In all the interviews I have done down the years, certain questions have recurred with depressing regularity. This is the problem with outlasting generations of music journalists – new ones come along to pose the same damn fool questions their predecessors asked.
Our influences remain a subject of great interest, as does the provenance of our band name. It seems, however, that little has been accomplished by way of disseminating the answers – I remain forever hostage to the same line of enquiry. We could have sent smoke signals saying ‘Fauves – rhymes with Mauve’ to every Australian citizen in less time than the megabytes of the information age seem to have been able to spread the news. Search engines hum the world over yet, sadly, Fauve remains a dramatically under- represented word.
The question that troubles me most has always been, “What’s up for you guys from here?” The stark silence that follows this hoary old standard yearns to be filled with any number of fabulous, fabricated tales of impending American tours, massive new record deals and movie soundtracks. After an awkward silence I inevitably have to own that I have no idea, “more of the same I guess”, I usually add. “Whatever that is”. The truth is that there never is anything up for us guys. A few sporadic shows in half-hearted support of whatever release we are promoting and then the inevitable retreat back into hibernation. It can be difficult explaining this lack of ongoing activity without sounding self-consciously self-effacing. Invariably my bald statements of fact are viewed as carefully honed gems of ironic detachment. Of course they must be doing something – they’re just too damn witty to let the rest of us know what it is.
Take a look at 24 hours with The Fauves on tour to get an idea of how little of any real substance happens. Dateline 0600 hours Saturday 22 July 2006 Ted now parties exclusively in the garage. Smoke of all descriptions is banned from the Nordic purity of his lounge room, sending the wheezing herds south in search of foul air. Thankfully, the breathless reveller need only find the energy to pass one door to reach the designated smoking lounge. Extra carbon monoxide is only a flick of an ignition key away; an easy lean through the driver’s side window. The irony is that Ted’s own efforts at shaking a dependence on cigarettes came to nothing and he now numbers among those forced to endure the drafty recesses of the family garage. His is a powerful commitment to domestic air quality. The EPA regularly monitors the living area and fines are punitive. Thus he entertains undeterred amongst the cast off furniture, disused musical equipment and long abandoned tool chests.
In recent years Ted has become prone to falls, a frightening vision of the geriatric future that statistical averages defy him to reach. With little in the way of musculature to protect them, his ribs crack like twigs under a heavy work boot and the ensuing weeks are a hazy swirl of wincing pain and restricted movement. Reduced to tottering uncertainly around the house like a nursing home inmate in a power blackout, Ted must take all precautions to guard against an untimely accident. Unfortunately 12 hours of uninterrupted alcohol consumption is a poor prescription.
Recently, our stocks were buoyed when the pilot of a new show, “Honey We’re Killing the Bass Player”, aired to a favourable reception from the major networks. Dressed in thick-rimmed spectacles and white lab coats, we ruthlessly dissect Ted’s moribund lifestyle, bombarding the viewer with arcane information as to the state of his triglyceride levels, liver function and slim chances of avoiding early onset diabetes. On the screen a terrifying image of decrepitude morphs into sight. The viewer blinks in disbelief – it’s Ted circa 2006! Further morphing finishes with a projection of Ted in 20 years. A skeleton’s leering rictus nearly fills the screen.
Now, at 6 O’clock on a Saturday morning Ted farewelled his last guests and began to prepare for bed. Theoretically this involved little more than finding a way out of the chilly garage without breaking a rib. As he negotiated this treacherous course, he passed the kitchen where the charred remnants of what appeared to be organic material encircled a burner on the stove. Further explanation is hereby necessary.
When writing our new album we took the decision to utilise such opportunities as might arise for corporate sponsorship from the judicious insertion of well-known brand names into our lyrics. The song “Clive of India Curry Powder” paid a handsome dividend when the perceptive folk at Ward McKenzie somehow found a way through the cloaking folds of obscurity surrounding our latest release and discovered the paean to their flagship product. Included amongst the tins of Madras curry powder, Tandoori spice grinders and red lentils with which we were generously serviced were four packets of minestrone starter.
As luck would have it, the minestrone starter was exactly the sort that Ted’s Nonna used to use when feeding his relatives back in Umbria. How the food scientists at Ward McKenzie happened upon the Cleaver family recipe for minestrone is not clear. Notwithstanding this mystery, Ted, arriving home late from rehearsal, hungry and flushed with motivation at the size of his windfall, placed a large tureen on the stove and set to work.
Naturally - given the lateness of the hour - he was weary. With the pot bubbling contentedly, Ted sat down to rest his fatigued bass playing fingers, waking four hours later to find the stove and its immediate surrounds coated with charred legumes, post-apocalyptic herbs and petrified pasta. In fact, the dehydrated contents of the packet had completed a full cycle – filling briefly with life-giving water only to cruelly have the moisture wrenched once more from their molecular structure and returned to the atmosphere.
Dateline 1000 hours Saturday 22 July Across town in Northcote the other band members awoke in strict formation. Doctor, with the irritating chirpiness of the wilfully provocative, was first to rise. To think that only a few hours earlier I had expressed concern that a lack of Manchester might leave him fatally exposed to the descending chill of the night’s dying hours as he nestled into the recesses of the couch. But Doctor has bivouacked in more trying conditions than these. Whistling like a bird that has found a café opening at dawn and serving “worms –any way you like”, he made his way around the house with a trademark distain for those others of us still engaged in the act of sleeping.
Doug soon joined him and the two early risers set about ensuring anyone else in the neighbourhood still harbouring visions of rest was quickly set to rights. They began with a new Helmet album that we had secured the day before on a visit to our record label. The music reminded me of a posse of bodybuilders hanging around a gym – very muscular but not serving much purpose. Reluctantly, I rose with the intention of dressing down my inconsiderate colleagues. A short fracas ensued out of which I emerged with a badly bloodied nose and some superficial bruising – I would later tell that night’s audience I had walked into a door while leaving the dressing room. Momentarily at a loose end, we briefly considered destroying those rooms of the house we had not trashed the evening before. It was the least that our hosts would have expected, having loaned us the house in their absence, sparing us the lengthy and tiresome drive home after the previous night’s show. Dateline1400 hours Saturday 22 July The exclusive club of Ted’s friends consists almost entirely of people with a car and a licence with which to drive it. We crossed town and found him chipper, freshly bathed and full of misguided enthusiasm for the journey that lay ahead. Making our way along the network of freeways, bridges and toll roads that mark Melbourne’s undying commitment to the cult of the motor vehicle, we each dozed under the influence of a soporific afternoon sun. Thankfully Doctor had the presence of mind to remember he was driving and woke up just in time to deposit us on the apron in front of the Virgin Blue terminal at Melbourne airport.
While Doctor parked the car, the rest of us attempted to load 17 items of baggage onto one trolley. Certainly the logistics proved frustrating, but the $3 saved in not securing another trolley could well be crucial by the time the tour budget is reconciled with the crushing financial reality. Inside the building we utilised the same method that has stood us in good stead over a long period – blithely pushing our equipment into areas where it posed the most inconvenience for fellow travellers in the hope that an official would fast track us to the head of the queue in an attempt to clear the congestion. It worked.
In truth we are but silhouettes of the rock cowboys who once fronted group check-in with 35 pieces of luggage. Never calling ahead or making arrangements for embarkation, we would sit back impatiently to watch as a team of drones weighed and tagged our equipment, daring them to charge us excess. They rarely did in spite of the fact that we travelled 31 items over the prescribed limit – many of these heavy enough to leave the unwary handler reaching for his lower back in pain and yelling for the Shop Steward. Our cases were festooned with Heavy – Bend Your Knees stickers, all of which we had covered with others saying Fragile, thus prioritising the importance of the information we felt the baggage handlers needed. Very occasionally we might meet someone behind the desk who had heard of us, and on those days it was with an extra swagger that we would sweep up our boarding passes before repairing to the nearest café to sip lattes in brooding magnificence.
The twisting mountain paths we once rode with such bravado have since been paved. Now we queue for the pensioner’s shuttle bus, name tags carefully fixed to our sunken chests. The cowboys have ridden ahead while we listen to the droning tour commentary on the long route around the ring road through the suburbs. No longer affecting even the slightest bearing of rock stars, we make for the counter like schoolboys walking the corridor to the Principal’s office - expecting punishment. Inevitably a carefully raised eyebrow greets our arrival. “How many items?” they ask in disbelief. Recondite calculations ensue. Colleagues are summoned over and muted conversations take place just out of earshot. Obsequiously, we offer to help tag the cases but are usually rebuffed. Eventually we are handed boarding passes and pointed grudgingly in the direction of oversized baggage. Here our down at heel road cases are appraised like homeless men at the door of a soup kitchen while an irritated airline representative impatiently matches tags to numbers on boarding passes. At least one case must be opened for visual reconnaissance but, remarkably, a succession of handlers have thus far failed to inspect the one carrying our plastic explosives. Dateline 1515 hours Saturday 22 July Quickly surveying the airport newsagency, I was delighted to discover that Rolling Stone had reviewed our new album. Just a mention in the industry bible is like a lowing psalm to a lapsed believer. To think that they had devoted an entire paragraph to our endeavours was almost more than I could have hoped for. Could I have but cut those three stars from the glossy page and pinned them to my chest, I would have marched past airport security like a triumphant Napoleon negotiating the broken bodies on the killing fields of Austerlitz.
The article declared us to be ‘Veteran Mock-Rockers’, an honour not bestowed lightly. Notwithstanding this high accolade, we were not getting carried away. Like a tray of mock-duck languishing in the bain-marie of a Chinese takeaway, we know we have no claim to be the legitimate article. The Stone vastly prefers to dine on real bands, wrapping their moist talent inside soft, fluffy pancakes of praise, smothering everything with the hoisin sauce of their ingratiating sycophancy. Still, recognition from Rolling Stone – even if it is as a joke band, a fakery and a canard - is a humbling experience.
Across three sentences of glistening prose, the review adhered strictly to a house style that requires of its journalists a disengaged, non-committal ambivalence in the face of all but those bands whose record companies take out large ads. Unfortunately the review had no cause to use the words sophomore or sensibility when describing our mock-rock. This has just motivated me further to finally finish my fawning homage to Rolling Stone – ‘Sophomore and Sensibility’ - written after the style of Jane Austen reviewing a Coldplay album. We regretted not issuing a pre-emptive grovel by thanking the magazine in the credits of our album – that will have to wait until the next release. In the meantime, the pages of back issues, hitherto servicing as mock-toilet paper on my lavatory wall, will be coming off the holder to be replaced by the real thing.
Dateline 1530 hours Saturday 22 July I have become rather too accustomed to being selected for an explosive residue check once past the x-ray machines. In truth I should have done some washing in the days prior to our departure. A lack of fresh clothes left me only with my, “I am not a Terrorist – this is an old t-shirt” top. A brownish mark, the legacy of one too many hastily hefted rocket launchers, stained the left shoulder. Though I remembered to leave my hunting knives with the understanding officials at the metal detector, it was not enough to convince the airline of my pacific intentions. Perhaps they ‘d seen the bumper sticker on the vehicle as we alighted - “My other car is loaded with home made explosives’.
A short flight across the border deposited us at the spanking new terminal of Adelaide’s Mark Riccuito International Airport. This gleaming facility is rightly the pride of a state that for too long has gone unacknowledged as this country’s premier nursery for goatee beards. The doubters would do well to remember that South Australia was never marked by the convict stain like so many of its partners in federation. Doubtless the modern predilection for inappropriately coiffed facial hair is born out of a repressed longing for a little of the rough trade that so marked life in the neighbouring colonies.
The drive through inner Adelaide was like a stately procession along an arboreal avenue dedicated to the war dead in a country town. Barely a block could we drive without happening upon another venue where we had fallen, clutching desperately at our broken pride before sinking hopelessly into an enveloping mud. “Ah, the Tivoli”, we exclaimed. “Remember when we had 5 people there?!” “There’s that Western-themed place we burnt that time. What was it…the 7 Stars?” All the way to Enigma Bar, itself deserving of several large elms, we indulged ourselves in frosty-eyed nostalgia. Thankfully, there is a way to visit the past without a time machine. Our show that very evening would bear startling proof to that.
Dateline 1900 hours Saturday 22 July Ted no longer eats before dinner. He is on the Jaco Pastorius-25-year-Bass Player-Diet-Plan, a regime to which he strictly adheres. Subsisting on nothing more than a few sniffs of String-Eze and some grimy deposits from an old B string (God knows he’d starve if he played a 4 string bass), he is invariably hungry, tetchy and impatient by the time we are ready to soundcheck. As the rest of us try to cadge a few extra minutes by way of learning songs we would have known if we’d had a rehearsal, Ted keeps it to 16 bars and starts rolling leads.
By the time we reached the hotel in North Adelaide he had lost so much weight that a mid-strength breeze pinned him to the footpath. While I checked in, he formed an advance party of one to book a restaurant – roaming Melbourne st. like a rangy hyena searching for a carcass. He alighted upon one and was already gnawing on the neck of a Mexican beer by the time we joined him.
It was Ted’s night to choose the cuisine, having been duped horribly the night before when we ate a strange, new-fangled food called ‘pizza’ just down the road from the gig in Northcote. While the rest of us declared ourselves satisfied with these eerie, flat, edible discs, Ted held fast to a claim that he had chipped a tooth on the food here last time and would not be placated. While he gummed his way miserably through a quarter of a meatball-infused calzone, we remained on edge, lest that telltale sound - fresh chalk snapping on a new blackboard - signal that another of Ted’s incisors had fallen like a limestone deposit in a lonely cave.
In choosing Mexican, Ted played to an icon that is as much a tradition to The Fauves as a green baggy cap is to an Australian cricketer. Through every state and territory of this wide land we have sampled the local Mexican, finding a smooth uniformity that defies regional influence. Burrito? Enchilada? Tomayto? Tomarto? Who really cares, they’re all different words describing the same thing. Take a bland puree of refried beans, roll into a wrap with the texture of vellum parchment and top with melted Home Brand cheese. A plate of wretched nachos drowns underneath a sauce of diluted tomato paste, the chips bearing about as much relation to corn as the cardboard of a Kellogg’s cereal box. ‘Mexican’ rice couldn’t be more of an impostor if it had fronted the startled diner wearing a stick-on Zapata moustache and a paper sombrero. I drank a nice cherry liqueur which Ted subsequently informed me was the house red. Remembering an old Horace McCoy novel I’d once read, I expelled the unpalatable liquid directly onto the ground beneath the table saying, “They spit wine, don’t they?”
The bill came to an amount that numbered more in dollars than we would have in people through the door later that night. Disaffected, we walked the chill footpath back to the hotel, resolving, as always, to channel our culinary angst into a white-hot performance.
Dateline: 2230 hours. Saturday 22 July By 10.30 we were finally looking like a rock band. Doctor and Ted had nodded off on the couch. Unfortunately they hadn’t taken heroin and were merely tired; more Grandpa than rock star. Doug was cocooned under a quilt in the master bedroom, dead to the world if not, perhaps, just plain dead. I checked for a sign of Keith Moon vomit leading from the corner of his mouth, but found instead only a little trail of drool as the weary skinsman skated through 15 minutes of quality alpha sleep. I worked valiantly to stave off my own quivering eyelids by constructing a set list, remarkable for its steadfast lack of musical challenges. At 10.45 I gave the call and we were back in the Tarago.
As often alluded to on these pages, one of Ted’s enduring qualities is his immunity to awkwardness. Knowing this I bade him ask the door lady for a payer count as we hurried past the entrance. The answer came back as 92 – a pleasant surprise given that we had predicted a final tally of maybe 80 but definitely not more than 100. With nearly an hour until show time I was confident that there was enough time for at least another 15 people to arrive. 107 paying customers seemed almost too much to hope for and I tried to quell everyone’s burgeoning optimism. The budget would be in deficit but insolvency had been forestalled.
It is an inviolable law of physics that gas molecules will act to distribute themselves evenly through such space as they find themselves in. A similar principle was at play inside the venue and the intrepid explorer would have required spare camels and a supply wagon to make the journey between one punter and the next. Plenty of room to dance, I consoled myself, looking forlornly at a set list littered with slow to medium-paced white soft rock.
Dateline 0130 hours Sunday 23 July The post-show euphoria evaporated quickly as I discovered that we had left our box of CDs back in Melbourne. Just as the 16 cashed up punters still lingering in the room were ready to purchase, we were bereft of merchandise with which to supply them. Fortunately the old principles of supply and demand came into play – supply was low but demand was non-existent. I was, however, able to fill the first request by recovering a lone copy from my bag. In a further piece of good fortune, there were no more requests. It was a genuine fillip to know that we had sold out of CDs on our first trip to Adelaide in two years. Unfortunately Enigma Bar is not a recognised ARIA store so it was not going to help us with a chart position. To tell the truth it was lucky that I still had a CD to sell. With the album having taken on a distinct odour of rotten fruit, I only narrowly avoided having to dump it in the quarantine bin on the way out of the airport. Dateline 0530 Sunday 23 July Totally refreshed and re-invigorated after 2 hours of restless sleep, we checked out of the hotel at 5.30am and made for the airport. As all the real bands are hailing cabs outside exclusive clubs, we are returning rental vehicles, taping up road cases and queuing for check-in - a legacy of an airline policy that schedules the majority of its discounted flights at unmusical hours. Still, we were happy to leave so early if our frugality was to help contain our losses for the trip to under $1500. The real laugh is on the Australian government. Guess which band won’t have to pay tax this year! Dateline 0630 Sunday 23 July In the rush to make the airport we had little time to reflect upon the significance of the date. It was 18 years to the day that our blinking chrysalis emerged from its sheltering cocoon to public debut - 2 hopeless sets before an audience of sympathetic friends and leg-weary onballers in the lounge area of the Mt. Eliza Football club. Who could have dreamt that the subsequent decades would have remained so bereft of material success, but that a dogged commitment to routine would keep the band from breaking up? Where was the chain of hairdressing salons I had promised myself all those years ago? Where was the bullish stock portfolio, snorting at the gateway to respectable society, pawing the ground and demanding entrance, its virile stink of success rank and undeniable?
I made for the airport record bar to see whether our milestone had been commemorated with an in-store display. Not only was the shop empty of streamers, plaques and glad handing managers, it did not even seem to be stocking our album. Overall I have been perplexed with the number of emails we have received from people unable to locate the new release. I know for a fact that JB alone ordered 600! Allowing for another 200 to be divided between across the country’s remaining retailers, there seem to be no excuses for anyone claiming the record is hard to access. A total of 800 represents fully 160 times more Fauves albums than there were Willy Wonka tickets available to the public in Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Given that there are a lot fewer people trying to get Nervous Flashlights than there were seeking ingress to Charlie’s magical palace of confection, I have little patience with those who purport to be having difficulty finding our record. Dateline 0645 Sunday 23 July Each time I board a plane I take an instant inventory of my fellow passengers. It is crucial that no one more famous than me is among the customers edging their way along the aisle checking their boarding pass against the seat numbers on the lockers overhead. Then, when the stricken plane ditches headlong into the remorseless ocean, I can make my peace sure that the subsequent media coverage is bound to include my name at the top of the list of those lost on the fateful journey. It is surely no conceit to imagine a shrine or two erected in my honour; somewhere that the tear-stained mourner might sit in quiet repose, quietly clutching the glossy 8 x 10s that I had refused to sign when I was alive.
Heading for the departure gate, I noticed a chiselled jaw reflecting a volley of flashlights with the facility of a well-practiced grass courter dispensing winners from the net. Behind the celebrity mandible, Pete Murray posed obligingly for a series of snapshots, arm in arm with a team of star-struck cabin staff. ‘Damn you’ I cursed, handing my boarding pass to a disinterested flight attendant. I briefly contemplated staging a diversion – perhaps a duelling acoustic guitar challenge – anything that might afford me the opportunity to expose my adversary for the inferior craftsman I knew him to be. Now, even before the forlorn rescue teams had finished sifting through the burning wreckage, that brooding visage would glower from the front page of tomorrow’s papers.
Stuck in the inevitable logjam along the gangway, I turned to see Doug engaged in awkward converse. It was Pete himself, having shaken the persistent admirers and taken his place in the queue to board the aircraft. His booking with the budget airline displayed either a refreshing humility or a niggardly commitment to cost cutting on the part of his management. Where we had shuffled dully around a 3 metre-square stage in front of 114 people in a musty converted attic, Murray strode triumphant before thousands at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Doubtless the fee attached to such an undertaking was more than we could gross in a year. Now, here he was, prepared to forgo the sybaritic pleasures of the Qantas in-flight service for an opportunity to purchase bitter, filtered coffee at 2 dollars a throw on Virgin.
Pete made it clear that this was not our first encounter, though for the life of us neither Doug nor I could remember the previous one. According to Murray we had first crossed paths on the ski fields of Mt. Hotham, “back in your heyday”. While he spent a lonely season playing covers to disinterested snowboarders, we occupied a spare weekend playing originals to the same crowd. Doubtless our inability to remember was as a result of having completely ignored him at the time, drunk on the liquor of our own success and ruthlessly dismissive of anyone not more famous than ourselves. Half a decade later he had overtaken us like a Ferrari passing a tricycle on an autobahn.
Dateline 0845 Sunday 23 July There was no sign of Murray once we landed. By the time we were loitering impatiently at the door to oversize baggage, he had melted away like so much spring snow. There were other entertainment centres to fill, other mountains to summit triumphantly, fists clenched in defiance of the fur-lined nobodies who once dared to doubt his dream.
I imagine us meeting again. Defeated but unable to let go, I am working an alpine season as a dish hand, persistently hounding the manager to let me play on open mike night. Very occasionally he relents, and I fairly run to the stage, launching portentously into acoustic versions of all the hits that never were, all the failed songs that fell like forgotten snowflakes on lonely spurs, long since dissolved into trickles and dried up under the hot Australian sun. I can feel the staff snickering and a hot prickle burns my neck but something keeps me there, eyes closed in concentration, as I search again for the spirit, the feeling, the inspiration that fuelled a mock-rock revolution. 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 - the three star reviews return to me in multiples. “8 times 3 – there’s your career” – Rolling Stone magazine.
One evening Pete, entertaining some select friends at an exclusive mountain lodge, makes a booking at the restaurant for dinner. After slipping one of the waitresses $50 to take the rest of the night off, I carry the orders to the famous troubadour’s table. Setting his meal before him, I slide a demo CD of my new material under the plate. “Remember me?” I ask as the diners survey their food. Pete looks nonplussed but remains calm. Sensing his confusion, I throw an old publicity shot onto the table next to his glass. “Coxy…Fauves…we met at Adelaide airport…?” It’s clear Murray has no recollection of me but, too gracious to say so, he makes a small nod of assent and turns back to his meal. “Just give me a chance Pete,” I say, working hard to mask my increasing desperation. I motion with a stray arm towards a small stage across the room where a young covers musician is unpacking a guitar and assembling a stand of sheet music. “You all of all people…” I trail off. “You….”, I can sense his colleagues becoming angry. “…I thought you might understand….”. But Murray is eating now and I notice the Duty manager motioning at me from the kitchen doorway. “Do you even care anymore Murray?”, I call over my shoulder as a burly security guard frogmarches me off the restaurant floor. “You’re at the top now but you’ll be back here one day”, I scream. The guard has me in a choker hold, making breathing increasingly difficult. “I’ll leave a guitar stand for you on the stage”, I gurgle, stars passing before my eyes and an insidious blackness advancing from the periphery of my vision. “You…back…here…”. The lights go out and I slump to the ground.
How long I lie there on the cold linoleum of the kitchen floor is anyone’s guess. At length somebody throws a pail of snow over me and I gradually come round to find the guard bent over me, viciously sinking a sheepskin boot into my solar plexus. The restaurant is empty; chairs on tables, pans on hooks, the deep fryer off and a lone figure mopping the service area. “Pete?” I cry, pulling myself to my elbows only to sink hopelessly back to the floor with a stabbing pain in my side. “Pete’s not here man”, the manager says, throwing me a small plastic bag containing a few personal effects. “And neither are you. You’re finished here. Get out” “But open mike night…?” “No more open mike night for you, you washed up has-been, never-was, no-talent. Get out of my place before I call the cops”.
A three-quarter moon reflects off the icy snow outside. Somewhere Dogs Are The Best People is playing but that somewhere is in my head and I’ve got no transmitter.