I was fortunate to interview John in 2015 for my RN series Funemployed. He was an intimidating fountain of sparkling integrity. He said some cool things about being creative. You can hear the full interview HERE.
“If you’re going to be in the sort of work I do then you need to work out a self that can be promoted, which may not be the you that lives in your house. It seems to me that you are your project. You are in charge of your attitude. One of the key things in my field that people I’ve observed and liked when I was young, they’re all people who worked out who they are. If there’s a message in what they did it’s ‘be yourself.’ Don’t try and copy me, be you.
I started off as a performer. I only began to write as a way to generate material for myself to perform. I’ve learned so much from having to do that. It’s marvellous. There’s nothing I like more than a blank page and a phone ringing….and where is it?
If I weren’t being paid to do this I’d be doing it anyway. There are periods of what other people would call unemployment in which I call development. There’s a great deal of haphazard about all this. You need to be happy to do it, it needs to be a pleasure. A day without some mischief is a wasted day.
I still think of myself as learning so much about what I’m doing I still think of myself as quite young in the sense of developing. I think I’m pretty slow. I’m a pretty slow developer. I think about things pretty slowly. And I very slowly to an understanding of them. I haven’t got through the heats yet.
I always thought there was an interesting difference in the ways Paul McCartney and John Lennon dealt with the breakup of the Beatles in creative terms. Paul did a whole lot of stuff that was very good but appealed to the audience that they’d had in the first place and John wrote stuff for his own age as it got older. And that was sometimes much more difficult to sell because he was not fitting into the pop music mould.
Perhaps both those things are in your head as well. Whether what you’re trying to build is an audience or an interesting life. You’re very, very lucky if you have an audience. I’ve always liked my audience because with any luck I’m in it.
One of the reasons we like the arts is not that we’re looking at people who are creative and we’re not, it’s that they’ve done something that makes us creative. By appreciating it, it resonates against all sorts of things in our memories and we’re thinking creatively. We’re taken away from all the other ways in which we’re taught to think in order to have a functional life. I think that’s a privilege to be in a role where you’re part of that engagement with the public.
The last thing you’d want to listen to as an authority on what you’re doing is whatever’s being said. Have a look at it by all means, but don’t waste too much time. Get the lawns done, would be my advice. You need to have good people around you who tell you the truth.
It doesn’t get easier over time. The bureaucracy has fresh troops.”
After my Pop passed away last year, I found myself wearing his clothes. This was nothing new. Back in 1998 when I first discovered op-shopping, I realised I had an exclusive treasure trove right under my nose. During a regular weekend jaunt to Nan & Pop’s I asked politely if I could inspect their wardrobe, and with the excitement of one passing through the ‘Staff Only’ door at Salvos, initiated a gangly, late-teens version of dress ups.
Whenever a fellow secondhand droog complimented me on my retro jacket, it was with great pride that I said it was my Pop’s. Adorned in a full set of his clothes, I strolled through Melbourne one brisk winter morning like a soldier of nostalgia trying to blend in with the past. Top: safari jacket, dark green, pure wool from New Zealand. Bottom: dark green, flared suit trousers. Shirt: pale lime green Pelaco brand. Singlet: Bonds, athletic. Socks: knee-length bus driver style. Underpants: yes, underpants. They were a pair of cheap generic boxers that Nan had bought but he’d never worn. The clothes made me feel safe, purposeful, loved. He was a quiet man who never said “I love you.” But what an impoverished upbringing and the Second World War had economised in his language, he made up for with a generous smile and patient ear.
There are days when the loneliness really hits me and find myself scuttling through the sand layers of my mind to find my fondest memories of him. I’m six, it’s a breezy, summer’s day and we’re walking along the beach. This was our walk. These were our times. We’d do it regularly. Pop would plod along at a steady pace, watching me sprint ahead and poke around in the sand. I’d run back and find his large, warm hand. The beach was an endless runway of delight where my adventures could take off. The clear salt waves nipped at my senses, while the vibrations of his voice ran through me as I rode high on his shoulders. Constant shiftwork had not allowed him to have this kind of time with his own children. It must have been such a joy.
Today I wear his clothes like a hug. When I first got them they still smelt like the cool linen stillness of his cupboard. It’s a scent I wanted to bury my face into; to curl up like a cat and fall asleep in. I was transported to a time before custom and expectation, when a simple woolen jumper held me safe. Now they’ve been through the wash a few times, but the cloth still connects with my blood. I am reminded of the love for my family, and this man who would be a father figure to me. Wearing his clothes makes me feel strangely complete. Like a traveller returning to the place they were born.
The truth is I’ve been wearing the clothes of the deceased for years. Not everyone is comfortable with this. There are those who scoff and hang cruelly on the edge of secondhand shops, dabbling their toe in the dust-ridden air, daring each other to go in. What twisted expression could I evoke with tales of my grandfather’s undergarments keeping me snug at night? I wouldn’t want them to understand.
My friend in Hobart said his father had just passed away and he too had taken to wearing his underwear and socks. He didn’t offer an explanation. He didn’t need to. In this global shop-front/techno-paddock world, sometimes we need to walk like kingdoms and wear our memories like flags.
Four of my columns are featured in Frankie’s new anthology ‘Something To Say.’ I talk about graffiti, grandpas and growing down.
- A piece I wrote will be in the new book Letter To My Teenage Self published by Affirm. It’s been collated by a Melbourne schoolgirl to confront bullying. It includes contributors such as Maggie Beer, Peter Alexander and Kate Ceberano. Icecream, PJ’s & Bedroom Eyes.
- I also have a piece kicking in Copyfight, released last year.
- I’m performing at Coburg Carnivale as The Bedroom Philosopher. Sep 21, 22 at 7:30. Tickets HERE.
By popular demand (mine), I once again ended music conference Bigsound with an action packed panel discussion. Featuring Jen Cloher & Ben Salter in hot form.
I was entrusted to the be the special guest Heather Locklear style at this years HERDSA conference. Believe me, you would like to know what that stands for: (The Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia). See!
My first proper job (not counting head chef at Burnie KFC) came in late 2001, the day I handed in my last uni assignment and graduated from seventeen years of school. I stepped into the conditioned air and screaming carpets of the Canberra Labor Club. The ‘Labes’ was a superclub that Uni of Canberra students had been frequenting for years, drawn to their schnitzel burgers and beer at warehouse prices. It was IKEA for drunks.
Armed with a BA in Professional Writing, I was just qualified to wipe out ashtrays and call bingo. My professional communication skills had me fraternising effortlessly with regulars, such as the girl who asked for a shot of raspberry in her beer, or the old man with a cleft palate and magnified glasses who would shake my hand while sliding his thumb over the top whispering, “I could take care of you, Justin.”
Being a writer who wanted to pursue a career in music, there were times when my position in the service industry didn’t feel as though it was fully utilising all of my skill set. One neon Wednesday, I dumped an ash bomb in my cart and watched disgusted as a public servant blew a semester’s worth of course fees in twenty minutes. I’d recently secured a weekly songwriting segment on Triple J, and begun my career as The Bedroom Philosopher. I tied this win to my uniform, the excitable balloon keeping my spirits above sea level.
My fear was that I’d be swallowed up by my casual job and lose sight of my artistic dream. To protect (and protest) against this I’d workshop songs while carrying out drinks to the pokies (it stopped people sipping from their coin cups – the service, not my songs). I’d lurk behind ‘Queen Of The Nile’ and jot lyrics down on a Keno ticket. If I found a melody, I had to protect it from the jingle jungle by humming on loop until I could deposit a haunting message into my sharehouse message bank.
To alleviate the light horror of spending eight hours doing mundane and potentially meaningless activities while not having anyone telling me to write, I started a blog. I’d offload 2000 words every three days on my laptop — harvesting my experience by writing about work as if it were my own personal sitcom. It became so intense that for a while whenever anyone spoke to me, their words would appear in Times New Roman twelve point. My misadventures with the old man who kept asking if I’d like to move in with him became one of my first published pieces in the literary mag Voiceworks.
After six months I qualified to call bingo. This was big city bingo – a far cry from the quaint, country love-in of my retirement fantasies. Mean old ladies stabbed their sheets with puce fury, scowling every time I strayed from the script.
“One – the loneliest number.”
“Zero wearing a belt – eight.”
“Life begins at – 70!”
To make matters sadder, they didn’t even shout ‘bingo’ – they simply blurted ‘here’ in a business-like tone, arm raised.
And HERE-O was his name-NOT!
This wasn’t what the first Heazlewood to go to uni went to uni for.
What the ‘Labes’ gave me was a comfy stool in the real world, at a time when my own life was bingo barrelling. The low pressure of no more school met the high pressure of a national radio gig, leaving flashes in my dreams and thunder in my blood. Regular shifts gave my week structure and cash flow (a gap year from Centrelink), while pulling beers was a meditative escape from existential crises in front of The Simpsons. (I practiced mindfulness; the members practiced blindfulness.)
Crucially, my first job prepared me for life in the public glare. Being the only employee with mid-length hair and glasses I was told I looked like every person in history with mid-length hair and glasses. I earned the nickname Shaggy (from Scooby Doo), which quickly got its own nickname: Shags. (Shagster if you were feeling cheeky and Shagadelic for special occasions, fusing it with my pet hate: Austin Powers). At no extra cost they threw in Harry Potter, The Guy From Oasis, The Guy From Weezer, The Guy From The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Guy From The Seekers, The Guy Out Of Pulp, Keith Richards, John Lennon, George Harrison and The Security Guard In A Clockwork Orange.
Secretly, I was The Bedroom Philosopher, but in 2002 I was the barroom philanthropist – donating my time in return for $20 an hour, half-price meals, and all the lemon, lime & bitters I could handle (made with lemonade, not lemon squash for god’s sake). It wasn’t such a bad place to be.
Jealousy, bitterness, intrigue. It’s all there in this package from Art Day! where I read Funemployed in its entirety.