Tarago Diaries #6 – Athenaeum Cliff-top

Musings about the art of the live rock performance.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 21 December 2018.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/1731905963582402?tn=K-R

Article Text

Loud music can put people to sleep. Especially children. I was told that once. Something about the ‘psycho-acoustics of the bass drum’..

I’ve been told many things. By experts. I’ve always been surrounded by them. Even now.

There’s a woman yawning down the front. You get that. A smile on the face of another. Over there a beard with a phone glowing in the dark, head twitching, looking sideways. Nudging his mate. Laughing.

It’s a decorated room. Vaulted plaster work. Rosettes and cherubs hanging in the smoke. The stage wall is the oldest in Melbourne. Heavy blue stone painted gloss black for the dungeon effect. Works for me. We could be anywhere. Not even Melbourne. Could be that freezing club in northern England I once found myself in, head half-shaved with two punters on bar stools right up the back, sledging in the gloom.

‘Cept it’s full. Which is nice. Warm too. Little round faces looming out of the fog seated in rows. Can’t see for buggery though for the smoke hangin’ thick and heavy right up into the ceiling. Not to worry though. We like smoke. It’s effective. Adds to the mystery.

Back to the yawning one down front. I can’t help wondering. What’s she thinking? Maybe a toilet run? A quick clamber over arms and legs. She’s looking across at Mayhem now. And why wouldn’t she? He’s going off. Bent over like he’s trying to extract a truffle out of the deck with the head stock of his Strat. Is she into him? Maybe. He’s definitely exciting to watch, like he’s building towards something and not just with his fingers. His whole body’s following his head, dipping up and down in a golf cap.

Or not? She’s half standing now, looking behind. Nah. It’s not Mayhem. It’s the toilet for sure. But she’s trapped. It’ll take forever to get out. She’s down again.

It’ll have to wait.

She’ll be ok though. There’s an intermission Coming. It’s a theatre after all, complete with half time.

A world away from a pub.

Order rules. No milling at the bar. No hiding in the corner. No banter. No wandering off. Audience and band equally focussed. There’s no bluffing. Stakes are off the dial. It’s either good or it’s rubbish. And everybody’s listening.

But then again you’d think, less noise, so less effort. Not so. See that’s the thing I’ve always wondered about rock music. It’s supposed to be this galvanizing cathartic thing, where physical excitement takes over and makes it real. Hence the ‘going off’ bit.

And there’s that look that rock musicians get right? The grimace. The howling mouth. The flailing arms. Hair everywhere. That’s the effort right? The uplifting joyous reaching for transcendence. The great moment.

But in a pub it’s kind of like noise trauma.. you’re just trying to be heard right? So go hard. Hence the look. It just comes out in your body. You look upset sort of ..but not really. Then the striving turns into a thing. Every one gets it and passes it on. It becomes ‘de rigueur’.

But in a theatre? How to do ‘The look’ and be totally in control at the same time?

Of course there’s Springsteen. Always in control, but still manages to ‘cuts sick’ for three hours and NEVER stops smiling.

Never the look.

How does that even work?

Or what about Elvis’s hips? After all, they kind of got the ball rolling right? He could do the twitching thing wherever.

Even the ED Sullivan show.

Now there was a dead fish. Where was the vibe there? Can’t have been in the room. A 60’s CBS sound stage? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Still, he only had to twitch and they went mad. So what was that? Can’t have been hard to do. The actual twitching bit. Of course you wouldn’t do it mowing the lawn. After all, what if it really was genuine sexual excitement?

The question was on everybody’s lips back then.

Or.. was it, dare I say, just pretend? And did the king ever draw the line? Not once! Was there even a line to be drawn? Between the glorious truth and the unlovely lie?

Or was the ‘twitch’ a kind of lovely shared experience before it became bland artefact? Or was it all just BULLSHIT from the start?

AND YET, there’s Mayhem, looking like his head’s about to fall off.

Is he all right? Or just pretending he’s going to die?

Or is it just me who’s even thinking this right now?

Glance behind.

What’s Mazz doin? He’s got this double time thing goin’ on. Beltin’ the bejesus out of the high hat. Face screwed up like a bulldog about to give birth to something truely unlovely. Surely it’s not that hard? Elvis again. Ha! He’s smiling now.

What a give away. Damn. Can’t tell anymore. And what about bassman Favarotti? Nah. No clues there. The mask is on as usual. Inscrutable, the zen master of cryptic but that’s a thing in itself right?

Glorious self control..

Give me some.

“I am a bass player. Bass players know everything.”

What exactly do they know? I’ve asked many times.

We’re mid-song. Something about a South Australian courtroom.

What was I thinking? A bar in King Williams Street named ‘Courtroom 32’, populated by a mob of impossibly successful middle class Australians.. also goin’ off. There was a point in there somewhere. Something about greed, corruption, and entitlement. The usual shambles. Musings on Canberra. A bubble of buffoonery.

The Ettamogah pub.

Which might help to explain the twitching mob suddenly erupting, stage right. Arms waving, bodies gyrating inappropriately in the flickering light. Theatrical types. Actors. Fresh from some semi-independent troupe. Prone to exaggeration. There’s even a daughter and a wife in there somewhere. Bodies leaping ‘round in the dark.

How could they be doing that while I’m thinking this, singing and NOT SMILING all at once?

Here comes the long bit at the end where the band winds out and I don’t have to sing anymore. Time to draw breath.

Made for a ‘guitar solo’.

Much maligned is the ‘guitar solo’, mired in accusations of WANK and the wafty yearning for collective transcendence amongst a certain post-Hendrix elite who erupted in the late 70’s, raised the flag of shoe-gazing and though it would fly forever..

Mayhem is an orderly man. Lives alone with complex machinery.

Likes to read Hegel in the mornings.

But not on this occasion.

Eyes rolling, head back, teeth grinding maniacally.

“This is mine now!”

There’s the runway, dead ahead.

Courtroom 32 was made for cliff top action.

As I always say,

“If it’s in the script, go for it.”

And he does..

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