The Struggle by the Beachby Nolan Angell
I was looking forward to seeing my father in Wales. It had been over two years since I saw him. We talk a lot on the phone but it's not enough.
For most of the time in Paris I stayed with the French girl and her wonderful family. They were so kind to me. Her father was a doctor, who specialized in the digestive system. I learnt how to eat food. Everything I'd heard about the food in France is true. Everything tastes better. After a few weeks I felt the healthiest I'd ever felt. They started every meal with rock melon or honeydew melon.
I wrote a lot of songs on this trip, in Hong Kong, Paris, London and Cardiff. "Dying is easy" is among my favorites. I thought of it walking to work in Sydney and finished it Hong Kong. I thought I saw an accident on the road up ahead. I had an image someone seeing their wife or partner in an accident and running up to the scene to find them lying near the wreckage and saying 'dying is easy' before they died.
"I know" which was inspired by a visit to Jim Morrisons grave and Hemingways drinking holes.
"Love is a poison" which I co-wrote with my dad. We spent a few days throwing lyrics back and forth. It was great. He is one of the worlds' greatest unknown songwriters. His lyrics are fantastic and the tunes he comes up with are brilliant. I don't know how he does it; he doesn't play any instruments except his voice.
"River of No Regret", to be played at funerals, inspired by the ending of 'The Lord of the Rings'.
I had an idea to write a song from the point of view of a murderer. I thought it would be shocking but I just couldn't find the right tune. Probably a good thing too.
I drank every day in Paris. The wine makes that possible. I watched a lot of the World Cup. I didn't end up getting my match ticket, but got refunded, luckily. I met up with some friends from Brisbane and we went to the match anyway and scalped tickets. All the scalpers were American and they had tickets to anything. It was a panic before the match, but they are professional scalpers. We paid a good price and according to my ticket I was Monsieur Macon.
It was amazing to be at the world cup watching Argentina play with my friends from an old soccer team, Rowan and Nick. A dream come true.
I did spend some time in London but compared to Paris it's a horrible city. I used to love it but now I couldn't stand it. I preferred to be in Cardiff with my dad.
It was difficult to leave Europe and it's always so hard to say goodbye to my dad.
I fell in and out of love a few times during the trip. It didn't bother me too much. 'Whatever will be, will be'. I found I was writing songs about relationships that just didn't work out, and being happy about the good times. It was difficult not to be happy that summer. The weather was beautiful and the world cup atmosphere was amazing. In all the pictures I took from that trip, you can notice that everyone looks unusually happy and relaxed. Like everyone was on holiday. I vowed to go to the next world cup in Korea/Japan in 2002.
On the trip home I went from Heathrow airport to Paris, changed flights and they told me they had lost my suitcase. Every thing I bought on the trip was in my suitcase. Most of the flight home I spent tidying up some lyrics and thinking and wondering how The Genes could get a record deal. When things are going badly, I feel this need to change our music, try a new instrument or style of song. I really try to fight this feeling. It is just a distraction to creating music that really matters to us. You have to ignore the lure of material success, otherwise you just end up sounding like whatever fad is doing well at the time. In the past we did songs with radio airplay in the back of our minds but we vowed never to do that again. Music is such a business these days. My unwillingness to change to suit 'the market' probably works against us in the short term. But the most important thing to us is being happy with our music. That comes first. Sometimes I would think about adding a guitarist or keyboards to the band or even a new singer, though I really didn't want to change our style much. I believed we had a unique sound, even though people weren't exactly flocking to our shows like they once did, I believed they would again. When I arrived in Sydney I was paged. They found my suitcase. That was lucky.
It was great to see Morgan and be back in Australia. It's easily the best place to live in the world. I went straight back to work. Morgan had been through tough times at work and needed a break so he went to see mum in Darwin. Before he left we did a gig the manager; Mullens had got, at the Mona Vale Hotel. It was a disaster. The small crowd consisted of workers who were very drunk and yelling out for covers. There was a jukebox next to the stage area and a pinball machine. It was a rough public bar. Halfway through our first set, most of the audience went home to watch the final episode of Seinfeld. We struggled on. Morgan tried this thing which involved him speaking in a surreal manner to the audience. It was great. He did this thing with a piece of paper, which was just bizarre but it really worked and we agreed he would never speak normally to an audience again.
This was to be Steve's last gig with us and soon I would be telling him we were going to look for another drummer.
Morgan came back refreshed and relaxed from his holiday in Darwin. He was glad to spend some time with Mum. Darwin is a great place to relax. It's so hot you couldn't do much, even if you wanted to.
The landlord sent us a letter telling us we were wonderful tenants and they were upping the rent. This was our signal to move to Maroubra beach. We looked for a unit and found a great two storey beach shack in Fenton avenue, 80 metres from the surf. What a dream. It was a real dump. The toilet stank the security was shoddy the front door was right on the pavement it was falling apart but we could afford it ($180 per week) and were overjoyed to be a short walk from the surf.
We used Max the Van Man to move our beds and fridge to Maroubra. He advertised his removals service in Drum Media. He was a character. I was a bit concerned that he knew where we lived. He had a funny accent. I guessed he was German and Morgan guessed he was Irish. He was impressed and told us he was half German, half Irish. He knew every muso in Sydney and now he knew The Genes. We gave him a copy of Sunshine Pocket. He casually mentioned a list of well known musicians with very expensive drug habits and told us if you haven't made it after two years you may as well give up. I told him we've been playing for eight years. I added, "I'll play music until I die. Then, and only then, will I have made it! He laughed and said that would be better than moving furniture. He was a good bloke.
Our new unit was the only one in the street without bars on the windows. You get a bit 'theft paranoid' after living near Kings Cross. Musicians are very theft paranoid. Probably because they treasure their musical instruments so much. They are irreplaceable and so easy for a junkie to pawn. The unit had a living room, kitchen and bathroom downstairs, and a bedroom upstairs. We put a bed in the living room and agreed to swap every month. It was a bit of a hassle moving the beds up and down the stairs every month, but we both looked forward to a month of sleeping as far away from the smelly toilet as possible.
A friend offered me a ticket to see You Am I at the Enmore Theatre in Newtown. I wasn't good company for her that night. I found myself critically assessing their show and couldn't get into it. They put on a fantastic show and Tim Rogers is a great showman but I found their songs quite bland and tuneless. The place was packed. My good friend Red Rivers was the first support act and I really wanted to see him but we missed his set. Red is a purist country musician, big on tone. He and his wife Carol let us stay with them on a previous tour, they really helped us out. I wondered what this modern retro audience thought of his set. Red has really helped me understand my Gretsch guitar more. He advised me to fuck off the distortion pedal. I told him I need that pedal, it covers up my shoddy lead work and gives songs a chorus. I wished I could get rid of it. I drank a lot that night.
I went to a party the following night. There were some people from the supermarket there and they laid on heaps of beer for everyone. A bunch of us went up to the Baron later on. We were all so drunk. As usual, I went across the road to the Piccolo cafe, and bought a joint from someone playing chess. I was amazed how easy it was do.
We smoked it in the Baron toilet as usual. The jukebox was sounding so good. I played Bowies "heroes". I just listen to the two notes on the lead guitar all the way through it. At one point I was at the bar and next to me a guy was on his knees proposing marriage to a girl. She was laughing but he was serious. Then she ignored him and started talking to me. The guy then stood up and a shocked look came over his face and I thought I was going to be in a fight. But he said, "I left my play station at Hungry Jacks!" and ran out the door. It was weird. We kept going until the sun came up, then I left with the girl I was seeing at the time, who lived in Rushcutters Bay. There was a big fun run happening called The City To Surf and the only way to get to her flat was to join in with the runners for part of the way. I was feeling very dodgy and could not run. I slept for most of the day and when I woke up, it occurred to me that since I got back from Paris, I had been binge drinking.
When Morgan was in Darwin I had a pretty tough time. I had a routine check up with a doctor and he did some x-rays and told me I had to have an operation to repair a torn muscle in my stomach. I had no idea it was torn but he said if I didn't fix it, there could be problems. I went on a waiting list for an operation and started filling out paperwork to go on sickness benefits temporarily.
One night, I went out with a friend who is a make-up artist at the top of her field. She cut our hair while we lived in Potts Point. She was gifted at the hair and make-up. We went to her friend's engagement party in the city. We drank a lot then went to Soho, a club in Victoria St, Potts Point. I always loved to go to Soho, but to get past the bouncers you to be with an attractive woman. The decor reminded me of the grand ballroom in that hotel in 'The Shining'. It was full of budding models who were designed to be looked at but not spoken to. It was pretty phony so we went to the Baron. I bought us a joint from the Piccolo and we debated whether to smoke it in the girls or guys toilet. We thought the girls toilet would be safer so we were smoking away when the bouncer came in and said "O.K, out you go." He was nice about it. He knew me, and as he flushed the joint down the toilet and took our drinks from us, it seemed like he didn't want to kick us out. On the way out we saw two policemen near the bar and we realised why he kicked us out. I hoped I could go back there. It was my favourite place to be drunk. That night we got kicked out we capped the evening off by falling over in the middle of the Kings Cross strip.
Kings Cross is a crazy place. On Darlinghurst Road all the strip clubs, nightclubs, greasy take away food joints and dodgy shops are lined up next to each other. It's called the strip. When we lived at Potts Point we had to walk through the strip everyday. During the day you see with great detail the strip club spruikers, addicts, prostitutes and general underworld. It's pretty grim. But at night it comes alive because the lights, drugs and drinking hide the desperation. You can get into the strip clubs for free if you are with a woman. I went to a few. It really is the underworld. There's so many songs conceived in such places. I was a pretty inexperienced strip club patron, and felt a bit uncomfortable. The strip club spruikers are the best salesmen in the country. They'll stop the cars, run across the street and drag a group of Japanese tourists in to the club, no problem. On night I saw a movie with a girlfriend and we were walking home through the strip and this spruiker got us. He just wouldn't let us go. He was pretty fearless and tried about seven different pitches but we didn't want to go in. Then he offered us two free drinks each. We thought 'why not'. The place was empty. The music was incredibly loud. We got to the bar and the barman told us we could only have one free soft drink. Feeling foolish for trusting a spruiker, we got a drink anyway, and sat by the stage. A woman walked onstage and strolled up to us. She had a cowgirl outfit on and my girlfriend started talking to her. The stripper said she was halfway through a law degree and she had two young children. She said she has to have a very healthy diet to get through the day and work at night. She only worked three nights a week but that enabled her to have time to complete her studies. She said the club owners are ruthless and the dancers have to work like crazy because the money is in the tips. She realized we weren't tippers and started working on an old guy who walked in.2
There was always a lot of scum around the Cross. People really on the edge of life. Heavily addicted to whatever drug they can get. Mainly heroin. You always had to dodge someone passed out on the pavement. They might have been dead! No one stops. The ambulance officers are very busy in the Cross. They are nicknamed the 'street cleaners'. If you go around the corner to Potts Point, it's fine. If you walk down the road to Elizabeth Bay or Rushcutters Bay, it's over the top luxury and wealth.
Lachlan Murdoch lived in Billyard Avenue with Sarah O'Hare. His neighbours lived in the most expensive house in Sydney, "Boomerang". I always walked past it to get to work. Two Bentleys and an Ferrari in the driveway, and some guy always cleaning them. It is right on the harbour. Then I would walk around the corner through Rushcutters Bay past the yachts in the marina. Even on a cold, wet and windy day, you wouldn't call it "trudging to work".
But I was glad to leave Potts Point. I had contempt for these mansions and fancy cars and people wearing the latest designer fads. It drains you within if you focus everything on the exterior.
I was glad to be moving away from the Cross. I loved the freaks there but hated the junkies. They were scum. Once a junky smashed a window into our car and stole a shitty, torn beach towel. I love the freaks. I love the retired jockey who can roll a cigarette with one hand whilst lying on the pavement singing old songs. I love the transvestite whose gold dress is torn and red lipstick has seriously smudged, but recites Shakespeare venomously at you, if you don't have a spare cigarette.
It was good to leave Double Bay as well. I was sick of the 'bay bitches' as they were called. Women who had hideous plastic surgery and spoke as loud as you or I shout. They made sure you heard them talking to each other about going to Noosa or that 'Robert's in Brazil with the school rugby team', or 'this bread is ghastly'. They are like zombies grimly holding back the march of time. I estimated three in ten women you saw there had plastic done and had their hair done four times a week. They looked about 19 or 20 from behind. Then they would turn around. It was always a shock. They all lived on credit cards.
There was an SP bookie who always gave me horse racing tips that never won. He said, "when I go to a restaurant and they bring out the menus I tell them to take them away and bring us your best dish!" I'd like to try that one day.
In Double Bay there was a girl called Barbie who used to be a man, but spent $80 000 on the plastic surgery and now looked like a doll. She was very rude to people. Once, she walked up to a guy in the supermarket and said, "no ugly people are allowed in here. Leave!" If you walk by the Ferrari garage in William St at night, you see the transvestite prostitutes, saving up for their operations.
Meanwhile the date for my operation came through. I quit my job at the supermarket and went on the sickness benefit, which is just the same as the dole except you don't have to hand in a form every fortnight. My plan was to put my health first and make a full recovery from the operation. I was not going to do anything for a month or two. We were paying less rent at Maroubra and an APRA Cheque came through so we were okay for money, at least for a few months.
When Morgan came back from Darwin he was full of confidence and immediately got a job, quit after an hour, then got two more jobs, which he didn't show up for. He is the king of jobs. He got about five jobs in a week and settled for a job in a restaurant called Fez, washing dishes. When you do such crap jobs, it's great motivation to be a musician.
We tried hard to get the smell out of the unit at Maroubra, but it wouldn't go. We bought a vacuum cleaner. Morgan likes the clean. I don't mind the mess. I am lazier. We always argue about it, even though I have no case to argue. Laziness is so hard to justify.
We had some great surfs in our first few weeks at the Bra. I came in from the surf once and the lock on the front door fell off. We had to take turns staying inside until the locksmith finally came two days later. It was a dream to put on your wetsuit, grab your board, walk around the corner and jump in the ocean, surf, walk home and have a warm shower.
Every lunch and dinner we ate $3.50 meals at the surf lifesaving club next door, known as the Seals Club. Chicken kiev or barramundi or steak with chips and veggies and a bowl of salad. We never went to the supermarket.
Morgan saw the local doctor about his sore back. She said don't surf ....much. I had to go to the hospital to have my operation, so I grabbed my stuff. I took Balzacs 'History of Thirteen', because it was the 13th of October 1998. I also took my writing pad. We couldn't get a good television reception in the unit so I had been reading a lot. I read 'The Hobbit' by Tolkien, 'A Moveable Feast' by Hemingway and some Tintins. My mind felt alive until we fixed the T.V..reception. I had hardly written any songs except an Everly brothers sounding tune about a girl I know that has a fear of clowns. I felt I had to get the operation over and done with before I could write something decent. I felt like I wanted to write happy songs about surfing, hanging out and love but I just couldn't. Best not to force it.
I told the manager, Mullens, about the operation. He postponed a gig and a photo shoot. I didn't want to stuff Steve around anymore, so I told him I was going into hospital and couldn't play for a while. I told him that we didn't think things were working out with him. He was pretty cool about it. He said he was playing in another band and he was not upset to leave The Genes. I thanked him for everything he did for us and he thanked us for the experience.
So I went to the hospital. On the way Morgan and I argued about the getting the clothes washed at the laundrette. I said, "I'm going to hospital to have an operation. Can't you do it?" He was worried about it because I asked him, to ask them, not to tumble dry my Inter Milan shirt. We stopped off on the way to arrange it. Morgan hates to buy things in shops or deal with shop assistants in general. I end up doing most of the stuff that involves dealing with people. He does so much more cleaning and stuff like that, than I do. I don't think he knows how much I appreciate how he helps me. He is very capable of dealing with people in shops; he just gets a bit nervous about it. He shook my hand at the hospital and asked if I wanted him to come in for moral support. I said, "no thanks, that's a bit Walt Disney. I'll be fine, it's a routine procedure." As he drove away I had adrenaline running through me, like you do when you check in to a hospital.