The culture of lowered expectations demands that we be ready at any moment for a change of career. In the brave new economy of the 21st century no one can expect to hold a job for life - much less if that job is as an unproductive peon in the hardline economically rationalist music industry. As we watched Doctor deftly stow our empty instrument cases to the side of the stage at the National Hotel in Geelong, we openly considered his employment options. "You'll always have a job as a stage hand waiting for you when The Fauves are washed up Doctor". Despite the fact that many would probably argue a cogent case to the effect that we already are, Doctor beamed back, obviously pleased that the quality of his work had not gone unnoticed. He hefted a well-aimed sandshoe at a recalcitrant roadcase and watched it slide perfectly into the niche he'd created for it. A man at the peak of his powers. "I reckon I could be a driver", I mused, anxious to see the topic of conversation drift back in my direction. The response from my colleagues was muted. I persisted regardless. "You know, like just driving the Tarago at the end of the night. Someone wants a lift to a night club, I take them there, that sort of thing". By this stage everyone had moved on, bored out of their skulls at my contrived waffle. I was left nursing the idea like an awkward uncle holding a newborn baby. The thought, however, remained. "I could do that job", I reassured myself. "I know I could!"
Statistically Geelong was as big a failure as ever. We've waited longer for a century in the famous blue-collar rock town than Steve Waugh did in the early days of his test career. Like the nascent Steve, we've had our nineties without ever reaching the ton. Tonight was no exception and 61payers represented a profligate waste of a solid start. At 200 bucks plus 7 out of 10 it also represented one of the smallest pay days we've had since the Commonwealth bank gave us five bucks in primary school with which to start savings accounts. Still, we reassured ourselves, this was always a weekend founded on lowered expectations. Three days in regional Victoria could never be simply about the money - we would have had more chance of making cash stumbling around with metal detectors on the dry hills of Ballarat searching for the Welcome Stranger - it was about taking the music to the people. On Thursday the 14th we took it to 61 of them.
The hotel was offering cheap, nutritious meals based heavily around noodles and Asian spices. Our Epicurean standards, however, were forged on a far more exalted level of culinary excellence and we eschewed the generous offer of a half-priced stir-fry. After soundcheck we strode boldly out into the mean streets of Geelong in search of the gourmand's nirvana we knew from experience could almost certainly not exist. There was, nevertheless, one thing of which we were certain. Having dined at the Pancake Parlour on our last five trips to the Sleepy Hollow, we were united in the desire that this meal should remain unconnected in any way with flat, starchy crepes of either the sweet or savoury variety. It was a quiet night. An endless parade of daytime cafeterias offered their implacably closed shopfronts to our hungry stares. Eventually we found something open - a homely looking pizzeria not 10 doors down from the pub where our star-crossed search had begun. A large, well appointed dining room beckoned but the Maitre 'D insisted on hastening us into an adjoining area, all plastic tablecloths and reproduced wall hangings of dogs playing pool. He assured us that we'd get served more promptly in this section of his establishment, all the while ignoring Terry's modest protestations to the effect that we were in no hurry and would prefer to dine at leisure in the more salubrious area of the restaurant.
Ted ate some of the best pizza of his life and spared no one's ears in making sure the proprietor was fully cognisant of this fact. Bordering on the obsequious, his fullsome praise rang like a clarion call throughout the closed confines of the café. The waiting staff, the chefs and the owner were apprised of the extent of his immense satisfaction, a satisfaction notoriously difficult to elicit from the fussy bassist. Bird, a determined small eater, pecked his way through nearly all of the doughy mass crowned several inches thick with salty processed meats, all the while taking full opportunity of a slackening of the rule that normally prohibits him from imbibing white wine before a gig. By show time he was swaying like an island palm at a Club Med getaway.
The 61 in attendance at the show were most gracious in their appreciation and one had the feeling of being enriched, if not financially, then at least spiritually, by this fine show of faith. Side of stage we hocked several copies of Footage Missing that we'd procured as promo copies from the record company while Bird, now starring in the role of Fish, was heard in earnest discussion with the promoter about the dire lack of beer backstage. A voice was raised briefly, and Fish appeared shortly thereafter, smiling and content, with a cold can fused into the vice-like grip of his left fin.
The pub put us up for the night in their exclusive backpacker wing - one room, 3 bunk beds and some towels frayed thinner than Gary Sweet's hairline. These sleeping arrangements provided a powerful incentive to stay awake, and we loitered malignantly in the public bar until one of the aforementioned copies of Footage Missing found its way onto the DJ's console, sending us scurrying quickly upstairs. Once safely cocooned away from prying eyes, we settled in to some well-worn couches in the communal lounge room and listened to ourselves talk. A short time later, the gathering was gatecrashed by an unidentified reveller who proceeded to give the highly uneasy Doctor a shoulder massage. By this stage I had decamped for the palatial comforts of our bedroom, but Doug more than adequately filled the gaps in my visual record with a powerfully descriptive account of the offending rub down. The interloper was later heard to declare that this had been the second best night of his life but would not elaborate when pushed for details about the greatest.
The following morning we ate a breakfast of varying quality down by the Geelong waterfront and then made for Warrnambool. Here we found the accommodation to be of an even more inferior quality than the spartan austerity of the night before. The upstairs rooms at the Criterion Hotel had all the ambience of a half way house for escaped prisoners and we briefly tossed up the possibility of making alternative arrangements, before reminding ourselves of the poverty of that night's scheduled remuneration. Besides, the weekend was rapidly becoming rationalised as a return to our roots and it was generally agreed that one night spent miserable and uncomfortable in filthy rooms on bug-infested mattresses and served by the barely functioning amenities of a putrid bathroom would go a long way towards 'keeping it real'. Walls stained by the dried liquids of some kind of madman's rampage certainly seemed real enough as did the seating in the TV room, encrusted as it was with what appeared to be a mixture of vomit and dried faecal matter. Downstairs, the publican greeted us with all the warmth of an Antarctic wind change and made it clear in no uncertain terms that there would be no soundcheck or even loading in of equipment until his establishment was done feeding the 20 or so glowering regulars who relied on his kitchen for their weekly quota of grease, charcoal and monounsaturated animal fats. We took to the streets and found Warrnambool much as we had left it on our last visit some four years previously. This put it at 14 years behind the rest of Australia rather than the 10 of our prior visit. Not everything was the same, however. Ponting's Paints had opened up on the corner opposite the pub, a reassuring sign that the Australian One Day captain had matured and was now investing his considerable wealth in the growth industry of home improvement rather than on hard liquor and fast women in Kings Cross.
We dined on a thick coagulation of refried beans and reconstituted cheese at Taco Bills, after which Doug and I adjourned to a nearby café for coffee. Not for the first, nor may I say the last, time that weekend Doug ordered a long macchiato, ostensibly as register of his coffee of choice, but covertly as a part of his ongoing challenge to the Baristas of regional Australia. Predictably enough tonight's Barista failed miserably, adding to the growing list of losers hopelessly unable to meet the intimidating drummer's stringent standards. This offering looked like an outtake from a McDonald's training session and was duly left only half drunk as a powerful statement of protest to the proprietor.
Back at the pub we mooned about aimlessly, reduced to bystanders downstairs and reluctant to return to our squalid rooms. It was a relief to finally get on. A crowd that earlier in the evening had appeared unlikely to reach ten had grown to a respectable size. The word respectable here should be taken under advisement. One of the clear signs that your career is in one of the valleys on the rollercoaster is when booking agents, managers and the like start inquiring, not about the size of the crowd but rather, "How did it look?" This phrase captures a spirit of understanding that requires no explanation to the initiated. There is a definite subtext: it goes without saying that you didn't pull a huge amount of payers but how did it look?" Did you save face? Was it a public humiliation or merely a private one when you counted the evening's takings later in the sanctuary of your room? Once large crowds are beyond its capacity to arrange, a band becomes reduced to putting on shows that draw enough people to make the room look OK. That is, a passerby chancing to poke their head through the door will see nothing to disabuse them of the notion that the night inside is going well enough even if the actual number of paying clientele does not bear that out. This was the sort of night we had in Warrnambool. It 'looked' OK. The fiduciary breakdown showed that it bordered on disaster.
After I'd once more retired early, the other guys were afforded the opportunity of continuing the time-honored Fauves tradition of stacking stuff on a passed out guy. This preposterously inventive stunt had its genesis when Jack was in the band and reached its apogee shortly afterwards. Basically the big guy had two modes - flat out or flat out. When he was flat out in the comatose sense of the homonym, we used to stack assorted motel furnishings, Manchester and bathroom fixtures up on him in Gaudi-like displays of post-modern architecture. Now, with a hunter's eye for weak or ailing prey, Doctor, Doug and Terry had noticed a backstage guest unconscious on the couch and managed to balance a fine array of assorted detritus - chip packets, beer bottles etc. - all over his pliant and unsuspecting body. Fans of the arcane practice of stacking shit on passed out dudes might like to see the pictorial evidence of this recent effort on our photographs page.
Saturday dawned hot and so did the tempers, as I flared like a young bushfire at Ted and Doctor on the footpath outside the breakfast café. It was all about walk around. Walk around is petty cash. Someone needs a twenty, someone else could use a fifty - it's money to walk around with, to have on hand in case of an impulse purchase. With exclusive access to the band ATM card, it's my job to be on hand to fulfill these dreams. This is all very well, but those dorks tend to make a habit of asking five minutes AFTER we have just passed a bank, or when we find ourselves a considerable distance from any stash I may have deposited back at the room. In this case they waited until we'd left the hotel - where all the money was - before asking for some walk around. I made a brief and pointless scene and then slunk back for the requested cash. As a final insult everyone had ordered by the time I returned and I was instructed to head straight to the register to settle the outstanding accounts as Doctor and Ted were otherwise occupied in reading the paper.
The final act of the triumvirate of triumph was to take place in Horsham, proud capital of the Wimmera and the scene of only one other previous Fauves performance. That had taken place in the town's renowned Sound Shell on the same night as Mark Taylor was constructing his famous 334 on a road in Peshawar, Pakistan. Tonight's show loomed much less auspiciously, booked as we were at the Commercial. Apparently the Alternative had passed on the show while the Independent was already filled. The hotel's interior was a cool refuge from the hot Wimmera afternoon, and we set up and soundchecked without incident. While loading in, Doug was accosted by two fresh-faced youths in Queens' Of The Stoneage T-shirts. They professed their admiration for our band while explaining that their attendance at the evening's festivities would be precluded by their tender years. The young acolytes were rehearsing in a small music studio abutting the hotel and, as we went about our business, they returned to their set list of remarkably energetic Kyuss, Silverchair and AC/DC covers. Nothing they played even remotely betrayed the influence of our music and I quickly discounted them as frauds who had spoken to Doug as part of a cruel pisstake.
The menu at the Commercial Hotel Pizza proudly announced that the chef had hit upon a revolutionary new style of cooking and the chance to sample the fruits of his breakthrough seemed too good to pass up. "I cook everything in the pizza oven", he boldly declared to which Doug and Terry replied by ordering the steak. Unable to match their adventurous spirit or their capacity to eat baked flesh, I settled on that great rock dietary staple, the pizza. It arrived shortly afterwards as a blackened disc that looked like an archaeological relic dug up from an ancient Olympic games site. I muddled warily around the edges before deciding to donate the leftovers to science. Spying the sizeable left overs, a congenial waitress asked if I might like to take my meal, now looking like a piece of petrified wood, away in a box for later on. Embarrassed at my lack of grace in leaving so much pizza unfinished, I forced a smile and motioned for her to be my guest. As a bonus she slipped in the remains of Doctor's pizza - a travelling piece from the exhibition "Hiroshima, August 1945" - and I spent the next hour looking for a suitably sized, radioactive-proof dumpster into which to deposit my booty.
The show was easily the highlight of the weekend. No sooner had we hit stage than the dance floor was filled with excited patrons, many of whom seemed exceptionally well briefed on our back catalogue. Afterwards we retired upstairs, delicately declining the offer of more pizza, only to find that the young rockers were still hammering away, now 12 hours after starting. Thinking of bed, we had begun to tire of the relentless sonic assault and Ted, perhaps a little emboldened by drink, resolved to go next door and request that they call proceedings to a halt. After ten minutes there was still no sign of our much-loved colleague and we briefly began to worry before quickly becoming ambivalent again. Just as we were about to start drafting a new "Bassplayer wanted, must not have own transport" ad, an excited-looking Terry appeared on the stairwell and announced that we were going next door to jam.
The kids hadn't been lying, they knew some of our stuff and we started straight in on an ad hoc version of Everybody's Getting A 3 Piece Together. Though a little wayward through the choruses, the rendition made up for its technical deficiencies with an incendiary energy. All this incendiarism left me burnt out and I retired to the sidelines to watch as two of the kids led Doug through Gardenia, the first track on Kyuss's Welcome To Sky Valley. Following this Terry stepped back up to the plate for some inappropriately funky bass playing on AC/DC's Back In Black and then segued over to the drum kit where he struggled through Queen's Of The Stoneage's Feelgood Hit Of The Summer, an effort that damn near killed him. Whilst none of the assorted retinue could have been much over 16, there was evidence of alcohol consumption all over the room, evidence that became manifest as Terry joined them on the end of a bladder of cask wine passing its way around. Though a deeply avowed lover of white, Ted has never had much of a palate for the red stuff and, screwing his face up in disgust, declared the contents to be "some kind of port" before returning for a second generous swig. We left shortly afterwards, unsuccessful in our bid to halt the never-ending rehearsal (they subsequently continued for another 2 hours) but inspired, and with our faith renewed in the spirit of music to unite people across several generation gaps. The pure love of music for music's sake is a virtue all too easy to lose sight of for those of us caught up in the miserable commercial considerations that the music business is so beholden to.