It's push and shove And Christmas Eve You stole my heart Now I wear it on my sleeve And I'm standing here Where a boy once stood When he dreamed of worlds That lay beyond the woods... Daniel Boone and Peter Pan Davy Crockett and Spiderman We fought together Blood brothers every one We used to save the world Before each day was done... It's winter now On Nelson Street The shadow men Celebrating my defeat Never been afraid And not about to start So they stole my dreams Don't mean they broke my heart Daniel Boone and Peter Pan Davy Crockett and Spiderman I fought beside them Blood brothers every one We used to save the world Before each day was done... And I'm wishing hard On every star I see That you'll find a place In your heart for me... It's Silent Night And final drinks I'm too far gone To hear what anybody thinks Now I'm walking home Can someone tell me Where that is? Somewhere someone wakes To a Christmas kiss Daniel Boone and Peter Pan Davy Crockett and Spider Man I fought beside them And with Zorro I would run We used to save the world Before each day was done... Before each day was done... It's done... Cc) Frank Howson 1998
When I was a small boy living in St. Kilda, both my dad and mum would point out a man in a black hat and a long black coat to me. “You see that man, son?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!” Always intrigued by a good mystery, I from then on took great notice of this man. Over the years, as I grew to be a man, I would always look around at local markets, street performances, Luna Park, crowded Saturday night boulevards, and sure enough, there he would be. And as I aged, he always appeared to look the same. A middle aged man, neither smiling or frowning, just there. A face in the crowd. Being a romantic, I thought maybe he was the eternal wanderer. A soul who was chained to this life and the suburb he loved, and his limbo was to forevermore, or until God’s forgiveness was granted, wander aimlessly these streets in search of a meaning he had failed to dis-cipher in his life here.
When I’d see him, I’d always stand transfixed waiting to see if he’d return a smile, or a nod of the head, or just an icy stare. But no. Nothing. Expressionless. No eye contact. This was a man well used to being alone. His face looked like he was a foreigner. Perhaps from somewhere in Europe. Germany?…France?…Vienna?…Maybe he’d escaped the war and had left behind his loved ones, his home, his belongings…and like his friends he too had become a ghost. A shadow. A man cursed to wander this life as punishment for running away from his true destiny.
I too ran away from my loved ones, my home, my belongings…and for the same reason, perhaps. There were dark clouds forming and I’d been advised that I could be dragged into a swamp that, although masterminded by others, justice could be blind in such circumstances. I went to Los Angeles as, in some circles, my work was still respected there and possibly some jobs could come my way, which they did. For nine years. I became a physician. A script doctor. Re-writing other people’s screenplays to make them better. No credit but the money was a living. Occasionally writing some songs that got into some movies. Writing my memoirs on my life in the movie business, well, all the parts that weren’t too painful to regurgitate at that time. The wounds were still too open and although time does heal, one’s heart does remain bruised. It’s stated in the small print when we signed on for this life but one is always too preoccupied with excitement and hope to notice.
Although I had amassed a great deal of experience making 12 movies in Australia, the experience I received in L.A working with the legendary Arthur Hiller, Joe Eszterhas, Amy Ephron, Michael Richards, Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Sally Kirkland, P.F. Sloan, John Grimaldi, Heath Ledger, Eric Burden, Bernard Fowler, Terry Reid, Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, Sherry Lansing, Phil Jones, Michael J. Pollard, Stacy Michelle, John Savage, Helen Mirren, Jackie Lomax, Wade Preston, Creed Bratton, Damion Damizza Young, Peter Burke, Eric Idle, John Capek, Barry Robinson, Mike Smith, William Friedkin, Thea Gill, Jack Tempchin, Patricia Clarkson, etc., etc., etc., took me to a whole other level. How could you not learn something?
Nine years went by like nine months. The last two years in a haze of a personal heartache, the theft of an idea that I lived to see the thief make millions from as well as get honoured with the highest award a country can give for such an original idea, and the subsequent spiral from meeting too many people who weren’t really there.
If it hadn’t been for the kindness and humanity of Barry Robinson and Mike Smith, I most likely wouldn’t be here today. So if you want to blame anyone, you have their names.
So one day, as the result of a turn of events, I returned from across the sea to my birthplace, St. Kilda. The first lyric I wrote as a result was…
“This is my country, these are my friends, this is the place my journey ends, I stand before you my heart in my hand, a refugee in my homeland, I did my best, I fought my war, I’ve seen enough to want no more, May I lay my weary baggage down to walk inside your door? Send out the word that I’ve returned, my face is lined with lessons learned, I thought my day was almost done, but here I am, your prodigal son…”
Some time later, encouraged by my friend Richard Wolstencroft to dip my toe into the icy water again, I began a new film, “Remembering Nigel” – a film about a group of people remembering a man they once knew who is now deceased. Trouble is, everyone’s opinion of this man and their recollections of him are so diverse and conflicting you soon realise nobody knew the poor bastard at all! And the more they speak of him, the more they reveal about themselves. It is still deemed too original for most distributors to release into a marketplace filled with movies for 14 year olds. It is an epic account loosely based on my life, heightened here and there for either comedy relief or dramatic punch. It is also a movie that connects with most people on a very deep, profound spiritual level. Well, that is, if you still have a spirit in this mad world we survive in.
When making this film, it became obvious that we’d have to see some funny flashbacks of Nigel. But in order to retain that underlying message that we are all Nigel, how best to capture that? Well, seeing I was directing, it was easier for me to portray Nigel as I was obviously on set all the time, so, whenever we had some downtime or an actor was running late, the crew and I would knock off some Nigel flashbacks.
Whilst in preproduction, I was out in Chapel Street one day and saw a shop with a huge half price sale on. Not intending to buy anything but a bit of time on my hands, my instinct steered me into the store to browse. And there it was. Only one left. And miraculously in my size. A rather uniquely cut long black coat. I knew instantly this was Nigel’s everyman attire. I scooped it up, and then it became obvious a black hat was needed, and that we’d only ever shoot Nigel from behind and never see his face. The black hat and the long black coat would be to Nigel what the Lone Ranger’s blue suit, white hat and mask were to him. As Martin Landau summed up when he saw the rough cut, “Everyone who’s ever felt misunderstood in their life, will see themselves as Nigel”.
Which brings me back to the man in the black hat and the long black coat who wandered St. Kilda for years, and who I actually saw again whilst filming Nigel’s death on St. Kilda beach one rainy overcast day. Or perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me. But I swear I saw him in the distance walking away along Jacka Boulevard that grey misty late afternoon.
After we wrapped the filming and it was all in the can, as they say, I, in the habit of wearing the black hat and coat, continued to do so. Only recently did I have the epiphany that I have become, around St. Kilda, the man in the black hat and the long black coat. Sometimes I see people pointing me out, perhaps a few here and there know of me or my work, or maybe a father or mother are saying to their child, “You see that man?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!”
So perhaps I have been recast as the eternal wanderer. And my journey has a long way to go.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
photograph by Vanessa Allan.
When I was a small boy, shortly after being pushed into this world through blood and tears, I began to dream. These dreams weren’t like normal ones in my sleep but rather, much to the consternation of my teachers, during my awake hours. Some of these dreams were bigger than me. And a few would turn out to be so big they would eventually run me down. In time I took this to be a sign from God who lets us know, now and again, that there is a price for everything in this world.
I would pay for mine with a broken spirit reflected in a broken voice. A humbling condition that also teaches one that the true road to God is through humility. It seems that you can only reach Him by looking up.
I strolled the dirty, broken streets of my youth looking down at the pavement locked in these dreams. In some of them I was Davy Crockett laying down my life for a noble cause. In others, I was Zorro and my hair was perfect and I always got away unharmed to fight another day. I found that these dreams could actually get you through your life, even on a zero budget. All you had to do was find a park bench, close your eyes, lift your head until you felt the warm comforting rays of the sun, and let your mind go off to exotic locations and scenarios.
It was good to be young in those days. Without TV and the internet and (c)rap and the Kardashians we had no idea what we were missing. Or how good we had it. Each day was all we owned and it was amazing how much we could fit into it.
I dreamed that I would be bigger than my dad in height and temperament and wealth, and I lived to achieve all that and to discover how meaningless it was. Especially the wealth. It is only in the hard wisdom that I fully see how big was father was. In spite of all his flaws, or maybe as a result of them. For no one gets to be perfect on this lonely journey and to attempt the conceit of striving for it will break you and those you love until you all splinter and disappear in different directions. Take it from one who tried.
So many were lost in action by my failed campaign.
Like a war, some dreams can kill you, maim you, or render you insane from shell shock. There is only so much horror one can witness. Some of us are so mad we get up, dust ourselves off and go on, no matter what we have lost. For to look back at what we have sacrificed following our dream may render us rigid with fear from the monstrous wrecks we have left strewn in our wake.
Over the years our dreams, like us, become less complex and more realistic. And, if we have learned anything at all, we have learned to say thanks for each simple one that comes true.
These days I do feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, weary from a very long battle that one can’t run from as there are too many eyes looking our way for direction and an example. But like Davy must’ve learned in those final lonely hours, there is no glory, that comes much later and is spun by the myth makers, there is only blood, sweat and tears. And an intense feeling of loss paid for those fleeting moments of inner warmth that made us feel one with the universe. Perhaps that warmth was hope. A hope that maybe some of it meant something to someone. And if so, maybe we were for a time bigger than ourselves and perhaps, if that’s the case, the dream will go on. And maybe someone much wiser and stronger will one day clench in the palm of their calloused hand the golden ring. I truly hope so.
(c) Frank Howson
I don’t usually remember my dreams, well the in-your-sleep dreams I mean. Maybe three in my life. But the other night I was awakened in the middle of one and it’s a little bizarre to say the least.
Anyway, in this particular dream I am arrested for killing Ayn Rand. Still with me? Not sure if I actually did it or not but as we know newspapers are only interested in the charges and not so much in the final judgement, so, pretty soon I am in big hot water. Boiling in fact. And as if that wasn’t uncomfortable enough they are throwing the book at me. Perhaps The Fountainhead, I was too busy ducking to check. I then remember going through a very lengthy trial that was straight out of Kafka. I have to say things weren’t going well for me as the cavalcade of witnesses were called. Drunks, the heavily medicated self-published, real estate agents, Mormons, one armed guitarists, fortune tellers, gypsies, tramps and thieves.
My court appointed lawyer was an elderly Chinese gentleman who appeared to be about 500 years old and dribbled from the mouth when he got excited. Still, he had his wits about him and had he been able to speak or understand English he may have been quite effective. His cross-examination of the witnesses had to be seen to be believed. If the Judge had’ve been awake at the time I’m sure he’d have called a halt to the circus. He did wake a few minutes before the end of proceedings and grumpily pronounced Hemingway to be “…a cunt!” I wasn’t quite sure how this applied to me or my case but was too intimidated to enquire. My Chinese representative seemed to take it in his stride and smiled in a knowing way. Perhaps this was a good sign? Taking the positive angle I smiled at the Judge who smiled back at me. He then announced in a disappointed tone that the jury weren’t very well hung and adjourned the case until they could be re-cast. On that note everyone went home to be greeted by their loved ones and a hot meal, followed by re-runs of classic football matches, while I was beaten to a pulp in my holding cell which the guards took literally and, having no TV set to watch football, they attempted to kick a goal with my head. In all objectivity some of them did show promise as league players. I did at one point attempt to convey the news that the football they were using had a migraine but this was met with increased hostility and I was accused of using too many big words.
Hence another three quarters were played. This time I kept quiet and assumed my role. Finally I threw my voice and did a very convincing imitation of the final siren which they bought, hugged each other, shook hands, copped a feel of each other’s bums, and left the field complaining about the lack of good umpiring decisions these days. I couldn’t, in spite of my intense pain, help thinking what great sportsmen they were. Dreadful human beings – but great sportsmen. This was the last thought that stampeded through my mind before I lost consciousness.
I was shaken back into this world bright and early the next morning, in dream time, in order to return to court. I told the guard, who smelled of cheap bourbon and herbal cigarettes, that I had to postpone my court appearance before our esteemed Judge as I was fairly convinced I was in the initial stages of a brain hemorrhage, but this was met with “well who gives a fuck you dumb fucker fucking your way through life and fucking every fucking thing up for every other fucking dumb fuck!”
I took that as a “no”.
I found that if I tilted my head till it was resting sideways on one shoulder it relieved some of the pain. So, that’s how I appeared back in court. Looking like an amateur theatre version of Quasimodo. I’d fretted needlessly over my appearance as the Judge looked past me and mistook a nun in the next row to be me, stating that he was going to take into account that I was a lady of the cloth and not to worry.
My lawyer, the very learned Mr. Dim Sim, gave his final impassioned summation, in Cantonese, to a silent ovation from nonplussed creatures inhabiting human-like bodies. The Judge finally broke the stunned silence by burping and muttered, “Better out than in” and the really hung jury and those in attendance took this to be the final judgement and a deafening uproar broke out in the courtroom, along with several fistfights, a rape, a child birth, and a scattering of small time thefts.
As everyone had lost interest in me, and noticing the open door, I slowly made my way best as I could, considering my head was still laying sideways on my left shoulder, through the crowd of rioters and those with an axe to grind. Soon enough I found the sunshine and a busy city street awaiting me.
Within seconds I was lost in the crowd. Well, as lost as I could be given my new appearance.
I bear no grudge against anyone who mistreated me, but if Ayn Rand was still alive, I’d kill her.
(c) Frank Howson 2017.
I saw a crazy man in the heart of the city cursing the people he passed, cursing the buildings, cursing someone long gone, cursing God for this Purgatory.
People reacted in different ways. Some froze and willed themselves to be invisible, some scurried away in the opposite direction, some watched in that detached zombie way people stand transfixed at car crash sites, fascinated by the sight of real disaster and yet non-reacting as though watching a movie play out.
So what does it take to make someone just crack one day? One huge life tragedy too much, or a series of small ones too close together that defy our idea of logic and fairness? Perhaps if we raise our voices above the rumbling wearing down drone sound of the busy city traffic, God will hear us?
Why does our Maker withdraw his grace and allow us to free fall through darkness and scorn so far from home? Or are we meant to always be alone in search of ourselves in others, a perilous journey not for the fainthearted. Or the dreamers.
Maybe the crazy man in the street had been chosen to heed his inner calling to join the wild throng and it is therefore in the madness that lies the ultimate truth?
Was Don Quixote mad because he chose to see the world as it should be? Or were the people who gathered to ridicule and laugh at his expense the mad ones?
John Lennon, during his time, was called mad by many, especially the press and the conservative establishment. But his brutal death at the hands of, ironically, a mad man has now elevated him to the status of martyr and messiah. Today, his human flaws have been sanitised to fit what is acceptable in the gospel of his life. The nobody mad man who shot him for a shot at immortality got a life sentence, while the famous mad man got death. And then in death, rose again.
When you look closely at it, most of our true heroes in history were called mad during their lifetimes because they attempted to do something different. To shine a light into the darkness that most of us are afraid to acknowledge. To take us where we would never have dared go if not for them. To make us think and, more importantly, to make us feel. In achieving this, a great many of them paid with their lives so that we may live.
So next time you see a mad man or woman in the street, spare a few seconds to ponder the forces that shaped them. And perhaps in those seconds we may awaken the humanity in ourselves.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
God forgive him, Lord, he knows not what he does. Unable to sleep, haunted by ghosts of all opportunities gone, still he goes on living not a life, but an existence. And the clock that cruelly ticks into his impending old age, treating him with the same snobbery he has shown every one of God’s creatures, is the only constant in what he has come to call his world. He is comforted only by the woman who won’t go away. In his youth he only dated the daughters of rich daddies, in the hope that he may eventually get access to Big Daddy’s hard earned fortune so he could fritter it away on his meaningless life. His chosen girlfriends were princesses with a range of two looks 1) Stunned deer look #1, and 2) Stunned deer look #2.
Now he has settled down with the only one who can tolerate him and live with the realisation that this too is her life sentence.
Some people are too refined to call him out when his hand is in their pocket. He takes this to mean that they are dumb, but no, they are three steps ahead and indulge him in this game as they silently grieve for his lowly evolution. Mistaking their looks of pity for forgiveness, he is doomed to have to return here many times scoring a crumb of enlightenment each visit. Some would call that hell.
He has read every book ever written on the art of the deal, seen every classic play expertly performed, and yet has learned nothing of the human spirit. To him it is as unfathomable as the concept of Eternity. Friendship is as complex as Socialism
Some have witnessed his best work and bear the scars. The man sent to jail for doing nothing but trusting that his word was true. The other man who lost his home and family based on a promise and a handshake. The banished woman who watched her parents die from the residue that their retirement fortune had been stolen from them.
Arrogance comes before a fall the ancient scriptures tell us. And man’s arrogance is on display everywhere from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the wars fought for nothing. It is true we get the world we deserve. But how strange to finally wake to its harsh reality.
I pity the arrogant person for I know what awaits him or her. The path to God is through humility. And if you don’t humble yourself, God will surely do it for you. Whether that comes in losing your money, your house, your loved ones, your health, a limb, your voice, your way, whatever – you won’t leave this life unscathed. In the words of that modern poet, Jim Morrison, “No one here gets out alive.”
Hopefully, when that time comes you will leave this condemned place spiritually wealthy.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
Since I left you I've been confused all year long Too scared to make a decision In case it's wrong... (c) Frank Howson 2017