Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 41

Frederick Seidel impersonating John Denver with a Waggaist at the festival in Brooklyn.

Shelby as Gram Parsons at the Angler’s Rest.

Merle Haggard looking like Bukowski and Leonard Cohen.

Led Zeppelin’s air ship outside the oyster sheds.

Michael Dransfield, Andrew Burke and Dennis Hopper were sitting out on the end of the Geraldton break wall. Dransfield was flicking lures around, prospecting for tailor. Andrew Burke was listening to Hopper talk about film. “Life is a B-Grade masterpiece. Every script is flawed and everyone knows the story. Dialogue is what happens when the lights and camera turn you on. It’s all bullshit. Sometimes I wish the continuity people would fuck off and let it all unravel. Brando might be a dickhead, but he understands the need to step away from the script. He’s ad-libbed his way through some monster scenes and you wouldn’t fucking know it. A true genius. Directors go white and tear at their hair, but in the end he brings it all on home. You can trust him to ride the edge on he backstreet, then return to the well-lit highway. He taught me how to trust my fear. Pete Fonda, now there’s another story. In a publicity shot, he used a black and white photo of Richard Tipping, and everyone was taken in. ‘Great photo, Pete,’ they said, and Fonda just smiled and said nothin’. I love that guy. Should have made more of his talent. Same with lots of guys. Sean Penn, now there’s brilliance in a blood basket. Fuck he can act. Do anything, be anyone. Studies his character with a surgeon’s precision, then roughs up the edges, so what you get is the human and the fiction in bed. I love watching that guy work. He can step out of his trailer with a hangover, rub his face, take a hit of coffee, then walk on set and into frame and be fucking spellbinding. Not many have that.” Hopper lit a cigarette and looked over at Dransfield, who was into a nice tailor, working the fish around to the shallows. “I used to fish,” he said. “James Dickey took me out on the Coosawatee River in Georgia. That’s the river in Deliverance. I had my old fiberglass pole and a bashed-up reel and a tin full of rusted hooks. Dickey had his hunting bow and arrows with blade-heads. The guy is a maniac. He shot fish. Fuck he was good. Just stood up in the boat, pulled back the string, took a deep breath, waited, then fired. His arrows had fishing line attached to the ends of the flights, and he just reeled the thrashing trout back to the boat. Dickey fishes the way he writes poetry - with his whole body. A visceral specimen.” Dennis Hopper stood up and stretched. “I want to go home,” he said. “But there are things to do.” He looked down at Burke and removed his Ray-bans. “Isn’t that right, Andrew?”
The Ambulance drove slowly through the crowded streets of Brooklyn. Alison Croggan was staring straight ahead, focussed and silent. She saw Emmylou Harris in the crowd and noticed how Emmylou was talking quickly and lightly, using her hands and giving directions. She hated her smile. She loathed the woman’s effortless way with people. Then she saw Charlie Daniels. He was leaning back on a railing at the wharf, his fiddle under his chin, chipping away at a tune. She eased the ambulance to the side of the road outside Tom’s fish and chip shop. “Stay together,” she told the Waggaists. “Don’t speak to anyone. If we need to engage with these fuckwits, let me do the talking.” The doors opened and the Waggaists stepped out into a warm day. A light breeze was coming off the river. There was music everywhere. The huge stage was ready. As they walked along the waterfront, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama began thumping through the P.A. 
A water taxi pulled into the marina and idled at the wharf as three men stepped out with their bags. Security approached them and asked them for their tickets, but when they saw who the men were, they greeted them warmly and let them through. John Denver, Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard stood and looked around from under their hats. “This is going to be good,” said Frederick Seidel. “You look even more like Denver than Denver,” said Shelby, who was wearing a country shirt with red poppies and cactus embroidered into it. “And you are Gram Parsons personified,” said Haggard. Seidel and Shelby didn’t bother addressing Haggard’s persona, despite the fact that he was looking more and more like Bukowski morphed into Leonard Cohen. Merle was was in a filthy mood. “Let’s go find Emmylou Harris,” he snarled.
As the afternoon wore on and the crowd got drunk and the sky darkened at the edges, talk began spreading about a curious shape that had appeared at the mouth of the river. The words “Red Oblong” went through the festival until they reached the ears of W.B Yeats and Devin Johnston, who were up at the Angler’s Rest, drinking Guinness with John Berryman, Ronnie van Zandt and Geoffrey Hill. Yeats stood up and drained his glass. “Let’s welcome them,” he said. Berryman declined, saying he needed to finalise things with van Zandt, as they were due on stage in a few hours. Geoffrey Hill was too pissed to move. He waved Yeats away. “Screw ‘em,” he slurred. “Let ‘em swim ashore.” Yeats frowned and nodded to Devin, “Then we will do the right thing,” he said. “While courtesy does not demand sobriety, it requires our full attention. Come, Devin.” 

As Yeats and Johnston walked through the crowd, a slow shadow passed over them. People began talking loudly, then everyone was shouting and pointing into the sky. Yeats looked up and saw a huge airship. It was moving slowly, about a hundred feet up. The crowd watched as the airship came to a stop above the oyster shed at the end of the wharf. Devin was smiling. “Come on, W.B., let me introduce you to something truly amazing. The Red Oblong can wait.” 
When they reached he oyster shed, the airship had descended and a rope had been tied to an old wharf pylon. A set of stairs had been lowered, and men with long hair and wearing colourful clothes were stepping down onto the road. “Led Zeppelin!” someone shouted. The crowd began pushing forward, but Bill Wisely, Terry Hack, Moose and the Sons of Zebedee stepped out in front of them and started waving their planks. “Hello Brooklyn!” Robert Plant shouted, and the crowd went wild. “It’s good to be back in Australia, Jimmy Page said as he moved along the front of the crowd, signing autographs. John Paul Jones said bugger-all, and moved to stand to one side, fiddling with his hair and looking uncomfortable. “Where are those fucking Waggas?” growled John Bonham, holding his fishing rod and tackle box. Bill Wisely glared at him and tightened his grip on the plank. Now was not the time to start swinging, but he sensed that he and Bonham would soon have things to discuss. Emmylou Harris emerged through the side door of the oyster shed. She was smiling, but her eyes were troubled. Led Zeppelin were one of the world’s greatest rock bands. Their presence was going to steal the thunder of the other performers. Now that word had got out, things were surely going to fall apart quickly. She called out to Robert Plant, who came over and shook her hand. She told him of her fears, and Plant just laughed. “Don’t worry darlin,’ he beamed. We love country music. We don’t have any plans to play, unless of course we’re asked. You can rely on us to help in any way we can.” Emmylou was relieved. She invited the band into the oyster shed, where she arranged to have a special corner made up for them but Plant declined. “We’ll sleep in the air ship.” Bill Wisely watched them go into the shed. “Fucken hippies,” he said.

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