Jason Roweth

 

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a story

Elsewhere

July 12, 2017

The stained brown, yellow vinyl lounge is folding me in… Stone paralysis. Four left standing, four rum tumblers, four am - ‘Elsewhere’ via fuck knows where, via Kandos. The wood-fire is lit - aromatic, but not pushing far into the frosty farm-house lounge room. The coke-bottle-bong is going round the clock, a tick-tock second hand… I look across at Will, sitting at three o’clock to my six. Will Maloney and David Broughton - years playing psychedelic guitars entwined, telepathic - a resonant look is all we ever need…

“We’re inside-out again, man.” Will - explicit wild wide-eyes, tucked heavy lids.

I pull big, sweet smoke - hold a cough - silent, “Tonight’s the night.”

 

“Well, you lads certainly ripped a righteous rock ’n’ roll hole in the Railway roof this good evening…” Eloquent, Cheshire grinning guru-dude, Kev, holding court at nine o’clock on the cone clock. He’s a good ten years older than us - maybe thirty - big-boned, his blonde mop shakes avuncular punctuation, as he pours nostril-flaring over-proof rum. Herbaceous Kev… Our host, here in his rented rabbit-warren ramble farm-house, ‘Elsewhere’.  He is famous for this kind of exclusive gathering, and for farming the most mind-mangling bush weed. “Yes… righteous indeed!”

 

At bong-midnight is Glen. “Shit, yeah…Fuckin’ oath, dudes! Man - it’s fuckin’ years since the pub went off like that - a frog in a sock… Fuckin’ huge!” Glen is our taxi-driver. He shot us the thirty-odd ks of dirt to ‘Elsewhere’ in twenty minutes, pushing the old Falcon cab through every sound barrier. “Even fuckin’ Phil wants you back…  ‘Warrego’ rock! Where d’ya get a shit name like ‘Warrego’ anyway? Fuckin’… ” Rabbit, rabbit… Glen - always speeding, cars and chemicals - bean-pole thin - bouncing off walls, packing cones, and playing ‘Metallica’ on Kev’s stereo - ‘…And Justice for All’… then - FLASH - sharp, angry, sneering “We’ll have his fuckin’ guts for fuckin’ garters if he doesn’t get you back - make no fuckin’ mistake.” He stops, looks down at his hands, wringing - recovers his cool. The bong – tick-tock - Glen at midnight… The witching hour. 

 

Tense now… I can only give a hoarse. “Yeah - nah - no worries, man.”  We’re deep into a gig run, and I’ve been singing and smoking for days - my voice, little more than a whisper. Glen starts packing again, covering his angry brain-snap tracks. 

 

I look down at my rutted black, red raw fingers, dreaming… Tonight was a grand six-hour shred - ’Warrego’ in fierce full-flight. My head is still swimming in the sea of heaving dancers… Waves flowing around, and up onto the bar. The schooners, and whisky sevens, spun to the band on flying-saucer trays - so it was joint, and piss breaks only. Ah - the long gigs… Demolishing nineteen-thirties blues, screaming metal, working obscure country covers, country lad bush tunes - all laced in fiery psychedelic searching… Always searching. “Ask the question… You might get an answer.” Nose to nose and back on back with Will, wielding axe-necks, and winding vortex swirls in the low ceiling smoke, alive in red and blue stage lights. 

 

We played a failed hour set the night before last, at the UNSW Roundhouse - we all felt destroyed by the show… Too short. ‘Warrego’ were not fit for purpose, nor up to the challenge. Tonight’s Railway Hotel explosion was a motivated response - always searching… And we know - we know - that in a handful of crystalline forevers, the skies opened - and from nowhere, rock ’n’ roll salvation struck like lightning. By the time the good local constabulary shut down the roar - around one I suppose - we’d played near everything we know, and near many things we don’t. The last set was straight-out free-form - borderline psychotic - punk rock… In final throes, it was only Chuck’s ‘Rick’ bass pumping my heart, Stevo’s snare working my lungs, mic stand keeping me mostly on the level… 

G - L - O - R - I I I I I A… GLORIA - We’re gonna shout it now…

 

Guru Kev is dispensing ‘Elsewhere’ wisdom… 

So… I was looking for a post-driver in Mudgee last week, following two sheep-cockies into the hardware joint - just young blokes, brothers for sure - and they had this mad yarn goin’. The older dude said…

“Fuckin’ sheep broke its leg.”

And the little brother just grunted, “What?” 

“Sheep fuckin’ broke its leg.”

He’s just blank… He says, “What?” 

“Sheep broke its fuckin’ leg.”

“Oh… Fuck!”

And we’re coughing up lungs. It’s the best joke I’ve ever heard… And it’s true. It’s fuckin’ dead-set true. We’re laughing until it hurts. And I’m crying - I can’t stop…

 

RING, RING… A four-thirty phone call. RING, RING - “Fuck”, in four-part discord. 

“Who the… ?” Even Kev looks rattled - answers, “Hello.”

The rant is tinny through the phone… But loud, violent. I want to turn ‘Metallica’ down - I’m stone frozen. 

Kev waits it out, “Trace - he’s here - just chill, man.”

Glen’s face falls. He takes the phone off Kev, “Tracy - just, fuckin’ - give it up!”, he’s yelling – so is Tracy - and then… “Obviously, I’m not fuckin’ coming now, am I?” - BANG - downs the phone, “Fuck!” - RING, RING… “Oh, for fuck’s sake… “, Glen picks up, slams down, picks up again - and throws a rank looking pillow over the receiver. “Fuckin’ bitch!” He’s packing again… “Fuck!” The second-hand stops. He smokes Kev’s cone, as the last song fades to black.

Kev sits forward, reaches and replaces the phone. Then grabs the bong, too quickly, “She’s your kid’s Mum, mate.” A guru without a grin.

Glen doesn’t answer. He slinks across the room, and flips the album. 

 

I’m retracing our steps to ‘Elsewhere’. After the gig, polite police persuasion pushed the crowd out, steaming into the Kandos frost and fog. The band collapsed around the cleanest table we could find, joined by publican Phil, a couple of bar staff - and Kev with his grin.

Big Phil was happy, “Well done fellas! Thirty-year bar record…” offering a generous looking envelope. We bullshitted for half-hour or so, before taxi-man Glen knocked in… knocked off. The party was fast falling weary - except for Speedy Glen Gonzales. Phil left, pulling the bar door locked behind him… A turning point.

 

“Wanna kick on lads?” Glen was talking to the band, but looking at Kev. Kev’s Cheshire grin widened… Just the slightest mop nod. Glen caught the smile, and offered an old joke, “Come on… Let’s go ‘Elsewhere’.”

He had opened up a traditional ‘Warrego’ fissure. The relatively sensible rhythm section fired tired, resigned looks at their spiritually adventurous front-men. 

Chuck stands, and walks… “We’ve got the park gig at eleven, and Mudgee tomorrow night… I’m going to bed - I’m fucked.” Chuck can rock root note bass all night, but he never needs rocking to sleep.

Stevo looked at us concerned - fatherly - but only added, “Be back for the lug to the rotunda.” He followed Chuck up the stairs.

“Tonight’s the night, Will.” It was just a look.

The eyes had it, “Yes Davo, I believe it is.” 

So now - near five am - we’re ‘Elsewhere’. I have no idea where we are…

 

…‘To Live is to Die’ - Metallica digging deep. We look inwards together, eyes closed in sudden, cracking unity. The music is bending minds and hearts, and - now - we are lock-step with the universe. We all four know - now. We know. We see through time. No one speaks.

“Tonight’s the night, fellas.”

“Too fuckin’ right!”

 

Then - gone. The mourning riff fades, and the forever moment is lost. Glen ticks the second-hand faster… We all fall dark in the feeling, now over. The edginess returns to the room, Tracy re-enters my mind. I try to spring my lounge-trap. “I need to have a leak… “ I slowly stand, stumble, a stone statue crumbling in animation. “Any clues?”

My apparent wasted struggles bring back Kev’s grin, but he doesn’t help much, “Down the hall…” He’s reclaiming his stereo… Searching - always searching - ‘Black Sabbath’ - first album. 

Will’s eyes, “Davo, you bastard!” I’ve beaten him by one cone-clock second. 

 

The long hall is dark, and I’m Alice following the rabbit. I feel no light-switch - nothing - unsteady, holding onto moving walls, Sabbath riffs receding to bass thump. Wasted now…  Scrambling my way around the big old fibro farm-house, freezing… I find no dunny. A first hint of coming dawn guides me into cracking open the back door. In the deep dark black blue sky smear, the smells are frozen sharp - sheep-shit, range eucalypts and pines. My feet crack on frosty grass - sobering cold, shaking salvation - steaming breath and piss. Recovering by degrees, I walk back in through the screen door - and I hear Sabbath bass stop - RING, RING. I push the door closed, holding it quiet. As I feel my way back through the house - I hear Glen scream, “I told ya, bitch… I’m not ya fucking… !” I hear the receiver crack plastic. I stand at the lounge room door. 

Glen doesn’t see us anymore, “Don’t worry Kev. All good.” He is shaking. It is not good… RING, RING - “Fuck off!” 

The dark wail through coiled phone line is clear “I’ll fuckin’ kill you!”

Glen slams again, leaps across the room and unplugs the phone at the wall. “She’ll calm down Kev… She always does.”

 

Tracy, yesterday… Working behind the bakery counter from four am. Finishing the long shift, picking up Charlie from her Mum’s just after five. Finding Southern Comfort, cooking, feeding the three of them, and finding extra for Glen’s drop-in buddy Wayne. And Charlie, crying - always crying. Glen’s off now, driving the taxi. Tracy, holding teething Charlie, pacing floor - and spirits. Mum and child now with tears flowing together, and - finally - he sleeps around nine. She rings Glen’s Mum. “Can you come, Mum? I just want… I need to get out.” And she does. Tracy dancing hard to the band, golden brown glass always in hand. Me coming back from the dunny, and she’s waiting - drinking, “Are you gonna play, or what? Come on! Let’s get this party fuckin’ started!” Tracy, dancing harder. Phil calls her over to the bar, somewhere around eleven, “Charlie’s upset Trace - you need to go help.” She tries to send Glen, but he’s working, “I’ll be home after I knock-off.” She drinks, pays for a take-away bottle, and leaves. She walks past Will and me sneaking a joint out back - “Fuckin’ kids - who’d have ‘em?” - and takes a winding, stumbling scenic arc to her yellow Torana. She squeals hard out of the car park.

 

‘Elsewhere’ is loaded, crushing heavy. 

“Kev - She’ll be right. Sweet, man.”

No reply. The record player fades - hum, needle lift, click - finished - silence.

Kev stands - walks to the stereo and turns the album over… Dials the volume in hard, as sledgehammer Sabbath riffs roar back to life. His mop nods time, as he turns -  playing air guitar… The guru-grin is back, but not convincing. He walks over to the socket, and plugs in the phone. He bangs out another air-riff. His voice is low - just a pointed aside - “Boys - stay, or go - but Glen’s your ride.”

Glen has head in hands, shaking. He downs the last of his rum. “Mate… One cone for the road. I just... I don’t think I can drive until I calm down.” I think he’s right.

Kev is sitting cross-legged now - eyes closed, drumming on his knees.

Will forms a kind of answer for Glen, “I need to piss, anyway.” He heads up the hall, and Glen reaches for the mull bowl. I’m watching Kev. He doesn’t move, and the phone doesn’t ring. I risk the lounge trap - swallow rum hard… And again… Wiping mouth on flanno sleeve. Still no phone…. I pull another cone, without real cognisance… Sabbath grind on…

 

Will emerges, looking green but determined. “Davo, man, we might run through a few songs this morning - give ‘em something new at the park. We both have to restring the axes first.” I know he’s ready with other excuses, but that’s all he needs. I confirm, “Yeah, man…. Time to go.” 

I look over at Kev… Eyes closed - now flying solo. Glen looks shattered, says nothing - but to my relief, he picks up his keys from the coffee table.

“Take it easy fellas…” smiling Kev, mop-nodding into oblivion. We see ourselves into the faint dawn. I hear one early Kookaburra - and - a car. It’s heading out from Kandos… The dirt road running roars clear across the frosty paddocks. My neck prickles, and I look out towards the… “Oh, fuck!” The headlights swing wide onto the farmhouse drive, my guts turn to ice. Tracy.

Glen snaps, “Get in!” 

I fall into the back seat next to Will - our eyes wide, white holes in the dark cab.

Glen gives up scraping at the windscreen ice, and slams into his driver’s seat. The cold old Falcon is a reluctant starter. I hear the spit of gravel behind us, and the headlight glow grows into high beam fire. The car slides right in behind us, nudging the rear of the cab. The garbled yell is deep, furious - as the car door opens. In the eternal grind of struggling starter motor, I’m trying to see Glen’s escape route. The windscreen is frosted opaque, the house in front and parked in from the back.

“You dead cunt!” Tracy roars.

I try for a quick look out the back window. Staring though ice, glass - and into high beams… Nothing. 

“You’re fucked!” She yells, and laughs. 

My eyes adjust… Just a silhouette… A... A shotgun - shouldered with intent. I drag Will down onto the seat. More laughter from behind… BOOM! Back window jewels fall in pools - I throw my hands over my head. The Falcon kicks over. There’s no way to go. BOOM! Second barrel, -“Fuck!” - more glass. Glen sees a way… He slams into drive, heavy right foot, and pulls hard right-hand down. I feel the back wheels beneath me spin and slide in the frost. More screams from behind, now clear through the shattered window. As the drive tyres grip, I roll across into Will. The back-left corner of the cab kicks off - something? The house? Heavy correction from Glen, but we’re away - sliding, gripping - tearing across the house paddock. 

In the tumble-turn, I see Tracy more clearly out my window. She’s climbing back into the Torana, shotgun across her lap. We tear through the fence, scraping and dragging wire strands behind, kicking off tussocks, and bucking wild over the table drain - onto the driveway. I hear the Torana whine in reverse, and swing on gravel. Glen is away - flying… the Kandos morning is tearing loud at us through the smashed back window. Tracy’s headlights fall in. I sit up, not hurt - and see that Will is OK… “Christ!” Glen’s heavy army jacket is pockmark torn off the left shoulder - a dark shape forming.

“Shit, man… You’re shot!” Will sees as well.

“Aw - Aw - Fuck!” Just aware. He shakes himself, and feels along his arm. “Yeah… I’m fine - I think. Fuck!” He wipes his fingers on his jeans. The taxi roars.

 

We’re ranting now, raving - mad, wild - dumb, fearless. The Falcon pig-roots over the cattle grid, and Glen takes the right-hand onto the Kandos road in an easy, expert slide… Again, I roll across into Will. 

“Shit, man - you can really fuckin’ drive!” Will is impressed.

I steal a look out the torn back window. Through clouds of dust, I see Tracy take the corner out of the drive just as convincingly as Glen. In chase. Glen opens up, and pulls away. I picture Tracy, pushing into our dust and sheeting gravel. 

“She’s not stopping.” My fear is returning fast…

Will’s as well, “Fuck! Watch those roos, dude.”

Speedy Glen Gonzales is flying into town, breaking unsound barriers. I look at Will. “Inside-out again…” We brush glass off each other - were both shaking, and can’t stop - SLIDE - I see us around a tree - SLIDE - I see us in a paddock, Torana parked behind. But Glen is rock solid - in his element. I turn around, dry-nostrilled in the dust… Tracy’s headlights are now three bends behind us, shining across paddocks - through the trees and dust… Now just a glow in the lightening sky. Glen is trying to convince us that it’ll be sweet by tomorrow… That the park gig will be no dramas… That his arm is fine. I’m hoping he’s right - on all counts. 

 

“Next time fellas…” Glen drops us behind the pub. “This is all just between us - right?”

I’m not thinking about return visits. “Um - yeah - yeah - no worries - next time.” I’m ready with the key, but I don’t need it. The cleaners have beaten us in. We walk into a rock ’n’ roll wasteland, hitting the vicious stale sweet smell like a wall. We fall shaking into chairs. 

The older of the two cleaners squawks over the vacuum, loud in my ear, “You boys won’t be long, will ya? We’ve gotta be finished by breaky.” She’s pointing at stage chaos - instruments, amps, drums, PA, lights, empties…

“Nah - just give us a few minutes.” Still shaking, we get up, and climb the stairs. I look at Will, pale white in the gloom, processing one night - now over… Questions? Wondering what the hell we’ve just seen… Thinking of the park rotunda gig in an impossibly short time… Of tonight - the Woolpack in Mudgee. Answers? We don’t say a word… Always searching.

“Tonight’s the night, Will.”

“Yeah, Davo - I believe it is.”

 

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