On the 12th of April Doug was married for the first time. The floors of the church were awash with tears as the world famous drummer finally made a trip to the front of stage for something other than a 2-finger keyboard part. Doctor, Terry and myself - for so long the troika responsible for his partial obscurity in the backward reaches of the performing area, were forced at last to take a reverse step. We were, however, rendered by no means irrelevant. As Doug's exclusive cabal of groomsmen we played King, Queen and Jack to his Ace of Spades. This left us by my reckoning as Ali Hasan Al-Majid Al Tikriti, Ibrahim Ahmad Abd Al-Sattar Muhammad Al-Tikriti and Muhammad Hamza Subaydi to his Saddam; indeed an esteemed group of acolytes. The bridal party was resplendent in green military fatigues, black slouch berets and oversized reading glasses, leaving us at the very cutting edge of contemporary wedding fashions.
In many ways the wedding was just like a Fauves gig only successful. Before any of us could begin to contemplate the celebratory pay off we had to hunker down to some serious work.
By 9.30 am I was at Mt. Eliza footy ground for the appointed rendezvous with Doctor who was overseeing his eldest son Harper at Auskick. In between bellowing searing abuse at the controlling officials and bemoaning his five year old son's unwillingness to hit packs with the requisite ferocity, he reported a highly disturbed night's sleep. I personally had endured a night of similar torment after having spent hours harangued to distraction by a lone sniper mosquito. The determined Culicid seemed to have happened upon a revolutionary silencing mechanism, enabling it to slip through my defences like a Stealth bomber under a radar screen and bite with impunity. It made multiple sorties, meeting nary a cough from my anti-aircraft weaponry. By 4 am I was bolt upright and reflecting on my upcoming wedding speech with grave reservations. By 4.30 I was at the computer re-writing it.
We were at Doug's by 12, right on the knocker. It was a professional team that separated itself immediately into 2 more easily manoeuverable units to better accomplish the complicated tasks that lay ahead. While Doctor and Doug repaired to the local carwash, Ted and I made for Prahran in search of a sound system.
I could only ever play 2IC to Ted in a situation such as this. As a veteran of countless former campaigns to hire and collect PA's of all sizes, Ted was a natural for the mission. He met me in full camouflage wear - dressed in a grubby t-shirt and black jeans that were cut in a style at least five years out of date, he looked nothing less than the hardened roadie his canny disguise was designed to depict him as. While I waited with the illegally parked car, Terry reconnoitered the premises, presently returning to guide me to a rear car park that he averred would be ideal for our purposes.
The 20 second drive around the corner was not without incident. As I prepared to make a tricky left-hander into the narrow back lane I was startled by a cry from the passenger's seat. "Mossy", Ted yelled, waving his hands feverishly in the direction of a small café adjacent to our car. Ted's trained eye worked with the accuracy of a hunting eagle. Sure enough, there at a window seat in the cramped coffee house, sat the Cold Chisel guitarist, paler and slightly less buff perhaps than when we'd last met him, but real enough nonetheless. As an augury we took it as positive.
Before long we found ourselves in the loading bay of the hire joint, preparing to jimmy the small PA into the XF Falcon. A hireling began explaining the intricacies of the mixing desk to a clearly impatient Ted. He could humour the well-meaning salaryman no longer. "I work in professional audio", he interjected with a polite, yet undeniable finality. No further explanation was deemed necessary. The PA lesson came to an end and the salesman looked flushed as though he had been admitting amateur CPR to a heart attack victim only to have Ted push his way through the crowd with a reassuring "Step aside "I'm a doctor".
We duly delivered the musical amplification equipment to the reception house and I cooled my heels while Ted deftly plugged a few leads in and positioned the speakers to their best advantage. At length Ted signaled that he was ready to leave. We decamped post haste for Doug's, stopping only to each drain a cool draught of soda from a 7/11 fridge. Back at command central everything seemed under control and Ted retired next door for a half hour nap. The afternoon's exertions had wearied the aged bass player and we let him go, mindful of the need to have him at his best for later, when we would need him most.
Sure enough Ted returned not 45 minutes later looking fresher than a Scandinavian fjord. Only the night before I'd found his famous grey beard all over the floor of the bathroom and an unfamiliar smooth-faced matinee idol running an approving hand over a newly shaven chin. We put on our suits, a routine we knew well having worn similar outfits in the Medium Pacer clip. Like Apollo astronauts landing a lunar module we'd done it all before in the flight simulator. Nothing had been left to chance.
The ceremony proceeded according exactly to the script. We'd hired a team of writers from the popular night time drama Blue Heelers to add a little poetry to the day and they obliged in fine style, writing in John Wood as the priest and coaxing Lisa McCune back from her theatrical career to play Jane, Doug's intended. Some of the Catholic gravitas of the occasion was lightened by a starkly godless performance from the 3 groomsmen, each staunchly refusing to offer even so little as a mumbled amen at the appropriate intervals. Doug, 3 day growth luminescent in the glow of the holy candles, looked like nothing so much as a beatific Joseph, entranced as the ritual unfolded around him. Unfortunately he appeared to have only marginally more connection with the religious liturgies on offer and badly fluffed several of the major prayers. Doctor proved to be a severe embarrassment at several points, interrupting the service with his sustained weeping and tortured bawls. It later became clear that the moment had got the better of him, bringing home in all too stark relief the sinful consequences of his own 20 year unsanctified defacto relationship and the punishment that surely awaited him for fathering two unbaptised bastard children.
Soon the formalities were over and the beautiful couple made their way back down the aisle, now a couple in the eyes of God and ready to go and sink some piss in acknowledgment of the fact. The organ lady played the 2 finger intro to Give Up Your Day Job while the priest proved himself a dab hand at Ted's bass part, imbuing the song with a bottom end tightness it had hitherto lacked. Outside we posed for some photographs, steadfastly refusing either to smile or remove our sunglasses in the best rock tradition. Just before departing, the padre diffidently proffered a well-worn copy of Lazy Highways for us to sign. Noting our good-natured assent, he quickly grew in confidence, offering a potted critique of what he thought to be our finest album, afterwards adding that we lost him with Thousand Yard Stare and had now moved dangerously close to contemporary irrelevance.
All the perks of bridal party status became clearly apparent back at the reception. We got served first and had better wine, better seats and a superior time to the unreconstructed swill occupying the cheap tables in deference to our exalted status. As dual best men, Doctor and I were each slated to speak but I noticed that the running order made no room for a contribution from Terry. It was here that I swung a stunning coup, convincing the gullible Ted that the job of M.C. (notionally mine) could in fact only be performed by him. He made an unconvincing show of reluctance before leaping into the role with all the alacrity of a Jehovah's Witness hosting a revival meeting. It was Deano in Vegas, Billy Crystal at the Oscars and John Howard hosting a cabinet meeting as Terry wooed the crowd with his sly candour and easy charm. Before long they were eating out of his hand like dogs accepting a treat from their master. Each of the parents made well-crafted, heartfelt and touching speeches, punctuated with Ted's vaudevillian M.C. act before Doctor and I, who were headlining the card like 2 heavyweights in a title fight, took our places at the microphone. Such was the intensity of the rivalry that each of our best punches served only to negate the other's. We fought a scoreless draw but managed to roast Doug in at least some measure of caustic marinade. Our fears over the quality of the performance had been allayed.
Until we picked up the guitars.
It is a cruel irony that leaves a man most vulnerable in that area for which he has trained most extensively. 15 years of live performance provided no safety net as we comprehensively ballsed the acoustic rendition of Doctor's 'The Flat Patch', a perhaps inappropriately named but nonetheless genuine and touching ode to long-term relationships. I at least had some excuse having only been introduced to the song a matter of days prior. Doctor, however, had little recourse to mitigation as he lost his way through the middle section like an early explorer searching for a mythical inland sea.
To exactly the kind of muted applause that had greeted so many of our performances down the years we stole daggers at one another and sunk defeated back into our chairs. Doug rounded out the spoken word section of the evening with wit and grace, kindly highlighting to those few hearing impaired guests still unaware of the musical catastrophe so recently concluded that yes, it had in fact been a disaster. Several toasts were taken and we were free to enjoy that part of the evening that remained to us, unburdened now of our official duties.
An unscheduled appearance from Nicotine Man proved the final highlight of an unforgettable day. Like an adult version of a clown at a kid's party, Nicotine Man tends to save his best performances for special occasions. Posing as the mild mannered Tim Cleaver by day, Nicotine Man emerges chrysalis-like from the host cocoon in those late night situations when cigarette packets tend to be at their emptiest and suppliers at their most difficult to access. A wedding proved to be an ideal occasion to witness N.M. in his natural habitat. A long evening spent amiably supplying tobacco to a legion of social smokers had seen Ted's cigarette stocks fall dangerously low. The hopeless addict normally monitors his resources avidly, determined to avert just the kind of scenario that was about to play itself out. A couple of drinks too many and Ted let his guard down, losing track of his rapidly diminishing stockpile. It was only a matter of time before his last packet was empty.
Bill Bixby had nothing on a nicotine-starved Ted when it comes to dramatic transformations. The delight on the faces of the assorted guests was plain to see as Ted, raving and irrational, stormed from the after-party yelling invective and seeking vengeance. By the time he was on the footpath it was Nicotine Man who was hurling a half-finished stubbie to the pavement and striding with alarming ferocity in search of a neon -lit convenience store. After 15 minutes and a $20 taxi fare, Ted returned with no sign of Nicotine Man in tow. A freshly procured pack of Benson and Hedges Special Filters nestled in the clammy grasp of his desperate hand like a pacifying dummy in the mouth of a petulant child.
By next afternoon the newlyweds were winging their way to Italy and the rest of us were left to contemplate the terrifying void that now obscured our way forward. A three week honeymoon for Doug precluded all possibility of any band related endeavours and I in particular struggled with the irrelevance of my life outside of a rock context. Contact between the three of us left behind quickly dwindled away to nothing and the straw man on which our friendship is predicated began to teeter and pitch alarmingly. The grinding monotony was occasionally punctuated with news from the continent and Doug's infrequent emails soon became my only solace. I had to break the routine of domestic life. I had to get away.
Driving through Traralgon I thought of the times we had shared together at its famous rock venue, the Inferno nightclub. Where once I'd thought it "A Godforsaken fucking shithole", now its austere interior, unresponsive audiences and uncomfortably long distance from Melbourne seemed positively welcoming next to the cold emptiness and lack of purpose tormenting my lonely soul. I bought a lukewarm coffee and doughy muffin which I ate without relish in the McDonald's car park, before taking a left-hander off the highway and making for Heyfield. Then Licola. And beyond, to the mountains.
It was nearly 4 o'clock by the time I pulled the XF on to the Howitt plains and the cool tentacles of an alpine autumn evening enveloped me the moment I exited the car. As I struggled to pull my heavy backpack from the rear seat I was distracted by the sound of another vehicle on the lonely mountain road. It's occupants pulled up nearby and the driver leant out of the window. "Hey mate", he called, coldly. "You a hiker or a hunter?" I responded that I was the former and immediately regretted not probing further as to the basis for his question. Uneasily I watched as he and his colleague alighted from their truck both armed and rugged up against the frosty air. I looked away briefly and when I turned back they had slipped silently into the misty snow gum forest and were gone.
I felt strangely disconcerted. Firearms are illegal in National Parks yet these rednecks had felt no compunction in brazenly displaying their weaponry before the potential betrayal of my inquisitive eyes. I imagined them stalking me as I set off on my 4 day walk, trailing closely behind, teasing out the thrill of the hunt until its final, awful denouement. Then again, maybe they would just wait until I'd gone and smash the fuck out of my car with the cold butts of their hunting rifles.
Lying in bed later that evening on the mezzanine floor of the Vallejo Ganter hut I heard a lone shot echo around the surrounding peaks. What beast lay slain at the end of that bullet's flight, its terrified eyes now dead and unseeing in the glare of its vanquisher's spotlight? Probably introduced vermin like deer, a pest with no place in the Australian bush. Still, I couldn't help but picture the triumphant hunters hurrying back to their car, flushed and giddy with their success, eager to be home to their wives while their dicks were still hard.
The following day I began walking in earnest, passing a series of landmarks which seemed to have been named as a result of some early explorer's waking nightmare. Terrible Hollow, the Devil's Staircase, Mt. Buggery, Horrible Gap - this dude had obviously had a really shit time out here. The apocalyptic nature of the names, however, belied the stark beauty of the vista surrounding me. Still, no meditative reverie would be complete without an intrusion from the stench of modern life and, as I made my way over the Crosscut Saw, I took advantage of my straight-line proximity to Mt. Buller and its attendant phone tower to check my messages. While hardly in the spirit of the intrepid discovers who trod these peaks before me, the salvation potential of a mobile phone makes sense for the solo walker. Our booking agent was seeking permission to cut an intransigent support act from the bill of an upcoming show. I happily assented; always glad to do my bit in fucking up someone else's career.
I spent the night on the shoulder of Mt. Speculation from where I would most definitely have speculated had the weather not turned inclement, confining me to my quick pitch Macpac tent. The tent got me thinking of Doug again. It was he who, during a lull in the recording of Footage Missing, accompanied me into the city to purchase the lightweight shelter while it was still on sale. Upon realising that I was a day late and the sale was over it was Doug again who brought comfort, firstly by providing the shoulder for his inconsolable mate to cry on and then later, moving into headkicker mode and confronting the sales staff to demand that they afford me the same discount that they had advertised only a day earlier. When shortly afterwards I walked from the store, beaming with my new tent proudly nestled in the crook of my arm I knew that I had a debt that I would happily spend a lifetime trying to repay.
Just past Mt. Despair on day 3 I met the first humans I'd seen in 48 hours, a group of 6 or 7 hardy trekkers heading the other way. "Easy enough to find your way along this next bit is it?" I offered casually, trying hard not to betray my concern at the prospect of difficulties on a section of the Alpine track renowned for its navigational quirks. Several exasperated exhalations served as the response and I moved on, paying extra attention to each directional challenge. I soon became complacent, however, as my policy of staying high on the slope seemed to be reaping handsome dividends. Naturally, this kind of hubris inevitably comes at a cost and I paid for my strutting arrogance with a 15 minute slog through thick scrub after losing the track just short of the red conglomerate rock clearing I was aiming at. I arrived heaving with the effort and flopped heavily onto the unforgiving ground.
The sun was beginning to sit lower in the sky and I knew I could not afford the luxury of rest. After a hurried repast I forged on, crossing a small knoll and then dropping into the saddle at the base of the Viking. The cliff-ringed prominence towered ominously above the tiny clearing and I began to feel my resolve weaken. A five minute power break during which I drew on all my training in positive thinking afforded me the strength to go on. By a series of powerful visualization techniques, I forced myself to imagine that a full house of impatient fans was calling encore from the ridge some 400 metres above me. These 'undead' aficionados could never have closure until I reappeared, triumphant, to free them at last from their eternal purgatory. I fairly sprinted up the side of the mountain in their direction.
I spent the final section of the day's walk - crossing over the Sth. Viking and dropping to the waters of the Wonnangatta River in the valley below - in a quasi-religious, devotional trance. The objects of my worship were the small cairns that seemed to appear without fail at every point of navigational vagueness to guide my way. These humble sign posts, often little more than 2 or 3 rocks piled loosely together, were the salvation for a mind and body now too fatigued and in danger of losing the light to be troubled with a map and compass. Who were the latter day Hansels and Gretels with enough time on their hands and energy in their legs to lay this trail home? Moreover, why were they so sure that they weren't just as lost as I would have been when they first laid them? I ruminated deeply on these philosophical questions, greeting as I did, each succeeding cairn with an ever-increasing fervour. I took first to whispering a quiet 'thank you' as I passed and then later began dropping silently to my knees to bestow a quick kiss of solemn gratitude. Before long I was sticking the tongue in and promising to come back for them one day if I ever made it out. Half an hour before dark I slid down the precipitous last section of the spur and, mud-spattered and grazed, gained the valley floor.
As I lay in the frigid waters of the mountain stream, the sun gone and my balls reduced to two pistachios, I tried hard to forget my disappointment. All around me lay the destruction wrought from the recent bushfires. The fires, however, had been stopped many valleys and ridge lines away from my current location and the wreckage I now surveyed was entirely human in its genesis. Intemperate bulldozing had created a control line designed ostensibly to halt the terrifying march of an oncoming blaze. In reality this 10 metre wide scar through the bush wouldn't have stopped the sparks from a birthday cake candle let alone a rampant wildfire. It was just the vindictive malice of some worthless redneck, furious at his impotence in the face of a world in which he was becoming inexorably marginalised towards irrelevance. Raging against the implacable power of any part of the natural landscape not turned over to him for economic benefit, he lashed out the only way he knew how; with dumb fury and brute mechanized force.
And then rushed home to his wife while his dick was still hard.