In Year 12 my friends and I went through a phase of reminiscing about our childhoods, in particular the cartoons we used to watch on the ABC. Of all the shows there was one that elicited the most passionate reaction. The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. Unlike other kids shows, the series was only screened once, and we had equally foggy memories. We pieced it together like detectives, remembering iconic images such as the gold condor, medallions, and the African dress of Tao. Post-school I continued my mission to track it down, traversing a labyrinth of anecdotes and bootleg tip-offs. In 2008 I found the re-released DVD set in J-Mag’s freebies bin – a surprising and sudden end to my quest. While I revelled in how well the series had dated, I noted a slump in my spirits. With nostalgia, the journey is often better than the destination.
The theory of nostalgiabra has changed. Detective work is a much swifter affair with the advent of the pop-culture super computer. Instead of fishing for clues amongst ourselves we let The Net trawl the oceans for us. One of my obscurest memories is an Australian movie from the late 80’s called Frog Dreaming. All I remember is the title and a scene involving a mechanical monster in a swamp. After a minute on the keyboard I’d found the movie uploaded in eight parts to the ‘Tube. The most rated comment read: “Everyone has the SAME experience with this film, they all saw it around the late 80’s period, years pass and they can’t remember the title or anything else except a few brief moments. Then they eventually believe they dreamt or imagined those brief moments because nobody they talk to knows of a movie that fits the descriptions.”
It was true. Here was the modern, virtual equivalent of my Year 12 experience. For a moment I felt flush with acknowledgement – I was part of a community of fellow Gen-Y detectives, albeit online – but after clicking through to a site offering a burn of the film for thirty dollars I hit an emotional firewall. Where was the warmth? The heart. Where was the excitement of a friend putting the movie on at a party, or the vibrancy of a drunken chat with a stranger, rallying memories with high-fivin’ eyes? Like CDs to vinyl, this experience was too clinical and efficient compared to the warmth of meandering conversations and video store scouring. The conundrum was that I didn’t really want to find the answers all at once. What kind of series would Sherlock Holmes have been if he’d solved the cases by the second page?
During high school, my favourite pastime was to head to the local second hand record store and search though the CD singles. My number one target was a copy of my favourite song Infinity by Guru Josh. I spent so much time scouring the ‘G’s’ that I’ve build up an autistic knowledge of 90’s ‘G’ bands: Garbage, Gang Starr, Ginuwine, Gin Blossoms, Gina G. After five years solid searching I never found the single. This is because it was only released on cassette and vinyl. Looking back, it didn’t matter. The rush of suspense that accompanied my police cleric flicking was worth it. These days, I would head to Ebay and locate a copy within seconds. While this would suit the time-poor me today, my teenage hunting by hand is the equivalent of kids being encouraged to ‘run around in the backyard’ instead of playing the computer.
As super-detectives, with our minds in the matrix and the answers at our fingertips, are we experiencing obscurity blues? Thanks to the Internet nothing is lost anymore, so can we take the same joy in discovering it? As the online bargain bin grows, perhaps our connection to art is becoming more depersonalised. As one of the 25 000 Fans of 80s claymation Trapdoor I feel that nostalgia, like everything, has been commodified as another status symbol. It seems important to preserve my own relationship with the show, and distil the excitement from those faint technicolour memories. As a retro Poirot, perhaps I’ll take the long road, and wait until I stumble upon it on a dusty shelf. That’s StumbleUpon the old fashioned way.
HIGH SCHOOL DANCES
Before to-do lists and career chasing, there was a time when one’s entire universe could be decorated or destroyed by the eye-line of a pretty girl. Before long-term relationships and second helpings of sex there was a phase when the body was a bottle with the lid tightly fastened. This began in grade seven at the high school dance. I went along even though I didn’t know anyone. It was like a graduation for puberty. Beneath the rousing fanfare of Madonna’s Like A Prayer, what could have been a celebration of adolescence felt more like a wake for childhood.
No human has ever felt less confident than me, fused to my plastic seat, only able to grasp basic tasks like sipping from a cup or skulking to the toilet. Before me lay an exotic smorgasbord or lanky boys and soft, swishy girls. Leggy gigglers would pull each other by the hands while guys huddled in circles, laughing quietly. The floor was swimming with glow-fish from the disco ball, my heart beating to the atomic kick of Roxette’s The Look. I spent three hours trapped in this movie, waiting for my line. Where was the girl just moved from a small town spotting me from across the hall? Where was her cleanskin smile and yellow satin glove held out like a star?
I bode my days in the classroom developing thick, magnetic crushes on neat-faced girls. I’d drink myself into oblivion with thoughts of their feathery hair and balmy calves. A maths class was a sixty minute survey where I’d collect glances like cabbage moths. Eye contact became soul-flint, igniting a cocktail of passion and embarrassment that spread through my system like mild-fire. Did she just smile at me? Was she looking at me or past me? Does that mean she likes me? Should I talk to her on the way out? I did no such thing; too distracted by swearing pimples.
Opportunities came in P.E. dance class. In a gladiatorial battle of awkwardness, each gender would take turns asking the other to be their partner. I sat on the varnished floor, wrapped in my arms, as blue stockinged legs honed in like soft missiles.
Oh to hear my name! A daisy bloom of pleasure blossomed inside my cage. For my turn, I’d waddle off with ears scorching and eyes on high beam. While the public display of selection left me vulnerable, at least my clammy comrades were all in the same position. For one round #1 crush chose me, which had my head doing the Mexican hat dance. I connected with her cool, narrow fingers and savoured her hand on my shoulder. Data was analysed while doing the pride of erin with a girl who had her sleeves pulled over her hands.
Years later, in grade ten, I stepped through the silk screen and onto the dance floor. I realised socials could be fun, and subverted the sexual tension by moshing, requesting techno songs and laughing at the couples slow dancing to AC/DC. I’d worked myself up to ask # 1 crush out. We rocked (literally) to Seal’s Kiss From A Rose, my hands resting on her waist like butterflies. The world slowed down, the extras floated away and the camera dollies pulled in . Her cheeks softened as she sucked at her bottom lip. I asked if she’d like to go out. The words floated up like musical notes. Her eyes twinkled with oceans and cream. She said she had to think about it. Confetti light streamed from the mirrorball.
Two days later #1 crush declined, citing she couldn’t picture us together. GET A MIRROR! I scratched in my diary. I was crushed like a preying mantis beneath a cold boot of truth. The same boots that were made for walking. After dancing on the grave of my romantic failures, I bounced back like John Travolta to regain the slow, oily break dance of my inglorious youth.
CANBERRA & ME
I began my creative life in Canberra in 1999, drifting through a Professional Writing degree. Coming from Tasmania, Canberra was like New York with roundabouts. UC wasn’t exactly the thriving artistic metropolis I had imagined campus to be. When I rocked up to the Curio office, the editor was waving his hands around saying “no-one gives a shit!” I was keen as, and immediately set to writing self-indulgent reviews, vox popping friends and hassling record companies for more CD’s. Once, I forgot my recorder but still chatted to JC from Powderfinger for half an hour on the phone, like some old friend
Over two years, I helped Curio bust the big stories. The Students Association were told they could no longer sell cheap bottled water because the refectory had signed a deal with Coca-Cola. We were there. When a girl was attacked walking home from campus, we followed the story. At the last minute, we were told by the Students Association that we weren’t allowed to run it because of ‘legal issues.’ I was furious. We figured at least our headline of “Beer o’clock dropped – Shock” would make waves. Hell hath no apathy like a student warned.
Uni was all about creating your own opportunities. We started the “Harmonica Lewinski’s Muso’s Club” because we couldn’t detect a live music scene – it was all DJ’s and doof. With a weekly BBQ we drew fellow muso’s out of the woodwork, the rest of club money spent on our haircuts. We formed two bands, one funny, one serious and entered both in the Campus Band Competition. One judge wrote: “guitar playing was out of time, but couldn’t tell if this was done on purpose as some kind of musical protest.” It wasn’t.
We played regularly at the Pot Belly – a cosy venue which supported our psychedelic piss-takes. I fondly remember Trouser Trouser leading the whole pub in Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I entered ‘Pop The Pot’ in 2001 and won my heat. The organiser, Mark, wrote a review on his website: “As a musician he struggles and as a comedian he tries that little bit too hard, but today he came through with the goods.” I’d later play some sweet gigs at Toast, the night ending with Brian getting out his mini-dragster and hooning around the dancefloor.
It’s easy to be negative about a boutique scene like Canberra. I was around in the post Gypsy Bar / Landspeed Records slump, but now there’s The Front and the Polish Club & UC’s new venue. Julian Fleetwood runs a poetry night while Green Faces gives comedy a home. It’s vital to bypass the bitching and find excited people and make shit happen. Think outside the box and try and beat my world record for performing Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘The Horses,’ while riding on the horse carousel on Melbourne cup day (30 minutes). In the words of local cover band ACTC – “It’s a long way to the middle if you want to be a public servant.”
MY FIRST JOB
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 practised 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.