Into temptation: the extended mix

Vin Maskell presents an extended mix of a music pilgrimage story.

 

I’ve got to be careful when I visit the CD shop at lunchtime.

I’ve got to make sure I don’t reach for my wallet every time I make my weekly visit. Down from the 16th floor, along Queen St, into Little Lonsdale, then right at the second laneway.

I’ve got to resist buying a dozen CDs from the $10 bin, and tell myself  I don’t need another Van Morrison compilation, or a Leonard Cohen greatest hits, or a Richard Clapton album I already have on vinyl.

And I’ve got to make sure I don’t linger too long among the new releases. Yes, I’d like that Felice Brothers album, and the new Rickie Lee Jones, and the latest from Ella Hooper. But, no, don’t reach for the wallet.

I’ve got to be strong enough not to ask the shop assistant who’s playing, say, that tango music that’s coming through the shop speakers. I have to avert my gaze from the ‘now playing’ CD cover on the counter too. Otherwise I’ll want to buy the album. And a few of the artists’ earlier releases too. (‘The Gotan Project,’ said the shop assistant one day about the tango music, and it wasn’t until I was back at the office that the penny dropped.)

Yes, I’ve got to keep making sure I don’t reach for my wallet. But in a shop like this, that’s not easy. What did Springsteen sing on Nebraska (in the $10 bin): ‘I’ve got debts no honest man can pay.’ Well, I’m lucky enough not to be in so deep but as Kelly sings on Stolen Apples (Australian artists, under K), the bills ‘just won’t go away’.

I’ve got to remember those bills – the gas, the water, the power. The school excursions, the family medical specialists. The plumber, the carpenter, the mechanic.

I’ve got to remember those bills when I’m browsing the small, new vinyl collection in the shop. I don’t think I’ve bought a record, a vinyl album, for years (could it be as long ago as 1990?) but I could buy one now, during this lunchtime. Just for the fun of walking back to the office with it under my arm, just for the heck of placing its large cardboard cover, so much more visible than colleagues’ iPods, on my desk, beside the humming computer, the blinking phone and the cascading in-tray. But I’m only here to look, and to breathe in enough to keep me going until five o’clock.

Standing in my neat anonymous office clothes I flick through the t-shirt collection – mementoes of bands and tours and albums, playful images of records and needles, of instruments and sheet music. I’d like to wear my music this close to my chest, this close to my heart every day. I’d like to buy a stack of these t-shirts for a year of casual Fridays but I don’t even check their sizes, or take them from their hooks because then I’d start reaching for my wallet.

Looking across from the t-shirts I see other customers here for their lunchtime ration. Some are browsing, some are buying. Some are in suits, some are in neat-casual. Some are listening to music on the shop’s headphones. Some are reading reviews on the shop’s walls. All of us are drawn here from the cubicles in the office blocks in the city, trying to latch onto something, to hold onto something.

What fuels these visits? What brings us all here? Singular reasons, as well as a collective constant craving? Is it a simple break from a satisfying working day or an escape from fading dreams, from ambitions gone astray?

Here we reveal a little of our non-work selves – to the shop staff most obviously, but also to each other, and to our own selves. To thine own self be true, here on this island.

One day I looked across to the blues section and there was a colleague from the 16th floor. Our small smiles told of a camaraderie and later that day, towards five o’clock, we spoke of music festivals. Of Queenscliff and Apollo Bay, of precious time away.

I’ve got to be careful I don’t spend too much time in the shop’s DVD corner. I’ve got to tell myself that watching Woodstock at home on the television won’t be the same as watching it at the Ballarat Rd drive-in all those years ago, in the darkness on the edge of town, gazing through the windscreen at the stars in the sky.

And as my hand reaches for the DVD of George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh I’ve got to realise it won’t be the same as watching it at the Pix Theatre in West Geelong in the mid-1970s with the massive silhouette of Dylan’s mop of curly hair filling the big screen. No, I tell myself, as I start to read the DVD blurb, content yourself with very occasionally playing the Dylan side of the three-album box set you’ve got at home, the box-set held together by sticky tape aged into sepia tones. Content yourself with the music and the memories and the photos in the large concert booklet.

Sometimes – birthdays, Christmas, and those Fridays when the working week is particularly taking its toll – I do reach for my wallet, I do buy something from the $10 bin, and something from the new releases, and maybe even an impulse buy from the counter.

But most of the time I’m like I was when I was about 12 years old, when I’d walk into a local sports shop and gaze at the cricket equipment and the tennis racquets and the table-tennis bats, at the footballs and the boots and the jumpers. Even at the tracksuits. I’d stand there, wishing and dreaming. Hoping and wondering.

There was always a bat or a ball in the backyard and enough kids to play a grand final or a Test match, but the lure of the sports shop was the newness of the equipment: the firmness of the footballs, the gloss of the cricket bats’ willow, the sharpness of the stitching on the cricket balls. The grain of the wooden tennis racquets and the tautness of the strings. But the sports shop was effectively a museum – I could look but I couldn’t touch.

I’d linger as long as I could, trying to soak up the possibilities of the shops’ goods, as if being surrounded by all this quality equipment would give me the skills to play sport at a higher level than the backyard games.

I wish I had more than lunchtime to spend in the CD shop. I wish I could stay all day here, all week, even all year. Immerse myself in the music. Soak in it. There was a time when I soaked up so much music that it seemed to seep from my pores. There was a time when a week wasn’t complete without seeing a few bands at the Eureka Hotel, or the Station Hotel or The Continental, without talking music with mates til dawn, without watching Night Moves or Rock Arena, without reading Juke and Ram and Rolling Stone. Without putting on coconut-sized headphones and just about making myself deaf. Without driving to Adelaide on a whim, just to see Ariel. There was a time.

And now? The cliches come true, as they always do. A job, a house, a family. Tiredness, weariness. Love. So I content myself with these stolen moments at lunchtime, along with the occasional gig or concert.

I’ve got to make the moments last before returning to the shiney foyer and the near-silent elevator that takes me to the  near-silent 16th floor, where I have to make sure I don’t gaze out the window too long at the lost horizon, hoping and wondering.

But one day I just might give in to temptation. I just might yield. I just might crack (Isn’t that how the light gets in, Mr Cohen?). I just might put a big stack of CDs and records and DVDs and t-shirts on the counter in front of the shop assistant: Rickie Lee Jones, Ella Hooper, the Felice Brothers, Van Morrison, George Harrison, Talking Heads, John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, Dan Sultan, The Dingoes, Shane Howard, Robert Johnson, Chad’s Tree, the Black Eyed Susans, Lyle Lovett, Mark Gillespie, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, the Mercurials, The Gotan Project, Pink Martini, Richard Clapton, Garland Jeffreys, Ry Cooder, Mark Knopfler, Cyndi Lauper, Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, Lucinda Williams, Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Rebecca Barnard, the Wolfgramm Sisters, Wilco, Paris Wells, Holiday Sidewinder, Clare Bowditch, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Teddy Thompson, Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Graham Parker, Jimmy Cliff, Ron Sexsmith, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Warren Zevon …

And I’ll reach for my wallet and forget about all the bills piling up on the kitchen bench, forget about the gas bill and the power bill and the water bill. And I’ll swipe my credit card and press my PIN and watch the shop assistant neatly package everything and I’ll pick up the CDs and records and DVDs and t-shirts and head out the door. I won’t ring the office, I won’t look back. I’ll just go home with my music and my hopes and my dreams.

I should be so reckless. I should be so careless.

 

 A much shorter version of this story was published in Eureka Street last year. Vin quit his city job last year and spent a fair bit of his spare time playing loud music in the loungeroom at lunchtime. He is now back working in the city but, alas, too far from Discurio for a lunchtime pilgrimage.

 

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    The sheen of a new cricket bat. The artwork and detail on an album sleeve. A day set aside just to listen to music.

    Very seductive things.

    Cheers Vin.

  2. Damo Balassone says:

    Nice work Vin and I dig where you’re coming from. I remember in the early 90s as a broke student walking into Dixons and buying a second-hand vinyl copy of “The Concert for Bangladesh” for a pricy $30 – just for the Dylan stuff! It was the missing piece in my Dylan collection (before I discovered Bootlegs of course!). And what a performance it is by the great man.

    By the way, very glad to see the name Warren Zevon on your list. One of the greats. A few months ago I purchased his first 5 albums for just $19 at JB Hi Fi. It has given me many hours of joy. A brilliant songwriter, and a musician’s musician. The first 3 albums in particular are stunning.

  3. Send lawyers, guns and money daaaad, the shit has hit the fan!

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    G’Day Vin

    I use iTunes as my music library at home but to still prefer to buy a CD than to purchase a download. More recently it seems I am too old to enjoy vinyl. Other than the attraction of the full-sized cover, I don’t see the benefits of the old LP: the labour intensity of having to turn the album part way through; the fragility of the product; the scratchiness (I think the young groovy ones refer to the authenticity) of the sound; the lack of portability. I buy the CD and then upload to digital library. Even when I do buy on-line, I still buy the hard copy and have it delivered.

    Was down at Commonwealth reserve (Williamstown) yesterday afternoon to enjoy Tim Rogers Trio (and there were only two of them) doing a free acoustic set. A good crowd in attendance. A very pleasant afternoon. Vika and Linda next week. Wagons the week after.

  5. John Butler says:

    Words to live by Phantom.

    Some Zevon fans (and you all should be IMHO) might be unaware that a treasure trove of his live performances are available for free (legal) download at:

    http://www.archive.org/details/WarrenZevon

  6. John Butler says:

    AF, I remain sentimentally attached to my vinyl, though the convenience of digital music is obvious.

    Arguments about the comparative sounds of analogue and digital sound will rage into eternity.

    Glad to hear free music is back at the Rotunda. A very civilised notion.

  7. What I find perplexing is why younger people seem to think that older people have never heard good music.
    I live in the tropical north and a couple of years ago I was engaged in weeding my front garden.
    I suppose I looked a sight with my arse pointing skywards in XXX large shorts and a larger straw hat. Because the family was out I decided to play “London Calling” and naturally enough with sufficient volume to be heard in the garden. The fact that the renters next door had a party until 4am made the choicer of music all the easier. It was hot and steamy and I was feeling grumpy. When up the footpath lobbed three lads wearing oversized black hoddies heavy jeans and beanies….unbelievably… as it was well over 30 degrees. So amid thoughts of “Stupid young …” I continued gardening and enjoying the sounds of my youth. I smelt the tobacco and heard one of the charming youths say “Poor old bastard his kids have driven him out of the house”.

  8. Polythene Pam says:

    Brilliant

  9. That’s a good yarn about London Calling.

    Amongst my Christmas gifts were my first iPod (with 950 songs already loaded on it, courtesy of my 19 year old son) and a vinyl version of the terrific new Paul Simon album. I noted two things about the vinyl album: the vinyl itself seemed stiff and heavy, like a 78 record. The weightiness matched the songs, I reckon. Amongst the packaging of the album was a card with a code for downloading the album. The best of both worlds.

  10. Agreed Mulcaster.

    Most of the riffs are from a past generation that took it from another one and on and on. Even the great Robert Zimmerman was influenced by Woody Gutherie and he was influenced by others.

    There is a substantial amount of the sh-t, b-gger, f–k hip hop lyrics these days and if you have the ordacity to play the original they get very peeved.

    My, grown up, kids were watching a dvd titled ‘Like a Version’ at Christmas. I went through my CD (yes CD) collection and pulled out the originals of most of the songs. I recieved no compliments what so ever. Not happy dad.

  11. Second paragraph should read ‘there is a substantial amount of sampling in the sh-t, etc’

    Guthrie is of course spelt Guthrie.

  12. John Butler says:

    Phantom, surely you know that one inevitable rights of passage is that your parents are NEVER allowed to be cool. :)

  13. Mulcaster says:

    Oh Ghost Who Walks …”Parents may never be cool but the male parent must always be embarrassing or annoying”*

    *Old Jungle Saying

  14. Damo Balassone says:

    JB, thanks so much for the Zevon tip.

    Unsolicited I know, but here is my selection of Zevon’s finest …

    Warren Zevon (1976)
    The French Inhaler
    Hasten Down the Wind
    Poor, Poor Pitiful Me
    Desperados Under the Eaves
    Mohammed’s Radio
    Carmelita

    Excitable Boy (1978)
    Johnny Strikes Up the Band
    Excitable Boy
    Werewolves of London
    Accidentally Like a Martyr
    Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
    Lawyers, Guns and Money

    Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (1980)
    Empty-Handed Heart
    Jeannie Needs a Shooter
    Bill Lee
    Gorilla, You’re a Desperado
    Wild Age

    The Envoy (1982)
    The Envoy
    The Hula Hula Boys
    Jesus Mentioned

    Sentimental Hygiene (1987)
    Reconsider Me
    Boom Boom Mancini

    Transverse City (1989)
    Splendid Isolation

    Mr. Bad Example (1991)
    Searching for a Heart
    Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
    Suze Lightening

    Mutineer (1995)
    The Indifference of Heaven
    Mutineer

    Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)
    I Was in the House When the House Burned Down
    Life’ll Kill Ya
    Porcelain Monkey
    For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer

    My Ride’s Here (2002)
    Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)
    Genius

  15. Tom Bally says:

    Vin

    Good article. Got the afflicition (additiction?) myself. The only thing holding me back is a lack of space….

    I have to say I offloaded my 200+ CD’s and got back in vinyl after realising that terrible mastering and loudness wars have simply buggered most CD’s and downloads. I’ll even go out of my way to look for vinyl rips for my iPod because of the better dynamics in the music compared to CD. And wouldn’t even classify myself or my system as ‘audiophile’ but even my ears can tell the difference.

    Cheers

  16. I liked the recently aired news story (ABC radio) about a middle eastern back ground bloke in a taxi in London.

    It was reported that he had an IPod going and was happily singing along to London Calling on his way to ‘Eeefrow’. The taxi driver thought he was a threat to national security and drove to the nearest Police station and had him arrested.

  17. John Butler says:

    Damo, a thorough list indeed.

    To that I’d add the Hindu Love Gods (aka REM & Zevon) versions of Raspberry Beret and Junco Partner.

    Endearingly clunky.

  18. Damo Balassone says:

    Got me there JB. I didn’t include Hindu Love Gods for the same reason I wouldn’t include Travelling Wilburys on a Dylan compilation. But agreed, those Zevon/REM sessions were great fun!

  19. I once passed a University exam on the strength of “Veracruz”from “Ecitable Boy”. I was facinated by the lyrics and read up on Woodrow Wilson’s excursion into Central America. Unbelievably it vcame up on the exam. Veracruz is one of Zevon’s most beautiful songs Although I think his version of Raspberry beret is splendid.

  20. Carmelita – So full of pathos

  21. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Vin

    Great piece and I’ll return to that in another post but I first want to pick up Damo’s Zevon point and list. I’ll never tire of Zevon’s music. In some way he is the John Prine of Rock’n’Roll, with exquisite lines, memorable tunes and seemingly simple stories dripping with deep and rebounding meaning.

    I think Zevon’s last three albums (you left out The Wind) are as good as he ever got, including the breathtaking albums/songs from the mid 70s to early 80s. From Life’ll Kill Ya, I would have to add Fistful of Rain, Hostage-O and Don’t Let Us Get Sick. And I couldn’t leave the title song off favs from My Ride’s Here. However, when we get to The Wind, I believe, he really steps up. This is what I would include from that masterpiece:

    Dirty Life and Times
    Disorder in the House
    Prison Grove
    Please Stay
    Rub Me Raw
    Keep Me in Your Heart.

    The last song, in particular, is about as beautiful and sad and as clear as he has written. What a song to say goodbye (sadly, forever). It is worth printing one verse to explain:

    “Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house
    Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
    You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
    Keep me in your heart for awhile”

    Finally (if you aren’t already familiar with it, can I recommend, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon” by Crystal Zevon as an excellent oral history of a deeply flawed but ultimately highly original and insightful chronicler of recent times. Another who died way too young.

    Cheers

    Oh, JB, thanks fro the link to Zevon downloads

  22. Rick Kane says:

    While I’m at it, I’d add Mr Bad Example and Frank and Jesse James.

  23. John Butler says:

    RK, Zevon didn’t write many bad ones.

    That biography from his ex-wife is one of the more honest and confronting rock bios written. Just as Warren wanted it apparently. Mr Bad Example indeed.

  24. Damo Balassone says:

    Just back from a week in Echuca so sorry for the belated response.

    Rick, great to hear from a fellow Zevon tragic. Can’t really disagree with anything you’ve said. The Wind is an astounding farewell album from a dying man. I left if off my list completely because I felt the album should be listened to, and considered, independently from the rest of his work. Agreed that Frank and Jesse James is a great rocking tune. Love the piano lick that reappears in Desparados Under the Eaves. Re Mr Bad Example, it’s great fun in that typical Zevonic way – how about that line about drinking Fosters in the shade!

    I have read the bio. You’re right JB, that’s the way Zevon wanted it – warts and all. I just felt that it would have worked better written as a story with the occasional quote. Instead it was just jumping from one interview to the other, without much of a narrative. I found this tiresome. Also would have liked to see more of an in depth analysis of the songs, but I guess that is another book.

    Mulcaster, love the story re Veracruz. A beautiful song. The Spanish lyrics in particular are touching – and prove that you don’t need to understand the words in order to be moved by music.

  25. Thanks Vin. Tough pieced for those settling back in to their “cubicles”.
    I vaguely remember a long night years ago when some of us, under Zevon’s fire, determined to script and cast “Roland” as a feature film…couldn’t wait to blow Van Owen’s body to Johannesburg.
    The Veracruz tale (beautiful song) reminded me of a mate who wrotew his Yr12 History essay using lyrics from The Band. Very risky given the spuds (like me) who evaluate/mark exams. Inspired.

  26. Mulcaster says:

    if you like Warren Zevon you will like Raul Malo.
    raul can sing anything
    He does a great covers of JD Souther’s Önly Lonely, and anything by roy Orbison

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvyJmAVUtAY

    Check this out.

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