Seymour Rants: No 9 Cowderoy St
A suburban home hides strange secrets in rock history.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 1 March 2006.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
Cowderoy Street was full of min-vans with ‘courier’ written on the driver’s side-door. All the houses were closed up with their blinds drawn. No one ever came outside except on Jewish feast days that came around every other week. Families strolled in silence to the synagogue. Men and boys wore dark suits with broad brimmed hats. Their hair hung down the sides of their faces in long tangled ringlets. Mothers and daughters dressed in austere shapeless frocks in muted colours. The women wore identical auburn wigs, slightly bobbed.
No.9 was different. There’d been complaints. There were tarty looking punk-rock girls dressed in mini skirts and stilettos wandering in off the street at all hours or hanging out on the front veranda smoking cigarettes. The front door was always left open. People came and went. The cops kept a close eye on the place.
It was a Victorian villa with a slate roof and huge bay windows. The front garden was wild with weeds and fallen branches. Someone had cared for it once. It was thick with exotic English shrubs long gone to seed. No.9 was a shambles but it still had dignity. At the centre of the sweeping front yard there was a fifteen metre high date palm that was so impressive its fronds extended out over the pavement.
At 7 PM sharp a thin young man came out dressed in a purple 50’s wedding suit with a pink ruffle-necked shirt. His hair was gelled flat to his scalp. He shuffled over to the tap and proceeded to uncoil the garden hose from a hook on the fence. After adjusting the flow he aimed it at the base of the palm, always on the western side. Regardless of the weather, even if it was bucketing down he was out there, giving the tree a drink. He called the tree “Meredith.” The girls called him “The Emperor of Everything.”
The emperor meant well. Every Friday he took a tram across town to the main gate of Her Majesty’s Pentridge Prison to meet the newly released. The emperor offered the lads food and shelter back at Cowderoy Street and then commandeered their dole cheques to make sure the money was spent on the food of his choosing: nothing with a spine.
The emperor believed all buildings were an abomination of nature. He told the young lads he brought home that they were victims of a social order that was designed to confuse and bewilder them, which was why they’d ended up inside. He’d read Foucault. As a result of his beliefs, he was compelled to take the villa apart. Walls were at the heart of the problem. He began to knock holes in them. As they came down he moved into the ceiling. In winter the house was bitterly cold.
Eventually, the only room left untouched was the ‘music room’ which would have been the lounge under normal circumstances, except that the emperor allowed some of the more radical local musicians to experiment in there. He held them in deep respect. They were his cultural emissaries, poets of deconstruction. Like everything else about No.9, the music they made was dark and mysterious. Some of the girls compared it to the sound of a zoo burning down. The emperor believed it was so significant that he encouraged his ex-con disciples to hang out in there for a while. They usually didn’t last long. It was hellishly loud and bore no resemblance to ACDC. But the girls loved it. They stood around the walls, smoking cigarettes and drinking gin straight from the bottle, and watched while the boys did their thing.
There was one muso who was particularly interesting. He always played solo and topless. He used to stand in the middle of the room with a green Hernandez electric guitar slung around his neck. The guitar was plugged into a Fender amp, which was in turn miked up to a P.A. stack that towered over the room in the corner. There was no furniture so everybody had to stand.
No one ever sat on the floor. Sitting on the floor was despicably ‘hippie.’ Besides, it was covered in cigarettes. The bloke with the guitar also had a vacuum cleaner which he turned on, aiming the hose with his right hand at the middle pick-up. Naturally the guitar went berserk. The amp was already cranked to ten. It could only distort. The room was instantly filled with an appalling wail. He manipulated the hose subtly and the wail thickened to more of a foghorn like roar. Simultaneously with his left hand he delicately stroked the neck of the guitar with a glockenspiel key which had the effect of ‘tuning’ the note…The sound was continuous, loud and awful. Massive waves of tuneless harmonic distortion rolled up and down the walls and seeped through them out into the street. The neighbours were deeply concerned.
Even though it physically hurt to be in there with him, it was because of the very pain he was inflicting that he held the girls entranced. They felt as though they were part of something really special.
The bloke became quite popular. Naturally the girls talked when they were out in other places and gradually the word got around.
“So whereya off to now hey?” someone’d ask.
“Oh, No.9 Cowderoy Street.”
“Yeah? What happens there?”
“Music. It’s sort of a club, but you don’t have to pay.”
“Can we come?”
People from the suburbs began turning up. Other blokes started coming. The girls in the mini-skirts were a definite drawcard, though the bloke with the guitar seemed to hold some degree of interest as well. It was a case of the boys watching the girls watching the boy. Needless to say, some of them wondered what the fuck he was doing but went away assuming he was probably getting screwed royally which to the more cynical was motivation enough. There were known to have been up to fifty in there at a time. The emperor set himself up on a huge maroon lounge chair just outside the front door and started charging money for lettuce and tomato sandwiches. A dollar each.
When the guitar player was at his most inspired, the performance could go for a good hour of uninterrupted cacophony, the room absolutely jam packed with punters all staring blankly at each other or the floor. Nobody blocked their ears. What would’ve been the point of that?
I never spoke to the emperor but I spent three years in a band with the other bloke. His name was Greg Perano.
No.9 got raided in February. There was a supermarket out the back with a car park attached. The cops came up the lane. They used the car park as a meeting point for eight squad cars and their occupants. There’d been whole carcasses of beef stolen form the supermarket by teenagers with shaved heads dressed in trench coats.
Seven people were arrested for assault.
Greg Perano went to London.
The emperor disappeared.
The girls started going to the Crystal Ballroom.