A History Of Crime:
Fragility and madness on the campaign trail
Before time: The black birds circle the lifeless body of the last remaining flower child, key parties rage in the suburbs, breakdowns and kaftans, ageing lotharios and hip-priests, hedonism without purpose. The unpalatable truth, after all that incessant knocking, has muscled into the room like a drunken in-law at Christmas – the end is nigh, the party in its final throes. The revolution has been postponed indefinitely. Those with a home have discreetly left, the stragglers grimly hold on to suspended disbelief, but the floodlights are powering up, the filaments hum into life, explode into the darkness, a harsh beam searching out the shadows, the William Tell Overture blasting from the speakers – she was beautiful, once, now she rocks back and forth, the mascara smears her face, tears on her cheeks, this was it, 1976, the last summer, the last hurrah...
Sydney time: As 76 ticked over into 77, a new generation of gamblers gathered in an abandoned apartment block hidden between the skyscrapers. When the office towers stood empty, they filled the night with discordant noise, fuelled on fried rice and ethanol, confused and rich with chaos. Sometimes the song would go on for days – soprano sax shrilly bleating, a distorted droning guitar, random patter of the drums, and the wailing, incoherent warbling of the singer...
Out of the Petri dish frying pan, Crime & the City Solution was born. Careful to avoid the harsh glare of the Australian sun, they told their strange tales in small clubs at night, to countrymen, a confederation of the lost, with no thought beyond now, ephemeral and aimless. The end, as it had to, came without fanfare, a quiet implosion, the apartments demolished, the elements dispersed, vapor without form.
As they floated away he remembered with fondness a holiday in a seaside town, its fading splendor – St Kilda. He liked that story. Yes, it was a good story.
Melbourne time: Now only two in number, they headed south on the red rattler, to be by the sea, to be part of the family, dysfunctional, endangered, two breaths from extinction, their family. Recognition across the dance floor.
Downpour in the darkness, a rain without end floods the streets, stray cat calling, heavenly alignments, a haven – almost, spiders on the windows, keep them out, protect yourself, your friends, kind hearts and evil men, a world within a world within a triangle, self-referential, self-reverential – keep those others out, the incessant hammering, shut it up, the walls bow, the wood distorts and splinters, don't let them in. Never let them in.
Away from the strip and towards the sea, the noise subsides, quiet shoes on wood beams, nighttime, the pier, invisible waves wash the jetty, an embrace, an end to loneliness, a life's companion. Rent paid bit by bit in five dollar lots, entitlement slips away, spot check, strip search, voices grow faint, insignificant, highways, truck blockades, danger in Tarcutta, rescued by believers. You survive your youth only by chance. Sixteen becomes seventeen.
Nihilism tempered by nihilism. Dandies roam the streets, vigilantes track them down, bloodhounds in hooned up Monaros. Hateful stares across the dance floor.
A few grew stronger, thrived. Most became shadows, the sheen of youth dulled, the paint cracked by the sun. Beneath their beauty, an illness festered, waited to be reckoned with, would be heard. Strange eccentricities, ever stranger, the illness pushing its way to the surface, through the skin, now corporeal and tangible, it covered their eyes, their mouths. Momentary struggle, inevitable surrender...Doctor, we have another one.
Alone time: Darkness spread her wings ever wider and gathered up the man in her arms, the old woman called out ‘you will die at 12 o'clock'. The world got smaller, three rooms to two, two to one, wood panelling, a worn rug, a walnut wardrobe, shadows on the ceiling, years without leaving, back and forth behind the grey stucco wall. At least there were the roses and the rich earth for digging.
In the end, faith in science gave way to reliance upon a far more ancient remedy.
The world got bigger, after a fashion, but the journeys grew more unpredictable and the consequences greater, he was almost in freefall when an old friend stopped by with an idea.
London time: Lighthouse beacon, the slow plane, English snow, agitated movement, days without memories, weeks without sleep, demons dressed as angels sat with me in the bedsit, we watched television and talked about Munch, more days without memories, time travel, somewhere on the outskirts of Paris the footpath opened up under my feet, nothingness. I woke up in a harshlit room, time to sleep, there's my bed in the corner, please draw the blinds on your way out, safety in ritual, lunchline, quiet except for the screaming, that old woman's back, muttering knowingly ‘you will die at twelve o'clock'.
I had a room at the end of the linoleum corridor, smell of disinfectant and boiled potato, the window was broken and the room was cold, but it was far away from the world and far away was where I wanted to be. There was a nurse – I remember her with fondness but can‘t recall her face, she used to come and visit me, she gave me her number so we could keep in touch, in my chaos I lost it. I always wondered how her life turned out.
London was bleak, discontented, two hemispheres in conflict, the guide wires creaked, torrential winds were rising, doomsday clouds gathered off the coast, sulphur mixed with salt water. The Flagship's mainsail puffed out its chest, but the fabric was old, its edges frayed, and the press-ganged crew's morale was low. The stitching stretched, but the wind was unforgiving, high tensile explosions cracked, wires whistled through the air, slashing about indiscriminately. The mainmast creaked and failed, the king's men mutinied, the cannons fell silent, the state left defenseless.
Unrest in the city, shrill voices in Parliament, dead matches protruding out of tweed jacket pockets, kerosene cans carried in gloved hands, a chorus of shopkeepers plotting, fires in the streets of Brixton, violin heard from the palace windows, flames licking at the garden walls, a body that had turned on itself, nothing left there, it was time for the leaving, smugglers tunnels to the coast, a new set of clothes, a foreign trawler, the last boat out.
Transit diner on the autobahn, cold cabbage and Russian tanks, tired men with yellow alcoholic eyes, bored guards with machineguns, a study in greys, mirrors on skateboard wheels, sodium floodlights, ‘keep your hands inside the vehicle', more guards, bored but better fed, less alcoholic, a study in green, the empty road to the station, a terminus without trains, a station without platforms, Berlin, the island, home for some, but not for all, the band booked separate holidays and lost touch.
Before they dispersed, they put on one last show; heaven and earth met in the ruins of an old hotel, an angel fell in love, surrendered his wings and threw in his lot with the rest of us.
Berlin time: The vessel was ornate, peeling gold leaf glinting in the waning sunlight, her shabby splendour rising in voluptuous contrast to the sleek speedboats moored nearby. Twilight softened the Wannsee shoreline, by nightfall boundaries blurred then disappeared forever. We cast off into the infinite darkness, guided by a moral neutrality and a mischievous compass full of contradictory readings – perfect.
Through the cellar, down a narrow hall, knock knock knock on a steel door, a hidden world revealed. In the corner, cocooned in the privacy of an unshared language, an undernourished remittance man in tattered clothes fidgets in a wicker chair, poring over the dog-eared pages of his notebook, intently annotating the entries, searching for the answer to his question, seeking to determine with precision the secret purpose of his being, he reworks the story to exhaustion, and the answer, as it must, eludes him. Still, the journey is worth the taking, its vicarious pleasures richly perfumed and engaging. Consoled by this thought, the endless possibilities, he wanders out into the street in search of more stories. Back inside, the last committed consumer slides into numb unconsciousness, the barman closes off the tap, drags the body into the street, pulls down the rollerdoors, and makes for home.
Poison pens on Friedrichstrasse: Beware the great betrayal. The sentry boxes and guardtowers, the Wall that protected us, that kept us safe from intrusion, was falling, crumbling, chip by chip by chip. The red sun slipped below the horizon, anxious augerers read chicken entrails hoping for guidance, farmers woke with the night and gathered up their tools, tilled the soil with devotion, strange fruit swayed in the wind, swelled to breaking and burst, a white dust covered the city, intoxicating and heady, flickers of doubt, ideals rejected then reasserted, step by step up the see-saw, teetering, teetering, momentary silence, breaths held, the tipping point, black waters rising, floodgates creak and buckle, plumes of water explode out of manhole covers, wet fingers seek out the dark corners of guilty buildings, secret papers, a history exposed, raised voices across the boom-gates, a house left in haste, a breakfast half-eaten, a car to the safe-house, back into hiding, a life burdened by secrets. The night train to Vienna, the Herald Tribune, ‘collector seeks omnibus edition of Flightless Birds of the World 1965, contact Max c/- box 432, a dinner date with ghosts, an address on the back of a photograph, the room was empty save a bed, typewriter, small desk and a chair, it was safe for a time and I wrote as fast as I could, all that I could remember, in my room above the colonel, without allegiance or country, waiting on our old friends, I wrote it so you would not forget, then buried it in the woods outside the city, you know the place.
The inbetween time: Someone went to the shop to get some milk and when they returned, twenty years later, some of us had been on the laugh, the tickle, even the joke, others, our clocks had been well and truly cleaned, while the remainder had withdrawn into various levels of simmering madness, but the stories had continued all the while, fermenting like jailhouse wine in the roadhouses and truck-stops.
Behind the wheel of a Freightliner, tired beyond sleeping, with only the Marching Girls to hold my spirits, the stories came like shards of light, I slid into strange parallel worlds, foreign moralities, judgmental and damning, concrete and unyielding, and still there was no sleep...
I was alone as the red desert sun rose above the highway, a dirt track to the river's edge, the drone of the outboard, parting waters in a tin boat, crocodiles, wild dogs, waters rising, banks fit to burst, to the land they tried to forget, to wipe off the face of the earth, chaos, a hopelessness that dulled the air, a high tolerance for violence, witnesses who drift away, life worn and wearied, words without meaning, guttural growling, sticks beating in time click, click, click, click, shouting, angry voices, savage crescendo, silence.2012 – Future time: Let the stories be told.