John Clarke Interview

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.”

The Shirt Off His Back (Frankie Anthology – 2016)

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.