Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Melbourne Vignettes – Of Kindness, Karma and a Kosmic Cowboy

The point of the journey was Emmylou Harris – her one night stand at the Palais, St Kilda. She commenced as a solitary, spotlit figure on stage, and suddenly that ethereal voice powerfully filled the void with its purity. She was acapella at first, and then gradually the members of the Red Dirt Band wandered on and joined in, so that by tune’s climax a ‘beautiful noise’ engulfed the full house – twanging guitar, mandolin above, violin, slow snare and entwined voices in harmony. She is getting on, our Emmylou, but is still stunningly stately with her gloriously spun silver haired halo. It would be fair to say her once peerless higher registrar has deserted her, but in its stead comes quiet breathy trills, and her song choices were no less for that. Those of us venturing into our sixties have all lost bits of what we once possessed in more youthful times, and even an Emmylou Harris cannot hold back the years forever.

Her repertoire, on this night, was largely taken from her more recent offerings on CD, and was well received, but when she launched into ‘Hickory Wind’, the knowledgeable crowd lit up. And, perchance, if you closed your eyes, as I did, you could indeed picture a more youthful vision of her up there, and could fully imagine, joining in on the song, her mentor, the original ‘cosmic cowboy’ himself. As their two voices came together on the chorus, his ragged against hers of timeless shimmer, his nudie suit would glitter, her long black tresses would gently sway.

Every couple of songs Emmylou would pause to tell a story behind an offering, and she also informed us how happy she was that Obama was back. This was the cue to launch into the ‘Ballad of Emmet Till’, the young man who gave his life to kick start the civil rights movement that later took Martin Luther King ‘to the mountain top’. My night was made when she closed with a Van Zandt classic. Over the years she has paid her dues to both Gram and Townes in spades – she’s kept their respective candles burning so they now have reached the legendary status their demons prevented them from attaining in their lifetimes. I’ll treasure my memories of this night.

Yes the concert was all I’d hoped for, but the poor old Palais has seen better days – hard seats, packed in like sardines. Steeped in Melbourne’s cultural history, what a pity it is that, as yet, this grand old dame hasn’t warranted a makeover.

Now, being a bumpkin from Tassie, I was unused to, and unprepared for, the ways of Melbourne’s ‘beautiful people’. Being a naïve hickster, I assumed that when it is advertised that a concert commences at eight pm, then you are in your seats by that time. Not so it seems, at least for the gilded ones! The earnest young man who was the support act witnessed a constant stream of late comers throughout his half hour of fame.  There was also a noisy distraction coming from behind me, spoiling my appreciation of his not without merit performance. It took me a while to figure out its source, but – you guessed it – the beautiful people. For them the start of the concert simply means start of drinking time so, at my rear, from the foyer bar, came the racket of the golden ones loudly plying their mates with yarns and boastings. And even by the time the intermission bells ceased ringing, the vast room seemed only three quarters full. Emmylou came out, commenced singing and gradually those with the charmed existence, probably garnered from daddy’s hard earned fortune, decided to languidly saunter in. Up until that stage, with the three seats afore me empty, I had had a terrific view of the stage – that is until Ms Bobblehead and her two male companions plonked themselves down. To my left the two empty spaces were filled by fulsome blonde matrons, who, to give them credit, did utter apologies for climbing over the top of me to get at their seats. By now Emmylou was into her second song, and it wasn’t until well into her third of the set that the audience seemed to settle, and finally the stream of tardy entrants became a trickle, and then ceased. But all was not well in my neck of the woods. Ms Bobblehead, so named because of the ponytail perched high on her skull, and positioned immediately in front of me, had, by this time, decided Emmylou wasn’t worth her undivided attention, and so it was time to give the remainder of it to her love interest. She snuggled down into her man, planting kisses on, and actually suckling, any exposed flesh she could get her lips to, that is, in between whispering (Loudly! Audibly!) sweet endearments into his ear, and sharing with him the latest twitterings from her mobile. As you would expect, we had all been firmly instructed to shut these down, but rules like that do not apply to the blessed ones. Now all this carry on had not only unsettled me, but also the pungently scented duo to my left. What is good for the goose…. and so out came their mobiles. I could not believe it as they were soon into cooing mode, presumably over images of adored grandchildren. They pointed and poked at their apparatus; loudly, gleefully comparing notes. This was too much, so I spat it, and told them curtly to shut up. They took umbrage at this and argued back at me that I was spoiling their night, but again, credit where credit is due, discussions ceased, even if phones were regularly consulted and displayed. Not long after that, it happened! One of Ms BH’s male companions, the non-preferred one, departed. Whether Emmylou was also not to his liking, whether he had been called away to perform emergency surgery to save a child’s life, or whether he had also spat it through being, like myself, thoroughly pissed off at Ms BH’s carry-on, I had no idea. But go he did – terminally. And praise be to the gods above, Ms Bobblehead moved one seat to the left, followed by her fella – to be immediately in front of my other tormentors. They soon also packed up and left – Ms BH obviously finished off what I had started – the ruination of their lovely evening of catch-up.


To me hundred dollar tickets are not the mere trifle it may be to these people, but happily from that point on I more than had my money’s worth from Emmylou’s well honed performance, losing myself in her voice.

And as for kindness – that was all around for me in Melbourne. There was the barista at Southern Cross Station’s Degassi Bakery where I breakfasted. I observed him find what turned out to be a ticket for VicRail. After ensuring that it did not belong to any of his current patrons, off he set, at peak hour, to source its owner. Sure enough, a voice over paged that person. He didn’t have to do that - would the beautiful people have done so? I doubt it, but our kind barista was later rewarded by the flushed owner of said ticket returning to offer profuse thanks – and again, that person did not have to do that either. I’ll return to this little café on future trips. There’s the kindness of a friend, knowing I was alone in the big city, who invited me to breakfast with her family and pals at another café in Hardware Lane. It was somewhat more trendy than the aforementioned, but on a busy morning, with a line of punters awaiting seating, a beautiful young waitress ensured we would not miss out, despite our inconvenient configuration of eight persons. There was the Smith Street hipster who helped a clearly discombobulated elderly Greek woman cross a busy intersection, and the lovely owner of Sankofa Fair Trade, in Gertrude Street, who, remarkably remembering me from a previous visit months ago, took time out for a chat. The No 1 tram down Sturt Street was foreign territory to me and I was assisted by another of Melbourne’s youthful beauties to my art gallery destination. On the No 96 to Emmylou a sweet Muslim girl give up her seat for me with a divine smile, and even technology seemed to be kind as well. I easily came to grips with the new, to me, bedeviled Myki card. But the best kindness of all was having my wonderful son and gorgeous partner giving up their Saturday afternoon together, on a flying visit to the big smoke, to also keep me company in a Brunswick Street cider house. And with all my walking around pointing my camera, there were happy faces galore, especially on the little ones espying the Myers’ Christmas window displays down in the Mall.

The icing was spotting Shane Warne in his canary yellow Superleggera sports car. At the time I had no idea what the name for the monstrosity he was driving could be – to me it looked like an inverted flying saucer – but I’ve researched cyberspace! And yes, he too was smiling as he powered out of Acland Street. And finally – yes Jenni, the black rice pudding at Hardware Societie is to die for! I will be back there as well – and to Melbourne many more times as well I hope, despite the quirks of its ‘beautiful people’. The normal ones more than make up for those posers.

See YouTube of Emmylou/Gram singing 'Hickory Wind'

1 comment:

  1. I certainly don't miss the Hobart hipsters - not many of their ilk in little old Launnie. Shame that they put a dampener on what sounds like an otherwise beautiful evening! I'm glad there were many Melbourne kindnesses to make up for their rudeness!