie. This is the first time he has sought me out alone, without Fay as his consort. I ask him for a cigarette and sit down next to him on the sand. ‘See that rock out there?’, he says, pointing to a barren-looking island smack centre on the horizon. ‘I reckon I could live there.’ ‘Provided you had a way back,’ I suggest. ‘Nah. I'd want it nice and peaceful. Nobody around to carry on. You wouldn't get lonely, 'cos you can see people.’ He points to the land behind him. ‘But you wouldn't have to get involved.’ Later, while Fay is cooking dinner, I suggest that Stevie might like to listen to some music. I've brought my portable sound system—thirty watts a side, thank you very much—and some CDs that I find personally pleasing for one reason or another. Stevie expresses an interest in this idea, so I dash to my van and return with what I consider a fine opener: a CD by British group, The Las. This group, I explain, make a sound that doffs its cap to the sixties—a
full, melodious jangle with bright turns of tune and a nasal credibility only found in voices from that snotty chunk of the globe. For the first minute or so, Stevie seems to be listening. His head is down, almost between his knees, and he's rocking back and forth. He mentions something about ‘no real musicianship’ happening. I try to point out certain things—a nuance here, a chord there—but Stevie stops me with a raised hand. Then he vomits. Fay leaves the stove and tends to the mess between Stevie's feet. After mopping Stevie's sputum, Fay slinks toward me and, as if there is someone in here who is not meant to listen, whispers: ‘Stevie would like the music turned off now.’ I don't think Stevie is a music fan. I wonder if he ever was. Most musicians aren't. They have no more love for music than a circus monkey has for the elephant underneath him. They just ride and suck the jism out of the applause, not thinking for a minute that some of the cheers may be for the elephant. This pisses me off. It pisses me off because, in Stevie's case, it's sad and spiteful. Music is the one thing that gave him redemption; from a dreary youth, from the abyss of premature has-beenery and, almost, from the ominous ceiling of middle age. And here he is without a record or a cassette tape or any proof at all that the stuff played a part in his life. There's no evidence, in fact, that this buzzard was ever in The Easybeats. It has fallen away, like unsecured junk from the back of a madman's truck. And now he can't stand it. Music makes him sick.
Literally. It failed him. So, forevermore, nobody must hear it. In Stevie's domain, music is forbidden. If he can't be on the stage, the island, watching over the distant, gingerbread mob with whom he does not wish to associate, then the world can go coal black and burn. It pisses me off because it means I've come all this way to spend my time in the company of a bush businessman. Musicians like this view music as a vocation, little more than an industry. They bark about craft, for heaven's sake. In their hands, the forecast for the artform is doom. Their future for us is entertainment centres packed with crowds to see lightspeed accountants balance their books, heaving throngs of delirious youth moshing to the sound of a carpenter's saw, glassblowers relenting to audience demands for an encore by returning to the stage to deliver one more mind-blowing vase. It will all be about proficiency and technics, and the only people who'll dig it will be punchclock knuckleheads who thrive on the mathematics of creation. That's why that aural Mechano Set known as 'the blues' is Valhalla to the most boring people you know. Fully aware that 'the blues' makes love to none of the five existing human senses, they've been forced to invent a counterfeit sixth—an incommunicable fart of freemasonry called 'soul'. But, mostly, Stevie's disinterest in music—my music—pisses me off because I understand it perfectly. It’s a pain when somebody doesn't love what I love. I don't rent movies I haven't seen—I get the movies I have and my partner has not. I want to export my affection and prejudice, and I don't want it violated by somebody else’s, or a new experience entirely. Normally, I
can force this spirit home without too much of a barney, but in Stevie Wright I've met my match. His arena of experience is closed, and he can muscle the gate shut with a well-designed wretch. He'll fall back on his health to turn off the sound. I don't know how to combat such a mechanism and that's got me right funky. After dinner, out of sheer ill will, I decide to test the frontiers of this vomiting business, once and for all. I begin to talk of unsettling things, explosive gear for an unsteady stomach. Surgery I've known. Smells I never wish to grapple with again. Bad meals about town. Nothing works. I tell them about the time I had dinner at the home of a coupleâ€”good friends, but obsessive about cleanliness. They'd make me smoke on the balcony, standing between myself and the doorway, police on a picket line. Their home was a lily-white vacuum. I had arrived at the front door on the tail end of a three-day drinking extravaganza, and thus had a knob of rolled-up tissue jammed in my anus, to prevent the customary beer-shit seepage. A particularly important precaution tonight, as I was wearing trousers with a massive hole torn in the crotch. Didn't want to soil the pricey chairs. At some point late in the evening, I stood to use the bathroom and, as I did so, my beer-shit plug came loose, gambolling out of the gash in my trouser and bouncing along the shag pile like a weird, wet rodent. All eyes focused in horror on this extraordinary phenomenon.
‘What's that?!’ cried the lady of the house. Realising instantly that no explanation would be at all satisfactory, I marched toward the object and, casually announcing that it was ‘Nothing at all!’ bent down, picked it up and hurled it out of the open window, never missing a stride on my way to the bathroom. Interestingly, the matter was never broached again. Once more, I raise neither a laugh nor a heave from Stevie. I ask about his bucket—why it is there, how long it's been with him, a little bit of history, please. Stevie tells me he's had it for some time. It was on stage at his Last Stand concert, next to a bottle of port, which made him sing much better. He remembers he used to use pepper… His voice trails off as he realises his mind is drifting into dangerous territory, chuckwise. That reminds me of The Verdict, I declare, a fine film starring Paul Newman. In it, Newman drank at a bar every morning before work, and, to grease his day, he drank with a raw egg… Stevie's head flies back, his eyes to the heavens, his hands frozen in a praying position, as if there is something he must catch. A thick, ropy geyser of vomit spouts upwards and seems to sit for a moment above him, frozen in liquid tribute to those horrible sculptures you invariably find in the foyers of libraries built in the sixties. Then, having reached its altitudinous apogee, it rains down upon Stevie in an oily deluge, not a drop finding its home in the bucket.
‘Oh dear!’ I exclaim in fraudulent shock. As Fay wipes Stevie down, I excuse myself (there's nothing to see here), gather my silly sound machine and retire to my van for the evening. For the next few hours, I hear Stevie's voice raised in anger. I can't make out words but it’s not necessary. We've had our first battle, and mine was a covert operation indeed. I give The Las all the grunt they deserve and settle down to sleep with the music of my choice.
Fay knocks on my door at dawn, all smiles and pleasantries. We sit inside and drink coffee. After several pointless minutes, she declares that Stevie would like to ask a favour. They need more money. Stevie's life story is worth a lot, she says, and he wonders now if I'm the right man for the job. There are many writers who would give their eye teeth for the pleasure. I open the curtain, peer out the window at the empty lots, and return, eyebrows raised, to Fay. Stevie, she says, would simply feel better about the whole liaison if he knew I was hungry for it. ‘I know,’ she says, sensing my disgust, ‘I know you've already given us a lot of money. But just this one more time.’ It's just for daily essentials, she says. Cigarettes and food. When I come to the house with them in a few days, I too will benefit from such a stockpile. I enquire as to why our stay in this resort is being truncated, and Fay
is elusive. It is simply time to go, she says. I agree to hand over a few hundred when we arrive at the house, no sooner. Fay seems happy with that. I knock on their van in the morning and there is no answer. The door is unlatched, so perhaps they've gone for a walk. I enter and discover the reason for our sudden desertion of this place. There was a fire last night. Christ knows what started it, but it was surely close to fatal. There is a black hole in the lino about the size of a small truck tyre. The ceiling directly above is black. The stove is covered in something melted and charred. This wasn't supposed to happen. I also notice that everything they have is gone, and for a moment I believe they've already done the scram. Seconds later, Fay and Stevie enter the van to find me reviewing the damage. ‘Oh,’ stutters Fay, ‘we had a bit of an accident last night. We've seen the manager about it and he's fine.’ I enquire as to when we are leaving. ‘Well,’ she squirms, looking at Stevie for help, ‘we're leaving now, aren't we Stephen?’ Stevie nods and says nothing. He is fumbling childishly with some piece of plastic. ‘We're already packed and everything and we don't want to wait.’ She writes the address on the lip of a cigarette packet. ‘You can follow us when you're ready.’
I immediately notice our new destination is no longer a mighty chateau in Bateman's Bay, but in Narooma, only ten minutes away. ‘The other place didn't work out,’ says Fay, arresting my confusion before I can give it voice, ‘but this new place is just as good, if not better.’ I don't bother asking when, exactly, they viewed the establishment in Narooma. This rambling yarn is just too dizzying to negotiate. Best just be a passenger. Belt up and have faith. As I pay the remainder of the bill on my way out of Palm Court caravan park, I ask the manager how he normally deals with damage to the units. He says they're insured, but people are normally pretty good. They haven't had a mishap for some time now.
~ From the window of the bus, Stevie watched the English countryside drift by. It was soaked and drained of spirit, not home at all. The rain dribbled down with a miserable evenness. Back home, rain was an event, a violent living thing that came and roared and went. Here, a slave to all of the air, the rain wept quietly and steadily and always. Stevie felt England was breaking The Easybeats. London looked as if it had been specifically designed to deter conquerors. Gargantuan buildings encircled the city, curling around the streets, preventing escape. The sky was permanently furnished with a dark, sodden canopy that dripped. London
was a deep prison for high spirits. The crowds and screams of yesterday had stopped. The band couldn't even performâ€”such was the competition at the centre of the Empire, said Mike. The British didn't care that there was a hoopla about The Easybeats in some faraway kingdom. There were many other groups to consider, groups with records and fans. Again, it seemed, The Easybeats were not one of those. The hall was another hour away. There was no excitement in the bus. This performance would be just like the others; a nonchalant crowd, a muffled sound, the house lights on, polite applause. Like most of the other halls, this one would insist that The Easybeats mime to their own recording. The record companies liked it this way and the hall owners found it less complicated. Stevie hated it. It was phoney and everyone knew. At their last performance, Stevie refused to mime with conviction, moving his mouth like a ventriloquist doll, making the small crowd laugh at the absurdity of it all. Mike was enraged. So these performances were bogus. So they were unpaid. So young girls weren't being taken to hospital. Whatever, these appearances were important promotional tools and had to be treated with respect. The Easybeats, he said, must be patient, like they had been once before. The screaming mobs would come again. The bus swirled into the centre of a tiny town, and the driver announced that their evening's stage was just a turn away. Stevie steadied himself for the usual dowdy vision. The sight that greeted him was unexpected.
Through the broken front windows of the hall, Stevie could see green hills and grazing cattle. The front door had collapsed, as had the sides and back. Behind the facade, all that was left were charred beams and ash. A man walking a small horse told them that the hall had been destroyed by fire three weeks before their arrival. Nobody had bothered to inform The Easybeats. As Stevie gazed upon the wreckage, he felt the arrival of a cold and familiar hand. This hand had guided things before. It was the hand that built him and gave him a hostel for a home, the hand that destroyed his suit with the banana pockets, the hand that gave Gail to the Lizard and prevented The Easybeatsâ€™ first record from thrashing all comers. It was the spectre of something that wanted him to fail, a feeling of general disease, and it had hovered above him since he was a child. Stevie knew he was no fatalist. He felt, in fact, more optimism than any of the others. But that was through no choice of his own. It was because of this deep shadow of failure that he had to burn brighter than most. Every success, he thought, was a reward for outfoxing his own destiny. Failure was but a dreary return to nature. The group climbed aboard the bus for their three-hour trip back to London. Stevie, searching for cheer, decided it was a good thing that he couldn't be so easily satisfied as the man with the small horse, who waved cheerily as the bus pulled away.
London continued to rain on The Easybeats. For weeks, Mike left their pygmy apartment after dawn to scratch for work, while Stevie and the others froze
and starved and prayed for deliverance. They had not the room nor the motivation to rehearse. The group which had staged such a victory at home had almost ceased to be anything but an idea. A big record company released a record by The Easybeats called Sorry, a song written by Stevie and George, in which Stevie sang of how â€˜sorryâ€™ he was that he kept forgetting the promises he had made to various friends. Stevie loved the song and was sure it would do well, but the radio stations in London didn't seem to notice the record was there. One day, Stevie took George and the others to see a movie he'd seen advertised in the papers. It was the story of an uncultured man who becomes enamoured with a girl of comparatively great wisdom. So enchanted is he that he kidnaps her, keeping her locked in his basement. At first, he tries to win her with the force of his love. It is his need for her, he says, that has driven him to commit such an oppressive and calculated act. She will see that this course was necessary when she learns the depth of his loveâ€”a love she would not have discovered had she chosen her own way. As she comes to understand that his love alone is feeding her, keeping her alive, she will grow to trust this love and, finally, to need it. But the plan fails. The girl takes too long to outgrow that which she is, and he has not the patience to wait. Having failed to change the girl to one who loves him, he determines to discover that which makes her love and modify himself accordingly. He wants to see her view of the world. He will adapt. The teacher will become the student. But the grand interrogation yields nothing but tempest. Her view is an obscenity to
him. Picasso is no good—he paints people like people are not. This world is not the one that he sees, and therefore cannot be tolerated. So he kills the girl, and there the movie ends Stevie loved the film, and told the others so as they left the cinema. He felt sorry for the man, and could understand his attraction to the girl, who was a fine sort indeed. But George was less interested in the movie than Stevie. He was more taken by the entertainment that preceded it—a musical number by a group called The Swingle Singers. Stevie argued that The Swingle Singers were absurd—dressed in ridiculous clothing and capped with foolish hairstyles, they had done naught but skip through meandering melodies with no lyrics but ‘doobie-doobie-do’, for heaven's sake. George argued that the stupidity of their act was the very thing that made it unforgettable. Simplicity was the art of the fool, and the fool had entertained the masses since man first sat down to watch other men. Later that night, having spent all their money at the cinema, Stevie and George tried to write some songs. George had The Swingle Singers on his mind. He was obsessed with a quick, skipping melody and begged Stevie to sing ‘doobie-doobie-do’. By the time Stevie went to bed, George had the song he wanted and Stevie was one step from despair. The song, he thought, sounded silly. What were they doing here? Life was dark and he missed Gail. He began to write her a letter, telling of how the days now seemed to drag him
toward an unrealised dream. He was growing tired of The Easybeats. He wanted to resign from the pursuit and come home, to see her, to see his family, to go out on the town, to have fun without a struggle. He didn't even care if youngsters never screamed at him again, or smiled when they saw him at the grocery store. Once in a while, perhaps. What he wanted more than anything was comfort. He abandoned the letter and began forming it into words for a song. He thought it appropriate for the lyric to belong to George's silly song, with the â€˜doobie-doobie-doâ€™ business left alone in the chorusâ€”a feeble monument to Stevie's longing amongst the cold shambles of everything. Friday on my Mind was released by the big record company. For a few days nothing happened. Everybody just sat there, listening to the radio stations that weren't playing it. Stevie called Gail and told her he would be coming home in a few months, before Christmas. Australia, he said, was the place where The Easybeats belonged. It appeared that the English didn't see things from their point of view. Gail asked him if he was sure and he said he had made up his mind and nothing could change it. Mike heard a disc jockey play the record and say that there would be no justice in the world if The Easybeats didn't make it to the top of the hit parade. At first, Stevie didn't believe him, but over the next few days Stevie heard such things with his own ears. And, one warm Saturday afternoon, the earth accelerated under Stevie's feet. He heard Friday on my Mind played three
times, on three different radio stations. Harry had seen a young girl buying it in a record bar. And not an ugly one, eitherâ€”she was slim and pretty and just The Easybeats' type. A company run by the men behind The Beatles called Mike with some paid work for the group and the people at The Big Record Company called to say that the record was selling fast and that The Easybeats should stand by. The silence in the apartment suddenly had a different tone. Every move, every slam of a door or clang of a spoon in the sink, meant somebody was getting ready for something to do with the future. Stevie watched Friday on my Mind race up the British hit parade with savage speed. Number 25. Number 17. Number 12. Then, in an hour of life that was to become a myth for him, Stephen Carlton Wright saw the world change gear and flash by so quickly that moments became memories in an instant. There was an interview for a magazine and then a newspaper headline. Mike appeared with an itinerary many pages long and people spoke of recording and tours and moving quickly as there wasn't much time. Television appearances and magazines and headlines and somebody shouted to come to the radio and Gail called but Stevie wasn't home and people milled in the street wearing clothes that looked exactly like theirs and somebody asked him to sign something and then something else and took his photo shaking hands with some duffer and Snowy woke him up laughing and shaking a newspaper in his face to show him and laughing his head off and the phone rang and rang and the heat of the stage and girls asked him to
come with them and boys offered him cigarettes and Stevie couldn't remember people's names and the lights of the theatres flashed on and the gathering roared and Stevie leaped and bounced again and the fresh faces and the voices from a new land and other groups wanted to know how they did things and the buildings were shrinking and they all got drunk one night and Harry cried and nobody could remember why and the rain sounded like applause and models and actors and famous types and one night George said they were living among the greats and Stevie's tears performed of their own volition and he was mobbed and a pretty girl clung and would not let go and he went home with her still attached and she writhed and thrashed in a manner Stevie had never seen and she couldn't remember his name and the youngsters returned to the street as Mike had promised and they came in and cleaned the house sometimes and the suits looked fine and Mike fixed the bill and a petition from Australia wanting them home and an award and a fan letter from a girl twenty-two years old and Europe with The Stones who The Beatles were afraid of and the grown woman who said Stevie was the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen and the deafening chorus in Holland and Dick broke down on stage for the noise and number two and number one and pints of beer and tablets and German boys as mad as the girls and Gail came and she was in love with a star and got a job in a cafe and crowds at the airports and the land falling away and into the clouds and Australia and howls and Stevie Wright T-shirts and George nearly strangled and Dad broke down crying because Dorothy was seeing another and the press conference
where everyone laughed at anything and gold records and kisses and kisses and one night bashing the prick who said they were faggots and paying for nothing even though they were rich and forgetting what not being loved felt like and meeting the Lord Mayor, no less, and people making fools of themselves and screaming that smothered the song and a girl sent herself to the hotel room in a parcel and television and love like royalty and fireworks and Harry saying he felt like a birthday child and big in America now and the noise of a radio or the sight of a speaker or a record or a boy with long hair or a girl in boots or a street they hadn't seen before or a stage of any sort or an empty room that could be filled was so exciting and life was a luscious kiss from a beautiful girl nobody would ever see again.
~ I trudge through the usual chicanery in Narooma: nobody's home at Mitchell Street; notes are unanswered; nobody knows them; the bloke in the pub hasn't seen them; the cops are daft; Dorothy knew Stevie once; mum is worried; the rain thrashes down; the dogshit won't come off; none of my friends are answering; Lynch's hotel. I take a room upstairs. It's a dowdy old dump with croaking furniture and blankets surely croched by the big people from Land of the Giants. One wall is a window, and the town clock is going all Dali as the rain washes down the glass. It seems as insecure as a childhood tree-house, but it doesn't
open for a drop of the dead, hammering rain. I lie on my bed and it bows like a hammock. One light switch works, the other's for show. This joint is faultlessly imperfect and perfect for that. I feel like ditching the whole Stevie concern and taking a holiday in my busted paradise here. But they'll front up soon enough—I've promised them money. I might as well be on the run myself. After a time, I go downstairs and park on a barstool for what I figure will be the evening. It's Friday night and it appears everyone in town is here. Everyone's talking but not to me. I notice a man on the other side of the bar, staring. He's seen a few floggings. I can only presume that his nose still lets air in and out of it. Selected teeth are elsewhere. His hair is thinning and he doesn't care—a dangerous sign. He hasn't said a word, but you can tell a lot from a stare. This fellow doesn't want to be chums. He'd rather piss me off out of town. I look away. ‘Hey, writer!’ he hollers. How the fuck did he know that? I'm curious, embarrassed and not a little terrified. ‘Writer’. Like ‘poet’, the title is a chin-stroking belch to me and my spiritual buddies at home. In the Friday night brotherhood of Lynch's, now turning to get an eyeful of who this ‘writer’ may be, it's surely a fatwa. He beckons me and I go, if only to keep him quiet. ‘I don't want to know what you're doing here,’ he opens, ‘and I don't give a flying fuck, to be frank. But I'll tell you something…’ He leans toward me, his drunk, leather face disappearing off the sides
of the screen. ‘I'm so fucken sick and fucken tired of wankers coming down here for a bit of a fucken sniff and then going back up there to fucken tell everyone what fuckwits we are. Furthermore,’ he points, as I struggle to squash my surprise at his use of that word, ‘I'm fucken fed up to the fucken guts with wankers bringing their fucken city problems down here. Nah, they dump the fucken loonies in this fucken barn a few miles out and let 'em just walk around. They just fucken dump their fucken spastics and druggos and leave us to fucken deal with it and it's fucken bullshit, friend.’ I shake my head in sympathetic disgust. What is this clown talking about? ‘That's what you're fucken here for, isn't it,’ he declares. ‘Well, no. But it's interesting, I must say.’ ‘Nah, get fucked!’ My concern has not impressed him. ‘That's absolutely what I'm fucken talking about. Fucken abso-fuckenlutely!’ He has me now, for this is the best thing I've heard in a while— dividing one strong word into two of equal ferocity, simply by inserting a 'fucken' smack in the middle. Genius. I make a note to use it in pious society and claim it as my own. Plus, there's this loony business, which sounds intriguing. He pretends he doesn't want me to hear about it, but I know I'll have the whole story in a few minutes.
‘There's a fucken loony bin a few miles out, and the loonies who are too fucken loony for the big bins in Sydney get fucked off to this bin.’ ‘Sounds like one hell of a bin!’ ‘It fucken is. And they can just walk out the fucken gate if they like. Just fucken walk out…’ Nobody gives a shit…government conspiracy…all about dollars… murder most foul…big business…CIA…uranium companies…Midnight Oil… The tale doesn't have the sting I'd hoped for—it is, in fact, a voluminous pile of chicken jism—and soon my man is so juiced that I figure he won't notice as I quietly try to desert him. He's swinging like a gate at his post. I move off. But he lunges at the last second, takes hold of my head in his hands and, tilting his own as does a feeding shark, brings his teeth down to lock on my nose. He doesn't bite, but simply fastens himself. A punch to the gut or a knee to the groin will surely encourage him to release me, but nature screams to my brain that any defence is unwise, particularly a vocal one, which will just sound silly. And so, there I stand, in a wild, motionless confusion, my nose hostage to the wet breath of a drunk and toothless stranger, the rest of my body left to mature in the broiling laughter of Lynch's hotel. ‘Writer.’ He releases me when he gets tired, but no less cranky, sending me on my way with a violently upthrust finger in front of my face, the vision of
which, combined with the lingering smell of his gums, almost overwhelms the experience of meeting an angel. ‘Don't worry about Tom,’ she whispers through a pained smile, her hand gently stroking my arm. ‘He's just a dickhead when he's drunk. He'll be sorry for that tomorrow.’ Jo asks if I'd like to join her circle of five, none of whom could be older than twenty-one. Jo asks what I'm doing in Narooma and I tell her. Stevie Wright, she says, is one of her clients. She works in a nearby pharmacy and she serves him his drugs. I ask what he takes and she is evasive. I tell her who he is and she is surprised. She thought he was just a regular guy. Sort of. Later, the pub announces its closure and the group move out, on its way to somebody's house nearby. I follow along. At some point on the way, Jo bids farewell and peels off, leaving me in the company of the others, who I have not really become acquainted with as yet. I attempt conversation and, while not ignored, I'm not Oprah either. We walk for about thirty minutes until coming to a small weatherboard house on the edge of town. The group files in the front door and I, being carefully courteous, make sure I am the last to enter. I never do. The last one through the door, a boyfriend of some sort, slams the door closed in my face. I hear some inside talk of how that was a rotten thing to do and I wait for the door to be opened by one of the protesters. After a minute, the talk has returned to ordinary things of which I am not an issue and the door has been forgotten. I turn and make my way
home through the rain to Lynch's. The hotel is locked and I can't rouse anyone. Tired and drunk beyond cold, I sway into the street and fall to the wet grass beneath the town clock. Narooma has locked me out.
~ ‘We are about to bring up the five great guys. This is their home. They haven't forgotten any of YOUUUU. The loyalty of you fans put The Easybeats where they are today. Let's hear how much you want to hear them.’ Then started their shrill, teenage, female noise. It was just like the noise from a very sick jet engine in a test bed. From then on it never stopped. The scream was there through every number and it was impossible to identify different tunes. This was despite the extremely impressive nature of their equipment. For their three guitars they had three amplifiers. One of them had eight speakers and an output of two hundred and ten watts. Nobody sat. They jumped up and down, ran back and forth to the aisle. The greatest excitement came during the playing of Friday on my Mind. Little Stevie was enormously impressive. Not only did he sing, he shook, he vibrated, he shuddered, and with his hands and fingers made high-speed quivering movements, like someone suffering from an electric shock or on the farthest extremity of delirium tremens. The excitement built and built. Some girls tugged at their own hair or just sat there with three or four fingers in their mouths. One felt very out of place without an ‘I love Stevie’ T-shirt, and not being able to make a 707 scream made one evilly
conspicuous, like a Negro at a KKK picnic. Toward the finish, there was a general rush from all sides, straight for the stage. Police, security men, red-coated chuckers-out locked arms like the heroes of Waterloo and threw back the onslaught. Then, everywhere one looked, girls seemed to be fainting. And, as the Easybeats were rushed off stage by strong-armed henchmen, hundreds of girls began to sob. Two sitting by me sobbed on their mother's shoulder and were still sobbing many minutes after the show was over. Officer Bourke of the St John Ambulance said it was the biggest night since The Beatles. During the first session he treated twelve girls for fainting and another two had to be taken to St Vincent’s Hospital. ‘I couldn't do anything for those two,’ he said. ‘They got out of control and they were hitting their heads on the floor. It's a curious business. This thing happens with girls aged from fourteen to seventeen. Some get so wild they attack you with their fists. It starts usually with their hitting their own sides, then they pull their hair, hit their heads with their hands, and next they pass out on the floor. Just this tremendous build-up of emotion.’ Of course, it would be very nice to give you a sound criticism of The Easybeats. But once one is over the age of 25 something very odd happens to the eardrums, making it impossible to appreciate the full beauty of the guitar sounds magnified 1000 mega times. The Bulletin
~ Snowy said he was through. He missed his family and he wanted to stay. He was sorry. Stevie was staggered. After all of the struggle, The Easybeats were 97
finally home. They were unassailably successful now. It made no sense to leave. Not today. Snowy didn't agree. It made perfect sense, he said, to say goodbye to something so sweet before it soured. He would play out the shows in Australia, but when the band returned to England they would do so without him. That was all. Stevie was baffled. He understood that Snowy was an individual who was free to choose, but his choice was cancer. It might give the others similar ideas. It stained the pure white happiness of now. Mike and the others seemed to take the news peacefully. They would simply audition for drummers once they returned to England, where there would be plenty of lads who would happily commit all sorts of homicide to be in The Easybeats. But, for Stevie, it was best to consider that Snowy was foolish, lest he felt the dark hand ushering these beautiful days out through the stage door.
The sobbing at the airport had little of its old charm. Gail cried for the very first time, and Stevie was somehow thankful for that. He had always admired Gail for her prideâ€”her immunity to his magic was the very thing that had captivated him in the first placeâ€”but sometimes he wished she could be more like the girls in the mob, the ones who dangled from his clothing like dishrags on the line. In a way, these girls loved him perfectly. Stevie kissed them all goodbye and the engine surged and the ground
fell away and life went into the clouds again.
In London, crowds waited for The Easybeats at the airport. They were of the usual effervescence, but it was more inhibited than the Australian brand. They calmly asked for autographs and excused themselves, dashing off to show their friends what they had procured, as if they were more in love with the autograph than the author. The people of the world were becoming conditioned to pop stars, Stevie thought. They realised that the stars would come and go, that the people themselves were not worth getting all tameless about. It was the fame that encircled them that the youngsters sought. The Easybeats were the latest at the top of an ever-expanding pyramid. One day, they would descend from the apex to the bulk, and the youngsters would not follow.
The Easybeats soon found a new drummer called Tony, a fine chap and was clearly pleased to be involved with the greatest group Australia had ever seen. One night, Stevie, George, Harry, Dick and Tony sat in the house smoking marijuana and listening to records. One of them was a strange record by The Beatles. Another, even stranger, was by an American group called The Beach Boys. There was a disc by a Negro guitarist called Hendrix, who, it was said, was possessed by some sort of spirit. As Stevie listened, unable to decide what was music and what was drug, George declared he had
something important to say. He urged the others to listen closely. What they were hearing, he said, was the sound of their own extinction. Songs that simply bounced along for three minutes were becoming archaic. The boundaries of pop music were expanding, and those rooted to the ruck would soon be ignored as attention shifted to the new frontiers. The Beatles were dressing their songs in sounds from other eras, with exotic instruments that pop music thought it had annihilated from the popular front. The Beach Boys staged sonic experiments moreso than songs, stretching the very air around them to squeeze in more layers of textured sound. Hendrix was happy to let his music implode in front of all, his guitar screaming to death, the passion slaughtering the song. The idea was greater than the product, the spirit mightier than the tune. Essence, not music. The song as a mere vehicle in which the artist explored the territory between love and hate, life and death, colour and blackness. To George, music was truly becoming an artform, a canvas for the human experience, and expressions such as ‘be bop a lu la’ or ‘I wanna hold your hand’ or, indeed, ‘she’s so fine’, were fleas in a catfight. The new season was upon them and unless The Easybeats embraced it they would shrivel outside in the cold. Stevie listened to what he was hearing and it did not feel good. She’s So Fine had done perfectly well, thank you very much. If what George said was correct, who were all these people screaming and what were they screaming about? Had the youngsters simply been venting their dissatisfaction at The Easybeats all along?
George said Stevie was missing the point. This was not about screams or sales or mobs at the airport. Rock and roll music was a living thing. The Easybeats had arrived at the end of its infancy, with the world still googling in wonder at the new arrival. Now it was time to mature and mean something, and howls of enjoyment were soon to be embarrassing and inappropriate. One day, rock and roll would die, as every public joy in world history had. The days of its childhood would be recalled with naught but frivolity. Those who would be remembered, said George, were the ones who found the grown heart of the artform and spoke for it, rather than simply tapped merrily to its beat. This drug wasn't having a desirous effect. What Stevie was hearing was nightmarish. He didn't want praise or handshakes or statues erected in his honour long after he was dead. He wanted his life to be beautiful now and remain so until it was gone. He wanted to experience love from those who could tell him so to his face. Whether or not his descendants were informed of this love through the pages of a history book was of the most obscure consequence to him. The Easybeats were onto something good here. It was nourishing and muscular and the idea of calling an ambulance seemed premature in the extreme. Such an act signalled to all that something was wrong, and so all would believe that something was. To Stevie, George was talking of suicide. He listened again to the music. It was glorious, there was no denying. He simply didn't know if he was capable of such stuff.
Stevie marched into Mike's grand new office. He was tired of being in the dark. He wanted to know, once and for all, how much he was worth as a man. The papers were calling him a millionaire, but he still had to borrow to get a sandwich. It was time for some cash. He demanded to know, exactly, how much money he had in the bank. Mike couldn't say for sure, but said Stevie had quite a bit. No, Stevie argued, he wanted to hear figures. He wanted to know how rich he was, down to the very last penny. Mike explained that this was impossible. The records had sold and the tours had been lucrative, that was true, but the money was still wandering through the apparatus of the mighty music industry. These things took time. In any case, they had agreed on a wage of ten pounds each a week, and to divert from that might throw everything into chaos. The Easybeats had to keep the future in mind. Mike suggested that if Stevie were to tell him which particular things he wished to purchase, he could inform him as to whether he were in a position to afford them or not. Playing the game, Stevie announced that he wished to buy a big, beautiful house. Mike said yes, he could probably have his house. Exasperated, Stevie announced that he wished, in fact, to buy two big, beautiful houses. Mike shrugged. That might be possible, he'd have to see. Three houses. Four. Stevie wanted land and motor vehicles and more clothing than Gail could wear in a lifetime and food that would make him the most spherical man the history of the world had ever seen. Mike nodded and
fumbled with his tie. Stevie raged out of Mike's office and down to the pub on the corner, where the man behind the bar recognised him and gave him all his drinks for free. And that made Stevie so mad that he drank and drank until he was no longer fit for decent society.
~ Fay and Stevie are there in the morning. They're walking in the garden, pointing to spots where nothing but grass exists. They seem to be planning some kind of construction. ‘Good morning,’ I cry, and am met with silence and smiles. ‘I called yesterday, but missed you, it seems.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ says Fay, leaving it there before attempting any sort of explanation. Stevie hobbles off in what seems a blustering retreat, his figure sinking into the hall of the weatherboard house. I approach Fay with my peace flag—a few hundred dollars, as promised. Fay takes it, thanks me and begins. ‘Stevie's not very well this morning…’ To save time, I openly prophesise that I will not be entering their home today, as we had planned, for they are not ready. Fay confirms this as so. The time has come for me to make a stand. I do this by neither
uttering nor waiting for a word. I simply turn around and walk back up the drive. Like Montgomeryâ€”no, Patton. I don't expect Fay to call after me. She's not an opponent of ironclad strength, but chasing is not her style either. She'll sit inside and wonder what to do, no doubt discussing it with King Stevie. I'm starting to dislike this couple, and that's a pity. I don't know what their game isâ€”whether Stevie really wants to do this thing or notâ€”but the fact is that they're knowingly sucking the time and money of another. That part of their game is working without a hitch. By the time I get back to Lynch's, Fay has already called and left a message: we start tomorrow morning. I withdraw to the bar for the afternoon, where I have the good fortune to discover that the second most boring man in the world lives in Narooma, everybody. He's aware of every detail of his own family tree and, after several hours, so am I. My, they're a sparkling crowd, the O'Leary's of Boggy Creek. No need to talk about them, because Jo has just entered. She appears to be giving the beerman information of some sort, leaning over the bar and so on. Oh, brother! She is so overwhelmingly angelic that the experience is almost boring. For even the most insatiable male libido, it's an information overload, like when you turn your hi-fi up so ridiculously loud that the speakers just fart. The excitement simply fucks itself out of all reason, and a fellow can do no more than sit on his comparatively loveless arse and be baffled by the outrageous imbalances of nature. She looks in my direction.
‘Hi, Jackson,’ she chirps, and I'm flattered to hell that she remembers my name. ‘How are you?’ ‘Good tanks.’ Good tanks. Jesus. Captain Fascinating notices my interest in Jo as she flips out onto the street. ‘You keen on Jo, are you?’ ‘She's the most interesting living thing in this town.’ ‘Yeah?’ he know-it-alls. ‘Just about every living thing in this town has had 'er too.’ What outrageous talk is this? ‘Yeah, she's a fucken slut, mate. She'll grunt herself on anything.’ Torn between a punch and a stiffy, I enquire as to whether this knowledge is born of rumour or personal experience. ‘Aw,’ he leers and wobbles his head, ‘I'd rather not say, mate. Rather not say.’ Of course he'd rather not, the flabby old bucket of thrush. I drink into the night and remember nothing except meeting a girl called Michelle. I remember that she seems a good chance for something, but I can't remember what.
Fay has gone to a lot of trouble. The spare room is their junk room, and therefore the most abundantly furnished room in the house. Fay has
manoeuvred all of the debris—plastic bags full of clothing, boxes full of magazines, unworn shoes, ice-cream containers of pins and pencils and spools of cotton and still-wrapped two-dollar bargains and an obsolete sewing machine—to the skirting boards. A wardrobe is choco with newspapers. In the middle of the room is a bed: three inches of foam rubber with a pillow and a blanket and the sheets pulled back in invitation. Good on you, Fay. ‘Stevie's not very well yet,’ she sighs. ‘He thinks it's probably best if you start this afternoon, after lunch.’ This is fine news. I'm here now. Short of being killed, I can't be successfully avoided anymore. At worst, their periods of escape will decrease in longitude. I can annoy them into action from here. Fay says good morning and exits, closing my door on the way out. The soft quack of the TV in Stevie's room momentarily rises as Fay enters, withering again as the door closes behind her. And here we stay, two doors and a two-metre hallway separating us, for the next twenty-six hours. I, flat on my bed, staring at the ceiling above, and they doing…whatever. Lunch doesn't happen. Dinner slips by ignored. The silent minutes are punctuated by a distant muffled cough or splutter from Stevie, or the words ‘Aw, nah!’ when something goes wrong. A spillage, presumably. I listen and think and sleep for brief periods when there is nothing left to hear or think of. Patience, patience. Use your imagination. The patience of Sergio Leone. Think Jack at Little Big Horn with grenades and a mini-gun. Custer wouldn't have had a
chance. Think of that girl with the muscles that purled in her back and how deliciously taught she felt and how her poor, stupid husband had no idea. Then how he forgave us both later. What a guy. Think of Jo. Think of how you're gonna show all them bastards. Think of exactly who them bastards are. List and file them. Catalogue their trespasses and devise their labours. The lash for Alana's hot new fellow. The rack for the editors of most magazines. Sodomy with a trombone for Sister Rhonda and a rap on the knuckles for Billy Joel. Hey, whatever happened to Chuck Barris? Oh, Christ, I'm bored. Patience, patience.
I wake and stand from my bed. It must be midday. I can't be sure whether I've slept or not. I must have, but I seem to recall thinking all of the time. My mental theatre has replayed every halfway-interesting moment of my life. I walk down the hall and into the kitchen. Fay is there, tooling around at the sink. She turns and bids me good morning. I see that she is fixing a dish—a pie of some scandalous description. ‘Stevie's having a bit of trouble eating,’ she says, ‘so I have to make special things for him to eat. His teeth will be fixed soon.’ Fay goes on to tell me that Stevie has been waiting for his teeth for some time, and it seems that only a matter of days could be the difference now. The holdup? ‘Well,’ she says, ‘money, really.’ I'm sure I'm about to be asked to solve this problem when Stevie
enters the kitchen and stands still across the room, his arms folded. He's looking rough. Tracksuit pants, a singlet and woolly sox. Overnight, he seems to have developed a skin problem, with crusty legions smattered over his face. His eyes dart about the room, looking for a suitable prop. Stevie is uncomfortable being the centre of attention. Even with a benign kitchen audience like myself and Fay, the pressure of being a performing star weighs upon his entrance. He brasses it out with muttered one-liners, all of which Fay finds amusing, but most of which I struggle to understand at all. It's weird that after two decades of abuse and punishment and humiliation he can still afford something so sensitive as embarrassment. I suggest that we might get something done this afternoon, and I almost pass out upon hearing Stevie's words. â€˜Why not now?â€™
It's nearly dusk and all work must cease for a special event being broadcast on the television. Paradise Beach is another Australian-made serial exposing the mundane happenings in a community where all the major food groups are covered: spunks and hunks, both good and evil; kind old souls who own corner shops; a busy-body who nobody wants to gut, for some reason; a friendly cop who'd sooner take it up the ass than arrest anyone; an unemployed bum gifted with untold wisdom; most of the acting occurring when one person leaves another to think about what's been said. In Australian soaps, you can always tell when the scriptwriters have taken a day
off—they just roll out the wedding, stretching that ‘Dearly beloved’ speech to twenty riotous minutes. Stevie assures me that his interest in the program is nothing more than a lark. The show is so static it’s compelling, like watching a candle. It's a laugh, he says. Moments later, however, the television decides to throw a tantrum, and the laughter goes missing in action. The screen rolls and blinks and the sound blurts the language of major malfunction. Stevie attends to the problem with garden-variety TV repair expertise: the clenched fist thumping on the top of the hapless set, the rat-a-tat spinning of the channel dial, power on, power off. Surprisingly, nothing works, and Stevie declares the aerial to be the felon. It's on the roof, he says, and the wind must've taken it roughly from behind. We must repair it swiftly, for Paradise Beach is only minutes away. After a brief headcount, we determine it is I who is best suited to the hazardous task of mounting the roof and engaging the wandering antenna. Stevie and Fay will assist me in scaling the southern wall of the house, after which they will direct me as to how the reception's travelling. They leg me up and Stevie scuttles into the house to direct from the TV screen. Fay stands in the front garden as transmitter. The antenna, planted on the apex of the roof, looks in fine shape to me, but there is no point in voicing that observation now. I stand astride the spine of the roof, each foot precariously placed on tiles which could at any moment become skateboards, and tilt the antenna slightly north.
‘How's that?’ I cry. ‘Jack says how's that?’ translates Fay. ‘Wha bah!’ comes the reply, sounding from here like Columbo under a mountain of doonas. ‘Stevie says no good.’ ‘OK,’ I lean south, ‘what about that?’ ‘What about that, Stephen?’ ‘Bla!’ ‘No.’ ‘And this?’ ‘How's that?’ ‘Wlra. Mumph whable bla!’ ‘Yes. That's pretty good.’ ‘Right. Hang on…’ ‘Wha nah! Blats furgle bla!’ ‘Jack, it's gone again.’ ‘Wlra!’ ‘That's it.’ ‘Wha!’ ‘Gone again.’ For some time now, I have possessed the knowledge that my Godzilla-like battle with the antenna has had precious fuck-all to do with the mutations in picture quality—the wires extending from the antenna, frayed
away after a few inches, are swinging in the breeze, no more connected to the television than I. Nevertheless, the performance continues. ‘Wlra!’ ‘That's it.’ ‘Wha!’ ‘No!’ Miraculously, the shout goes up. Whatever I have done must be left done. The credits are rolling and they're looking good. Come on down, Jack. I have been invited into the inner sanctum of Stevie's bedroom for the show. It's a batcave in here. The radiator and fan and drawn curtains have created their own dark, multi-seasoned atmosphere. A tropical swelter with an arctic solitude. There is no sense of the world. The television is crucial. As Stevie watches from the edge of his bed, he observes little nuances in the action and documents them aloud. ‘He's nervous.’ ‘Look out!’ ‘Aw, she shouldn't have done that.’ A laugh, my arse. Stevie is absorbed in this world. The appearance of an actor causes the mood in the room to shift. Fay mutters something to Stevie and he grunts his disapproval. I ask who it is and Fay tells me he is Matt, the husband of Olivia Newton-John. Stevie hurries to add that Matt cannot act, and probably can't do anything very well, in fact. Stevie knew Olivia once. They were King and Queen of Pop together, back in
’75. He knew her well. Yes. The episode ends with the lonely figure of a man walking on the beach at sunset, the voice of God declaring the man's sorry thoughts. He has lost his partner to cancer. A seagull soars and the man parps out some suburban reflection on the similarities between the bird and life itself as some beanbag-and-incense piano tampering augers in the credits. ‘Oh, brother, this show's got it all!’ My flippant remark is met with silence. Fay and Stevie sit still with their backs to me. Jesus. They're crying. I can understand it from Fay. But Stevie? Hasn't he been through enough?
~ America. If The Easybeats could master America, the nation at the top of the world, the nation that devised pop music itself, then the earth was conquered. The life of Stephen Carlton Wright, not yet in existence for nineteen years,
would be a triumph. Past successes were trifling now. The screaming mobs of Australia, the hit parades of Europe, the gold records—crickets and trinkets and fluff. With the end of the race so close, and the trophy so near, the last half inch meant more than the whole of the mile. One good tour. One hit. One final, brilliant chance. The Easybeats were gifted, Mike said, to be starring as a support act for a big knob like Mr Pitney. The tour would begin in the north, where Mr Pitney had a high-pitched following. This, said Mike, could prove fortuitous indeed for The Easybeats, who were as yet unproven as entertainers of any sort in America. Mr Pitney had a reputation for making his audiences stew a while before the show began. A restless audience might be ready to pop its cork the moment the curtains raised, no matter who was revealed to be standing there or what sort of gurgling symphony they discharged. On the other hand, Mr Pitney’s popularity may prove a hazard. His tunes generally dwelled on the sugarless sides of love and life: sensitive men left sobbing by affection gone green; whole towns believing the narrator a hopeless joke who must vamoose before sundown; men who shoot outlaws. One of Mr Pitney's more popular tunes told of a man who, during a long trip toward his good wife waiting at home, became tired and thus chose to pull over at a roadside motel. His fatigue was somewhat interrupted by the appearance of a beautiful woman, who he promptly fucked. Distressed by this unscheduled but not altogether unpleasant pitstop, the man—a decent one, of course—thought the most chivalrous thing to do was write to his wife, telling her about the fuck in
tasteful yet muscular detail, before announcing his intention never to return home again. Shame, said the man, was the reason (possible future frolics with the new broad were not mentioned in the letter). The man had the compassion to add that this whole unsavoury event had occurred a mere twenty-four hours from Tulsa, â€˜one day away from your armsâ€™. Though not touched upon in the story, one could only assume that the suffering wife spent the next decade exploring every two-star motel in the twenty-four-hour drive-time radius, in an unbalanced quest for the one or two infuriatingly elusive details her husband had neglected to mention in his less-thansatisfactory confession. The question therefore raged: was the narrator a decent man, incapable of being dishonest for a second over a simple human mistake, or an irredeemable bastard who got a curly little kick out of furnishing his ex-wife with the latest mail on how disarmingly attractive he appeared to stray women? So. Might The Easybeats, with their songs of gaiety, of hope and simple teenage rapture, seem a little baroque to those immersed in the infernal world of Mr Pitney's heroes? Stevie saw no problem here. The Easybeats had enthralled youngsters in every other land of substance. It had mattered not to them that Stevie hadn't moaned about lost love or corny showdowns or slippery affairs in subeconomical motor inns, and there was no reason to believe that American teenagers would see things any differently. But there was something troubling him.
Since that evening when George had delivered his disturbing monologue on music and change, Stevie had noticed that Harry and George had been writing more songs behind closed doors, with Stevie left outside to contemplate his tambourine technique and the ballet of his body parts. Of course, his voice was a superior one and nobody denied that fact. But Stevie began to wonder what would become of him if, as The Beatles had done some years before, The Easybeats ceased to perform in front of audiences. On the eve of the first American performance, Stevie lay awake all of the night. Up until now, he had clearly been the central ornament of The Easybeats, what with his rash and frolicsome stage carry-on. But, if what George believed was trueâ€”that the song was about to become some form of sonic 'art'â€”such fanciful decoration would soon take its last bow in the musical arena. Performance would be less important than creation, a field where Stevie had done less plowing than most. Harry and George, he believed, were closing the doors on him. Where creative construction was concerned, he was but a fifth wheel to them. Stevie knew he couldn't write music like the others, so it offended him no great deal. It simply frightened his dreams to death. In the early hours of the morning, after thinking all night, he made a decision that performance was, for now, everything. That was his job. Tomorrow he may mean nothing. Tonight, in Hartford, The Easybeats would need him desperately. That was all. Then he slept. The Easybeats opened with their champion number, Friday on my
Mind. Instantly, the crowd seemed to be confused, shaking their heads, gawking at each other, some even laughing. Then Stevie saw Mike at the side of the stage, furious, tossing his hands in the air and throwing his head back in defeat. Something was terribly wrong, but Stevie kept singing. Then he realised. His voice no longer had any sound to it at all. His words, far from being enveloped by the din of the mob, had evaporated completely, and all that could be heard was the rumble and clang of the others. Stevie knew it wasn't his own body that was the problem, for he could hear the words spill from his mouth and hush around the air just outside of his own ears. The microphone in front of him was simply refusing to do its job. Stevie panicked and looked to the others for rescue. The looks on their faces, childish and fearful, fuelled his panic again. The Easybeats must look absurd. Like foolish amateurs and not pop stars at all. Stevie had no choice but to mouth the words like a pauper until the song had come to an end. And when The Easybeats left the stage, the applause seemed depressingly sympathetic, as if the crowd were thankful to the boys for trying to be something important. Backstage, Mike shouted at the technical people. He was convinced there was a conspiracy afoot. Mr Pitney, hollered Mike, wouldn't want the support act to satisfy the audience any great deal, would he? That would make them less hungry for Mr Pitney. The technical people told Mike to be quiet. The following evening, in another town, the sound failed again. Stevie
was forced to mouth the soundless words once more to a crowd that stared like a thousand passport photographs. Stevie's nightmare—the one from years before, where The Easybeats were nothing but cheap salesmen of inferior goods—had finally come to visit him. And it had chosen to do so in front of the multitudes from the mighty Americas. Backstage, Tony asked the group to take a good look at his hand. So vigorously had he been drumming, he had split the thumb on his right hand until it appeared he had two instead of one. There was simply no way, he said, he could continue to play. Mr Pitney's band offered to substitute their drummer until Tony's thumb became better, but Stevie and the others refused. The Easybeats were an army—a routed one, for sure—but they would not play another show without Tony. The following day, in desperation, Mike flew The Easybeats to the biggest city in America, where it was said there was the technology to correct problems such as cleaved thumbs. While this took place, Stevie and the others spent their time floundering about the streets of the grand city. The people were different here. They scrambled rather than moved along. They were friendly to a suspicious degree, but bickered about everything from salt to the speed of automobiles. The clothes they wore seemed to invite disorder— slacks with bottoms that flapped in the wind and shirts of colour and design that despotic nations would be proud to raise up the flagpole. Stevie felt he
had found himself amongst the strangest race of people on earth. As they turned a corner, they came to a peculiar bar that seemed just right for an afternoon that was going to be wasted anyhow. They entered and Stevie ordered several beers. But the man behind the bar shook his head. He doubted very much that any of The Easybeats were over the legal age to consume alcohol, and demanded to see identification. Stevie explained that they were pop stars from another land, where beer was allowed them in vast quantities. The barman said such stuff counted for nothing around here. There was a store down the street that sold milkshakes and soda popâ€”they could go there with the other children. By way of apology, he added that he liked Stevie's accent. The group sauntered into the street and down to the store with the children and the soda pop. This wouldn't do at all, thought Stevie. Here, in the land that created pop music, The Easybeats were neither stars nor personalities nor decent people who could do what ordinary people did. They had less freedom than was offered them in the hostels at home. They were soda jerks. Something had to be done. It was here that George devised a cunning plan. Stevie's unique appeal, his undeniable gift for enchanting young girls, would be used to devastating advantage. Rather than broadcast it to thousands, as he had done on stages around the world, he would focus it entirely on one girl at a time, where its weight would prove crushing to all opposition. The charm which had sent many a young woman to hospital over the years would surely send
the knees of a waitress buckling under its gravity. His accent, which even the jowl-necked barman who'd turfed them onto the street had seen fit to salute, would make the whole package irresistible. Particularly in the small towns, where The Easybeats would soon be venturing. And so, all across America, Stevie performed. He smiled and joked and the waitresses blushed like debutantes and dropped their pens and apologised and swizzled off to the bar and The Easybeats drank alcohol. Plenty. Particularly Stevie. He knew now that America had failed them. The tour, young though it was, already spelled curtains for The Easybeatsâ€™ glorious marriage to the youngsters of this land. The others said they had simply suffered a string of bad luck, but Stevie knew better. The dark hand was working overtime. It had become a fist that declared this success be denied. Yesterday, he had been a star of the stadiums. Today, he felt little more than a beer swindler, his talent only successful in procuring alcohol from buck-toothed, bespectacled waitresses in backward bars in tumbleweed towns. For the rest of the American tour, Stevie marked time, performing as he had in the diners. Girls rallied around and sought autographs and swapped their clothes for his and some screamed when he did such and such a thing. But Stevie knew this was not about their music or anything to do with himself. It was all because they were boys from a strange land. For the first time since this whole thing had begun, in the laundry of a hostel, Stevie cared about why, exactly, he was being admired. And he hated the answers that
came to him. On the first night of a recording session in the big city, Stevie's voice failed him. It was not the microphone or anything to do with technical mumbo-jumbo. It was he. He had simply had enough of this strange and disappointing land, and his body was telling him so. He convinced the others to complete the scheduled tour then abandon this country and return to England, where the youngsters may not have heard a word about the collapse of their heroes at the hands of the Americans.
When a London radio station played The Easybeatsâ€™ new single, Good Times, Paul, of The Beatles, stopped his car at a phone box on the side of the road, rang the radio station, and, declaring who he was, demanded that the song be played again. Mike voiced this news as if he were delivering the Gettysburg address, and the others, particularly Tony, seemed well impressed. But, for Stevie, such tidings were just a little too late. The Easybeats had returned to England under no more fanfare than common tourists. Their last few singles had been ignored by the British public. They had become known as the group that once sang a song called Friday on my Mind. Harry and George were off on a spiral that Stevie could not follow. They were chasing a sound, an aural spirit, that Stevie didnâ€™t understand. George and Harry had also set their minds to writing songs for
performers other than Stevie, and several of them were already being recorded by men and boys who had nothing to do with Stevie's world. The Easybeats were dying and, it appeared to Stevie, its demise would see the birth of Harry and George as entrepreneurs. This wasn't the plan when they had started. One evening, Stevie, George and Harry had a howling row over the matter. Stevie argued that things had begun going wrong almost as soon as George had played the last melody on that terrible evening when they took drugs and listened to music being made by everybody else. Stevie wanted to go back and start again. But George and Harry saw nothing wrong with what was happening at all. Mike had announced that he was finished. He had met a girl and become so passionate with her that The Easybeats scarcely entered his head anymore. He would marry and stay in London. The Easybeats must become a company of their own, a musical organisation that could be played and heard by everyone, rather than just a gadget to be enjoyed by the lucky few, who happened to include Stevie. Fame was fleeting, said George, and he expressed surprise that Stevie hadn't worked that out for himself by now. It was time to build a future on the experience they had acquired. From there, they could truly become the millionaires that the papers had been saying they were for years. Stevie fought. He wanted The Easybeats. It had come to represent him. It was the machine that directed his life. Other than Gail, there was nothing. So Stevie fought, even when he realised his defence had been
demolished. And then he heard the words that would wake him from his dream forever. George and Harry had decided that The Easybeats should tour Australia one more time. Then it would finish. The Easybeats would cease to exist. That was all.
When The Easybeats landed in Australia , few were there to greet them. Many of the welcomers simply murmured. One girl screamed an awful lot, but she was Stevie's little sister, who was only a baby. Dorothy kissed Stevie and welcomed him home. The others at the airport simply stood and waited, as if expecting some confirmation of death. Stevie couldn't fathom it. Since the band had decided to break up, they had all agreed to tell no-one until the Australian tour was completed. Perhaps, he thought, the death of his fantasy showed on his face. With a lethargy he could scarcely conceal, Stevie took charge of the small press conference. Yes, they were glad to be back. No, they hadn't made the big time in America, but this was mostly due to bad luck and no fault of their own. Yes, Paul from The Beatles did stop his car. Noâ€Śthere were no plans for the future. Stevie signed autographs until there was no-one else who wanted him to sign. The Easybeats played and the crowds, three or four hundred strong,
applauded. There was no screaming or mania. Everything had changed. The Easybeats were no longer young gods, but grown-ups delivering lectures on modern musical history. At the end of the tour, The Easybeats invited the press to hear the news. Stevie held Gail's hand as he announced that all good things must come to an end. It, he said, had been a great life. The papers reported the news on the inside pages somewhere. Afterwards, Stevie and the others drank together for a time then said goodnight. It was as if they could meet tomorrow morning for work or not turn up at all. Nobody said anything because nobody knew what to say. None of it really mattered anymore. That night, Stevie lay close to Gail. They should marry soon, he said, as the others had done. Maybe they could have a child one day. People do those things. The others had. Then Stevie lay for hours, with nothing but Gail's warmth and the sound of his own breathing. Somewhere during this time, he woke, unaware of having been asleep at all, gasping at the flashpoint speed with which a dream had come and entered and left.
~ There is a lot of chatter in Stevie and Fayâ€™s room as I pass the door on my way to the kitchen. The babble continues, mounting in its intensity as I eat what is
left of last night's mystery pie. Fay emerges and bids me good morning. I ask her what the uproar has been all about, and she tells me that tomorrow is the birthday of Stevie's son, Nicholas, who is working in the snowfields for the ski season. Stevie and Fay have been planning to call him and wish him fine greetings. They have it all worked out: Fay will call and express her desire for Nicholas to have a magnificent day. She will then mention that Stevie extends the same wishes. As a matter of fact, Stevie will be right there by the phone, if Nicholas would like to accept the wishes from Stevie's own mouth. I ask why Stevie can't simply call Nicholas himself and do just that. Fay says it's not so simple. While there is no rift between the two, Stevie is concerned that Nicholas sees him as something of a burden. It is paranoia, Fay accepts, but nonetheless she understands Stevie's desire to treat the situation with the most tender diplomacy. She returns to the boardroom with Stevie where more tactical manoeuvring is discussed. This is terribly sad. Quite clearly, Stevie's relationship with his own child has him locked in a state of dreadful stalemate and Nicholas is probably aware of no such thing. Eventually, some sort of decision to act is reached and Fay makes her way from the darkened room to the telephone in the kitchen. I overhear shreds of the conversation and they seem light enough, sometimes joyous. I then hear her place the receiver on the table and knock on Stevie's door. Nicholas would like to say hello. Stevie moves down the hall with a brevity of step I have not heard during my time here. His voice on the phone is buoyant
and cheerful. They talk for minutes. When the call ends, there is no retreat back to the darkened room. Life, for the next few hours, will be lived in the light of the kitchen, telling tales of young Nicholas Wright. The most vital news of all is that Nicholas, they tell me, will be coming to visit in two daysâ€™ time, depending on whether he can get the time off from the snowfields. Stevie is behaving like a teenager preparing for a big night out on the tiles. He is cantering around the room, notifying us all of the pleasures that will await Nicholas when he arrives. We'll have dinner at that posh joint and a knees-up at the hotel. We'll sit and talk nonsense till blasphemous hours. Nicholas and I will get on swimmingly, Stevie says. Of course, some cash will be required to hoist this grand occasion, and I'm happy to offer my obviously expected services there. The mood is so bright I dare not cast a miserly shadow upon it. If I'd like to part with some dollars now, Stevie suggests, we can celebrate the forthcoming cheer right away. Fay can drive to a place where some gear can be secured and we'll revel in magically dirty style. Stevie advises that amphetamines are probably the most sensible choice as, while a dandy time must be had, there is also much work to be done by all. The house must be immaculate for the arrival of Stevie's son. Some hours pass before Fay arrives home with a shaky announcement. The house of amphetamines was empty. She says they were probably out for afternoon tea, which has to be the most hilarious supposition I've heard in months. However, she has seen her doctor and procured a prescription for Duramine, an appetite suppressant which, when injected, has
a remarkably similar effect to speed. She has also obtained Stevie's pethidine, which can be used to pacify us all at the end of this monumental working bee. It's apparent that Stevie is conducting his own home-delivery potion business, with Fay as his hunter and collector. Apart from occasional visits to mysterious local suppliers of the illicit stuff, Fay doctor-hops. Pethidine, a ripper of a heroin substitute, is prescribed, I suspect, by several quacks—each unaware of the other—supposedly for the pain in Stevie's ankle. He has a bottomless barrel of this juice which he injects by himself in front of the telly. Exactly how Fay manages to obtain these prescriptions on Stevie's behalf is unclear. What's more, Fay, who has no weight problem that can be seen by the naked eye, has somehow convinced some pharmaceutical boofhead that she is in constant need of Duramine. I don't think Fay cares much for drugs, but perhaps indulges to keep Stevie company. As Stevie calls it, she's into uppers, while he's a dedicated downer man. One time, Stevie tells me, Fay returned from reconnaissance with admirable supplies of both heroin and speed. Somehow in the excitement, the pair performed the old switcheroo and dropped the other’s drug of choice by mistake. Caught pants-down by unexpected reactions, Fay passed out, no good to anyone, while Stevie spent the afternoon clipping the lawn with a pair of blunt scissors. They watch carefully these days when the drugs are being administered. We drop the Duramine and get cracking. Fay takes the kitchen. Stevie is in charge of the bathroom. My duty is to style the sunroom and hallway into an entrance fit for royalty.
It is only now, while vacuuming the expanse of carpet, that I notice the almost total lack of furniture in this joint. The festival of interior decorations, for which Fay had so desperately needed cash some weeks ago, has never materialised. It never will. The Wrights don't need a home. It's just that homes are the only things in which they can plug in a television and sleep, without having to pay by the day. A landlord can be avoided for weeks. Stevie is singing like the Fourth Tenor as he scrubs the bathroom to a glittering prize. He's going at full torque, occasionally stopping for a cigarette and another swag of gay tales about Nicholas. I find myself looking forward to seeing the little fellow. Stevie says he's an excellent sportsman and a praiseworthy musician. Fay says he's â€˜the spit out of his father's mouthâ€™. Gadzooks. The toil continues well into late afternoon, when it is decided that serious architectural erosion will surely be the result of so much as one more scrub from a brush. It's time for the pethidine and a good lie down in front of the telly. Minutes after the shot, I'm surprised to discover I am the last man standing. Fay and Stevie are asleep, mouths agape, on the bed. They don't look dead, just foolish. U2 are on the television. The Zooropa Tour. From behind his wrap-around shades, Bono is blurting on about George Bush. Socks almighty, he's trying to call him on the phone! Bush's refusal to engage in conversation is taken by Bono, and thus the multitude of Bono enthusiasts,
as some kind of insulting snobbery toward the plain people of the universe. This, from a prick you can't speak to without traversing the frightfully bureaucratic obstacle course of the music industry. This, from a cunt who won't speak to you—even from a distance of a hundred yards—without quailing behind the protection of his sunglasses. This, from a group who have the temerity to call themselves Christians while their bass player is well known for cleanskinning any living thing that doesn't go ‘eep eep’ in the night. One of the world's greatest painkillers is clearly losing the fight against my bustling rage. Best change channel. Adverts. My, what a relentless blast of chicken jism they teach us. Fat kids are the funniest characters. Only old people make phone calls during the cheap-rate periods. Single parents can pick up a fuck at McDonalds. Models have orgasms when they eat chocolate and ice-cream. Girls play tennis, waterski and laugh a lot when having their periods. Disposable razors worth a dollar each are designed using space-age technology. Your baby is important to corporations. Your baby is important to anyone but yourself. Really sexy girls with big tits are waiting for you to call them now. All people who buy cars have kids. Four-wheel drive vehicles don't go unless someone is playing the mouth organ. Children always hug teddy bears when witnessing domestic violence. People with good bodies sleep only in white sheets. Ignorant people find out about good deals through comparatively well-adjusted workmates. Every Australian dreams of owning a house. When you get that house, your wife will smile and hug you on the front lawn while a happy real estate agent replaces the ‘For Sale’ sign with
one that says ‘Sold!’ A bloke will always wipe his brow with his forearm after drinking beer from a can. Bank tellers are happy. Butchers are fat. The mature voice-over guy is both familiar with and excited about all of the bands on the CD. Railway employees are never of ethnic origin. Female executives all wear glasses. Male models stop off for drinks in outback pubs. Only Italians make spaghetti. Only Indians make curry. Women don't drink beer. Chinese can't speak English. Aborigines don't exist. Skateboard riding leads to Coke drinking. Milk pours in slow motion. People have to close their eyes after taking a sip of coffee. Housewives are alarmed when their washing comes out clean. Chewing gum is somehow good for you. The Vegas Elvis was the only Elvis. Priscilla Presley's beauty secret is soap. Linda Evangelista eats pizza. Pawn shops are jovial joints. Voice-over guys can't help but laugh when announcing an up-coming comedy show. ‘To approved customers’ is not an important point. Tests have proved something or other. Celebrities care about the starving children of Africa. Alcohol means good times, dancing and no vomiting. Drunk people either die in car accidents or get picked up by The Salvos. Camera crews hear about couples who've had good luck with banks, and thus go around to their homes for impromptu interviews. The opinions of morons emerging from cinemas are of great value. Basketball players are wise. People keep walking in front of the camera these days. Food or drink is not consumed by fat people. And only people who are already fit go to gymnasiums. Insecticide is amusing. Toilet paper and your arse have nothing to do with each other. Neither do tampons and vaginas. You obviously need a
new TV. Stocks are limited. Your helpless family is relying on you to choose the right tyre or they will all die. Girls always win at the races. Make-up is only worn by supermodels. Madness and insanity are desirable qualities in some retailers. Chefs are up in arms about the increased quality of packet food. All letters are mentally read in the voice of the sender. All environmentally-safe products make dolphins swim merrily about. All Mexicans wear sombreros, have moustaches, are quite stupid and eat nothing but corn chips. All American Indians go off the warpath if some form of confectionery turns up. All burglars wear black. And look left and right before running at the sound of an alarm. It's the jeans that make a girl's arse look nice, not her arse. Same with bras. A male hitch-hiker will always get picked up by a young woman. Especially if he's got a guitar. A young female hitch-hiker will always get picked up by a truckie who is a top bloke. And doesn't rape her. When the last biscuit is eaten, an unhappy hand always fumbles blindly over the empty plate. And when a packet or container is empty, some sad-faced dickhead has to turn it upside down and shake it before he's sure. You can exist for thirty comfortable years after one shopping trip to a petrol station. When men wear brand-new clothes, they have to put their hands in their pockets. Come mothersâ€™ and fathersâ€™ day, Grandma and Grandpa are still alive. In the future, everything is white and nobody laughs. All Japanese people are intelligent and wear suits. Condoms are hilarious. All neighbours are friendly. Lottery winners throw their money in the air. Supermarkets are never crowded. When you buy something you are actually
saving money. People only die in car accidents. People don't fuck. People don't wank. Well, I think I'll toddle off to my little room and do just that.
Tomorrow is Stevie's big day, for Nicholas will arrive. But today is Nicholas’s birthday, so a phone call is the order. Fay and I are standing in the kitchen drinking coffee. She has gone quiet, which signals an approaching doomsday revelation. I ask her what is on her mind. ‘Well,’ she begins, after a deep breath one would swear was her last, 'Stevie's been thinking about it and he thinks it might be best, if you wouldn't mind, that you leave us alone for a couple of days while Nicholas is here.’ She goes on to say that Stevie and Nicholas have much to talk about that may be obstructed by the company of a stranger. I nod and say, quite truthfully, that I understand. But there's something else. ‘Stevie was wondering if you wouldn't mind lending us a few hundred so that we can buy Nicholas a present and take him out to dinner. Stevie was thinking that he might like a dog.’ ‘For dinner, Fay? Honestly!’ ‘No, Jack,’ she 99s, ‘as a gift. Nicholas loves animals. They're not cheap, though.’ I agree to hand over the cash later in the day and book myself into Lynch's Hotel until the coast is clear. Fay offers to drive me to the bank right away.
Upon our return, Stevie is up and about. He asks if Fay has spoken to me and I tell him everything is taken care of—the appearance of my money and the disappearance of myself. I've just got to pack a few days’ clothes and then I'll be gone. Stevie is animated, dancing about like a man who's finally getting what he wants after years of waiting. I go to my room where I overhear Stevie's instructions to Fay as to what must take place during the soon-to-be-made phone call. She must wish Nicholas a happy birthday, tell him they are delighted to have him coming to stay, do nothing to disrupt the plan, such as swear or mention that Stevie is sick. She must tell him they have a surprise for him and have done a fair amount of preparation. He must not be given an exit. Then Fay will hand the phone to Stevie for the big one. I overhear the call as I tidy the things in my room. ‘Hello, Nicholas? It's Fay. Happy Birthday. Yes, we're thinking of you. We're very excited about you coming up. Yes. Oh, I see.’ Stevie mumbles something quietly to Fay, but I don't hear it. ‘No, I see. Yes, I know. Yes…oh, well, that's a shame.’ More mumbling from Stevie, somewhat frantic now. ‘No, I see. We've gone to a bit of trouble, but that's alright. No, I understand. Stevie will be disappointed, though.’ There is a sound like a fish slapping on the table, followed by a whispered gasp of pain, like that of a wounded, voiceless animal. Fay tries to disguise it with polite cheer.
‘Maybe some other time then…oh, I see. Well, maybe next year. Yes, ha ha, that's right.’ I hear Stevie limp down the hallway and close his door. ‘Well, Stevie sends his love, but he's a bit sick today so he can't come to the phone. Alright. Alright, then. Thanks, Nicholas. Best wishes for the day. Bye bye.’ Fay doesn't move from the kitchen. Nor do I move from my place in this room. The air of disappointment is so dense I dare not step out into the quagmire. The gleeful household from the evening before has been made an emotional wreckery in seconds. Though I'm sure the mere sight of me would be nauseating to Stevie right now, to leave seems somehow like desertion. And so I remain in this silent mausoleum for the rest of the evening. Fay doesn’t enter Stevie’s room until dusk, and the television never goes on. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sorry for anyone who I felt didn't fully deserve it.
~ Stevie returned home from the pub one afternoon to find a bunch of roses laying on the kitchen table. A note was attached. ‘Keep going, my little Stevie. I have faith in you. I adore you. Gail.’ The loss of the others, the thought of beginning all over again, had infected Stevie with a sickening apathy. He had tried playing with other musicians, but somehow the sting to perform had become a dull ache. There
was a bounty of managers and industry yahoos eager to help, but Stevie was cynical now. It appeared somebody had taken The Easybeats for a bit of a spin, as the ‘young millionaires’ had been left with little more than a few thousand dollars each. After everything. Money was always ‘in the pipeline’. Mike, it seemed, had been right all those years ago. The frolics were over in the world of pop music. The Easybeats had pioneered the way for fiends in all guises, many of them making such good speed they had managed to catch up to the pioneers and bleed The Easybeats as they prospered to death. It wasn’t Mike's fault—he had meant well. It was those who saw that very virtue in the man and ravished it. From now on, there would be no more intrigue. If Stevie were to go it alone, he would do so in every way. He would be a strong and cheerless merchant of himself. And he made that clear to everyone. The phone lay dormant. There were those who said they'd return calls and left Stevie hanging throughout the day with naught to do but smoke marijuana and allow his memories to creep about. Sometimes, the ringing of the telephone would raise the houselights and haul him from the cinema, but it was usually just a friend. One evening, Gail mentioned that Stevie should try to awaken his enthusiasm by going out to see some popular groups that he had nothing to do with. There was one she knew of, a group of which there had been some talk. They were said to have a future. They were handsome lads too—or, at least, one of them was. She had spoken to him once. Stevie, prickled by this remark, questioned Gail further about this dandy. Gail said she didn't know
him very well, but it was clear he had seen something about her which he found special. Something similar to that which Stevie had seen years ago. Stevie flew into a Shakespearean rage. How dare someone play such a game with his Gail? How dare a man even let his feelings be noticed by her? It was an invitation, and such invitations are proposals, all. Stevie marched off to the nearest performance of the group, determined to confront this handsome goose. What he saw was a band who were indeed worth talking about. They had the necessary flash of the time. They were, in fact, what The Easybeats had been, only things were different now. The youngsters were under control. Today, mania was for asylums and music was an industry, where even the crowds were expected to work. Madness was no longer tolerated Stevie spoke to the group after the show. He even fronted the man who, just hours before, had been in danger of a hiding. But Stevie had forgotten all of that now. The group, obviously delighted at Stevie's presence and attention, was baying at the feet of its master. Then Stevie had a smashing thought. Could he not use his knowledge of music, his wisdom in the sphere of entertainment, to manage these fellows? Could he not step out of the frame, but stay in the picture? The following day he set to work. He rang the papers first, to announce that he, Stevie Wright, was now a professional manager. Some of the papers reported this as news of import. Then he rang the people he had knownâ€”the record companies, the agencies. Again, he waited for the phone
to ring. When it eventually did, it was the group themselves. They had decided to forget the whole thing.
Stevie began looking in the paper for jobs. The money was running out. He could stand being hungry on his own, but to watch Gail suffer would be intolerable. He wanted her to be happy that she was with him. More importantly, he wanted to show her that his pride was alive and healthy and posed no danger to either of them. Gail began to cry as Stevie thumbed through the pages. She reminded him of what she had said years agoâ€”that the sparkle and shine of The Easybeats meant nothing to her. It was he that she loved, and not what he represented to others. Stevie said not to worryâ€”that he knew. And he pleaded with her to trust that he was alright. Till now, his life had been one frisky caper after another. Cake and ale. But it was time to let go and be a man to her and the baby they planned to have. A friend told Stevie of a job in a factory. It wasn't much, just cleaning and odd jobs, but it paid well and they would be working side by side. Stevie agreed to give it a try, as there was little else to do. On the first day, Stevie was asked to clean. The toilets, said the foreman, were in a ghastly state, and were in grave danger of becoming too terrible even for the necessities of savages. He hoped that this job was not too terrible for a man of Stevie's sophistication. Stevie told him that it wasn't, that
the music industry had brought him in touch with some of the most leprous forms of life and all manner of faecal bacteria. As he sank to his knees, Stevie began to scrub. The floors and the walls were decorated with urine and other mystery waste. Some had seen fit to scrawl words of love on the walls of the lavatories, which seemed strange to Stevie. Why would such thoughts occur to one here? As he scoured the surface of one particularly abominable toilet bowl, Stevie began to sing to himself. And he sang and he buffed until he could almost see his own face beaming out from the place that had once been revolting to the human eye. As the weeks passed, the others in the factory began to realise who Stevie was, and from where he had come. Gingerly, they began to ask. Stevie noticed their approach was always the same: they'd come toward him, heads bowed, and whisper the question as to whether he was, in fact, who they thought he was. Always, there was a hint of embarrassment, as if they were offering their condolences to a man who had lost a loved one. The frost melted away and the others began asking many questions. Who wrote this song or that? What was London like? America? How many girls, exactly? For some time, Stevie enjoyed the attention, as a Broadway actor revelling in the afterglow party on closing night. But the questions eventually bored him. And his boredom came to show and bother the others, who began to look down upon Stevie as one who thought he was above them after all. The suckers of fame, like those from before, had escaped and
resented their captor. One morning, the foreman approached him with a mop in his hand. The foreman held the mop upright and shook it about, remarking on how similar it looked to one of The Easybeats. Then he turned the mop on its head and handed it to Stevie. The toilets, he said, were disgusting again.
Stevie went to see his old boss at the gentlemanâ€™s outfitters.. Over the years, he had forgotten that he was well on his way to becoming an outstanding salesman. Perhaps he could now be a famous gentleman's outfitter, and people would come to be suited especially by the young man who had once sold his charm to the world. But when he arrived at his old workplace, it was a different business entirely. The barber next door said the gentlemanâ€™s outfitter had moved on many years ago. He remembered Stevie, though, and asked where he had been all of these years, and if his mother was well. Money came in and Stevie moved on. For a while, he and Gail lived like other couples of their age, dining out, staying out, smoking drugs with friends. Then the money dissolved and they found themselves wanting again. Stevie began work in a small fashion house in the city. This time, however, he knew he had to be discreet. He signed on as Stephen Carlton. This way, nobody need know that he was once the boy who was famous. This worked for a time, and Stevie came and went as a methodical, customary worker. But it didn't take long for people to discover the truth, and soon his working days were played out to the soundtrack of somebody whistling an
old Easybeats hit, or screaming like the young girls of old as Stevie walked into the room. So he quit and went home. Stevie's depression began to close in. Since the age of sixteen, the age when most young boys are learning to live for themselves, everything had been done for him. His clothes, his food, his money, his movements and even the thoughts he expressedâ€”everything had been constructed or laundered by the hands and minds of others. He now knew that he had no idea of how to behave on the most mechanical level. And he knew this because Gail was telling him. He knew she was right. They needed to be apart for a while. She would go back to live with her family, while Stevie sorted out what he was to do about himself.
Stevie climbed aboard a train and watched the towers of the city slink away behind his back. He travelled the breadth of the country, as far from everything as he could go. He had nothing but a guitar â€“ one he had never played. Settling in the west, Stevie found a manager who helped him form another group, one that would start him again. They spent weeks gathering a squad. Once together, the band played several shows to nobody before petering out of existence. For Stevie, the bounce and velocity was as dead as those black and white photos of a childhood he could never recall. His manager stopped returning his messages. Stevie had no money
for board. One night he was so hungry he sold his guitar to a man in a shop for the desperate. A few days later, he knocked on the door of a Salvation Army shelter and asked for a bed for the night. His snoring disturbed the other men in the shelter and in the morning he was asked to leave. With the last of the coins in his pocket, Little Stevie Wright called Gail and told her he was coming home. Then, with no luggage at all, he climbed aboard the very same train that had brought him only weeks before. Soon, the towers of the city were approaching again, assembled like secretive old friends at a reunion where nobody really wanted to know what the other was doing.
One day, George and Harry rang from London. They were doing very well indeed, writing songs for other performers. Now, they said, they were ready for Stevie to come and join them. Perhaps it could be just like the old times. For reasons Stevie couldn't understand, this didn't excite him. Despite the doleful life he was living, from one job to one city to another and another, he found the thought of going backwards even more despicable. He just wanted to be comfortably nowhere. Many months later, George was to call again. In this call, George told Stevie of how his younger brother, Malcolm, had put together a group which sounded fine. They needed a singer, as the man they already had was proving to be somewhat unreliable. With no responsible reason, Dave, as he called himself, would not show up for performances and, when he did, often
refused to go on stage for the most trifling reason. Sometimes, Daveâ€™s behaviour was so corrupt the group would sack him while in the middle of a performance, frogmarching him backstage as the baffled audience looked on. George said the group was playing a show in the city the following evening and that Stevie should go along. This group, said George, had all the mercurial power of The Easybeats in their day. They were going to be big time, no doubt about it, and the inclusion of Stevie Wright would see to that. All he had to do was appear. They knew who he was, and when he saw them play, he, too, would know. Stevie agreed to go and see. The following evening, it rained hard upon Stevie as he walked through the city. He was early when he arrived at the night-club, and the group were not due to take the stage for another hour. Still, Stevie found the dark emptiness of the venue discouraging. The guitars and drums and amplifiers were there, perched on a spiritless stage, waiting for people to watch. But there was only Stevie, a barman, scuttling technical folk and, in the far corner, a small brigade of the usual sooty pre-event sluts. After George's grand ballyhoo, this scene was just too funereal to bear, and Stevie banished himself from the whole episode after only a few minutes. As he walked home through the rain, Stevie decided to tell George he had not ventured to the club at all. After all, both George's younger brothers were in the band and Stevie didn't want to insult him. He was disappointed for himself as well. Angus, the younger brother, was planning to play his guitar while dressed as a schoolboy.
And Stevie thought that might have looked quite funny.
~ I wake later than usual. Stevie and Fay are in the kitchen with the Saturday newspaper splayed on the table. They're deep in the classifieds—the 'For Sale' section, of all places. Fay says they're going to buy a dog. They decided last night that it was time. A kelpie would be nice. Or one of those Scottish dogs. Stevie says they're terrific companions, and one of those things was needed around here. Fay reads the more hopeful adverts aloud to Stevie. Most fail his test one way or another. Too old. Too young. Too far away. At last, one sounds suitable. A kelpie cross in Bega, only about an hour's drive away. And the bitch is cheap. Fay calls and asks a few questions, several of them very startling indeed. ‘Does she bark?’ ‘Does she have a collar?’ After her interrogation of the owner is complete, we adjourn to the yard, just to ascertain its qualifications as a canine realm. It's not too large, but Stevie thinks this insufficiency will be counterbalanced by its unusual configuration. Not quite square, not quite triangular, the yard is more of an Lshape. Fay says it is rather like the shape of a croissant, and I express surprise at not having noted that myself. The dog will find this infinitely entertaining
as it discovers and rediscovers the curious turns that make up the frontiers of its little world. The dog's bowl, Stevie says, could be placed over here, near the back stairs to the kitchen, so that mealtimes can be somewhat shared by all. The grass, unkempt at the present time, shall be trimmed to suit. The dog shall be discouraged from digging the garden via a good old-fashioned belting, should such an event become necessary. Everything is being considered. This is going to be a magnificent new era in the history of Mitchell Street. When life becomes dismal, one looks toward other living things for redemption. The loss of a lover is best compensated by affection from some other life. A quick, blunt fuck. Preferably with a humanâ€”even an inadequate one. It works for the moment, but replacements remain so forever. They are library books due for return, and the longer they remain overdue, the greater the fine and the less value they are to the borrower. In the end, they become liabilities. Today, Stevie is creating a fresh dependant. Itâ€™s a Frankensteinian move. His ideal would be a new Nicholas, a child whose world he could help create and shape. It's too late for that now. All Stevie can afford is a dog. A dog who'll have no choice but to be there on her birthday. And I can see where this is going to endâ€”with the poor fucken bitch being left to scratch her rotting arse in one of the corners of her small but fascinatingly-shaped yard when she fails to save Stevie from the heartbreak of yesterday. Stevie and Fay ask if I'd like to come along for the drive, but I'd rather
stay, if it's all the same to them. As they bustle into the car and speed up the drive, I make a decision to set the dog free in the streets of Narooma the minute both backs are turned, which will be most of the time anyhow. It is, financially speaking, my dog after all. I watch a bit of television until the endless tidal wave of black DJs telling me to get my ‘butt’ on the dancefloor starts to get on my goat. I abuse the telephone a little. I have phone sex with Alana and she has no idea. Her voice is just so delightful, even if she is talking about work. I wonder if that's some sort of rape? Later, while on the phone to Lisa, I spy that big red Collins account book sitting on the kitchen bench. I've seen it before, but never bothered to open it. It's none of my business. On page twelve there is an interesting entry, I must say: $10,000 to be put in bank account. Two seats first class, accommodation in five star motel (negotiable) until book is completed. Stephen must have last say over final manuscript before it is given to publisher. Fuck me dead—there was another party with ten grand after all. And it appears Fay and Stevie blew it by getting too classy with the demands. Or were these the demands they planned to present me with prior to our meeting? Terry Hunter was right when he said that Stevie thought his life story was worth a million bucks. Well, I agree with Stevie—it is. Unhappily for him—and I, for that matter—anyone who has a million bucks doesn't want to know about somebody who needs it.
Fay and Stevie return late in the afternoon. There is no dog. There is no talk of a dog. There is, however, a mention of drugs.
~ One day, a man called Jim met with Stevie and made him an interesting offer. A big-time entrepreneur had instructed him to direct a musical stage production, one of the biggest the land had ever seen. Much money would be spent on the spectacle, and it would run for several months, perhaps years, providing Stevie with a tidy income for the duration. It was a story based on the life of Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of his father, Jesus Christ was the biggest star the world had ever seen. The name of the show, therefore, would be Jesus Christ Superstar. Jim wanted to give Stevie the part of Simon the Zealot, one of the Superstar’s most enthusiastic fans. Stevie liked the idea of playing a zealous fan, and he had no problem with the idea of making a decent wage out of that. Jim said that Stevie’s role in the production would be small—just one song out of many—but his moment in the story was essential. In it, the Superstar, down in the dumps for some reason, is approached by the Zealot and many other howling fanatics. Noticing that the Superstar is not having such a hot day, the Zealot tries to rouse his spirits by informing him of how loved he is by the mob. There must be thousands upon thousands of human beings, he says, who are screaming in the streets for his attention. Every one
of these people, claims the Zealot, would do anything the Superstar asked them to do, now matter how nonsensical that thing were to be. The Zealot urges the Superstar to protect such a gift, to keep the people hollering for him at any cost. Everyone will be happier for this, he says, and the Superstar will reign with immense power and glory fore a very long time indeed. But the Superstar, a much wiser man than the Zealot, tells him that he is full of shit. He says that neither he nor the thousands of people he refers to have the slightest understanding of what power or glory is, or what it feels to have such barbed gifts in oneâ€™s possession. If the Zealot were to learn the truth, says the Superstar, he would surely find some way to wash it from his mind. Stevie recorded his song as the Zealot for a long-playing disc that would accompany the production, and many who heard it claimed it to be the most animated voice on the recording. Rehearsals for the production began in earnest, and Stevie threw himself into work with a fresh devotion. When the cast and crew came to deciding upon a union representativeâ€”one who would take their grievances to the producersâ€”Stevie was chosen for his experience in the murky world of entertainment nepotism. One day during rehearsal, a fire curtain fell by mistake and crushed the foot of a stagehand. Stevie, remembering his responsibilities as a union man, declared it was time for all cast and crew to down tools. Then he demanded an audience with the producers, whereupon he declared that
nobody involved in the production would move another muscle until safety standards were heaved to dizzying heights. On this, he would not be moved. The producers were angry. They told Stevie that if anything were to stand in the way of the production about Jesus Christ, they would be devilishly enraged. They implored Stevie to see things from their point of view. This was a major production worth much money to everyone involved. If Stevie, they said, hampered this spectacular event, he would regret it. They asked Stevie to imagine himself walking out onto the street and being struck down by an automobile until his life was crushed out of him. Could he stand the thought that he would have died while preventing a noble task from being completed? They urged Stevie to be reasonable. There was a long silence before Stevie stood and left the room. Outside stood the cast and crew, waiting for advice from their union chief. In a bold and judicious voice, Stevie announced that, sometimes, when things go wrong, itâ€™s a bit like falling off a horseâ€Ś
Jesus Christ Superstar opened to superlative reviews. Many claimed Stevie Wright to be the strongest member of the cast, his brief appearance so muscular and dazzling that it burglarised the show from the others. Night after night, Stevie was praised by the crowds, kissed by people he scarcely knew at all and, after the shows were over, the mobs began to return. Newspapers asked him where he had been all of these years. Stevie told them he had been living as a quiet man. He mentioned nothing of the fact that Gail,
the girl he loved, had given birth to his son, Nicholas. During this time, Harry and George, who had returned to Australia from London, urged Stevie to seize upon the moment and record new tunes as a solo artist. They began writing songs for a long-playing record that would sell Stevie’s charm to the world once more. Stevie suggested that perhaps, as the three of them, they could record again as The Easybeats. But George said this was not possible. The Easybeats, as a name and an instrument, did not belong to them anymore. It belonged to somebody else deep within the industry. In any case, George and Harry had no interest in performing. They were happy producing music for others, like his little brother’s group, who now looked certain to have a future of some sort. George said that he and Harry were running amok with the Big Record Company that had recorded The Easybeats’ first records. Stevie, said George, could record and produce under that canopy, safe from the perils of bad or evil management. Industry rooking would never harm him again. The Big Record Company had big plans for itself and those under its sovereignty. The long-playing record would be called Hard Road. Stevie thought that was appropriate: his past had been ‘Easy’, and, from now on, he would work ‘Hard’. He had to. He was living for several people instead of just one. Jesus Christ Superstar toured the country for many months and proved to be every inch the success that the producers had hoped it would be. On the last night of its performance, a grand party was planned, where everyone in the cast and crew would congratulate themselves and each other in
flamboyant fashion. That evening, Stevie was one of the last to leave the theatre, remaining behind to drink with friends and say goodbye to the production that had saved his life. It was late when he made his way from the dressing rooms and into the empty auditorium. He stood on the empty stage for a time, as a few hands packed the last of the Superstar set into boxes. Then, from somewhere in the building, he heard the sound of a piano. There was something special about the sound—a strange essence that Stevie couldn’t place in this world. He followed it down a backstage mezzanine until he came to a door, which he opened. Inside was a man with his head slumped over the piano, like that of a puppet hanging on a hook. His hands were wild on the keys. They were not being controlled by him. To Stevie, the scene was extraordinary—primal and lonely, but peaceful. Stevie stood silently as the scene played in front of him. A hand appeared by Stevie’s shoulder, and Stevie asked if he knew what was happening here. The hand said it was heroin. Later that evening, as the Superstar party swayed above the lights of the city, Stevie told a friend of what he had seen in the corridors of the theatre. The friend said that he had some heroin on him, if Stevie would like to try it. Stevie said no, that he was an adventurous boy, make no mistake, but hard drugs were for boobs. The friend told Stevie that he need only smoke it if he wished, just to see. They went to a room and Stevie inhaled the fumes.
Nothing happened. For the next hour, Stevie scoured the crowd at the party, looking for the friend with the heroin. When he found him, Stevie said that something must have gone horribly wrong, because the drug had brought him no joy at all. They went again to the room and Stevie inhaled more fumes. Instantly, the room began to ride to the heavens. Then it dropped to the core of the earth, and rose to the heavens again. Stevie dashed to the bathroom and vomited until he felt it was safe to return to the party. But, as he entered the room full of people, the party plummeted again, then rose and plummeted. Once more, Stevie dashed to the bathroom and vomited, more violently than before. He left the party and returned home, where Gail nursed him for two days. On the third day, Stevie told Gail what had happened. She told him he had better not try such silliness again. If not for his own sake, for hers, and for the sake of the baby.
Hard Road was hailed as a triumph, and a song called Evie, released as the single, was number one all over the continent. The people at The Big Record Company mobilised like a military operation. The Stevie Wright Band was hurriedly thrown together and a massive tour of the countryside was prepared. Harry and George began writing more songs for another longplaying record. Once again, it appeared Stevie had arrived, and the days of obscurity seemed to have been buried for good.
But a strange greed had taken hold of Stevie Wright. His mind had never let go of the sight he had seen that evening in the lonely corridors of an empty theatre. He had known of other artists who had used heroin to create things. Perhaps this was the way to avoid the collapse that had occurred once before, when The Easybeats fell behind a maturing youth. Perhaps it was best to stay on the fringe, to push the frontiers, as George had once said they should. Perhaps it was a braver thing to get on top of this drug and ride it to the end. So he did. And the beginning of the end came swiftly. He smoked until he was sick no more. On tour in a country town, he could find no heroin to be smoked, so a girl offered him some morphine, which, she said, could only be injected. That night, Stevie used a needle for the first time. After the drug had worn off, he cried and smashed the needle, distressed by his own recklessness. But, within hours, he was using a needle again. He was stoned when he did anything. He was stoned when he married Gail. He was stoned when he was crowned the first King Of Pop by the people of the Australia. That night, a famous singer known as The Wild One took one look into Stevieâ€™s eyes and asked him how long he had been using. They had never met before. Stevie chased the drug rapaciously, injecting it several times a day. He began to need it in order to perform. It was better for everyone.
Sometimes, he’d need to be brought back from the mellow depths of the drug, so he’d inject cocaine instead, which turned the peace into rapture. One night, when neither could be found, he injected opium distilled from a bottle of cough medicine. Gail begged him to stop. So he moved out of home into an apartment by himself. He learned to be secretive. He kept his intrigue with the drug from everyone but the people who could supply it for him. Money came in from Hard Road and disappeared quickly. But Stevie was performing like the man at the piano. It was brilliance out of his hands. Another long-playing record, Black Eyed Bruiser, was recorded. This time, Stevie sang with a violent wisdom he could only accredit to the drug. The title story was told by a man who had been forced to resort to bloody single-mindedness by a world who had taken advantage of his past virtue. The Little Stevie Wright of The Easybeats had vanished completely, replaced with a man admired for the sheer brutality of his refusal to go down. One night in the country, everything tumbled to earth. Two songs into his performance, he watched the audience turn on its side before something hit him hard on the head. When he awoke, his manager was holding him still in a chair and somebody was feeding him water. Stevie told his manager what was happening. His manager understood—he had seen this many times in his years in the music industry— and he told Stevie he would help if Stevie promised to try. Stevie said he would. The papers reported that Stevie Wright was being treated by doctors
for exhaustion. For several days he stayed away from drugs of all kinds. Then he found he had to drink to take away the pain of withdrawal. His drinking bred its own brand of annihilation, nights of destruction forgotten the following day. Often, people would accost him in the street for something he had no idea he had done. Heâ€™d dry out for a time, absorbing himself with his wife and child, but somehow heâ€™d find himself back in the carnage again, not even able to recall how he came to be there, when he took the first drink, the first pill, the first shot. He began taking valium to calm himself as the other poisons drained from his body. Then he began to drink on valium, then back to the harder drugs. This barbaric rhythm continued until, one night, unable to find anyone who could supply him with what he wanted, he ventured into the city to bleed some from strangers. A prostitute told him she could get some cocaine. This would do. But, when Stevie injected it, he felt immediately that it was weak. He was stronger than this. So he filled his needle and filled his arm until all of the cocaine was gone and he was leaping around the hotel room bouncing from the walls and smashing his head through the windows and shouting for all to hear. He was thrown to the street where somebody called an ambulance. The ambulance called the police. The newspapers said that Stevie Wright had been admitted to an asylum for alcohol and drug addicts.
Some reported it as a tragedy—one of the saddest stories ever told.
~ There is a fellow at the bar called Jones. He is tall, well-built and craggy, with a handsome scar underneath the ridge of his cheekbone. It must have been this scar, I decide, that initially engaged the interest of Elsa, Jones’s girl. At first glance, she is way too pretty for him. A closer inspection brings me to the conclusion that her quiet beauty, when parked next to Jones, gives his face a more stormy review than it deserves. He's not so bad looking. Elsa's divine, that's all. By some happy quirk of fate, it is suggested that I join them. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ I ask. ‘Not at all,’ suggests Jones. He plays football in a regional team, she is a trainee hairdresser. They are young, in their infant twenties. They will marry one day. They needn't bother, really. Some people were married by God before they set foot on earth. Though they've never heard of Stevie Wright, they are interested in my job, particularly Elsa. ‘How much would you pay for a story?’ she asks, lamblike. ‘That would depend on what the story was.’ ‘A murder story.’
‘Well, once again, it depends on all sorts of things.’ ‘Like, what things?’ ‘Whether anyone involved is well-known, whether the murder has already been solved, whether the victim had his crotch split like a wishbone for raping the daughter of a Triad boss, or just shot for cash by a regular fuckwit—there are all sorts of factors. Murder doesn't necessarily make a rattling good read.’ Elsa bites her bottom lip and looks all doe-eyed at Jones. ‘I take it, Elsa, that you have a tale to tell about a murder?’ She asks if she can sell it to me without surrendering any names, and I tell her I'd buy her drinks, that's all. She is happy with this deal, and it's obvious to me that Elsa simply wants to tell her story—the money is not the issue here. Elsa's father, Ian, met Andrea in 1970. He was thirty, serious and notoriously unemotional. She was twenty-one, beautiful and called Ian ‘Clint’, after Clint Eastwood. She liked his steely nature. They quickly married and had three children, Elsa in 1973. As far as Elsa is concerned, the first sign of trouble occurred when she was about nine years old. She remembers getting out of bed to use the bathroom and, as she passed her parents’ door, she heard her father saying, ‘I can't do it. I can't.’ Then she remembers Andrea whispering either ‘it won't work’ or ‘it's hopeless’. The episode didn't particularly disturb Elsa, who, even at her age, considered she may have simply overheard the dialogue of a sexual turkey. But it was to haunt her
years later. In the weeks that followed this midnight episode, Elsa observed her mother in a determined state of distraction, flying into unprovoked bouts of rage or floods of tears. Always closer to her father, Elsa asked Ian what was going on, but received an unsatisfactory shake of the head. Ian didn't know. Elsa knew he was lying. Over subsequent months, Andrea's mood became more obviously directed at Ian. Sometimes, she ignored him entirely, in clear view of the children. Elsa never saw or heard them fighting, but often walked in on the chilly aftermath. One evening, Andrea disappeared. Elsa recalls her father being uncharacteristically desperate, calling friends, local hangouts and, eventually, the police. The panic continued for days until, one afternoon, Elsa returned from school to find her mother in the kitchen cooking dinner, as if nothing had happened. Somehow, Elsa knew it was inappropriate to ask. Similar vanishing acts followed. Perhaps there were five or six. Elsa noticed that, after the first time, her father was no longer alarmed by these random departures. They seemed to frustrate him, but that's all. And each time Andrea returned, it was Ian who seemed to be paying penance. One evening, Ian and Andrea went out together. They arrived home close to dawn, Andrea drunk and hysterical, and Ian bloodied and bruised. Elsa's enquiries were met with the explanation that it had simply been a bad night. The following day, however, Ian took Elsa asideâ€”her mother was
going to hospital, and would not return for a few weeks. It was a nervous thing. The weeks turned to months before Andrea appeared in the family home again. The matter was never discussed and in time seemed forgotten. But Andrea was never the same. And, by the time Elsa moved out of home, her mother had been an alcoholic for years. Elsa grew away from Andrea in the years that followed. Jones, gentle and nurturing, took her place. She spoke to her father regularly, but the news never seemed new. Work's alright, mum's asleep. One day, Elsa took a new kind of call from her father. Andrea had suffered some kind of violent seizure and fallen, throwing up and asphyxiating on her own vomit. Ian had tried to revive her, but she was dead before the ambulance arrived at the house. Elsa remembers absorbing the news with some sense of inevitability. She simply felt for her father, who was clearly distressed, in his usual subterranean manner. That evening, Ian sat with his children in the family home. Drinking. Jones was there. Emotions became sloppy and, in the end, Ian wept like a bunny. This was the first time Elsa had seen such emotion from him. She remembers him saying that he had never been able to cry in adult life. And she remembers something else. That night, as Ian buried his head into Elsa's breast, he sobbed, â€˜I should've done this years ago.â€™ The following morning, Jones confirmed that Elsa had heard her
father correctly. Elsa's fears grew with the tide of local rumour. Ian, it was said, had murdered his wife. There were questions as to where he had been at the time Andrea had fallen, and why he had failed to act quickly. Neighbours had heard an argument. There were signs of a struggle. Ian's statements contradicted each other. The rumours were given official status by police, who questioned Ian intensely. In the end, while the case against him amounted to nothing but conjecture, Ian could not be forgiven. Not even by Elsa. She tried, but it was too sordid and close. She slowly nudged her father to the edge of her thoughts and, against his pleas, out of her life. One month before today, and three years since Andrea's death, Elsa met with her father for a drink. They went late. Late enough for Andrea to drop both her guard and the question. The many questions. It was evidently a well-timed assault, for, over the next hour, Ian told his daughter everything. What Elsa had overheard that night in the family home years ago was the result of the craziest thing Ian had ever doneâ€”cheated on his beautiful young wife. It was a single event and Ian had confessed to it immediately, but Andrea did not take it at all well, declaring her intention to leave him. Ian begged for forgiveness, but Andrea was proud and firm. He obviously didn't love her, she said, and she could never trust him again. Ian pleaded his love for her. The affair had been a terrible mistake, he told Andrea, and he'd die if it meant losing her. He'd die. At this, Andrea proposed a bizarre deal. The only way he could prove to her that he meant what he said was if he could
cry. If the thought of losing her love could move him to weep, she said, then she might just believe him and they may have hope yet. But not without tears. Ian tried. He forced until he felt his head would explode. But he had no tears. Andrea declared that it was hopeless, then, and their relationship could never work again. A few days after this night, Andrea went out to a club and let another man take her home. Ian knew this would be devastating to his marriage— Andrea had known no lover but him in her whole life—and he prayed that she was simply venting her anger and no harm would come of it. These prayers, of course, would only yield punishment. Deserted, or so she felt, by the love of her husband, shocked by her own revolution, and incited by the power of a man who fucks and doesn't care, Andrea fell in love in a flash. Her vanishing bouts were passionate weekends, and Ian knew that as soon as this man said the word, she would be gone. But the word never came. The man spent himself on Andrea and promptly moved along. Having been treated like a beautiful rare bird all her life, Andrea found the man’s behaviour at first confusing, and, finally, devastating. She began calling him at crazy hours, writing epic letters. She'd lay in bed with Ian, never touching or sleeping, but twirling her hair as she dreamed up new strategies. One night, she collapsed and cried on the man's front lawn until police were called to remove her. Her beauty defiled and her dignity stripped, all the love she had was now focused on a vanishing speck. There was an evening when all may have been saved. In an apparent
attempt to rebuild their relationship from the wreckage, Andrea suggested she and Ian go out together, for the first time in months. Andrea chose an obscure venue, one where they could be intimate. Ian felt the nightmare had been relieved. But the man was there. Andrea had known so all along, and this was simply another tactic. Andrea behaved like a foolish child, laughing with Ian, fondling him, all to the man's complete disinterest. Ian felt sick. At the end of this miserable night, Ian emerged from the bathroom to find Andrea, hideously drunk, being thrown to the floor by the man, who was shouting at her, calling her a tart. Ian could take no more, and a fight spilled onto the street outside. The police were called. Ian was badly hurt and was urged to go to hospital. But Andrea had raced into the night, and Ian insisted that he must find her and take her home to bed. The following day, Andrea confessed everything to Ian, adding that all the love in her heart had now been replaced with madness. She booked herself into a mental clinic that day. Since then, Ian's wife had never existed for him. There was never peace. She drank endlessly and fought with him daily. Ian ruined her mind, she said. Her beauty had never recovered from his filthy indulgence in somebody else's. He never loved her, and that was the cause of it all. On the day she died, the fight was ferocious. Andrea screamed until her face was purple. For the first time in all their years, things became physical. It wasn't muchâ€”just a standing wrestle in the kitchenâ€”but she was
drunk enough to lose her balance and fall, pulling them both down. When they found the floor, Ian was on top, his elbow pressing into her throat. Andrea threw up and began to choke. Ian stared into her eyes and they were scared and vulnerable, the closest to love they'd looked in years. Time telescoped. Something, everything, told Ian to leave both their bodies exactly where they were. This Andrea, the dying Andrea, was more like the girl he loved, and who loved him, than the living Andrea had been. He wanted her to stay like this forever, however swift forever would be. So he held her there, and she stayed. In the final moment, Andrea's eyes seemed to soften—almost shine through the armour—and say, ‘Oh dear, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.’ Elsa is crying now. Jones pulls her to him, but he is crying too. I'm struggling with it. ‘And the rotten thing is,’ Elsa sobs wretchedly, ‘that when I told him that I knew…and he asked me how and I told him about that thing he said on the night she died…he remembered and he said it was all wrong.’ ‘What, Elsa?’ I ask, my own eyes filling now. ‘What was wrong?’ ‘That thing, how he said he wished he'd done it years ago. He remembered saying it and he said he didn't mean killing her, he meant crying.’ I look down toward my drink but can't see it anymore. ‘He wished he'd been able to cry, Jack. Then everything wouldn't have turned out so sad.’
I get back to Stevie and Fay's and there is a note on my bedroom door. They'd like some more money please, for the most important story on Earth.
~ Stevie woke in a dormitory with several other men still asleep in their beds. He climbed from his cot and wrapped himself in a white cotton gown. The name of the asylum was embroidered on the back. The nurse downstairs told him there had been several calls for him and that they had all been told to call later in the day. Stevie, she said, was not ready to see them. He stood in line as he and the other broken men were served their breakfast. He sat and ate silently with these broken men. While he was eating, a nurse appeared and asked which one was Stephen Wright. Stevie raised his hand. The nurse told him that, as soon as he had finished his breakfast, he was to return to the dormitory and make his bed, as the others had done. This, she said, was not a motel. This was the first time Stevie had ever been ordered to make his bed. After doing the best job he could with his bed, Stevie returned to the television room, where he asked another man for a cigarette. The man produced a plastic bag filled with discarded butts, then handed Stevie a packet of Tally Ho papers. The man had been allowed to go out at night and collect the butts from the sidewalk. Stevie asked why he was allowed such a privilege. This, said the man, was his thirteenth stay in the
asylum. The nurse knew and trusted him. Stevie rolled himself one of these cigarettes and smoked as the television played. A doctor examined Stevie and gave him some tranquillisers, to help with the coming withdrawals. He looked again at Stevie’s chart and then back at Stevie. Then the doctor asked if he was Stevie Wright from The Easybeats. Stevie said that he was afraid that was correct. The doctor said not to worry, that everyone was equal in this place. And there was something about that Stevie didn’t like. Stevie slept for most of the day. Then, sometime in the afternoon, Stevie woke in shock. He was shaking and the fear in his gut was intense, like that split second when, while watching a horror movie, one is so stunned as to scream out involuntarily. Only this feeling wouldn’t fade in moments. It lasted. It wasn’t worth living through, no matter how many joys may be promised beyond it. Stevie begged a nurse for more tranquillisers and slept again through the night. The following day Gail came to see him. With Nicholas. Stevie cried and begged her to forgive him. Gail told him she thought he was brave. There were other visitors. His manager said that Stevie’s problem was in the papers and there was little they could do about that. Stevie’s heart cracked at this news. He had never wanted people to know—not even Gail—and now, everyone knew. All his life, he had relied on what others had thought of him. Fame had escalated his need for approval. It became his job, and impressing was the thing he did to survive. The opinions
of others were paramount. He no longer had any perception of himself that was not reported to him. Now, the people saw him as sick, and he worried this would make him even sicker. The days and nights dripped by. Stevie could do nothing but sit and feel miserable, smoking the cigarettes that Gail had brought for him, which he shared with the other men, who sat, the same as he, sipping coffee and watching the emptiness flow. The doctors and nurses were kind but abrupt. They didnâ€™t want to be here either. It was a house of drudgery and sorrow. In the mornings, some men gathered their things and departed, swearing they would never again return to this place. Then, in the evening, crying men would come and begin again. Sometimes, the men were one and the same. With drugs, time had moved quickly, or seemed to. Here, every second was paralysed by boredom and pain. One morning, Stevie asked a nurse how long he had been in the asylum. Expecting the answer to be counted in weeks, he was alarmed to hear that he had only been there four days. Steve was checked by the nurses every morning and night. They began to lower his dosage of tranquillisers as he appeared to recover from the early symptoms of withdrawal. But Stevie learned how to prolong the symptoms. Just before each check-up, he would go to the bathroom and do push ups until his arms could stand no more. Then he would sit, holding his breath until the blood would throb in his head. The nurse, noticing the sweat on Stevieâ€™s brow and his racing pulse, would assume that his withdrawal was
a particularly savage one and Stevie would be tranquillised. Counsellors spoke to Stevie but he didn’t hear them. He was thinking constantly of Gail and Nicholas and what he had won and lost. He didn’t belong here. He was loved. These men had nothing. They talked about their addictions with a hopeless, indulgent amusement. Many laughed at each other’s stories of destruction, shaking their heads and punctuating the laughter with a pitiful, ‘Oh, dear.’ But the cycle was the same in here, as it had been in the factories. Once Stevie was recognised, he would secure a small period of relief as the others talked with interest of The Easybeats. But then, the familiar resentment crept in, rising in spite until silence was the only escape. Stevie’s festive past was not tolerated in this place of damaged equality. After what seemed a short lifetime, Stevie was released from the asylum and took a room in a halfway house for those who were not yet ready to join decent society. He was referred to a program of methodone treatment. Once a day, he would visit a doctor who would feed him his methodone, which would take away Stevie’s craving for heroin. This would go on until Stevie no longer wanted for drugs of any sort. But methodone turned Stevie into an automated spook. He slacked through the days. There was no dynamism in his mind at all—just a waking sleep and a slow, ceaseless need for Gail and Nicholas. He rang her and promised that, if she were to let him come home, he would kill the drug that was killing them all. He was ashamed, he said. He should be protecting them
from harm, rather than constructing the harm himself. If she could grant him this chance, he said, he would never need go back to this place again. Gail agreed to let Stevie try. After only a few days, Stevie’s withdrawals from methodone became acute. He could rarely think with clarity and, when he did, he felt his despair with increased purity. He began seeking drugs again, with the righteous conviction of a man who has broken his leg and must seek medication. He began to shoot up at home, in the bathroom, when Gail wasn’t looking. At first, Gail didn’t notice a change. One evening after dinner, Stevie rose to go to the bathroom. Nicholas began to cry and begged his father not to go. He said he didn’t like it when daddy went to the bathroom.
~ Drugs are beautiful. That’s why they’re a problem. All beauty becomes problematic one way or another. It corrupts or escapes and, while the world grows more bulbous with beautiful things, there never seems enough of them to go around. Someone’s always fighting for something. If I had the power, my jealous need for beauty would kill us all. The most beautiful moment of my life was given to me by drugs and a girl. August, 1988. Ecstasy was at its purest and most exhilarating. Three completely delicious days where, far from feeling peculiar, I couldn’t stop
thinking, ‘I should feel like this all of the time.’ The girl involved was lost to me shortly afterwards and I’ve never seen her again. The loss was awful— awful enough to shock me into a deep depression from which it appears I may still be absconding. August 1988 has become some kind of Arcadia, glowing more brilliantly as each grey day tries to come between me and its stratospheric beauty. I’ve been searching for that beauty—the components of those three days—ever since. More correctly, it has been hunting me down. It can’t come from within—I might as well just remember. And all you can do with a good memory is miss it. I prefer bad memories like I prefer bad dreams. One has to wake up at some point, and bad things are best left behind. Not so, beauty. For Arcadia to be real and present, something, or someone, has to give it to me. It has to be something I can consume, either by mind or motion. That is known, I suppose, as dependence. Stevie takes in my confession cautiously. He identifies, naturally, but refers to it as greed more readily than I can. That’s an age thing, he says. I’ll come to be comfortable with the idea eventually. What Stevie never could be comfortable with, he says, is the middle, the grey. The high and low, black and white, he can deal with it as it comes. But life, when it is fixed, is somehow intolerable. The phrase ‘peace and quiet’ has never made sense to him. There is no peace in quiet. He says he envies those who can find it. I feel he means that. Stevie says that he stopped growing emotionally a long time ago.
Being a child star began the stalemate. Drugs developed it into a type of retardation. They built a fortress between himself and the pain that would have strengthened his bones, had he allowed himself to feel it. Insidiously, drugs stopped him from maturing but allowed him to age all the while— faster, in fact, than normal. If he were to take away the drugs now, he says, he would be a middle-aged man feeling the pain of a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy can deal with a boy’s pain, by giving his dreams their space, by trusting his sense of immortality. But a grown man is crushed by the meaning of loss in life. His experience has taught him to trust nothing. He is more earnestly threatened by the world than a young man could ever be. To take him away from his drugs, he says, would be exactly the same as taking a young child away from his mother, filling his mind with tales of sharks and throwing him into the ocean. There is nowhere to go, no living thing that speaks his language. The situation is known by the boy to be hopeless. Stevie Wright is a bright man. He also feels profoundly. This is hidden behind the most obvious British working-class charade I’ve ever encountered. Stevie ‘gets on with the job’, even when the job is so clearly impossible for him to complete. He jokes around, makes light of his disasters. ‘The only reason they call me a living legend,’ he crows, ‘is because I’m not dead yet!’ But, when Stevie thinks seriously, delves down into the core of his heart, he becomes so emotionally defective that he cannot give himself voice. He literally disappears, isolating himself from both me and Fay.
Besides Gail, he speaks very little of his past relationships. He alludes to heartbreak, but rarely details it. It’s as if, after Gail, nobody was worth documenting. ‘I’ve been with some beautiful women,’ he says. When I ask him to catalogue them for me, he shakes his head. I say names needn’t be bothered with. ‘One day,’ he nods, ‘I’ll tell you about it, Jack.’ Stevie’s polite way of telling me to piss up a rope. There are other barriers too: the junkie’s battlement of lies, impregnable and, after twenty years of camouflage training, completely impossible to detect—one simply knows it is there; embarrassment, the most senselessly lethal of human restraints; immense distrust of his fellow man. All of these factors place the heart of Stevie Wright in a bunker that won’t be unearthed. The unsettling thing is that, while I’m breaking my ass trying to get in, he’s watching me. And he can see clearly from where he squats. ‘You know,’ he gravels quietly, ‘you and me are similar in a lot of ways.’ There is a long pause, as if he expects me to be horrified and wants it to sink in. The fan spins and the radiator glows in the dark. ‘Yes,’ he continues, nodding his head slowly. ‘And if you’re not careful, son, this is your future too.’ He closes his eyes and nods his head again. The door opens and Fay enters. I half expected it to be Chewbacca, for
it occurs to me that this scene probably bears a remarkable resemblance to Yoda addressing Luke Skywalker. But Stevie is genuine and sincere and this isn’t funny. I tell you, it’s not funny at all.
~ The clinic specialised in a revolutionary therapy for addiction, said the Good Doctor. Stevie could enter now as an addict. He would be put into a deep sleep for three weeks—a sleep induced by regulated doses of barbiturates— and he would awaken as a normal human being, cured of his raging enthusiasm for drugs. The Clinic had a file burgeoning with documentary proof from happy ex-patients. This, said the Good Doctor, was a wonderful opportunity for Stevie. Of course, such miracles were expensive—several thousand dollars would be required before Stevie could be given this extraordinary chance at peace. But, the Good Doctor asked, was the price an unreasonable one, above the value of his life, and that of his family? Stevie and Gail agreed that it was a chance they simply must take. And for Stevie, who clearly found withdrawal insufferable, the idea of sleeping through the whole process sounded blissful. Gail paid the money to the Good Doctor and Stevie was admitted. His clothes were taken and he was tucked into bed. A nurse gave him something to drink and lay his head back. Gail was crying as she leaned forward, kissed Stevie on the forehead and said goodnight. Then Stevie drifted into the dark,
deep sleep. Stevie began to dream. There were people in his dreams, but they were never faces he knew. An old woman entered the room swiftly, opened the skin under Stevieâ€™s ear and extracted his veins until they were spread around the room like long ribbons. Then she began burning them over a flame that spouted from an upturned bell with exotic symbols etched upon it. His blood began to bubble and boil. Stevie tried not to scream, for he thought the old woman was there to do him good. Then her face became strange and sinister and began to crack into pieces. Stevie screamed and the woman was gone. A nurse entered and gave him some more to drink. Stevie drifted into the blackness again. Then small animals with many legs and faces like humans scuttled around the room. They leaped onto the bed and began munching on his body. Stevie howled and the human heads shrieked with him, munching and shrieking. One of them ran up his body and began to chew upon his face. Stevie woke and began wailing again for the nurse with the drink that brought the blackness. The room filled with men who held him down. The harder they pressed, the more furiously Stevie struggled. The blackness came again. Then Stevie was flying through the sky in a flock with hundreds of tiny birds, swooping and soaring until one of the birds began pecking at him and then another and another until Stevie was falling like a sack, being ripped apart by hundreds of tiny beaks.
Black. An old man with sad eyes and a face bigger than the earth was hovering over him in space. The face was moaning in helpless pain. The sound was not coming from the man’s face, but from deep within the void surrounding it. The face hovered like a balloon, sighing, murmuring through all of the universe. Stevie woke and ran from his bed. He ran down the corridors until he found a telephone. He wanted to ring Gail to tell her that she had paid to send him to hell. But, before he could call, the men were upon him again, dragging him back to his bed. Then there was black. This time, the darkness lasted for much longer than it had before. It was broken by a stinging thump inside Stevie’s brain and a sound like a Jew’s harp amplified to a volume so deadly it raised his body and shook it about. The sharp, thumping sound happened three times, each time tearing Stevie’s skull from his body. Black. Stevie woke suddenly. It was night. Nobody was beside his bed. The place was quiet—no screaming or crying, as there usually was. It was as if the clinic had been deserted. He climbed from his bed, his body aching from sheer gravity as it shifted into a vertical position for the first time in what seemed years. He crept out of his room and looked down the hall. Nobody. One of the nurses
had draped her cardigan over a chair. Beyond the chair was an open window. Stevie took the cardigan and climbed naked through the window and into the night. He ran until he came to the darkened main road, then he turned toward the horizontal glow of the city and ran again. There were no cars, no housesâ€”just the road and trees on either side. The cardigan barely covered him. He was not the type of hitchhiker any sane person would pick up. But staying in the clinic made less sense than that. The fact he was running made no sense. He was so weak. A car came and passed. Then another. He would run to the city if he had to. Or to a house with a phone. A car approached him from behind. He heard the engine sing low and the car pulled up beside him. A woman with a kind face asked him if he needed help. Stevie told her he needed to get to a phone. Her pity for him seemed stronger than any fear she may have felt. She told him to jump in. Stevie climbed into the passenger seat, holding the cardigan down over his loins and apologising for his state. He was not usually like this, he said. In fact, his name was Stevie Wright, the singer. The woman said nothing. Stevie heard the doors of the car lock by themselves. Then the woman turned the car around until they were driving in the direction from which Stevie had come. Stevie looked at her closely. She was larger than he, and wearing a nurseâ€™s uniform.
The men held him down as he screamed for mercy. His hands and ankles
were chained to the bed. He was left for a while to scream at the empty room from which he had escaped only an hour before. A nurse brought him the drink and he refused to drink it. She left him alone to scream some more and returned later with the drink. Stevie drank, if only to take away the pain. As he was falling asleep, he was alarmed to see nurses enter his room with all sorts of equipment. There were wires and prongs attached to a large machine. Even in his deranged state, Stevie knew what it meant. It was the reason for the pain and the sound like a Jewâ€™s harp. It was Electro Shock Therapy.
Stevie awoke one morning to find the Good Doctor by his bedside. Because of the severity of his condition, the doctor said, Stevie had developed pneumonia. That was the reason for his terrible nightmares. They could no longer keep him sedated, but Stevie was to remain in the hospital for observation. Stevie said that he wanted to leave. He knew that he was sick because of withdrawals. He had felt this before and was very familiar with the pain he could feel was rising. But the Good Doctor said no. Stevie must remain in the clinic. Gail, said the doctor, had demanded so. They would use force to keep him there if necessary. That was the reason for the chains, which, if Stevie would care to notice, they had kindly removed for the time being. Stevie asked the doctor why he had been given the electric shocks. The doctor said that Gail had had given them permission to do this. Stevie lay back and stared at the ceiling, listening to the wailing and insane mutterings of the others damned to the clinic.
For weeks, these sounds of suffering would accompany the dreadful pangs of withdrawal and the blunt pain of pneumonia. Stevie lapsed in and out of consciousness, waking ten, sometimes twenty times a day. Time jumped to attention with a shard of light as the curtains parted, or the shuffling of the nursesâ€™ shoes, or a touch, or the squeak of wheels on which a machine was mounted and drawn. Thought was distilled to observations on the shapes in the room, which became family-familiar. And when Stevie was released from the clinic, the first thing he did was go to a bar to get drunk. He would stay away from drugs for as long as he could, but something had to take away the pain of what he had just been through. There was no longer any choice. This was one of the first times Stevie had been to a bar and hadnâ€™t been recognised.
~ Some years ago, an American man blew into Melbourne and booked a room in a five-star hotel under the name Mike Nesmith. He paid in advance for two nights. While checking him in, the desk clerk asked if he were any relation to the Mike Nesmith of the famed sixties group The Monkees. The American said that he was, in fact, the same. He produced ID and recalled little sparklets of trivia that sounded credible enough. His mother had invented liquid paper, for example. Only fans of The Monkees knew this. The gossip mobilised and in no time at all the entire staff were aware
that the ex-Monkee was staying in their establishment. Of course, nobody recognised him, but nobody could quite recall what Mike Nesmith looked like anyhow. He hadn’t been seen in years. Mr Nesmith ordered room service and drinks in the bar and food in the restaurant, all to be charged to his room. The next day, Mr Nesmith called reception and declared that he would like to extend his stay for at least another week. The hotel did so without question. News soon dawdled into the hands of the press, and Mr Nesmith found himself fielding calls from journalists. He spoke to them with the polite air of one who is used to such attention, but doesn’t care to seek it. This was Mike Nesmith alright. Radio stations conducted interviews, sometimes inviting Mr Nesmith to the broadcasting studio. He appeared as the guest DJ at a local nightspot, spinning some of his favourite disks from the sixties and seventies. He was paid handsomely. One evening, the phone rang in the room of Mr Mike Nesmith. It was a producer from a local television station, inviting Mr Nesmith to appear on a charity telethon the following day. The producer explained that this was a voluntary situation, but that Mr Nesmith’s presence would be greatly appreciated by both the station and the charity involved. All he would be required to do was read out some of the viewers’ pledges and thank them. Just for an hour or two. For some reason, Mr Nesmith said he’d be happy to help.
And so, the following morning, Mike Nesmith of The Monkees was the special guest attraction on a telethon being broadcast all over the state of Victoria. He was confident, funny and unassuming at once. So much so that the compere of the program asked him to return to the telethon later in the evening, when, if he was agreeable, he could perform a song or two with the studio band. Mr Nesmith said heâ€™d be delighted. Back at the hotel, Mr Nesmith ordered a bottle of vodka from room service. Then, as the sun began to descend, another. Early in the evening, the compare of the telethon made an unhappy announcement to the viewers. Mr Nesmith would not be appearing as promised. The producer of the program had just spoken to Mr Nesmith, who was understandably distraught at the news that his daughter had just been killed in an automobile accident in New Jersey. The compare, close to tears, added that he believed he spoke for the rest of the nation when he wished Mr Nesmith, a truly wonderful man, his deepest condolences and all the best for the future. News of this tragedy blew back to the United States, where, weeks later, Mike Nesmith revealed the rumours of his daughterâ€™s death were a complete falsehood. Meanwhile, back in Australia, an American man had crept from a five-star hotel owing thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. He was not to be seen again. Stevie laughs at this tale. He sees the parallel Iâ€™m drawing: I have no
proof that he is Stevie Wright of The Easybeats. He shakes his head and says I’m a fool. I argue that it’s not an unreasonable suspicion. He has no photos or recordings. By his own standards, his recollection of events is unsatisfactorily vague. He might just as well be Mike Nesmith. Stevie is laughing. ‘Who on Earth,’ he says, ‘would want anyone to think he was Stevie Wright?’
~ The rhythm continued. Stevie dried out for a time, then found himself with the needle in his arm again. His behaviour became more reckless as he began injecting anything at all: slow drugs, fast drugs, drugs of evil and drugs from bottles and boxes found on the shelves of corner stores, crushed and dissolved and injected. Sometimes, he had no idea of what he was injecting. Often, the sight of his blood flooding into the needle was all he needed to be relieved, the vision so deeply associated with comfort. One night he called Gail. She now knew the sound of Stevie’s mind when it was besieged by drugs, and refused to speak to him. He begged with her, lying, that he was straight and he wanted to come home. She said she
loved him but couldnâ€™t stand by and watch him destroy himself anymore. Stevie accused her of not loving him at all. It never occurred to him that she might love him so much that his pain was impossible for her to witness. All days were the same. There were the morning phone calls. The waiting. More calls. A journey to a house or a pub. Disappointment. A new lead chased down. Money required. A check through the acquaintances to see who hadnâ€™t donated in a while. Stevie would promise people drugs, take their money and vamoose. Those held hostage by a trusting nature or desperate situation were necessary sacrifices. He would reward them tomorrow, when things became better, as they surely must. Then tomorrow would come with the phone calls and the journeys and the strange houses and the money that wasnâ€™t there. His friends disappeared, except for those with whom the friendship was based on drugs. The others were glad enough to hear from him, or see him, but always seemed happier when he announced that the call or visit was coming to an end. One morning, so sick he was physically unable to inject anything, Stevie called the Salvation Army, an organisation for the sick and hopeless. His defences were gone. He agreed he needed help, that he was powerless over his addiction. He agreed when they said his sickness was in need of a lifelong commitment. He agreed to enter their program, a program which may take years out of his life, they said, but would return him to a new life without drugs and the atrocities they brought him.
Once again, Stevie sentenced himself to the asylum for alcoholics and drug addicts. Everything happened there as it had before. Some of the faces were the same.
Stevie was sent from the asylum to a farm in the country, a place for the sick. Here, he would learn how to live life at the most basic levelâ€”something that he had never done. He learned how to make his bed and cook his own edible meals. He learned how to clean up after himself and others. Life, said those at the farm, was to be this way until Stevie was comfortable with existence at its most mundane. Only then, they said, when instant delights were no longer required, would he be satisfied in a life without drugs. Breakfast at eight, lunch at noon, dinner at six, bed at ten. Stevie marvelled at how the others seemed comfortable with this idea. For him, life had never been scheduled in such a way. Meals and sleep had simply occurred when the body cried out for them. This was the way of his generation. Night was his time. For many weeks, as the other men slept, Stevie lay awake, thinking of how every brilliant moment in his life had occurred in the dark. Stevie worked hard. He gave his concentration to the most tiresome events. He fought his imagination, which invaded life in the immediate. He tried to forget about the thrill and melodrama of his past, but this was often impossible. He still dreamed, and the dreams were out of his control. Where once his dreams had been of future events, they now replayed episodes from
the life he had once lived, before drugs, before hardship and sadness. At first, Stevie longed for these dreams, and would sometimes chant their names before he went to sleep, in the hope they would appear as he wished. But this was never successful and, in time, Stevie learned to hate these dreams for their wanton ability to come and go as they pleased. Months of an unremarkable world passed on. After proving he could take care of himself, Stevie earned the right to work in the pig farm, cleaning the swill and muck so as to make the pigs more comfortable. He quickly graduated to head of the pig farm, in charge of almost one hundred pigs. He encouraged them to mate by playing recordings by Mr White, a legendary singer of love. Some of the pigs seemed to respond, as most living things did, to music. So Stevie began to sing them songs of his own. Easybeats songs. The pigs grunted and jostled and some of them had sex as Stevie performed his greatest hits. Stevie heard lots of talk about God. They would refer to â€˜God, as you understand him.â€™ Stevie didnâ€™t know whether to believe in God or not, but he did, indeed, have trouble understanding him. Why had God given him gifts, only to take them away? How could God watch his destruction and not intervene? Would God, certainly a family man, not wish for Nicholas to have his father back? Could He not guide this event into happening? Was He doing that now? A counsellor told Stevie that the destruction of his past could now be converted to wisdom. Stevie, he said, understood the consequences of his
mistakes so much more clearly than he would had he not made them. This, said the counsellor, was experience on which no value could be placed. Stevie began to read many books. He gravitated toward stories of those who had made names for themselves later in life. He learned that the great American Abraham Lincoln had been a comical failure at nearly everything to which he turned his hand. Then he became president at fiftynine. There was still hope. And Stevie had something that Abe hadn’t had—a past that people spoke of. Perhaps he could revive that talk again.
Stevie picked up the phone and called Gail's number, which, despite everything in his life that had been blacked out, he remembered by heart. It was more than just a sequence of numbers. The numbers spelled Gail’s warmth. His raft. The one thing in his life that had refused to dissolve. For months he had dreamed of the moment he could be with her again and now, his release from the farm imminent, it could be hours away. He had been clean for nearly a year. With her, he would be remain so. There was no need to be anything else. The thought of being without her was so hideous that it had never occurred to him. The phone rang and rang and Stevie dreaded that perhaps she would not be home. But she answered. He told her the good news—he was now free to go and was coming home to be with her and Nicholas. There was a long silence, like one that settles after a violent death. Stevie waited. At first, he couldn't understand why Gail wasn't wailing with joy. Perhaps she was not
convinced that his treatment had been successful, and that he had obtained release through ill means. He spoke her name. The silence remained. He then knew that, when the silence broke, it would be shattered by something terrible. Gail said that she wanted to end their relationship. She was sure. No, there was nothing he could do to change her mind. No, she didn't care about that anymore. No, she wouldn't see him to talk about it. No, she was not drunk or drugged. Silence. Stevie had another question, which he could barely bring himself to ask. But he did. Yes, she said. There was another. Stevie was never to remember the remainder of the call. The shock of jealously does that to a man—it freezes his sanity, leaving control to all the ugly parts of his mind and body. But he did remember something. Something inane and completely useless. The moment Gail had mentioned the other man in her life, Stevie saw someone standing nearby eating a sandwich. As Gail said the word ‘another’, a piece of the sandwich dropped from the person’s mouth. Stunned by what he was hearing, Stevie's eyes slammed shut before he saw whether the person caught the piece of sandwich or whether it had continued until it hit the floor. For some reason, he knew that snapshot would float in his mind for a long time, a visual fossil of the most abhorrent moment in his life. He'd heard
people refer to having their ‘heart ripped out’—he'd even heard himself sing such a thing. But that wasn't how this felt at all. It was more accurately as if someone had carefully taken his heart out and were now squeezing it, as a hateful child might do to a balloon. It was going to burst. He turned from the telephone and began a painful walk. It had no meaning, but simply continued, every step building a chasm that would execute Gail—the voice he would never again hear with the same affection. He drifted, without aim or opposition, until the corridors and doorways and buildings had departed. This was no march or stride and it represented nothing but a tired, hopeless propulsion whose only goal was escape from the previous step. For there was no resting place. No inch or cube of earth or air was comforting. The sun shone for others—those not in love with Gail. It shone to give light to his cruel imagination: Gail underneath another man, her smooth legs spread wide by his hands as he churned her to breathlessness. The man would tell others of how Gail gasped as he emptied himself into her body. These faceless others would imagine Gail to represent this other man, and not Stevie at all. Stevie was severed from the earth, which lived and died and lived again and gave everything to everyone but loved nobody enough to share its painless eternity with them. It just kept on beaming through a brainless blue sky. He was the only life now. There was no other heart. For him, the earth and all upon it was simply a product of the mind that perceived it, which was sick and anguished and dying. The world he saw would follow. It didn't care,
of course. There were others it would ride the moment he turned to dirt. Stevie drifted into the wood, his lifeless step crushing the leaves underfoot, both living and dead. It didn't matter. And he walked like this until something pulled him down to rest. The undergrowth parted for the body of Little Stevie Wright until it settled and was still. Gail. Gail. Nobody knew what was happening to him now. No loves, no counsellors, no authorities or doctors or police or newspaper men or screaming young girls or boys who shared Gail's warmth. He was utterly alone. He closed his eyes and tried not to cry. And here he lay until, for only a moment, through sheer exhaustion and shock, he slept. But Stevie was being watched, and, when he awoke, he saw it. A spider, only inches away, had been observing him from its balcony fern. Stevie lay still and watched for a time. The spider, too, was still, perhaps daunted by Stevie's size. But it was watching. Unmoving. Curious. Ready. Do insects know when a man is suffering, like vultures do? As Stevie watched, the spider began to tremble. It may have been the breeze that moved him, or the sudden onslaught of fear at the waking giant below. But the tremble was fleeting and soon the spider was still again. Watching. Stevie decided they'd let each other be. Then he slept again, only not like before. Longer. Late in the afternoon, his eyes opened to find the fern abandoned and the spider gone. Stevie raised his hand and felt it wrapped in tiny gossamer ropes. He raised his head and felt the snapping of many hoursâ€™ work. He was
being dressed for something special. Startled, he leaped to his feet and saw that his clothing was crisscrossed with webbing. He ran through the brush, dusting himself and shaking his hands through his hair. He ran back through the undergrowth and toward the building, through the door and the corridors toward the phone. Someone asked where he had been and, picking up the telephone receiver, answered that he had been getting prepared. It was time, he said, to go back to the city.
~ A friend,, obviously concerned by the news that there is no music in my world at present, has sent me a number of cassette tapes. He does this sort of thing. In his spare time, he makes tapes and titles them, for the enjoyment of others. He’s a fan. This is something of a History Of Rock boxed set—three cassettes with a loose but engaging theme. Red Hot Rock is the first in the trilogy and features The Rolling Stones, Flamin’ Groovies, Captain Beefheart, Creation—firey stuff of the late sixties and early seventies. Schlock, the second cassette, is a more aberrant affair concentrating on the underbelly of the eighties—Swans, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, The Pixies—dirty rollicking stuff too scary for common company. The last in the triptych, Mixed Bag Of Deep Bastards, is a moving soundtrack delivered us by some of the entertainment world’s more melodramatic wankers—Scott Walker, Ennio Moriconne, Brian
Wilson and John Coltrane. There is a tape player in Fay and Stevie’s car. I’ve been inert for so long that the idea of speed and a bit of the old Red Hot Rock seems like the perfect antidote. Getting the car from Fay isn’t easy. After consulting with Stevie in an early morning boardroom summit, she says no. The car is too precious to them, she says. I am forced to use the doomsday device, always in store for emergencies. ‘That’s a blasted shame, Fay, for I’ve been alerted to the fact that a rather large deposit of funds has been placed into my bank account, and the nearest bank, as you know, is in Moruya.’ I pause for the point to sink in, and the look on Fay’s face shows that it is doing just that, with the speed of an automobile gurgling into quicksand. ‘Oh, well,’ I sigh. ‘It’s a nice day for a walk, I suppose.’ Fay tells me to hold on while an emergency meeting is called with Stevie. She returns with excellent news. The keys are mine. Today, my existence will be a movie with the world’s coolest soundtrack. The engine and Gene Vincent kick simultaneously. Listen pretty baby, let’s go out tonight Tell your momma not to worry, everything’s gonna be alright Don’t let me hear you argue, just be there when I call Cos what I do I do my way or it won’t be done at all Hey little girl, better hear what I say I’m an easy goin’ guy but I’ve always gotta have my way. Rock’n’roll is the soundtrack for dereliction of responsibility. That’s
when it’s at its best. Nobody wants to bang their head to the news that someone has made their bed correctly and paid their rent on time. At the frontiers, rock’n’roll is about the glory of being an animal. From where I sit, Stevie Wright’s best work is from the time when he was losing his favour in civilised society. Black Eyed Bruiser. Stevie’s gift sounds on the brink of vandalism. Chaos is on the way. If Stevie had clung to this precipice for just a few more years, the punk movement might have embraced his recklessness as prophetic, as it did for Iggy Pop. But Stevie was neither durable nor pliable nor artful enough to see this coming and make a move. Instead, he tried to clean up, tragically unaware of the fact that filth was about to become fashionable, and to fight chaos was a sign of old-fashioned weakness. I mentioned this to him days ago. Punk was rubbish, of course. Lookout honey ’cos I’m using technology Ain’t got time to make no apology I am the world’s forgotten boy The one who searches and destroys… And then there is death, the ultimate career move of the hopeful rock Yahweh. If Stevie Wright had not survived his first overdose, he would have been deified. The gritty pathos of the last twenty years would never have materialised, the void filled by syrupy hallucinations of what might have been. Like the Jims Dean and Morrison. Both were passable talents, but they robbed us of the chance to realise what mediocre characters they really were. Their deaths locked their middling resumes in vaults that can be opened and perused, but never taken out to be tested. The images they left us show
promise eternal, like photographs of a runner poised on the blocks, or an archer with bow at full stretch. We can never know how badly they missed, whether the runner bogged his tweeds on the final stretch, or the archer sent the arrow flopping to his shoelaces as the stadium pissed themselves laughing. The images we have abuse our readiness for hope. Of course he won. Of course it was a perfect shot. They promised us perfection and they will deliver forever. That’s why Stevie Wright is a loser. He’s alive. He promised us destruction and he failed. I thought I heard you say that you missed me But you only kissed me when I was gone… But I did you no wrong, that’s not like me I did you no wrong, so don’t put it all on me And you are not the light of the world But you shine on me Just before Moruya, I spot my dealer chum from weeks ago. He is striding along the side of the road with that junkie determination: head forward, face grim, feet stamping so hard that the impact jars the whole frame, body leaned sharply toward the destination, which is probably nowhere in particular. All junkies walk this way when they’re choking for a fix. As I approach, he decides to cross the road in my path, turning his grizzled face toward me in preparation for the old, ‘Yeah, run me over, ya fucken cunt!’ Junkies do this. It’s a declaration of power, a Tarzanesque roar from the infirmary. They have to do it to remind themselves they are not completely feeble in the scheme of things. They may not be able to purchase real estate, or get a bank to treat them with courtesy, but they can still stop
traffic. They are living things who demand the same basic rights as others, and they drive this home by daring decent citizens to squash them flat, scowling with contempt when the driver doesn’t have the guts to do so. Heroin is the only drug that deals its users the same character traits as each other. There are violent drunks and happy drunks and loud and sleepy and honest drunks, but junkies follow a uniform pattern. They’re all full of shit. The dealer recognises me as soon as he snarls through the windscreen. And that’s another thing about junkies: astonishing memory retention. They need to have this. They are excellent bookkeepers, with a dossier on every soul they encounter. They will need them all sooner or later. Best keep a mental list of everyone’s personal effects. I tell him to jump in. I’m going to Moruya, if that’s any help. ‘Need some wizz?’ I do. I’ve changed in the last month or two. He directs me towards some shack just outside Moruya and asks for the cash. I hand him more than he needs, telling him to get something for himself. This, I hope, will keep him out of my stash. Of course, there’s a good chance I’m throwing this cash to the winds and, come an hour or so, I’ll be trundling the streets in search of the bastard. But I’m used to being had and it doesn’t hurt anymore. Greatness is achieved only through the taking of risks. That’s what Neitzsche says and I must say I agree with Free-drick. A car under my arse, a head full of speed and Red Hot Rock may not be the type of
greatness Neitzsche was talking about, but it’s a greatness that can be achieved before this day is a duck. Distant cousins, there’s a limited supply And we’re down to the dozens, and this is why Big eyed beans from Venus, oh my, oh my… …Men let your wallets flop out And women open your purses Cos a man or a woman without a big eyed bean from Venus Is suffering with the worstest of curses. The dealer returns and hands me a fair-looking gram and some needles. He’s done the slow stuff and is so whacked he can’t even find his way into the car. I have to exit the vehicle and give him a refresher course in opening car doors. By the time I get back into the driver’s seat he has fallen asleep. I shake him awake and ask him where he wants to go. He mumbles about and it’s clear his destination has been reached. Where he goes physically is not important. While slapping him around, I notice that he has lost many teeth since I last saw him last. He’s a dying man. I’d guess his age at twenty-one. I drop him at the pub, buy a bottle of water and continue on my way to Bateman’s Bay, taking the lonely coast road until I find a quiet spot by the sea. I’ve never injected myself before but, today, everything is so perfect it seems ludicrous not to try. I mix the speed in the water bottle cap and draw it into the needle. My veins are plump and I don’t really need to tie myself up. I just have to plunge in. My blood spouting into the needle is the sight of success, like oil from a well. Then it hits me. Many waste their time trying to compare this feeling to an orgasm, or
lots of orgasms at once, and so on. Pointless bosh from artless poets. If you’ve done this before, you know the drill. If you haven’t, just imagine a feeling more handsome than you can imagine. Forget that orgasm horseshit, the peddlers of which have missed out on one or another. This euphoria, along with my general feeling of accomplishment, turns me into a formidable power indeed. I get a calling time of day Beat a lot of crime away There’s nothing baby I can’t take And with that crime I’m gonna make your body ache It’s no kind of big deal No Carnegie steal I don’t feel like no heel When I’m born, said I’m born, yeah I’m born I’m born to kill As I hurtle down the lonely coast road at a disgraceful speed, with my car and my brain and one eyebrow raised, I feel socially healthier than I have in years. I’m chewing, although I have nothing in my mouth but a cigarette. But I don’t look stupid at all, nope. I have my elbow resting out the window— how about that! I imagine I look a bit like Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish. Probably not, but there’s no-one here to argue with me anyway. Even if there was, it’s doubtful they’d want to tangle with Motorcycle Boy. Fuck, my head’s wild. It’s a beautiful day. A few miles back I passed a female hitchhiker and I’ve only just realised. I think she was female and hitch-hiking. I couldn’t give a Donald. Don’t ask me for no reasons, don’t ever wonder why When I walk away and leave you, I don’t wanna see you cry Now I done a lotta plannin’, got a lotta things to do So don’t give me no trouble, or you and I are through 192
Whoa, little girl, better hear what I say I’m an easy goin’ guy but I always gotta have my way… With no warning at all, the music grinds to a halt. I’m so let down that it takes me a few moments before I realise the engine has stopped as well. Everything in this vehicle not operated by hand is dead. The car rolls to a sad stop by the side of the road. I hitch back to Moruya and am directed towards the only man in town with a tow truck. For a fee, he will come and check out the car. If it’s a turkey, as he already suspects, he will tow me back to Narooma. Before we have even climbed into the truck, I realise he is the last person anyone would want to be near while on speed. He’s in his mid-forties, and not dissimilar in style to the fellow who gets buggered in Deliverance. That alone is unnerving enough, but, naturally, he won’t shut up. He’s the type of happy prick who makes a joke—or, at least, a wildly witty aside—then grins at you like an APPLAUSE
sign in a TV studio. There’s never time to laugh, even if the
inclination existed, before he’s off barking about something else. This next hour or so will not be worth living through, no matter what joy lies beyond. Oh, dear, what a disappointing cul-du-sac for this day to arrive at—things were going so splendidly. He is still yakking when we climb into the cabin. I am seconds away from telling him to please be quiet, or just swinging the door open and hoofing it, when he hands me a giant pair of industrial ear-muffs. ‘You can put these on if you can’t stand the noise,’ he grins.
What’s this? A man who’s aware of how relentlessly, irritatingly dull he is and, rather than make efforts to control his output, furnishes others with the tools to escape it? ‘Gee, er…thanks a lot!’ I declare in bewilderment. Then he starts the engine. ‘You see?’ he shrieks. ‘She’s a noisy one! As a matter of fact, I had a bloke in here once…’ As boisterous as the engine may be, it’s no match for Captain Blah, whose fingernail-and-blackboard quack cuts through with maddening efficiency. I nod and smile politely as I strap on the earmuffs. He doesn’t seem to notice that I’ve done so, blathering on at top speed. Over the engine and through the ear-muffs, his voice triumphs. As did many Jews, forced to stand and watch their prayers for a miracle consumed by the atrocities of Treblinka, I roll my eyes back into their sockets and whisper to myself: ‘No, there is no God.’ Salvation eventually comes my way in the shape of Fay’s broken car. As the good Captain checks under the hood, I make a dash for the nearby scrub, announcing over my shoulder that I have to take a dump. This will have to be swift. Squatting in the bushes, I empty a large amount of speed into the water bottle cap and mix it about. It’s a hasty broth. As I attempt to draw it into the needle, large chunks of undissolved speed hug the entry point, preventing the fluid from entering. It seems like a solid twenty minutes before I finally have enough in the syringe to make a
difference to the afternoon. I plunge the needle into my arm and pump the fluid in. Immediately, I see that I’ve missed the vein. I suppose it must be a muscle instead. A bulbous lump the size of half a golf ball has risen under the skin. There is a scuttling in the bushes, a lizard or something, off to tell his mates about the dickhead he just saw fuck up a simple injection. I dip my finger into the bag, take an ungainly snort and hurry back to the car before the obligatory kookaburras start pissing themselves. The Captain claims the car is rooted, but not seriously. Best tow it home, he says, and take it to the garage tomorrow. I ask if I can ride in the car. He says it’s against the law. Needless to say, the trip back to Narooma is a breathless monologue on the fascinating inequities of common law.
Despite my prayers, or because of them (God probably punishes the prayers of those on drugs), Fay is at the top of the drive when we pull to a stop. She tells me she’s been worried—I’ve been gone for nearly six hours. Now she sees the reason. I had hoped these two would never meet, as Fay is too polite to excuse herself from such company and I just want him to fuck off home. I pay him and bid farewell, passing the baton to Fay and edging down the drive as the Captain settles in for what will surely be a lengthy letterbox-side chatfest. Fay calls after me. So concerned was she about my safety, she says, that she called my mother, who is now terribly concerned too and wants me to call as soon as I return. I ask Fay why, exactly, she called my Mother. Fay answers that she thought my mother might know where I was. I remind Fay
that my mother lives on the other side of the state, and thus would have had no more idea of where I was than Margaret Thatcher. Fay searches for an explanation for her stupidity. She needn’t bother. I know Stevie told her to do it. I call Mum and she’s near hysterical. She wants to know what I was doing driving someone else’s car when I don’t have a licence. She says she has been entertained by images of me in some ditch somewhere, with ants crawling all over my body. She was close. I go into my room and lie down with Mixed Bag Of Deep Bastards on the headphones. An appropriate end to a day that promised such power and left me with an itch. I’ll sleep it away. In the first person you’ve got your first mortal sin And in that person, these blues that I sing Then along comes the second and you’ve got your first conspiracy And for that we need a sucker, enter person number three That third person could be either you or I Sometimes you need protection, sometimes you’ve got to lie
~ Stevie tried to hold it together. He began work as a counsellor with the Salvation Army, using his knowledge of addiction to help others. He told them there was hope. He told them that giving up drugs would bring great joy and peace in their lives. He lied. Life without drugs had been, for a time, fresh and new and clean. But the initial relief that came with those new ideas was now hard to recall. Clean
clothes and fresh sheets no longer dazzled him. For Stevie, existence was thick and flat, and the highs of his drug years stood more dramatically on the horizon of his memory than did the lows. Sometimes, the manifold miseries of his life in drugs seemed unreal. Less real, in fact, than the joys drugs had given him. Still, he resisted. Every thought was of Gail, and every one of those thoughts was ugly. He would hate Gail for a spell, then feel guilty for having such feelings toward the one he loved. His love reminded him of his addiction, and the destruction it had wrought. The guilt became unbearable and, to escape it, he’d hate Gail again. The cycle span faster and faster until it represented not many feelings, but one alone. Like the old fable of the tiger who chased his tail around a tree until he turned to honey, Stevie’s emotions whipped themselves into a colourless mass he knew only as ‘Gail’. Stevie and Gail became divorced. It was quick and motionless at once. He signed his name as he always had. His past was now gone. There was nothing he could touch that linked him with his memories. Nothing but buildings and places, which echoed with loss and hate. His life had changed until he no longer recognised it himself. None of this would have been so bad had he not felt so claustrophobically the same as he always had.
Little Stevie Wright was good with the young junkies. They found him genuine, his smile a familiar one they could trust. Sometimes, Stevie would tell the youngsters they were much smarter than he really thought they were.
That was part of the job. It was the way of the junkie’s counsellor. News reached the people. Stevie Wright, ex-pop star, was now a soldier in the Salvation Army. The newspapers hailed it as a remarkable rebirth for a one-time god who became an animal and then, finally, an ordinary, respectable man. Stevie told them he had, in fact, found God, and that He was within himself, rather than simply himself. Many within the Army had been unaware of Stevie’s past, and were surprised and impressed with Stevie’s modesty. A girl from the Army choir sought Stevie as her companion. For a moment, Stevie felt in the midst of another tiny burst of stardom. One day, the Army held a party for all the counsellors, workers and many of the junkies. Stevie was the star of the day. Some asked him for autographs. There was a young girl who, for most of the afternoon, had been standing in the distance, eyeing Stevie with jealousy. Stevie knew the girl— she was the daughter of one of the other counsellors—and was familiar with her precocious nature. She reminded him of something in himself. Clearly, she was envious of the attention Stevie had been receiving, which was usually reserved for herself on such occasions. Late in the afternoon, brim-full of the good will that such attention brings, Stevie approached the girl. He held out his arms, beckoning her to come to his bosom, as Jesus did to his beleaguered disciples. The girl walked toward Stevie and determinedly kicked him in the testicles.
Stevie received a call from an old friend in the industry. There was a big concert being planned by the most popular radio station in the land. It would be the final big music concert of the decade, celebrating everything that had made a noise over the past ten years, and it was to be held on the steps outside of a famous opera house on the banks of the harbour. The organisers of this momentous occasion thought it would be a travesty not to include Stevie Wright. But there were concerns. Stevie's battle with drugs was now so well known that there were those who had never heard his music and thought that drugs were what he was famous for. The concert was to be an event for all people, with no family nor cretin turned away. There would be children watching for an example, a sign, of how to live their lives. The organisers of the concert were worried that Stevie, given his moment on stage, would turn to drugs, make a spectacle of himself and interest hundreds of little Australians in doing the same. This could not be allowed to happen. He must promise that drugs would be far from the opera house that day. And Stevie promised like a child. The day of the concert came. Nearly one hundred thousand people spilled across the earth that surrounded the opera house. Stevie stood behind the stage, his raw nerves shivered by the harbour breeze. He could not remember what it was like to perform without drugs. This would be like his very first time. And this was without question the biggest crowd he had ever faced. Stevie felt like throwing up, but he resisted. He was good now at resisting his natural urges.
When the time came, when the man announced his name, the noise of the crowd ripped through Stevie's heart. As he moved from the wings and into the stage, the crowd rolled into view. An endless, terrifying mass of colour and hope and judgement. The band began to play Evie and Stevie began to sing. His voice was strong and the sunlight beat down and the air was clear and warm and the people were applauding even though the song was far from over. The terror melted into a drug all of its own and Stevie was rocked by little explosions that shook him form top to toe and back again. Nothing had happened and everything had. Love like royalty. Relief at its most white-hot. There was something newborn and Stevie was too delirious to place it. He sang and moved his body and, from some crack in his performance, he peered out at faces in the crowd. They were crying. It was then that Stevie realised he had never seen the mob before. Just as they had never seen him. When Stevie left the stage, chased by the jubilant roar of the people, he wept and didn't know why. The following day, the papers told of the concert and how the day belonged to Little Stevie Wright. Harry and George were pleased to see Stevie. They congratulated him on his performance, both on and off the stage. He'd made an utter farrago of his life, they said, but he'd obviously had the sense to clean up the house in the last few years. Stevie told of how he was keen to get back into music, after his grand success at the concert. He wanted to record again. He wanted to tour and do television appearances and have letters pile to the rafters. He was
stronger now than he had ever been, and he knew the traps and how to avoid them. Two years of sobriety had shown him the error of his ways. Harry and George were wary. They had seen this sort of enthusiasm from Stevie before and well knew the meaning of it. Bluntly, George told Stevie that he had no faith in the dream that Stevie proposed. It wasn't that he didn't trust Stevieâ€”heavens, noâ€”it was the gargoyles in the world of music that made George quiver. They would lead Stevie astray, the human ones fleecing him of money while the chemical phantoms robbed him of earthly spirit. Stevie understood Harry and George's reticence. They were now stars in their own right, renowned as songwriters and admired as businessmen in Australia and abroad. They knew the business. What's more, they could not afford to have Stevie hitch his dirty little caboose to their gravy train. It would look silly. But George proposed an idea. He and Harry were now in complete control of The Big Record Company. What if Stevie were to come and work for them, in an administrative capacity? There, he could learn more about the business side of things, while staying close to the heart of the music. Then, after a while, he could begin his career as a star again, but a star furnished with knowledge of the game. That is what Stevie had always lacked, said George. The wisdom of the game. Stevie accepted this proposal, and it was agreed that he would start the following week. George would have their people clear a desk for him.
Stevie arrived at The Big Record Company bright and early, his clothes freshly pressed and his hair neatly trimmed. The staff welcomed him as if he were a general returning from the war. He was shown to his office. When Stevie sat down, something swept over himâ€”a thought that seemed to have been sent from another world in which he lived unbeknown to himself. This, he thought, was all he had ever wanted. A position. A space of his own with clean surfaces and empty drawers waiting to be filled with matters that concerned him. How had he come to travel the way he had been? Who was the ugly soul that had directed his every move until now? The thought thundered for a moment, then passed away, leaving him once again feeling miscast in this scene. But the memory of the strange thought was to linger. Stevie spent the morning reading about the acts that The Big Record Company represented. One of them was the rock band formed by Malcolm and Angus, George's younger brothers. This was the group from the tawdry, slutty club in the city all of those years ago, the group that Stevie had been invited to sing with. They were big stars now, and Harry and George managed much of their affairs. The singer in the band was Bon, a man of legend. He sang with a ferocity that few had seen before. His lifestyle was a reckless juggernaut of alcoholic benders and behaviour that would alarm the conquistadors. But he always delivered. Stevie was envious of Bon. He was envious because Bon held a position that had once been offered to Stevie. He was jealous because there
were those who said Bon was the most spirited rock singer the country had ever produced. But most of all, Stevie was resentful of Bon for his ability to lead such a life and somehow prevent it from swallowing him. As he read about Bon, Stevie began to feel uneasy at his desk. He wanted the stage, the crowds. He wanted the life of Bon, which had been rightfully his to begin with. At noon, Stevie announced that he was going to fetch some lunch. When he returned, the halls within The Big Record Company were silent and grim. The girl at the desk seemed to have been crying. Something terrible had occurred. At first, Stevie thought that he had not performed a satisfactory morning's work, causing the staff to plunge into a collective depression. This was not so, said the girl at the desk. Stevie had been fine. It was Bon. While Stevie had been out to lunch, news had arrived of how Bon had been found in a car, having drunk his life to death. The office was taking the afternoon off. Stevie could go home, if he liked. Stevie wandered into the park, where he sat watching the people in the city move about. Bon was dead. From substance abuse. It took Stevie a while to realise why this news was causing him to feel shame. It was the shame of the bad son at the funeral of the good, the feeling that all were thinking, â€˜Why this son, and not the other?â€™ In many ways, Stevie and Bon had stumbled down the same road. But Bon's gift was still taking shape, his gift emerging from a turbulent adolescence. The people at The Big Record Company would surely wonder why it was Stevie whose life had been
spared. Yet he himself wondered if it had. That he was still alive was every bit as inconceivable as the notion that Bon was dead. Might not Stevie have died years ago, not just once, but many times? Any one of his overdoses had the capacity to take him outâ€”technically, some of them had, for a minute or so. Could it be possible that Bon was still alive, but in another world, a world that ran parallel to this one, where everything was the same but the man who saw it? Were there not one but a million lives lived by a million Stevie Wrights, all soldiering forward, some falling, unbeknown to the others? Might these other souls be the ones that whispered those strange thoughts to Stevie, the visions that flashed through the mind and seemed so familiar and yet were not? Could he find a way there? For a long time now, Stevie had felt disconnected from his memories. The boys and men in the photos and films and newspapers were not him, but others who had lived that life long ago and left him to pay the bill. Even the visions that played in his mind seemed to star somebody else and not him. And there was something else about those visions that disturbed him. When the star of his memories did show a face, it was not Stevie Wright or anyone else, but an ape. Stevie stood and trudged through the park. The rain began to pelt down, soaking his clothes to the skin. He ran to the nearest shelter he saw, stepping through the open door and into a bar. Like a man who had done so every day for the last two years, Stevie moved to the bar and asked the man for a glass of beer. A simple glass of beer.
~ I can’t tell Stevie about my stash of speed. He doesn’t dig speed anyhow, but that’s not the point. In his house, he must be the bearer of drugs. While he feeds me the occasional shot, he’s in control. If he were to discover that his guest was running his own drug operation, the situation would have to be dramatically reviewed. He is the junkie, he is allowed. For anyone to block his drug intake would be almost inhumane. Drugs are so deeply a part of his being that they are no longer a problem so much as a necessity. As far as he’s concerned, I don’t have a problem and he doesn’t want to see one born in his house. I think this reasoning is part suspicion, part ego and part genuine concern. Perhaps the paranoia is mine. Whatever the case, my gut feeling tells me to keep my little mountain quiet. And so I greedily consume the speed until there is no more. It is only during my last shot that I realise I have no more money in the bank. It is I who have been keeping us in cigarettes and drugs and booze for the past few months and now I am stone motherless broke. What is left in the Mitchell Street well of bonhomie will dry up smartly now. I call Lisa but there is nobody home. Fay appears as I'm trying the phone and asks me for money. Stevie needs it for his teeth. We need it for food. The house needs it for furniture. The real estate agent needs it for rent. Cigarettes. Grog. Bills. I've made a few calls. I've created some washing. I've breathed the air. I am
responsible. As every card-carrying drug addict will eventually do, I call my mother. She is disgusted that I ask, for she knows where I am and where the money is going, though she has no idea that I am indulging as well. She agrees to send me what she can, but it breaks her heart to do so. She's worked hard for this, and she is obviously struggling to cope with the knowledge that at least one of her working days was devoted to the bettering of a famous drug addict's lifestyle. As I hang up the phone, I realise I have just crossed the Rubicon and am now a junkie. It doesn't matter that I don't feel the need for heroin like Stevie does. I have just hit on my mother for money for drugs. That's the gateway to junkiedom, and it is now behind me. Fay reappears before the handset is in its rest. I tell her that my mother will be placing some money into my account within the hour. It won't be much, I warn her. â€˜Thanks, anyway,â€™ Fay smiles, like a debt collector accepting part payment. Some time later, Fay and Stevie drive me to the bank. I hand them some money and they drop me back at the house before heading off to wherever. Some time passes before there is a knock at the door. I answer it to find a middle-aged women looking very annoyed indeed. She asks for Fay, giving a surname that doesn't belong to Fay at all. At least, I've never heard of it. She says she's from the real estate agent. I tell her that Fay is not home. She
asks how many people are living here. I tell her I don't know, that I am only visiting. As I answer, the women is continually raising herself up on tip-toe, trying to look over my shoulder and into the depths of the house. She doesn't want to take no for an answer. Finally convinced that I am telling the truth, the woman hands me her card and tells me to pass the message on to Fay that she must call her estate agent. It is a matter of urgency, she says. Then she leaves. Sometime later, there is another knock at the door. A man this time. He is here to notify Fay of his intention to disconnect the electricity. The security deposit, required months ago now, has not been received and nor has a single bill been paid. Once again, Fay's surname has changed shape, this time sounding somewhat Indian. I tell the man that I am a resident and that I will ensure the bill is paid by the end of tomorrow. This seems to satisfy him and he leaves. It occurs to me that I may be doing something very unfair here. Lying around, shovelling them money, I'm not really doing them any longterm good. They are simply becoming accustomed to living beyond their means, and when I go they will fall. I decide that it is time to think of wrapping up this affair as quickly as possible. We've all had enough. I eventually get hold of Lisa, who promises to put some money into my account before the end of the afternoon. As the call ends, I hear Fay and Stevie shuffling through the front door. The looks on their faces tell me that their trip was a success. Fay adjourns to the bedroom with Stevie, and emerges shortly afterwards to invite me in. Stevie has prepared a little shot
for me and in no time we are bobbing around the room like Allbran turds in a bucket of olive oil as a pretty young woman reads us the evening news. Stevie likes the young woman. A lot. I ask him whether he has heard the urban myth. Both he and Fay are disgusted as I unfold the tale. Stevie vomits into his bucket, from disappointment more than anything else. After an hour or so, Fay announces that she is going out for a while, to the home of somebody called Graham. I ask not whyâ€”she would have offered such information if it were for public consumption. She says she will be back shortly. Stevie talks to me for a while before shooting himself one time too many. He begins to doze off, waking every minute or so to continue from where he left off. I amuse myself with this spectacle until it becomes boring and then I adjourn to the kitchen to make myself a coffee. It is then that I hear it. For the first time since I've been here, Stevie is singing. I listen closely but can't recognise the tune. Stevie's drugged and drunken rasp makes recognition impossible anyhow. He sounds like an evil Fozzie Bear singing a fractured medley. Not wanting to disturb his muse, I creep toward the bedroom door and peer inside. Stevie has picked up my voice recorder and switched it on. He is hunched over, eyes closed, singing into the inbuilt microphone. Exactly why Stevie considers this performance worth recording I don't know. He's probably erasing some work, but it doesn't matter. There's something sweet about this moment and I let it rock. After a time, I enter the room and, during
what seems to be a break between verses, ask Stevie what he is singing. He doesn't answer. He doesn't even know I’m around. He nods out the beat, waiting for his cue in this meandering composition. I begin to take note of the lyrics: ‘Bah, bah, da…Oh, yeah…bah, da, bup, bah…warowng…yeah!’ The piece has no form or style. It is but a self-composing wander, without any circular melody or rhyme. However, it is clear that Stevie's latest release has a definite structure as he understands it. He knows where the guitar solo goes… ‘…nyow, nyow, nyow, bow-da-nyow, nyow, wha, wha wha-nyow…’ …and the drums… ‘…boom, boom, boom, boom-badoom, boom..’ …and, after a few beats, I hear a theme in the occasional lyric—a definite progression from the 'feel good' issues of yesteryear. ‘Bah, bah, da…shoulda' been…bah, na, na, oh…can't take no more… bah, bup, bah dah…treatin' wrong…nyow, nyow, nyow…gotta let it go…bah, da, bah…it's over…’ Stevie has abandoned his original pop argument, that all things are good and getting better. Today, his songs tell of catastrophe. This change is no more organised than the song he is singing—half asleep, Stevie's brain is performing on auto-pilot—but it's a signpost marking Stevie Wright's final state of mind. At the sound of music, these are the words that fall from his head, like reflex jabs from a punch-drunk boxer upon hearing the clang of a
bell. This is what music represents to Stevie Wright now. ‘Shoulda'‘. ‘Can't’. ‘Let it go’. ‘It's over’. The recording continues. The tape reaches its end, and Stevie wakes briefly from his trance, flips the tape and begins again, recording over what he has already done. Eventually, his head drooping until it is almost touching his knees, Stevie grinds down. His voice rolls on for a moment—a long, deep growl that promises to fade forever—until he is voiceless and still. The tape turns, clicking away quietly as it records Stevie's silence and the whir of the fan. The television station has closed for the evening and the screen is blank. I wrest the recorder from Stevie's hand and lay him back on the bed. Listening back to the recording in the privacy of my bedroom, I hear something that I hadn't noticed before. As Stevie sings, the television plays in the background. Some clunky comedy show is fumphing away behind the performance. And, with a spooky attention to timing, every audible phrase from Stevie, every ‘shoulda'‘ and ‘can't’ and ‘over’, is pursued by the sound of canned laughter.
Fay returns at some unholy hour. She's in quite a state. She lost control of the car on a particularly hairy bend, she says, and wound up pranged in a ditch by the side of the road. A tow truck had to be employed to
pull her from the gutter. I ask Fay if she is hurt and she says she is not, just annoyed. I ask if there is any damage to the car. No, there is none. No damage at all.
~ The simple drink became complex. Friends watched cautiously as Stevie carried beer from bars to tables. Stevie assured them that a drink was a splendid thing every now and then. He had journeyed through the long passage, he said, and had built a new man in the space where the frightened child had been. A drink with friends was mature and good. And the friends believed this, because they wanted to. The closer the friend, the more desperate the desire to believe. So Stevie drank. He drank with his friends and then he drank alone. It kept him company. Sometimes heâ€™d think of where he had been and all he had learned and how long and hard he had worked to get away from being like this and it made him feel so alone that he needed more company than a few drinks would bring. One night he woke on the floor of a strange house, with a strange woman asking who he was and why he was here. Stevie could not remember the name of the man or woman who had invited him to sleep in the house. The woman asked him to leave and Stevie never saw her or the strange house again.
Another time, Stevie woke in a bar, his head resting on the arm of a lounge chair. A handful of people drank and talked in the corner. Stevie rose and made his way to the bar. He asked for a drink and was refused. He asked the barman how long he had been asleep. The barman said it had been hours, and that Stevie had arrived with friends who had become bored with his sleep and left. Stevie could not remember who these friends were. He then asked the barman if he could suggest a place where Stevie could get something to eat. The barman replied that he need only step outside the door, as several establishments were now serving lunch. Stevie rang The Big Record Company from a phone booth and explained that he was ill with what seemed to be influenza. The girl on the desk said she understood and Stevie wasnâ€™t sure whether that was a good thing or not. As Stevie made his way down the street, he saw a friend from his heroin years. The friend suggested that Stevie and he go for a drink. Stevie agreed. Then, after the drink, the friend suggested that Stevie come back to his house where they could both smoke some marijuana.
Stevie woke in his own apartment. He remembered very little. Days had passed through which he had been awake, for he could recall the transit of day and night and places unfamiliar but too vivid for dreams. He remembered that he had taken heroin. He remembered the way to the friendâ€™s door and he took it. But when he arrived, the others in the house told him that
the friend was dead. He had taken an overdose, they said, only just the night before. Stevie rang The Big Record Company and they understood. They understood perfectly. Stevie began searching for other friends like the one who had passed away, but none could be found. He wanted those who respected the unrespectable Stevie. He began to visit the Salvation Army refuge where he had once been a counsellor. The workers were pleased to see him and glad to hear that he was doing so well. Stevie made contact with a junkie who had come to the refuge for something to eat. The junkie told Stevie to come with him from the refuge and together they found salvation elsewhere. Stevie returned to the refuge often. When the Major was watching, Stevie served food and counselled those less fortunate than himself. When the Major was elsewhere, Stevie did deals for himself and others. The time eventually came when the Major found out what Stevie was doing. He called Stevie â€˜sonâ€™, but not as a father does. And he told Stevie to crawl out of the refuge on his belly. As he walked through the city, Stevie saw a sign in a shop window that reminded him it was Christmas Eve.
Stevie committed himself to a hospital, in the hills beyond the city. They took his clothes and showed him his bed and told him when he could eat and sleep. There was to be no medication at in these hills. There was to be very
little help at all. Stevie was to throw drugs away because he wanted to. That was the deal. He stepped through the drag of the days and nights, a cumbersome journey that was now so familiar to him. Each time he entered these places, Stevie promised himself a new beginning, promised himself it would not be for nothing. He had broken his own promises so many times that he no longer trusted himself, and believed not a word his own heart said. Memories of good life no longer simply saddened him, they blistered, and his face contorted for all to see each time a fond thought appeared in his mind.
Stevie remained at the hospital in the hills for half a year of his life. He learned new strategies and, when he emerged, told reporters that he was forever clean. Some of them reported it. Stevie called George and left messages but received no reply. He longed for old friendships, but found many of them had moved along. They had wives and families that were frightened of Stevie Wright. The rest were drug friends, some dead, some lost, the others on their way. One day, Stevie ran into an old friend and they went to a pub and drank and talked about old times. Stevie felt happy that day. They rode to the other side of the city, to a place by the bay, which had once been a swamp but was now inhabited by the rich and famous. There, the friend met a man who had enough heroin for two. The friend suggested that Stevie and he have a little taste together. Just a taste. Stevie felt safe with his friend - a demon
familiar and warm. Perhaps he had learned to control his addiction. Perhaps he was not like the others at the hospital in the hills. Tomorrow would decide so. There seemed plenty of time. Today was more important. As they conducted the transaction, the man warned them that this heroin was stronger than most. Stevie had heard such rubbish before and thought little of it. This was the dealerâ€™s standard advertisement, designed to have the purchaser believe he was far from receiving inferior goods. Stevie and his friend decided to try the heroin right there in the hotel. There was a rest room out the back. Stevie and the friend injected themselves and sat for a while, comparing their feelings. Then Stevie felt his body rise and float softly but swiftly through the air. He opened his eyes and the ceiling was rushing passed. His face was wet. He couldnâ€™t move his body. Faces looked down on him and he breathed the sick smell of medication.
His bed rolled into position between two curtains and doctors checked him for signs of death. Policemen came and asked him questions and he answered them truthfully for he had not the energy to do otherwise. One of them asked him if he was the famous singer of songs. Stevie replied that, yes, he was. The policeman told Stevie that he was once a fan of his, but that he was a fan no longer. He then told Stevie that he was under arrest and was not to leave the hospital or he would be struck down by a bullet from the policemanâ€™s gun. The policeman said it would be necessary for him to do so, as the people in
society no longer wished for those like Stevie to walk with them in the streets. Later in the day, the policemen came again. The doctors, said the policemen, had given them permission to take Stevie away. His life was no longer in danger, and it was time for a judge to decide how much of a danger his life was to others.
Stevie stood in the courtroom as a policeman introduced him and told of his crime. The judge asked if he was the legendary singer of songs and, once again, Stevie replied that he was. The judge became angry and called Stevie a fool. He asked if Stevie could be trusted to appear in court again later in the week, to answer to his charge of drug possession. Stevie said he could. Having received this promise, the judge allowed Stevie to venture into the street. A legal man advised Stevie to go to a recognised drug asylum and stay there until the trial. That way, the judge would see that Stevie was willing to tackle his problem once and for all, and thus may impose a lighter sentence. Stevie saw the wisdom in the legal manâ€™s words and so made his way back to the hospital in the hills. But first, Stevie saw a doctor who prescribed him a strong killer of pain. Stevie would need this for the withdrawals. The people at the hospital in the hills welcomed Stevie back. They took his clothes and told him when to eat and sleep and showed him his bed. But when they found the killers of pain, they took them away too. Drugs of
any sort were not welcome in the hills. The night came down and his body began to shiver. He begged for his drugs but was told he could not have them. Stevie felt the old pain rising, and declared that unless he could have the drugs he would have no alternative but to leave, as was his right. The people at the hospital tried to dissuade him, but still refused to grant the medication Stevie required. He collected his clothes, dressed, and walked through the door and into the moonless night. Stevie took the pain killers and trudged through the shadows by the side of the road toward the glow of the city, many miles away. He had no money to catch a train or a bus and every step brought new pain. He saw a man walking his dogs and asked the man if he could spare some change. The man didnâ€™t answer and continued past, as if he had heard nothing and seen nobody at all. Stevie came to a house, its lights in darkness. One of the windows appeared to be slightly ajar. Stevie knocked on the door and there was no answer. He knocked again, just to be sure. Then he made his way to the open window. It was higher than he could reach, so Stevie walked to the side of the house where he found a trashcan. He took it to the front of the house, emptied the rubbish onto the lawn and turned the trashcan on its head, just below the open window. He stood on the trashcan and lifted himself until his hands reached the sill of the window. As he pulled his body upwards, the trashcan fell away and Stevie hung from the front of the house, his legs kicking wildly as they searched for a stage.
He reached for the window and smashed it. He lost his grip on the window sill and he fell to ground, his legs buckling under him as the trashcan bounced like a drum. Stevie thought he heard laughter, but he turned and saw nobody. He often heard laughter when nobody was there. He stood, picked up the trashcan and began his ascent into the window again. As his hand took its grip on the windowsill, Stevie felt another hand on his leg. He turned and saw a policeman. Then another. They had been watching his performance, one of them said, and had found it most entertaining. Stevie was taken to a police station where an officer took his name and asked for his occupation. Stevie replied that he was an entertainer. The officer asked if Stevie was the fallen idol and Stevie said that he was. Then they led him into a cell and closed the door and went away. Stevie sat on a small bed in the corner of the cell. He let his body fall until his head nestled into the pillow and his eyes focussed onto the concrete wall beside it. For some reason, Stevie thought of Maria and the boy who destroyed his suit with the banana pockets. He thought of how he had watched them from the edge of a lake, walking together into the night. The image played and froze and played again, his mind not having the courage to trudge on to Harry and George and the laundry and all that was beyond. He lifted his hand to rest on the pillow and it seemed a giant hand that belonged to another. He saw the seams and ridges for the first time, and wondered how long a small scar had been there and from where it had come.
He sent the hand a message and watched as the mighty machine flexed. With the will of the brain directing, it was capable of anything. It could clutch and lift and throw objects many times its own weight, stop men with a simple signal, or kill with a muscular thrust. It could write words of import and create works of art so holy that nations of men would do battle to save them. This was the tool of slaughter and birth. And, today, it belonged not to him but to those who stood in its path, or could benefit from its labour. Stevie’s eyes became heavy and the hand went away and Stevie slept. In the morning, a policeman asked him how he liked his eggs and Stevie couldn’t remember, for he hadn’t eaten breakfast in a long time. The policeman gave him a newspaper to read. Stevie lifted the paper and then put it down. His name was on the front page.
A legal man told the judge of Stevie’s battle with drugs, and how it had forced him to lay siege to the home of another human being. The legal man said that there were professionals in court who would swear to the fact that this crime was not Stevie’s fault, but the fault of the drug. The man said that the crime was of less importance than Stevie’s health, and pleaded with the judge to adjourn the trial until Stevie had been cured of his unfortunate plight. The judge said no. He said it was in the interest of the community to have the matter dealt with as soon as possible. Decent people were frightened, said the judge, that men like Stevie would take their possessions
and damage their lives. The judge said it was a terrible pity that Stevie had once brought pleasure to the people, where now he brought fear and loathing. The judge then told Stevie that he was to remain at large no longer, but was to return to the hospital in the hills and stay there until the people were satisfied that he was no longer a dreadful man. The people recorded that Stevie Wright was now a criminal. The newspapers made him a famous one.
~ Memories are safety devices. They are built for protection, to remind us of mistakes and why we shouldn’t make the same ones again. Sometimes they exist for amusement’s sake, to take us away from whatever gruesome milieu we may find ourselves in from one moment to the next. That’s why we forget unimportant things. They are of no use. Because we need them so badly, memories cannot be trusted. They know they are wanted and, when not buckling under the weight of that responsibility, they abuse it. They have ulterior motives, not necessarily evil, but always subversive. Memories are our greatest fans. They are jealous and spiteful. Their greatest trick—one they use to win favour—is to edit themselves to suit the rememberer. My grandfather had a tattoo on his forearm—a rose enveloping a
single word. Depending on whom you believe, that word was either ‘Doris’ or ‘Mum’. My mother is certain it said ‘Mum’. Doris, my grandmother, insists it said ‘Doris’. The man is dead and buried and the tattoo now belongs to a million different beetles, who are probably all arguing themselves over what it says. Meanwhile, up in the sunlight, the argument will never be settled, with both mum and Doris annually swearing on alps of bibles that their memories serve them faithfully. I think I know what the truth is, but I dare not utter it. I don’t want to murder somebody’s memory. Anyway, who says there can’t be two truths? There’s two of nearly everything else in the life of a human being, save the sexual organ, the heart, the liver and a few bogus organs like the spleen, all of which are nothing but trouble anyhow. Truth, like history, is not an exact science. Stevie’s memory is shot to shit, but I suspect he’s the hitman. When the price is right, his memory serves him like a nigger. When it's inconvenient to remember, Stevie suffers ‘selective Alzheimer’s’, a condition prevalent in courtrooms and police interrogation cells around the globe. Strangely, this condition disappears completely when the defendant becomes the plaintiff. Ten years after the event, Stevie tried to sue the gang at Chelmsford Hospital for ruining his ability to write songs. Electro Shock Therapy, claimed Stevie, irreversibly tampered with that part of the brain that makes one a pop star. And, in the witness stand, he backed up his claim with crystal clear recollections of events from a decade ago, garnished with colourful and
humorous first-hand details. ECT, it appeared, had been careful not to mess with Stevie's memory as it percolated his creative juices. It's true that Stevie is a little muddled, but I believe what he is suffering from is something akin to a condition known as Machiafavi Bignami. This medically-recognised condition seems to have burst onto the scene in the north of Italy, where hill-dwelling gents lounge through the days throating cheese and gargling red wine. It is believed that the mating of these two substances, along with a little too much sunshine, gives birth to Machiafavi Bigmami, the symptoms of which include—but are not confined to—sudden and unaccountable geysers of obscure verbiage, much of which is immediately forgotten, accompanied by excitability of the extremities, notably a thrashing of the arms. This seems an adequate description of the talkative Stevie. Where the cheese, red wine and sunshine are concerned, one can only assume that heroin, Southern Comfort and a man-made temperate climate are potent substitutes that send Machifavi Bignami into an even more potent realm. It's a bold prognosis, but more believable than this Alzheimer’s business. The problem is that neither Machifavi Bignami or Alzheimer’s are contagious, and whatever Stevie has is. Otherwise, how has Fay become a sufferer? She is standing in the middle of the kitchen, her hands on her hips, demanding to know what I have done to the car. The wheels, she says, are
laughably out of alignment, and one of them is even brushing against the guard. I remind Fay this problem might just be the result of her own rampage into a certain roadside ditch not twenty-four hours ago. She draws from her extensive automotive experience to declare that, no, it isn't. ‘You must have hit a possum or something the other week,’ she says, ‘when you had to get the car towed home.’ ‘No, Fay, I didn't hit a possum. The car stalled. It was an electrical problem. The mechanic told you that himself and I paid to have it fixed.’ ‘Well, all I know is that there was nothing wrong with the car before and now there is.’ ‘In fact, Fay, you know a fair bit more than that. For example, you know that if I had hit a possum, or, for that matter, an elephant, the damage would not have taken three weeks to materialise. You also know that if I had hit an animal it would scarcely have been my fault, and therefore I would not have been ashamed to tell you so. And you also know—and I know you know, because I saw you hear me as I said it a moment ago—that, last night, at about eight o'clock, you drove the car into a fucken ditch. Today, the car has a wheel alignment problem. Now, which part of that story mystifies you, Fay?’ ‘There was nothing wrong with the car when I got it home, Jack.’ ‘Then there was nothing wrong with it before you drove it into the ditch.’ ‘There must have been. I just wish you'd be honest and admit that
you hit something.’ ‘I didn't hit a fucken thing, Fay. You hit a ditch.’ ‘Well, all I know is that it's going to cost a lot of money to fix it and I think it would be only fair if the person who broke it got it fixed.’ ‘Fay!’ I'm losing it. ‘You crashed the fucken car.’ ‘I told you, there was nothing wrong with it when it came out of the ditch.’ ‘Fay, did you notice anything wrong with the car when you and Stevie went for a drive yesterday afternoon?’ ‘No…’ ‘Is there something wrong with it now?’ ‘As I said, the wheels are out of alignment…’ ‘Was the car used between the time when you and Stevie went driving yesterday afternoon and now?’ ‘I drove to Graham's place and back.’ ‘Now—and here's the important bit, Fay—can you think of anything that occurred during that trip to Graham's and back that might make an ordinary car owner concerned about the state of his or her vehicle?’ Silence. Arms folded. ‘An accident, Fay. You had an accident. I'm not going to take responsibility for that.’ ‘Well,’ she laughs the laugh of the boss about to fire, ‘I'm sorry, Jack, but I'm going to have to take it up with Stevie in the morning, and I don't
think he's going to like it one bit.’ I've lost it. ‘Oh, you fucken dickhead, Fay…’ ‘Excuse me!’ she fumes, ‘don't speak to me like that in my house.’ ‘Well, that reminds me, Fay. The money I gave you for the rent? The agent hasn't got it. She called today. I think the people who do own the house want some money. So do the electricity people and I said I'd pay them tomorrow.’ Fay is silent as I go to my room and return with my ‘I'm going out!’ coat. ‘Seeing as I'm paying for the upkeep of this fucken vehicle, may I have the keys please? I feel like going out.’ ‘No, Jack!’ She's at the sink with her back to me. ‘It's late. And frankly I don't want you hitting any more animals.’ She's trying to bait me, surely. She's trying to get me to take her apart. Nobody can be this stupid. I quickly decide to remove myself before I split her head clean in half. I hit Lynch's and get so drunk that the night is a smoke bomb with some faces. Somewhere in the ink is Jo. I am talking to her before I wake and find she has gone. Then there is Michelle, and a friend of hers who looks like Peter Frampton. We are at his house and I'm affecting some kind of desperate grope at her. Peter Frampton has a look of unbridled surprise on his face, like a bad extra in a late night TV commercial. That is all.
The night has an infamous feeling.
~ By day, Stevie worked as a ballast cleaner for the railway. At night, he auditioned people to form a group. They played old songs by The Easybeats. Many of the musicians knew the songs well. But it didn’t matter. The songs never had the same valour. Once, Friday on my Mind was a trumpet call from a hungry young man. The man was older now, and his hunger was for the past, not the future. The desperation turned on a different wheel entirely. Stevie tried writing tunes of his own, but they never seemed right. One way or another, they’d end up sounding like flaccid recreations of the songs of Harry and George. The music industry nodded as Stevie spoke, but it was more interested in The Easybeats than Stevie alone. Why, said the industry, could Stevie not interest Harry and George and the others to reform the grand group of old? It was the most polite of rejections. The others had no interest in such a thing and everyone knew. Stevie’s rope had come to an end. There were no useful friends in the industry anymore. The band members wandered away as promises of work remained so. This time, the comeback was stillborn.
The railway made Stevie a timekeeper, and assigned him to a lone signal box
in a distant town far from the coast. He sat in the box, watching the cloudless day through the dusted windows. A train was due in fifteen minutes and Stevie had to mark its arrival in the book. It wasnâ€™t even going to stop. This was not a station. This was nowhere. Just a signal box. The train would go past and continue on to some place in the country. Stevie wasnâ€™t even sure where. The heat was becoming uncomfortable, so Stevie stepped out of the box and walked toward the train line, his boots crunching on the stones underfoot. This was truly the most desolate place he had ever been. For as far as he could see, there was nothing. Nothing but grass and some trees in the distance. There was no life. Without the signal box and the train track, there was no proof that life existed at all. The track continued in both directions, curling over both horizons. There was life at both ends, Stevie thought, and here he was in the middle of it, with no life to be seen. Once again, Stevie thought of how nature meant so little to him. The iron tracks on the ground told him more about life than the grass, or the few trees he could see. The tracks spoke of industry. People had built them, measured them. Men and animals and trucks had hauled them great distances. They had been carefully laid and prepared. Now, people used them to travel, to export themselves and other things to new places. They extended lives. The tracks were being considered, and always had been. That tree and those tufts of grass, if they ever could exist for eternity, may never be
considered at all. Out here, the tracks were alive, because they moved people and always had. Tracks. Foregone decisions, inevitable destinations. No choice. Why was he here? What the fuck had happened to his life? Was there ever a junction, where the simple toss of a lever could have changed his direction and fate? Was there ever a choice? Had he missed it, ignored it, or was he simply asleep when the junction came? Where was everybody? Where was Gail? Where was his boy?
Please, God, take me back. Take me back to the junction, the one with the lever and the choice. I love what has passed and I hate what's to come. I want the things I love. I don't want new things. I don't want replacements. I know you have them waiting for me and I hate them already. They bury the things I love. They make them dead. I don't want them dead. Give them to me. Please, give me another chance with the things I love. Please, God. I promise to stay awake if you do this for me.
Stevie turned and walked back into the box and sat. He prepared a fit and injected himself and waited for the relief that never came. He looked down at his boots. They had stopped in an awkward position, crooked, like he was pidgeon-toed. They seemed to belong to themselves and not Stevieâ€™s body at all. One of the laces had come undone by itself. Stevie reached down to tie it, but couldn't remember which knot belonged to a shoe. Somehow, that
seemed terribly sad to him, and he began to cry. And he was still crying when the train rushed past, on its way to some place in the country.
~ There is a note on my door when I wake. Jack, your behavior last night was not acceptable. I'm very upset by some of the things you said and Stephen is furious about the way you spoke to me… Aw, fuck off. …Stephen thinks it is disgusting that a guest in our home can treat me in this way and he demands that you apologise. If not Stephen thinks that it would be best if he stopped working with you and you went home. I agree! Fay. Fay agrees with Stevie? Mark the date, everybody! Let this be the day when prejudices fly like balloons, when the Jew drinks with the Palestinian militia man, the mongoose shares a joke with the cobra and Batman blasts loving salvos of jism onto the Penguin's comely visage. I want to pen an appropriate reply on the B-side of this communiqué, but, when I turn the paper over to do so, I see my own handwriting. I can barely make out a word, but, amidst the illegible scrawl, I see a ‘fuck’ and a ‘fucked’ and a ‘stupid’. I must have penned this bit of work upon my arrival home this morning. Oh dear. I walk into town for a bit of a swaggering think about what to do, but my real intention is to make sure Michelle is OK about everything that 229
happened last night. In fact, I'd like to know exactly what happened myself. Did Peter Frampton boot me out? I pop my head inside the door of her shop. I'm relieved when she looks up and smiles. It's not a winning smile, by any means. As the milliseconds speed by, I realise it's not a comfortable smile at all. Then begins a conversation that I know will hunt me down for the rest of my stinking days. ‘Hi, Michelle.’ ‘Hi, Jack. How are you this morning?’ ‘I've been better.’ ‘Yep.’ She's not surprised. ‘I hope I didn't do or say anything too offensive last night.’ But she is now, slightly. ‘Well…you did, but…that's OK.’ I step inside the door. Clearly, this is no longer a just-passing-by communion. ‘Why? What did I do?’ Her smile shrivels slowly. She stares like a child who's been told she's failing class. ‘Well…you don't remember anything?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh, Jack.’
She is disappointed now. And upset. I still don't know if it's she or Peter Frampton who I've offended, but I've obviously risen my sooty flag up somebody's pole. ‘What don't you remember?’ I breathe a laugh, but she's serious. Whatever happened—a variety of wrongs, probably—is so prolifically crooked that she can scarcely believe I have no recollection of it. ‘Well, I remember playing the music loud and dragging you onto the lounge…please, Michelle, don't make me discover what I've done through process of elimination. I was laughably juiced and for all I know I could've declared war on Kenya. After midnight, my head belongs to the Devil.’ She raises her eyebrows and looks down at her counter. ‘Yes, I know.’ She's fed up and doesn't want to play. Fucken hell. ‘Well, if you don't remember, then there's no problem.’ ‘Michelle, I'm sorry, but I've got to know what I'm sorry for.’ She stands from her chair and grabs her coat in a semi-theatrical huff. ‘Let's go for a drink and talk about it.’ She wants to talk to me, which means I can't have offended her that greatly, but she definitely wants to burn me for something. As we walk in silence to the pub, I've no doubt the issue is my sloppy attempt to swing her into the sack, but I can't work out which part offends her so much. I remember her fighting me off, successfully, and I'm sure we were civil for
some time after that. Perhaps she thinks I'm feigning amnesia—a classic dayafter manoeuvre—which would naturally give anyone the willies. As we sit down in Lynch's (she orders from me a double Cointreau and ice) I decide to cut the malarky. ‘Michelle, if it's about me man-handling you, I do remember that and I'm sorry about it—’ ‘Jack!’ she cuts me off, flustered. Then, after a moment and a heavy breath, she calmly declares: ‘You raped me.’ There is not enough blank paper in the world to represent the silence that drowns my brain upon hearing this. There is nothing else in my history or future at this time. I have never been so utterly focused on one idea. Hideous. I’m lost for anything to think, so I say something thoughtless. ‘Sorry.’
~ Stevie had smoked his last cigarette when the phone rang. It was a friend, telling him to read the paper. A man called Terry had placed an advertisement, pleading with the public to help him find Little Stevie Wright, the singer from The Easybeats. Stevie called Terry himself, who was delighted to hear from him. Terry had been an admirer all his life. He had stared openmouthed as Stevie ascended to stardom, then howled and thrown his necktie to the floor as Stevie plummeted into the sewer. He refused to believe that
Stevie had given up on showbusiness. That would be a shameful waste and Terry wouldn’t have it. A much better idea, said Terry, was for Stevie to leave everything to him. Terry knew a few musicians who, with Stevie as captain, could form a splendid rock group. Stevie told Terry that he had tried such a thing not long ago, and that it had fallen to dust through lack of enthusiasm on behalf of a scrupulous music industry that was tired of Stevie Wright. Terry told Stevie that problem was as good as solved, for he happened to manage a hotel in the suburbs of the city, where rock groups regularly played on a proper stage. Terry would be only too happy to guarantee a regular spot for Stevie Wright. Terry said he would even help with those pesky drug problems, if Stevie wished. So Stevie rehearsed with Terry’s band, which he decided to call Hard Rain. Terry fixed the date and took care of the media. To Stevie’s astonishment, the newspapers reported the coming event. Some even told Stevie’s whole story, as if there were those who hadn’t heard it before. And when the big night arrived at Terry’s hotel, a good crowd had gathered. Many were faces Stevie had seen before. Most were strangers, sightseers who had come for a peek at the man of the myth. Some brought drugs. The papers reported that Saturday night was history night at Terry’s hotel in the suburbs.
Stevie’s phone began to ring, and the voices that spoke from it told him good things. One of those voices belonged to George. George said that he and
Harry were keen to meet with Stevie and the others. They wanted to reform The Easybeats. Over the last decade, suggestions of a reunion had been deflected by Harry and George, who had outgrown interest in anything to do with the past. But now, said George, the time was right. Another famous group from the 60s had recently rejoined itself and toured America, a tour which had outgrossed all tours by current popular groups. Songs from the sixties were in the charts again. Stage musicals concerning the lives of the princes and kings of rock and roll were being sold to the people. Nostalgia was making a comeback, and The Easybeats belonged on the gravy train. But, warned George, Stevie was not to consider the reunion an everlasting one. It would only be for a short time. They would play a handful of shows in the capital cities of Australia, for the people who were once their fans, the people who had given them the lives they enjoyed today. Harry and George would handle much of the organisation, and Stevie need only turn up for a rehearsal or two. They would come together, make some quick money and go their separate ways. Stevie asked if the others had been notified and George said that they had. Stevie knew that Harry and George were not interested in a permanent reunion of The Easybeats. But he hoped. If the tour went well and The Easybeats were received with even a tiny degree of the old delirium, surely somebody would urge them to record again. Harry and George may begin writing songs for Stevie to sing and the others to play. Perhaps one of those songs would be a hit, as Sheâ€™s So Fine had been. Perhaps they would
return to England, where Stevie was remembered as a performer and unknown in the criminal world. Perhaps Gail would return. The dream was so beautiful that Stevie couldn’t help but ignore the utter implausibility of its realisation. The Easybeats met in a rehearsal studio and talked together as they set up their instruments. Snowy had been operating a successful career in construction. Dick had continued playing in bands as a professional musician. Harry and George, of course, were stars in their own right. Nobody asked Stevie about his life. Harry and George had chosen some songs and The Easybeats picked up the tunes as if they had never put them down. They played each number once—sometimes stopping when Stevie’s voice broke down—then moved along. It seemed the others had been rehearsing together without Stevie knowing. There was a strange lethargy to they way they were playing. Their hearts were elsewhere and Stevie could not understand why. And, when the tunes were finished, they packed up their things and went home to their lives.
The Easybeats reunion rumbled to life like a tired animal. The newspapers and magazines reported the coming event with an inevitable enthusiasm. The immediate future was a military operation. Promoters, publicists, managers and creative personal furnished Stevie with written orders telling of his expected movements. Press conferences and interviews were scheduled, and Stevie was drilled on what to say when asked certain
questions. There were to be no surprises. The Easybeats held another rehearsal, and this time the room was filled with onlookers as they played. It was just like the days in the laundry at the hostel, only the onlookers interjected with suggestions and criticism. Many of them were justified, said George, for the onlookers had investments in The Easybeats’ success. Stevie closed his eyes and did what he was told. The performances arrived and went. The crowds were much larger than before, but quieter and more selective about when they applauded. They were not the children of the sixties now grown, as everyone had predicted they would be, but the children of the eighties. Sometimes, they screamed like the crowds of old, in mock celebration of a time when youngsters were stupid. The thrill of the lights and the faces and the heat was gone. Stevie felt he was singing his own closing theme, with The Easybeats as his reluctant orchestra. And it was after one of these shallow performances – when the others had packed their things and gone home to their lives—that it occurred to Stevie. The Easybeats reunion was not simply a gift for the world, but for him too. A goodbye kiss from some dear old friends who loved Little Stevie once but would never see him again.
~ I don’t know whether to believe Michelle or not. I have no memory of what she speaks. I remember her saying ‘no’. I remember persisting. I remember
her shrugging me away, holding my face in her hands and smiling, ‘No, Jack’. And I remember, in my doped confusion, thinking for a moment that she was somebody else who I once loved. I wouldn’t have done such a thing to anyone I loved. I wouldn’t do such a thing at all. It is true that I am a great manipulator, but manipulation is a crime committed from safe distance. Violence is the way of the brave. Rape is not in my repertoire. ‘Well,’ Michelle smiles, ‘it is now.’ She’s almost smug about this, pleased that she has me on the run. I don’t trust it at all. For a start, anyone who’s ever known me intimately is aware that, with alcohol or drugs in my system, I am physically incapable of satisfying even the most lascivious tart of the termite kingdom. It’s just not possible. I practically change sex. Then, there are all sorts of rape, I suppose. I ask Michelle if I fully penetrated her. She screws her nose and tilts her head. ‘Well…yes and no.’ ‘Michelle,’ I implore her, my humility lapsing for a moment, ‘cut the horseshit. This is important. Did I or didn’t I?’ ‘Don’t shout at me,’ she barks. There is silence for a moment. ‘Look,’ she says quietly, ‘don’t worry about it.’ ‘Don’t worry about it?’
‘No, look…it was just stupid. You were drunk, I was drunk, I don’t hate you…it doesn’t matter. I’m just a bit pissed off today, that’s all.’ ‘Michelle, it’s not the proudest day of my life either, but I’m trying to get to the bottom of this because it is going to stick forever and it’s not making sense at the moment. Where were we when it happened?’ ‘In the sunroom.’ ‘Where was Peter…that other guy?’ She thinks for a second. ‘In the loungeroom, I think.’ I remember the layout of the house, and the sunroom branches straight off the loungeroom, separated by two flimsy French doors. ‘Didn’t he see anything, or hear anything? ‘He was listening to a CD and it was pretty loud.’ ‘What, Ride of the fucken Valkyries?’ She laughs at that. ‘I don’t know. It didn’t last very long.’ ‘Michelle, what you’re telling me is that I sexually assaulted you.’ ‘It wasn’t assault.’ ‘You said I raped you.’ She closes her eyes and shakes the topic away. ‘Look, just forget it. I’d rather just forget the whole thing. You’re a nice guy but…you were a cunt last night, OK?. Just forget it. I shouldn’t have told you.’ She gets up and walks to the jukebox, self-consciously. I have to make up my mind, just for now, that she’s telling the truth. She’ll say no more to ease my anxiety about this. Not today. Right now, I have to apologise with
conviction and sincerity. I’ll deal with the reasonable doubts later. When she returns (escorted by the sounds of Unforgiven by Metallica, I might add), I begin a monologue for the record of all. I tell her I’m deeply sorry and utterly ashamed. I still don’t understand how I could have done such a thing, I say, but I’m a drunk and I clearly don’t know myself well anymore. If there’s anything I can do… She reaches over and slaps my hand, in mock reprehension. ‘You’re a bad boy, Jackson Marx.’ Either she’s an angel or a bitch. I hope she’s a bitch, because only then am I not an irredeemable bastard who’s going to hell and deserves it. Of course, I could be being a preposterously melodramatic wanker here. The answer could be quite simple. I’m an addict. A drunk. I advertise my needs and weaknesses—they’re one and the same. They flash like Vegas neon to those who may need something from me for themselves. I look for such signs in others. I like to think I don’t abuse them, but I’m not sure. Guilt is my restive state. Perhaps Michelle has decided she needs the attention, for whatever reason. She has pegged me for someone who’ll respond to an accusation of rape. Someone who’ll honour it as a bargaining chip. It’s possible. This is the way of my generation, and the birthright of the next. People are becoming more desperate in their rush to find peace. They’ll do anything to anyone, at terrifyingly close range. ‘So,’ Michelle asks, ‘perhaps you can make it up to me by doing me a
favour?’ ‘Name it.’ ‘Well,’ she sighs, looking down into her drink, ‘I could do with some money…’ God, how I do hate the end of the twentieth century.
~ Stevie was rehearsing with his band and things were really cooking. Suddenly, without warning, he felt a rapid tide of nausea. He excused himself, dashed to the bathroom and promptly vomited into the basin. He vomited again and again. After several repeats, he noticed that his vomit did not look its usual self. There were not the obligatory scraps of partly-digested food, but a yellow sludge laced with red strips. He vomited again. More red strips. Stevie returned to the rehearsal room to confront the others with the news. He told them that his vomit was of a very peculiar nature indeed. It was sitting in a basin in the bathroom, if anyone wished to inspect it for themselves. The band put down their instruments, made their way to the bathroom and huddled around the basin to survey the vomit in question. Yes, they agreed, it was a worrisome batch. Some suggested that Stevie should see a doctor. But Stevie replied that he’d seen doctors before and would rather
continue with the rehearsal. Later that afternoon, upon returning home to his mother’s apartment, Stevie vomited again. He quickly called his mother to the bathroom and invited her to scrutinise the vomit that had become something of a regular fixture for the day. Dorothy refused. She was not qualified to judge Stevie’s vomit, or anyone else’s for that matter. The best thing Stevie could do, Dorothy said, was call a taxi and take himself to the hospital, where a man qualified to appreciate such regurgitations would surely be happy to take a look. Stevie argued that such a dramatic course of action was unnecessary, but Dorothy stood firm. Stevie must go to the hospital or there would be trouble. Since moving home to live with his mother, Stevie had felt himself retarding. His thoughts, and the voices that proclaimed them, seemed to have returned to those he possessed as a teenager. His late teens, his early thirties, the entirety of his twenties, seemed not to have occurred at all. If they had, there was no record of them in Stevie’s manner. He felt a mere child, at the mercy of his mother’s demands. The rebellion of so long ago had failed, its lone disciple returning home with the flag in tatters. Reluctantly, Stevie called the taxi.
The hospital staff asked Stevie if he could vomit for the doctor to see. Stevie replied that he could, and did so with ease. After some time, a doctor returned to say that he had inspected the vomit and there was indeed
something unusual about it. He said he’d like to put a tube down Stevie’s throat, a special tube with a camera mounted on the end. This, said the doctor, would help him discover where the ribbons of blood were streaming from. Stevie announced his grave fear that if anything were to enter his throat, he would surely vomit. The doctor replied that the hospital staff were used to such outrageous events and would think nothing of it. Stevie unwillingly agreed to the procedure. As soon as the tube entered his throat, Stevie vomited, to nobody’s real surprise. The camera on the end of the tube probed about until, finally, the doctor had an announcement to make. Stevie, he said, had a small hole in his oesophagus, a weeping wound from which blood was seeping. The doctor speculated that this hole may have been caused by some toxic substance or other that had been consumed with frequency. Stevie said he couldn’t think of any. The doctor decided that Stevie should stay overnight in the hospital, where he could be observed. Stevie asked if he could be given anything that might ease the pain of his situation. The doctor said this was unwise. Stevie traded his clothes for the hospital gown, climbed into bed and tried to sleep. The hours passed without incident, and Stevie began to grow restless. He decided that he had to go home, where he could observe himself just as well as the hospital staff. But, as Stevie began to dress, a nurse appeared and told Stevie that such an act was strictly forbidden by the doctor. She took Stevie’s clothes and returned him to his bed with nothing but the
hospital gown. Stevie could take this no longer. He decided he would escape, as he had done from the clinic. The hospital gown provided him with little modesty, exposing the rear of his body. But it was late, and home was only a few short blocks away. With any luck at all, Stevie thought, he would not be recognised. He crept down the corridors and out into the night. Stevie kept to the shadows until he came to the highway, which he had no choice but to cross. He was alarmed at the population in the street. Couples strolled by the shopfronts and cars full of youngsters cruised the streets. As Stevie stepped from the dark and waited by the roadside for the lights to change in his favour, a cold wind blew from behind, raising the curtains on the rear of his body. There was a break in the traffic, and Stevie scuttled onto the road with all the speed he could muster. Sadly, the break was brief, and Stevie found himself stranded on the island that separated the six lanes of busy traffic. The wind filled his hospital gown, which opened and flapped like two spinnakers on either side of his body, exposing his hide to all. The couples began to point and laugh. The cars honked and the youngsters shrieked and the lights seemed to shine like a thousand suns. Stevie Wright was being recognised, and he cursed the God who decreed at his birth that he would become a star. When he finally arrived at his door, Stevie found Dorothy in a terrible state. As the hours had drawn on, she had become concerned until deciding to visit the hospital herself. Upon inquiring as to the state of one Stephen
Carlton Wright, Dorothy was told that the hospital was deeply sorry, but Stevie was gone. He had left us hours ago. Stunned, Dorothy turned to walk away, unsure of where to go or why. She turned again and asked the nurse where Stevie’s body was being kept. Dorothy was making a mistake, said the nurse. Stevie was not dead. Not at all. He had simply gone home. Dorothy pulled Stevie to her and hugged him close, whispering in his ear of how happy she was to have her boy back again.
Stevie moved from his mother’s home to a caravan park in the suburbs. It was all he could afford. With the money made from performing, Stevie purchased an old school bus, which had been converted into a mobile home. The man who sold it to Stevie told him that, inside this bus, one could live a decent life. This sounded just fine to Stevie, for he hadn’t lived one in a long time. Stevie planted a vegetable garden in the ground outside of the bus. As the months revolved without result, Stevie tended the garden, turning the soil, watering every day, watching. He took tips from magazines and television programs. Still, nothing would grow. The weeds thrived, no matter how many nightmares he dreamed up for them. He drew the curtains in the bus, not wanting to see. One night, Stevie saw himself on the television. It was a music program and they were playing the songs of The Easybeats. There was George and Harry and Dick and Snowy, playing for tomorrow. Girls danced in the background. Youngsters huddled excitedly at the front of the stage. The
camera closed up on Little Stevie Wright, who turned with the smile of a boy who knows and winked at the man in the bus. Stevie reached for a bag of heroin and found it was gone. It was only a small amount, but enough to get him through the night. He had held it just minutes before and now it was gone. Stevie turned the bedclothes and slithered along the floor and under the bed. He searched until sure the bag had disappeared into that vast chasm that held everything that had ever inexplicably vanished. His bottle was empty. He reached for his cigarettes and found there were none. He emptied the bags of garbage, scrounging for butts to smoke down to the filter. But they were sodden from the damp or already smoked to the end. He took out his clothes and began to go through the pockets for notes or coins that he may have forgotten. He tore at the pockets and riffled through the drawers. He ripped through the cupboards, through the papers and letters and photos and trash he had been carrying with him for years. The empty packets and plastic bags. Cups and pots fell and smashed and their contents spilled. Harry and George and Dick and Snowy and the leering boy toppled and fell as Stevie raged through the bus, throwing everything aside in search of anything that could be used. He crashed through the door and dropped to his knees and his hands probed the dirt and the weeds in the garden, sifting the soil through his fingers until he felt what he thought was a cigarette but it was only a twig and he spread and cut through the earth but it yielded nothing. The Easybeats continued to play in the bus as he emptied the bottles and papers and peelings from the
garbage. Out of a beer bottle fell a cigarette, only half-smoked. For a moment, all was quiet. Stevie brushed the dirt and the ants from the cigarette and stood and entered the bus. He looked to the bed where the lighter had been and saw that the mattress was thrown and all upon it tossed to the chaos that littered the floor. Stevie charged through the wreckage, falling again to his knees and crying and muttering crazy things as he cast every object from his path, his mad hands sweeping the floor and tearing at papers and smashing anything that hadnâ€™t yet been destroyed and a photograph flipped in the air and landed at his knees. Gail and Nicholas. Stevie stood and moved through the junk to the stove. He turned the dial and waited for the coil to glow. Then he leaned forward, the half-smoked cigarette in his mouth. The coil singed his hair as the cigarette smouldered to life. Stevie sat on the floor among his world of damaged things and smoked until the cigarette was gone. The television buzzed underneath the garbage. More songs by The Easybeats. Through the rubble on his bed, Stevie carved a space just big enough for his body. Then he lay down and tried to sleep, but he was so very hungry.
~ If there was something nearby that I could grab and throw, I would grab and
throw it at Stevie Wright. Could be a knife, could be a cake. I don’t care. So long as it hit him. Whether it killed him or simply made him look foolish, I don’t really care. He is standing on the other side of the kitchen, his arms folded, his head tilted back in mock regality. He is leaning against the wall as if it’s a lampost and he the town dandy. He is unafraid. He has judged me, finally, as one who does not pose an immediate threat to his body. I’d like to upset that supposition. By splitting his crotch with a wishbone snap. Fay began today’s proceedings at breakfast with another request for money. For the very first time I denied her request, correctly declaring that I’d already parted with over ten grand. Fay retired to the bedroom and returned an hour later with a new topic for discussion: the title of the book, the credits to take place on the cover and a new plan regarding what happens inside. The book, Stevie decided, should be called Stevie Wright: In His Own Words. Somewhere underneath this spectacular claim would appear the words, ‘by Stephen Carlton Wright’. Of course, I was not to be forgotten. Stevie had graciously agreed that, somewhere at the bottom of the page, my name should appear, preceded by the word, ‘with’. Furthermore, I was to forget everything I had been told to date, for it was all nonsense. Stevie had another story to tell entirely, the true story that must be told. Everything I had been told to date was monkey spoof. I was to strike it from my mind. In the future, Stevie’s words would not simply flutter about the room and enter some silly tape recorder, for me to arrange with whatever dubious tools I may employ,
but should be typed directly onto the page, by me, as Stevie stood by and dictated. The pages were to be left with Stevie at the end of each day. Then, at night, when all the animals slept and Stevie enjoyed a well-earned respite from the pressures of the day, these pages would be perused, and any necessary changes noted for my correction the following day. This, said Fay, was the way Stevie demanded it must be done. And just in case I was in any doubt as to the wisdom of this bold new blueprint, Fay wanted the record to show that she, too, thought the plan was just beaut. After allowing Fay to finish this ridiculous monologue, I told her that, as far as I was concerned, the new title was just a fraction more interesting than No Regrets, the credits were downright lies and the bold new plan sucked the universal hairy cock. If Stevie had wanted a secretary, I said, he should have approached a typing pool. Some offered cheap rates, although none were quite so competitive as to pay the employer four thousand a month for using their services. Fay argued, with borrowed rhetoric, that I was naught but a fool and Stevie was the only artist in the house, loved and respected and sought high and low by authors who would fanatically beat on his door if only they knew where it was. She boasted that the famous music historian Glenn A. Baker had expressed interest in writing Stevieâ€™s book. And in case that didnâ€™t give me a stiffy the size of the Hindenburg, she added that Stevie had even considered approaching none other than Stephen King. I told Fay that if Stevie wished to employ the services of Glenn A. Baker or Stephen King or, for that matter, Rudyard Kipling, it was indeed his right and none of
my business, as I had made no claims on exclusive rights to the story of Stevie’s life. Fay argued that, without his consent, I was banned by law from writing anything at all about Stevie. I told her that was voluminous mountain of frogshit. Ha ha, she said, not so! As a matter of fact, a lawyer friend had told her that I was not even allowed to speak about Stevie Wright without his prior consent. Presumably, if I were to let loose with a fart, which, due to some curious collision of biological and meteorological conditions, sounded for all the world like somebody whispering the words, ‘Stephen Carlton Wright!’, my ass could be impounded for breach of copyright. I announced to Fay my considered opinion that this conversation of ours had reached a lunatic nadir so deep as to make it pointless to continue, and that I was going to the pub. When I returned, I found a sheet of paper on the kitchen table. Written upon it was a balance sheet of sorts, a list of costs, presumably incurred by Stevie and Fay on my behalf, and to be paid by me. Food was itemised. Electricity usage. Motor vehicle mileage and, of course, possum damage. Rent, an amount decided upon this day and charged retrospectively. Conveniently, the total amount came to something just over ten thousand dollars. I rolled the paper into a tight ball and marched to Stevie and Fay’s bedroom. Without knocking, I threw the door open and tossed the paper inside, advising Fay to shove it up her arse. There was silence as I pulled the door closed behind me. An hour passed without movement.
And now, here is Stevie. He is reading me the score and it’s not good. Stevie says that I’m no professional. He knew so right from the start, when I placed five thousand dollars into Fay’s account with not a written word to guarantee I would get anything for it. He and Fay laughed at that, he says. So they kept going. The way he sees it, I have no choice now but to stay and play by his rules. I have squandered my money and, in return, I have received very little. He has given me a sketch and little else besides. A few anecdotes here and there, but no details or dates or places or names of any worth. And a lot of what he has told me, he says, is lies. He was just testing the extent of my Easybeats knowledge. So now, he says, I have given away thousands, which I have no hope of recouping, and have no book that any fan of The Easybeats will find the least bit satisfying. He tilts his head back, closes his eyes and mutters: ‘Doesn’t seem very smart business practice to me.’ I tell Stevie that, firstly, ‘unprofessional’ is a term that I find complimentary, particularly when fired from the music industry, the professionals of which are lecherous, pony-tailed coke sluts to a man. In any case, for Stevie Wright to call anyone unprofessional is a bit rich. With regards the money and lack of a contract, I tell Stevie that I simply trusted his word. There are those, I say, who would call me a madman for doing so, and it appears that Stevie now wishes to be one of them. He can call me a clown all he likes. I know there was value in trusting him regardless, in being one of the rare few who would give him such a chance today. As for my financial losses,
they can hardly be called Stevie’s gains. The money is lost to us all, lining the pockets of the barmen and drug dealers of Narooma and beyond. There is nothing Stevie has to show for it, save a motor vehicle which, by certain accounts, has been irreparably damaged by some form of marsupial. I have no wish to stay any longer. I have a story to write – a tale of the great ball of fire that stays lit until you’ve no more money to burn. Stevie says that nobody will be interested in a story about him unless he is telling it himself. They’ll never trust such a thing, he says. On the contrary, I say. On its own, Stevie’s word counts for goat shit. He can go tell it on the mountain. Stevie says he has lots of friends out there. At this moment, the scene freezes and I have the most surreal thought. My mind races back to when I was ten years old. It’s my birthday, and one of my gifts is a long-playing record called Explosive Hits ’74. The sleeve features photographs of the various artists represented on the disk, set against a background of blurred flame. One of those artists is Stevie Wright. He is performing live on stage. Though the photograph is cropped at the waist, it is clear that Stevie is in the middle of some kind of dance routine. His arms are outstretched, crucifixion style, and he has one knee raised to the belly, his leg on its way to a skyward kick. His cheeks are hollowed as he sucks air through his lips. His head is bowed slightly forward. His eyes are hooded and glare defiantly. He is prince of his realm. I am but a ten-year-old boob with a photo in my hand. A photograph of one so gloriously impressive
that, in spite of my catholic, middle-class, heterosexual pubescence, I decide that Stevie Wright is sexy beyond belief. For the first time, I want to be another human being. I want to be Stevie Wright. And so, I copy the pose on the sleeve of Explosive Hits ’74. I rehearse the move in private. As Evie plays for inspiration, I stretch out my arms, crucifixion style, cock my knee to my chest, drop my chin forward and suck in that air. Sadly, my grasp of dynamics in modern dance is laughably underdeveloped, and so I simply hold this pose until Evie fades to silence. This weird performance epoch comes to a sorry climax at the St Joseph’s Primary School dance some weeks later. Delirious with excitement at the opening bars of Evie blasting from the sound system, I dash to the centre of the room and throw out my arms and cock my knee and stand dead still and suck hard. My style-conscious peers are at first terrified and clear the floor to observe from a safe distance. Not until the embarrassed titter has swelled to a hysterical crescendo do I abandon this absurd position and make my way to the unpopular perimeter of the dancefloor, where I remain to this very day. And now, here I am. Stevie Wright is telling me he has lots of friends out there. That’s a threat. I laugh out loud at what I’ve just thought. I tell him he is up himself sidewards and can go and get fucked. I retreat to my room where I begin to pack my things into my bag. Stevie shouts some form of abuse before I hear him enter his bedroom and close the door. Overcome by some sort of exhausted madness, I stand and effect the pose – the model of my ancient
idol. There is nothing but time between me and the boy of ’74 – we are the same cloud of atoms that can mould itself into an identical shape after two decades. I can now lean through the thin fog of time and tell that boy that he is not welcome in the rebellion. His dreams ended here, in the house of our lord.
An hour has passed and I’ve calmed down somewhat. I’ve been too scared to leave, partly because I don’t know what to say on my way out. Stevie has been in the kitchen for some time now. I can hear him shuffling about. Eventually, I decide to say nothing but simply go. I open my door and cast a quick glance down the hallway. I am greeted by a sight that sends a chill rippling from nape to my knee. Stevie is standing in the middle of the kitchen. In the dark. He is alone, but it appears he is conversing with someone. He is gesturing and nodding his head. As my eyes become accustomed to the dim light, I see that his eyelids are closed. His facial expressions are changing rapidly, like those of a man embroiled in a friendly argument. His mouth is moving but there are no words. He shuffles a few steps and picks up something that isn’t there. He shakes hands with a ghost. Then another. I realise now what is happening. Fay has told me of this before. Stevie Wright is doing business. He does this occasionally, when he’s had a big whack. Fay doesn’t know what the deal is or who the players are. It might be
a particular deal he missed, or the one he was always waiting for, the one that never quite fell in his hand. Or perhaps itâ€™s the lot. The whole bad deal. The bedroom door opens and Fay is standing there. She acts surprised at the sight of me and my bag. She asks if I am going and I tell her I am. She nods and looks down the hall at Stevie, then back to me, and a trace of a sympathetic smile is there for a moment. We leave it at that and go our separate ways, me toward the door and Fay into the unknown deal. It is wise that she stay. One day, Stevieâ€™s going to show her America.
~ Stevie stood in the dressing room, staring back at the man in the mirror, who was surrounded by little white globes that told of a superstar. He saw that his face had changed to one he hardly knew. There were lines deep as trenches and spaces where teeth had fallen away. His eyes were yellow and his skin a reptilian grey. He was sick. Twenty-five years ago, they were saying he was the most handsome man in the land. He turned and vomited into the bucket beside him, then gargled some port to banish the taste. A little more to calm his nerves. He was sick. The last few years had been cruel to the superstar. On Terryâ€™s advice, Stevie had released a long-playing record to the public, his first since Black
Eyed Bruiser. But when it came time to record the songs, Stevie found there were not enough songs to fill the space, Stevie and the band recorded old Easybeats hits. The people had bought them before, and perhaps they would buy them again. After all, other st ars had recorded new versions of Stevie’s songs, so why not he? After the album had been recorded, Stevie climbed a ladder as a photographer stood at the ready. The photograph would appear on the front of the album, to show that Stevie was on his way back to the top. But, as Stevie approached the final rung, he lost his footing and fell to the concrete floor below, shattering the bones in his ankle. Doctors said that Stevie would walk with a limp forevermore. And, when the album was finally released, the radio stations refused to play it, claiming that people preferred to hear The Easybeats’ songs when performed by the young, fit and handsome men who wrote them. One of the papers called the record Stevie Wright’s most dismal comeback yet. Stevie told Terry he wanted to put a stop to this rot. He was becoming a national joke, he said. He would cease to be an entertainer, giving one last concert for the people who had cared for him all through the years. He would go out with dignity. Terry thought this a splendid idea. A grand farewell, a Last Stand, with TV and radio and T-shirts and videos and hooplah. Perhaps they could record the event for Stevie’s Last Album, releasing the final song of the night as Stevie’s Last Single. They could sell the Last Interview to the highest bidder. The Last Date with Stevie Wright could be won by some plump cutie.
There was no end to things Stevie could do for the last time. Terry had organised everything. He called the newspapers relentlessly, sometimes impersonating a man from the lottery office, just to ensure that his calls were returned. He took out an advertisement in the papers, extended a very public invitation to all the big stars in the land and beyond to come and pay their respects to the great man of rock. The advert promised people performances by surprise guests. Stevie had watched as his dignified departure turned to a small-town circus. Desperate for publicity, Terry had even secured Stevie an interview with a pornographic magazine. The photograph accompanying the article showed Stevie standing in a swimming pool with a glass of champagne and three naked women. The event, Terry had said, must appeal to all people. Now the man in the mirror surrounded by lights turned again to the bucket and vomited. Somebody said that the room was crowded, but Stevie knew this was a lie. Heâ€™d taken a peek not minutes before and seen but a few. His mother was here. Fay was about. Gail, he thought, was out there somewhere. That was all that mattered. Stevie asked someone to take his bucket and bottle and place them on either side of the microphone. He would need them, he said. There was a trolley in the wings, on which Stevie would be wheeled to centre stage. This would take the work from his ankle. Some thought it might make for a regal entrance. The lights dimmed. Stevie heard the call and took one last look in the
mirror. This was not the face that winked at the world from the film that seemed a century old. That boy would challenge the world forever. People may ask who was the boy and where the promise had ended. It was here. Stevie climbed aboard the trolley and closed his eyes. He saw the black hand of the destroyer and banished it from his mind. He wanted no trouble, but a sincere goodbye to the love of his life. The trolley shuddered and rolled and he felt the lights and heard the roar of a crowd that stretched for a million miles.
Stevie would arrive at the party later. He wanted to be alone for a while. The others understood. He hobbled into the streets of the city. This was where it had begun, in the club where the walls dripped with perspiration and the music played long after it was time to stop. And Stevie wondered how it was that a man could live for a hundred years and travel a thousand miles and still come to stand in the same part of the earth. A junkie promised he could get what Stevie wanted, provided he received cash up front. He told Stevie to wait and he would return shortly with the goods.
~ â€˜It's been fabulous. One of the best evening's I've ever had.â€™ This is the way Rada Vanderwerff, a 19-year-old student teacher, described one enchanted evening with an
Easybeat. Rada, who comes from Blakehurst, was the winner of the Daily Mirror's Win A Date With An Easybeat competition. Last night, she went out on the town with ‘Little’ Stevie Wright, the group's lead vocalist. The couple dined by candlelight at the Summit restaurant and then swung on to Caesar's Place for a champagne supper. There, Rada was introduced to the other Easybeats, Dick Diamond, Tony Cahill, Harry Vanda and George Young. They kept her dancing and talking until the early hours of the morning. This rather worried Rada's friend, Wendy Brown, also a student teacher. Wendy, who was Rada's companion for the evening, had volunteered to give her some late coaching for her teachers' college exams today. So, this morning, with visions of The Easybeats and champagne dancing in her head, Rada is sitting in an examination room that will decide her future. She is desperately trying to put out of her mind, for a while at least, her enchanted evening with ‘Little’ Stevie Wright. The Daily Mirror, August, 1969.
The wretched tale of Little Stevie Wright