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.

Dispatch From The Front: Day 42

Bob Russo at Hawkesbury River Station.

Blodgett emerging from his cave above Parsley Bay.

M.C. Escher adjusted a large screen and then stepped back as it came to life: a flickering, luminous scene involving hundreds of boats, seagulls and sparkling water. “We will not be able to negotiate a safe passage down this crowded river,” he said. Ted Hughes thought for a moment, then said “I suppose we could swim ashore. We’re not far from land.” Dorothy Hewett laughed bitterly: “Not far from land, but much too close to those fucking Waggafish. Forget it, Ted.” Lucinda Williams was pacing up and down. “I don’t care how we get to Brooklyn, but we’ve got to make it there soon. I’m expected on stage. I can’t let Emmylou down.” T.S. Eliot rubbed his chin: “To live is to fly,” he said. The others turned to look at him. Escher smiled: “Mr Eliot is right. I wasn’t going to suggest this because it might seem too odd.” “Too odd?” Dorothy said. “Are you kidding? This whole thing has been beyond odd. It’s beyond surreal. What’s on your mind, admiral?” Escher strode to a large red box against the far wall. He lifted the lid, reached in and withdrew what looked like a deflated rubber bladder with cords trailing from its riveted edges.  He held it in front of him. “What’s that? An octopus head?” asked Ted Hughes. “A box jellyfish?” asked Lucinda. “It’s a balloon,” Escher said. “I have been experimenting for years with personal balloons - small, intimate versions of your standard hot air balloon, except my balloons don’t have a basket, obviously, and they are controlled by drawstrings.” Ted Hughes knew something about aerodynamics. He understood the basics behind maneuvering parachutes to earth accurately. “Ridiculous,” he said. “Can’t be done. Too dangerous. We’ll die. Fall to earth. No thanks.” M.C. Escher lowered the balloon. “May I at least give a demonstration?”
Alison Croggan was taking in the scene. She was standing back from the stage as preparations for Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Berryman were finalised. At the back of the stage was a huge photo of Ronnie van Zandt on a palomino horse, and beside him, on a John Deere tractor, John Berryman, staring out from under a large straw hat. “This is a bloody circus,” Alison said. 
Bill Wisely had been watching Alison. There was something not quite right about her. It wasn’t just that she had been leading a group of badly-dressed people around Brooklyn; it wasn’t just that they didn’t seem to be that interested in the town, the people, the buskers, or the general atmosphere; it was a dark feeling that had been growing inside him, and now he wanted to find out what was going on. He watched as Alison stood before the stage, her arms folded. He tucked his plank into his trousers, buttoned his coat, and moved to stand beside her. “Lovely evening,” he said. Alison jumped. She looked at Bill through her hair, then returned her gaze to the stage. “Are you a Skynyrd fan?” he asked. Alison did not speak or move. Bill looked around at her followers. “Are your friends fans of country music?” he asked. Alison Croggan turned to him. “Please do not speak to me again,” she said. Bill smiled and touched the handle of his plank through the fabric of his coat. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to be friendly. It’s just that you look like a country-loving woman, and I thought you might like a chat.” Alison’s face was going red. “You see,” Bill continued, “I live here, and I’m also head of security for this festival, and I like to know that everything’s on the level, if you know what I mean.” He leaned in and put his mouth to Alison’s ear. “And you look a bit off centre,” he whispered. Alison’s face was now the colour of beetroot juice. “Fuck off,” she said, and turned away. The Waggaists followed her. Bill watched them walk off through the crowd. He spoke into his two-way radio. “You there, Terry? Over.” Terry Hack’s voice came through: “Hearing you loud and clear, Bill. Over.” “There’s a group of people heading your way led by a woman with a red face. Can you let me know where they go and what they’re doing? Over.” “Will do. Wilco. Roger. Over.” “Shut the fuck up and just get onto it Terry. Over.” 
Dr Greene had finally arrived by train and was standing at the base of the railway station stairs. Bob Russo was beside him, the tail of his fox-skin cap whipping around in the wind. Dr Greene was looking at the festival program. “I don’t want to miss Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Charlie Daniels Band,” he said. “And The Jayhawks,” Bob Russo said. Dr Greene looked down at the red, humming container at his feet. “Are you ready for the country, Bob?” “Ready,” Bob said, and grinned like a hillbilly.
Blodgett woke from a fitful sleep and stretched. He was in a cave high in the bush overlooking Parsley Bay. He had a pounding headache and his feet ached. He’d been more reclusive these past few weeks than at any time in his life. He knew the other poets would be worried about him, but he’d had to do what he sensed was right. He’d been drinking heavily, but now it was time to get back to community. His isolation had given him the charge he needed. Things were in sharp relief. The situation was clear. He was missing Canada, but he had to tie up loose ends. He emerged slowly from the cave and looked down at the bay. From the other side of the hill he could hear a guitar coming and going on the wind. The evening was perfect. The time was right. He stepped down into the scrub and set off for the marina.
It took a lot of convincing before the poets and Lucinda Williams accepted the balloons Admiral Escher had offered them. Dorothy Hewett was first to take one into her hands. She looked down at the large collapsed balloon with its trailing cords. “If I end up in the fucking river, I’m going to put a curse on you that will turn your drawings to mush,” she said, then she smiled. “Imagine. Coming down outside The Rest. Old Bill Wisely will shit planks.” Admiral Escher opened the roof of the Red Oblong and began filling the balloons from a cylinder of helium gas. When all the balloons were bobbing and straining at the ends of their leads, everyone stepped into their harnesses and got ready to fly. T.S. Eliot stepped up the velvet-covered ladder and stood on a small panel below the lip of the roof of the Oblong. Admiral Escher waited for the breeze to swing around to the West, then called out for T.S. to jump. He jumped, and sailed away, slowly and steadily towards Brooklyn. As the others watched him go, an air of excitement filled the Oblong. Lucinda Williams stepped up, took a deep breath, and jumped away. Ted Hughes and Dorothy followed her. As Ted lifted away, he looked down and saw that Escher was standing inside the Oblong holding a balloon in his hands. “Admiral, come on!” Ted shouted. Escher waved and smiled. “My place is here,” he said, “Buon viaggio, Edward!” 

G. Lehmann.

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.