Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 43

Bikers at the park in Parsley Bay, standing around in amazement after Blodgett throttled half the gang.

Geoffrey Hill in the special room he had built off to the side of Yeats’ oyster shed. He is shown here preparing for his reading of King Log during the festival.

The ‘Woman washing her hair’ tree outside Geraldton in Dennis Hopper’s vision.

As Blodgett reached the road he saw a group of bikers at a smoking hotplate in the park. On the crest of a hill, kites dipped and soared as if the trees had released them. A cockatoo wheeled over. Blodgett stopped to watch it tumble and angle away into the blood-letting of a huge angophora. He could hear the bikers. They were talking about how The Little River Band should have been invited to the festival. “And Max Merritt and the Meteors,” said one. “Fucken oath,” said another, “and don’t forget Bill Thorpe and the Aztecs.” Blodgett had been a fan of country music since he was a teenager. He also considered himself an expert Australia’s contemporary music, and he knew that these bikers were out of their depth. Their vision was so narrow and obvious, it made Blodgett laugh. As he passed their picnic area, he said “So, you love your country music then?” The bikers stopped eating and drinking and stared at him. “Can’t see how you’d call Max Merritt country,” Blodgett scoffed. Two of the bigger bikers edged around the picnic table and took a few steps towards him. “I mean, The Little River Band might just get one vote for their pseudo country airs and faces, but c’mon fellas, the bands you mentioned are rock and pop and,” he stopped to make a huge theatrical show of wiping his brow, “they’re gone! The time of Sherbet and John Paul Young and all those other saccharine pansies has passed uneasily into history. It’s time to move on.” The other bikers had abandoned the barbecue. Blodgett knew he was in trouble, and he welcomed it. “So tell me,” he said loudly and slowly. “What’s a bunch of filthy, leather-bound, pop-loving, out-of-time-and-mind fools like you doing in a dump like this” The bikers came at Blodgett like the remnants of a heathen tribe on the edge of madness and starvation. They wanted blood and meat and they were going to feast. Blodgett side-stepped and hammered the first two into the ground with his fists. The others came on blindly, swinging and cursing and throwing saliva. Blodgett grabbed them, lifted them off the ground and bashed them together. He crouched and turned, kicking them away as they came again. “For a bunch of flowers in a strange land, you’re feisty,” he laughed as he belted a biker into the river. “Who are you?” a biker said from the grass. “My name is Blodgett,” said Blodgett,” and walked off over the grass to the track that led around to the main harbour.
Dennis Hopper stared from the rear window of Andrew Burke’s Monaro. “Can’t say I’m going to miss Geraldton,” he said. “But it does have a certain... red allure.” Burke adjusted the rear-view mirror and looked at Hopper. “Is it true you’re an explosives expert?” Dennis removed his sunglasses and spoke to Andrew’s eyes in the mirror. “Expert is a bit extreme, but I know my way around a detonator, a fuse and the sweat-stains on a stick of dynamite.” Michael Dransfield turned and leaned over the seat. “We might need your help,” he said. “But first we’re going to where the ghost of Randolph Stowe still blows through the dunes and trees near Greenough,” he said. “But Stowe isn’t dead,” Andrew said, a hint of alarm in his voice. “Is he?” “Michael is using the word ‘ghost’ parenthetically,” Dennis Hopper said, his breath blooming on the window glass. 
They drove in silence until Dennis started whistling Ghost Riders in the Sky. When he finished, he said “I still don’t know what you two have planned, but I’m sensing there’s magic and intrigue afoot, and I’m up for it.” Michael Dransfield smiled. Andrew Burke looked through the remaining legs and wings and shells of grasshoppers on the windscreen. He saw how the road out of town was empty and coated with red dust. He re-adjusted the mirror and looked at himself. We wasn’t smiling.
Terry Hack and Moose had been following the Waggaists around town. Whenever the group stopped, the men pretended to be deep in discussion. When they reached the oyster shed, Alison Croggan stepped away from the group and confronted Hack. “Why are you following us?” she said. “We’re not followers, we’re leaders,” Moose said. “I’m not talking to you, budgie-features,” Alison said without looking at him. “We’re not followers, we’re trackers,” Terry said. “Well track yourselves back to whatever oyster lease you were spawned in and leave us alone,” Alison said. Moose looked her up and down. When he saw a lyre-bird feather trailing down outside her jeans, he said “Bit of an ornithologist, are ya?” “What?” Alison said impatiently. Moose pointed to the feather. “Bit of a collector of local imitators, are ya?” Alison tucked the feather into her jeans. “Listen,” she said quietly. “I have no issue with you, so leave us alone.” Terry Hack spoke into his two-way: “Terry to Bill. Come in, over.” “Bill here, Terry. What’s happening, over?” “Get yourself to Yeats’ oyster shed immediately. And bring some planks. Over and out.”
When Lynyrd Skynyrd walked out on stage the crowd erupted. Ronnie van Zandt was beaming. As was his style, he was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and bare feet. As guitarist Steve Gaines picked the opening chords of Simple Man, Ronnie spoke to the crowd. “We’ve come a long way to be here, but it’s not about distance. Brooklyn is a backwater, and that’s the kind of country we know and love. Give me the swamp over the city. Give me the dirt road over the highway. C’mon, let’s kick the loose gravel home!”
Blodgett had to knock out three security guards at the rear festival gate to gain access. He had no tickets, no money, no clothes. Since the Island War, he’d been living on his nerve and cunning. Using a bagful of palm-fibre snares he’d stolen from Amanda Joy, he’d been trapping rabbits and birds and collecting water from the toilet block in Parsley Bay. When young, growing up in the wilds in the far north of Canada, he’d had a reputation as a brawler, but had long since let that part of his life slide by. Now the brawler was back. He was going to sort the Waggaists out once and for all, and anyone else who got in his way would be dealt with swiftly.
W.B. Yeats, Devin Johnston, Wallace Stevens and Earnest Hemmingway were in the back bar of the Angler’s Rest. John Berryman was beside himself with nerves. Yeats had taken him aside. “Nerves are a fine thing, John. They restore our faith in feeling the dark and the light. Square your shoulders and step into the fray.” “I’d give anything to sing with Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Wallace Stevens said. “Damn right,” Papa Hemmingway said. “Great band, great venue, just get your ass out there and give ‘em hell.” John Berryman finished his pint of Guinness and walked to the door. He saw Geoffrey Hill over in the corner of the main bar talking to Robert Duncan and a few of the golden codgers he’d brought with him from Budgewoi. Duncan raised his cup of tea: “Have fun, John,” he said. David Gilbey and Elizabeth Campbell stopped playing pool and wished him luck. Chris Wallace-Crabbe was still upset at not being offered the job as leader of the Poets, even though there seemed to be no core group to lead and nothing much to do. “Are you coming to hear me sing, Chris?” Berryman said across the crowded room. “No. I think I’ll just stay here and read,” Wallace-Crabbe said. As Berryman walked down the steps towards the marina, Emmylou Harris came running towards him, waving her arms madly. “Where have you been?” she shouted. “You are supposed to be in the green room, waiting to go on.” Berryman shrugged. “Ok,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
Andrew Burke stopped the car outside Greenough. He pointed at a huge tree, its branches lying along the ground where the prevailing winds had prevented it from growing normally. “Randolph Stowe called it the ‘woman washing her hair’ tree,” Andrew said. Dennis Hopper got out of the car and walked to the side of the road. He could see the image clearly, but he also saw death, and sadness, and memorial. He saw a sarcophagus. He saw beauty and decay. The scene overwhelmed him, and he wept. He walked over to the tree and ran his hands along a branch. “Darling,” he said. When Dransfield and Burke joined him, he said “I must read this Stowe fellow. I feel he has much to tell me.”

G. Lehmann.

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