FRANK HOWSON interviewed by ROBERT CHUTER

It is Sunday. A sweltering day in St. Kilda. I am seated under a shaded canopy in pink paradise – “Good Love” on Acland Street. I’m chatting over tea and banana bread with the imitable Frank Howson – Screenwriter, Producer, Theatre Director, Film Director, Artist, Performer, Poet and list goes on. I first met Frank way back in 2007 in a fleeting hallway passing during his rehearsals for the short play “The Replacement Son” he was directing for Short and Sweet. I recognised his name.

Frank’s colourful life has had more dips and turns than Luna Park’s Scenic Railway – so my chat with him was highly energetic and elaborate to say the least. I suggested that we visit one of his old haunts, his childhood home in the adjourning street – 51 Fawkner Street – to trigger some memories. So as we strolled down the street, accompanied by our ever reliable photographer, our conversation back to those years and onwards. “When I was a small boy, I began to dream. These dreams weren’t like normal ones in my sleep, these were my awake hours. Some of these dreams were bigger than me,” he said, adding, “And a few would turn out to be so big they would eventually run me down. In some of them I was Davy Crockett, and others Peter Pan, Robin Hood and Zorro. All you had to do was find a park bench, close your eyes and lift your head until you felt the warm rays of the sun, and let your mind go off to exotic locations. I dreamed that I was bigger than my dad in height, temperament and wealth, and I lived to achieve all that only to discover how meaningless it all was.”

As our photographer snapped photos of Frank in front of the house, I was thinking to myself, “I wonder how he is really feeling about being here again?” He didn’t give much away, but a smile and no revealing emotions except for a few tales of yesteryear, “Living in Fawkner Street back then, the neighbours were just ordinary battlers, sly grog salesmen, gangsters,” he remembered. In that street Public Enemy Number 1 – nicknamed The Beast (Norm Bradshaw) for good reason lived there when he was not on the run. “Next door to us lived the Aussie equivalent to Bonnie Parker, the gangster’s moll, pretty (but deadly) Dulcie Markham (known as “The Angel of Death” reported The Truth). One bullet came through our wall,” said Frank with delight. But to be expected Pretty Dulcie got a bullet right in the thigh. “There’s bloody blood everywhere, Bastards!” She spurted to The Truth reporter. Apparently another altercation left Pretty Dulcie with a broken leg and her hoodlum ex-boxer boyfriend Gavin Walsh was shot dead during the six o’clock swill at the Barkly Hotel.

Henry (Jack) Howson, Frank’s dad, was in charge of the O’Donnell Gardens for thirty or so years and was promoted to overseer of the entire St. Kilda Foreshore not long before his death. His tiny office was under the biggest dip in Luna Park’s Scenic Railway. His mum, Pearl, worked across the road “in the best lolly shop in the world” – Candy Corner. Young Frank spent his years hiding in the O’Donnell Garden’s Sherwood Forest, climbing trees to attack Santa Ana’s soldiers at the Alamo, and re-enacting every John Wayne movie. At the sweet age of seven he started his life in show business as a singer, tap dancer and actor. His first public appearance was at the St. Kilda Town Hall performing a rendition of “Give My Regards To Broadway.”

“When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless.” His introduction to books was by his old Irish grandmother who would sit him on her sturdy lap and read aloud “Noddy in Toyland.” Later, the first book he actually managed to finish all by himself was ironically “Little Women” then came, of course, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, The Secret Seven and then graduated to Biggles. In his later teens it was “The Great Gatsby,” Dickens, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Huxley, Wilde and many others. After leaving Christian Brothers College in 1967 his first job was office boy at Radio 3UZ. Soon he was promoted to panel operator and worked on “Radio Auditions,” Johnny McMahon’s extraordinarily long-lived talent show in which participants were awarded up to three “gongs” – if it rained and there weren’t enough acts for the program, Frank was called upon to perform under made-up names. When he was invited to perform on a TV talent show pilot by (the late) Jimmy Hannan and told to come up with a mad act he became known as “Magical Frank” – a singing and tap dancing magician who’s tricks all went wrong. Eventually he acquired a record deal and produced and performed on his first Top 40 hit “Seventeen Ain’t Young.” This was followed by other singles “This Night” and “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.”

Before turning twenty-one, Frank had already appeared in over twenty-one major productions. Two highlights during this prolific period were notable Australian productions of “Oliver” in 1966 at Her Majesty’s Theatre with a young John Diedrich, Toni Lamond and the (late) Terry McDermott; then the legendary original production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Palais Theatre with Marcia Hines, Robin Ramsay, Reg Livermore, Stevie Wright, John Paul Young and (the late) Jon English.

Standing around, we talked a little about his film career. The photographer kept snapping away with me avoiding getting in the way. Apparently, during its heyday, Boulevard Films was one of Australia’s most successful film production companies. Numerous people became resentful of the company’s success and worked against it unfortunately. Left to its own devices, the company became undone by the relentless pressure and enormous responsibility to keep bettering the last film and raising the bar amidst disappearing money. In 1997, after a very prolonged falling out with his business partner, Frank dissolved the company in order to extricate himself from the situation.

The company’s films included; “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” which starred John Waters and Kim Gyngell and was nominated for 7 AFI Awards including “Best Film” and won 2 – Waters for Best Actor, and Gyngell for Best Supporting Actor. Others films followed, including the AFI nominated “Heaven Tonight” that was Guy Pearce’s debut as a movie actor and sold to the giant American Broadcasting Corporation; the AFI nominated “What The Moon Saw” which became the first Australian film sold to Miramax; “Hunting” screenplay and direction by Frank and starring American actor John Savage, Kerry Armstrong (nominated for an AFI as Best Actress, and Guy Pearce, sold to Paramount Pictures; “Beyond My Reach” starring David Roberts, American actress Terri Garber (whom Howson would later marry), and Alan Fletcher, sold to Warners; and “Flynn” starring Guy Pearce, Claudia Karvan, internationally acclaimed stage & movie actor Steven Berkoff, and John Brumpton in his first screen role. The film depicted the early life of Errol Flynn, and was directed and co-written by Howson. In 1989, he was awarded the Producer of the Year Award from Film Victoria, and since then has received several Hall of Fame awards and Lifetime Achievement Awards at numerous international film festivals.

Frank relocated to Los Angeles where there the experience he received working with and for such talents as Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Helen Mirren, Sharon Stone, Amy Ephron, Arthur Hiller, Michael Richards, William Friedkin, Ryan O’Neal, Eric Idle, Joe Eszterhas, Jackie Chan, Patricia Clarkson, Heath Ledger, Jacqueline Bissett, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone, Bernard Fowler, and many others elevated him to a whole new level. He was commissioned to write several screenplays, and script doctor some script written by others. His beloved screenplay on the tragic life of the Australian boxer Les Darcy entitled “Winter In America” was put on hold by Heath Ledger for three years as he desperately wanted to play the lead. It has not, to this time, been made, but was described by the Age as “the best unproduced screenplay in Australia.” Between 1998 and 2001, Frank served on the board of the L. A branch of the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Returning home to St. Kilda after nine years of a self-imposed exile from his homeland he arrived back to no job offers, a tattered reputation, and found no opportunities whatsoever at his feet. So, he began again.

Ever restless Frank began writing his own songs which were ultimately performed and/or recorded by Little River Band. Richie Havens, Eric Idle, Stephen Cummings, Marc Jordan. Bernard Fowler, Judith Durham, Keith Potger, Andre Rieu and many others. In September 2005, Frank was approached by a producer to direct the Melbourne premiere of Caryl Churchill’s play “A Number” at fortyfivedownstairs and received the best reviews of his career. He was back. Shortly after, he ghost wrote Rhonda Burchmore’s best selling memoir, “Legs 11” and then Rhonda toured with her hit one woman show “Cry Me A River – The World of Julie London” that was specially written for her by Frank. He then wrote and directed two sell-out seasons of “Genesis To Broadway” at Chapel Off Chapel, and was asked to direct the two music videos to celebrate The Seekers 50th. Anniversary. One of the clips opened their show on their international farewell tour and was screened at their Royal Albert Hall performances. And this isn’t even a quarter of his astounding creative accomplishments. So, there were so many questions I wanted to ask, so I did:

Q) Why do you do the work that you do, Frank?
A) “Because it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, and the only thing it seems I was any good at. It can be a very hard, very lonely life. But if there is a higher power it is no doubt purposely conceived to be that way. Almost like God removes all happy distractions from our life so that we are forced to save the very best of us for the page, or the stage. Or as Dylan said, “Blood On The Tracks.” Looking back on Fawkner Street, I think all that young boy ever wanted was to have a happy family where no one fought and had terrible degrading arguments, and have a nice little house, and be friends with all the neighbours and know that he was safe and that tomorrow would be just like today. And to wake and find that the woman he loved still loved him. But none of that was to be. Well, not in any lasting sense. So he just keeps writing and occasionally directing and hoping that somehow that will get him home. Wherever that is.”

Q) Which people inspired you to work in showbiz?
A) “The biggest and most influence on me getting into showbiz was the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” starring James Cagney. I was only seven, but that movie showed me a whole new world to the one I was born into. My dad was the loveliest man in the world – up to ten drinks! After that he would wander the house looking for something to blame. I guess, for the emptiness within himself. So, there were most nights some horrible ego destroying verbal abuse that effected and infected those of us who lived at 51 Fawkner Street. When I saw “Yankee Doodle Dandy” its influence on me was profound. I saw that you can invent a new world through creativity. The movie’s depiction of showbiz was, of course, highly romanticised but very intoxicating to a boy from St. Kilda whose whole world at that time was Fawkner Street, the O’Donnell Gardens, Luna Park and the occasional trip to the city with my mum to patiently watch her shop at Myer. That movie told me there was a place for those who didn’t fit in. The camaraderie, the risk taking, the loyalty of a long business partnership between two men where the only contract had been a handshake, the opening nights of triumph. Yep, it hooked me on its bullshit and although it wasn’t all champers I have lived to experience some amazing things, and people. At a cost. Along that hard long and winding road of showbiz I have seen the very best and the very worst of human nature. And thus it gave me much to write about.”

Q) What happened after “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”?
A) “After that, I made so many films, it almost killed me. You know the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Well, my business partner and I had spent five years trying to get into the film industry and knocked on every door there was and got most of them slammed in our faces. The industry at that time didn’t want any new blood competing with them. It was virtually a closed shop with the same old guys getting all the grants and making the same old types of Australian movie. But Peter and I were the two most determined bastards and finally by sheer youthful energy, determination and perseverance we gate crashed the party and they hated us for it. After “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” there was “What The Moon Saw,” “Heaven Tonight,” “Hunting,” “Beyond My Reach,” “Flynn,” “The Final Stage,” “A Slow Night At The Kuwaiti Cafe,” “The Intruder,” “Crime Time,” “Blue Roses,” “Guy Pearce – The Music Videos,” “The Making of Heaven Tonight,” “The Making of Hunting,” “The Making of Flynn,” and “A Thin Life.” Five of those films were made in virtually a year. When the stage & screenwriter Patrick Edgeworth read about my schedule he told his wife, “That man will either be dead or insane within a year.” I’m still here, so I guess I’m the latter.”

Q) Do you think you might have been a casualty of the tall poppy syndrome, Frank?
A) “I think there was a great love of our films by the Australian public but the fat cats in the industry and their associates, especially in Sydney, influenced or pressured local critics to be so much harsher on our films than any other homemade films (and let’s face it, some of these other films by approved producers who were in the clique were appalling but received good reviews.) When I returned home from living in Los Angeles for 9 years, I was out somewhere and a young filmmaker came up to me and told me how much he’d been influenced by my movies and believed there had been a government conspiracy to destroy Boulevard Films. I laughed as I’d never thought in those terms, but after considering the question, I answered that, “I don’t think there was an official focussed conspiracy to destroy us. But the industry did nothing to help us. Perhaps that was the conspiracy.” And if so, they should hang their heads in shame. These films I made were all sold to Miramax, Paramount, Warners, Disney, etc., at a time when you couldn’t give Australian films away on the international market. Some of those films also played at every major film festival in the world, except Melbourne. Everywhere except the place where they was made. They also garnered rave reviews overseas and awards, but were savaged by most local reviewers. When one of them received a scathing review in The Australian, I wrote to the critic Evan Williams and asked him why there were so many inaccuracies and misquotes of dialogue in his review, to which he replied, and I still have the letter, that he’d been unwell that day at the press screening so had to leave 10 minutes into the film but asked a colleague some days later how it ended. Based upon that he wrote a horrible review that no doubt turned potential customers away from a local film that went on to be lauded and praised overseas. Alan Finney of Village Roadshow also stated to witnesses that he hated all my films. This was before the first five were even finished and no one had seen them yet. So, he had a negative opinion sight unseen. But those idiots are all gone now and their power diminished to nothing and yet my films continue to be re-released on DVD worldwide. So I guess I win. I sometimes think I get more respect in L.A or London than I do in my own country. David Mann of 3AW asked me recently if I’d been honoured by my country yet. Again, I laughed. No. Just bloodied, humiliated, spat on and shunned. They even came at me with a trumped up charge that because a film of mine had changed from the original synopsis to the final cut that it was somehow a different movie and I’d somehow done something illegal. It was like a Franz Kafka absurdist nightmare I had to live through and the pressure of defending myself against this insanity took a huge emotional toll on my last marriage and ruined it. I had to try and explain to public servants that Art is an ever evolving process. I also named over 1000 Hollywood films that started as one thing and ended up quite different from the original concept. This is the same government that were later happy to steal my original idea and concept of “G’Day L.A” which went on to become the most successful promotion in the history of Australia. The “Honourable” John Olsen, the then Australian Consulate in Los Angeles, whom I presented my idea to, later received the highest award the Australian Government can bestow on one of its citizens for this superb idea of “his.” But you know something? It’s made me all the tougher. And that’s why I’m still here. They have, in fact, empowered me.”

Q) What do you think have been some of the negatives in your work?
A) “Probably revealing too much of myself in it. It’s amazing but even though you come up with what you think is a piece of fiction from your mind, you look back later and realise it was in some ways autobiographical, sometimes in a symbolised way, but there it was. And there it is. I can look at some of these films now and tell you exactly what I was going through at the time. They are almost like a diary to me. The spookiest thing is that some proved to be a premonition of what was to come. But apart from that, my work has supplied me no negatives, in fact it has been my friend, my family, my saviour, and my way out of the darkness and confusion. It has been the various people my work has attracted into my life that has on occasion been a severe negative. Perhaps because they were attracted by the wrong thing. The idea of a quick buck, rape what they couldn’t understand, and depart leaving others to clean up the mess. Light attracts darkness unfortunately.”

Q) What’s been the positives in your work?
A) “Finding myself. Realising I was at last good at something and could relax all those inner fears that I was the idiot my school teachers thought I was. Because I was a ‘change of life’ baby I was a big surprise to everyone, my mum considered me a miracle and that everything I did was genius. On the other hand my sisters were so angered by my intrusion into their lives they didn’t speak to my mother and father for a year! As there was a twelve year gap between me and my youngest sister, and I was the only boy, the chill and resentment still continues to this day and will never end. So, in effect, I was given a good grounding to become level-headed about myself. Everything I did my sisters considered crap, and everything I did my mother thought was genius. The genius thing was a very heavy burden for a young boy from St. Kilda to carry on his shoulders. Looking back now I realised I strived so hard to live up to her exulted view of me and not let her down, that I denied myself a normal youth. It’s interesting to note that when my mother died, so did a lot of my ambition. I guess in my mind I had no one to impress anymore. So I relaxed and went about becoming a human being.”

Q) Whats been your favourite achievements up to this point?
A) “The only reason I became a producer, a job I in fact hate doing, was to protect the integrity of my work. I’d had a very bad experience, or introduction to movie making, with a film called “Backstage” starring the late American singer Laura Branigan. I co-wrote the script with Jonathan Hardy and it was sold to a large production company. They tampered with my original vision so much that I walked off the movie before a single frame was shot. I was embarrassed to have any part of it. Hardy sold out and compromised but not me. My instincts were right and it was, in my opinion, one of the worst films ever made. Becoming a producer wasn’t some lust for power by me, I just wanted to ensure that anything that had my name on it contained some resemblance to what I had written. The latest thing I have written, the big budget theatre musical “Dream Lover” which tells the Bobby Darin story and starred David Campbell, I think is my proudest moment. Simon Phillips, the director, and I worked so closely and so well on two workshops and then an intense rehearsal period that it became the dream working relationship we always hope for. We’d only had to see something being acted out and we’d exchange a look and I’d know what he was thinking and visa versa. And of course the topping on the cake is that the people responded. We were a smash in Sydney and then broke the all-time historic attendance record at the State Theatre in Melbourne. It had taken years of frustration waiting for the production to happen, but when Darin’s son, Dodd, flew into Sydney with his wife to see it, he walked up to me afterwards, with tears in his eyes, to hug me and said, “You got every detail right. All my life I’ve wanted a legacy for my father and you’ve written it.” And I replied, “What you’ve just said to me was worth the whole 9 years.”

Q) What are you currently working on?
A) “After “Dream Lover” I took 12 months off to travel and not think about anything. And it’s hard for me to not think about things and new ideas, but I did. I shut it off. And just roamed around and took in new experiences. I also didn’t want to make the mistake that many do after a huge hit by quickly cashing in with a new show. I wanted to make sure that whatever I did next was as high a standard as “Dream Lover” had been. So, now I’m back at it full steam and I have another theatrical work ready. This one is even more emotionally moving. It’s about those last, very sad and revealing years in the life of Elvis Presley. It is a piece of pure theatre. Not one of those lookalike, soundalike shows. This script goes deep, way deep, into Elvis’ soul. We have already had one workshop on it and The Seekers’ Bruce Woodley attended and afterward said to me, “I teared up about six times and for the first time I felt I really knew him.” Aleks Vass, owner of The Alex Theatre, was there and publicly stated that what he saw was “musical theatre genius.” I loved Elvis so much that I have really worked hard to get it right and cut to the very heart, soul and mind of the man in those final confusing years. I think it will be a very cathartic night in the theatre for all those who loved him and it will explain a lot about what happened.”

Q) If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path do you think you would have followed, Frank?
A) “Well I’ve had two very successful art exhibitions at Fad Gallery over the past two years, and I must admit that painting seems to relax my restless mind. I find peace and comfort in it. I guess I’d be a painter. The only two school subjects I was any good at was English and Art. So there you have it. If it wasn’t for those two things I’d be fucked. Of course I would love to do another film, but even given my stellar track record, no one asks me, so I guess I’m still blacklisted from that old brigade closed shop. And they’re the reason the Australian film industry has been woeful for so long, because those old power brokers never encouraged new blood. They never encouraged anything other than more money into their bank accounts and now live in mansions in Tuscany. In a perfect world though, I guess I’d have a very happy life writing a book a year and having a couple of art exhibitions of my paintings and sketches. I wouldn’t have to deal with business partners who take care of the business so well there’s no money left, financiers, horrendous deadlines, producers and actors asking me, “What does this mean?””

Q) Tell me a funny story or joke that involves your work or life?
A) “I remember when I was seventeen and I’d recorded a single called “Seventeen Ain’t Young” and the record company (without asking my permission) credited me on the label as Frankie Howson. I don’t remember anyone before then ever calling me “Frankie” but there you have it. Anyway, a few months had passed since that record slipped out of the charts and I was on a tram one day, when a girl walked up to me and asked. “Didn’t you used to be Frankie Howson?” That’s how tough this life in showbiz can be. A few months can go by and you’re a has been. Yes. I used to be Frankie Howson.”

Undoubtedly, Frank Howson is one of St. Kilda’s most precious icons. He is blessed that creativity has been his life. His lifelong and prolific contribution to the arts and our entertainment is simply phenomenal. The fact that he and his work has been underrated, undervalued, belittled and ignored is also phenomenal. It is truly shameful, truly disgraceful and most of all – embarrassing. When I thanked Frank for his time and bid him farewell he certainly left me with an indelible Mark. On the journey home I thought to myself, this man’s dazzling talent is only outshone by his humanity and accomplishment. Thank heavens, we have him.

(C) Robert Chuter.

THE POWER OF IDIOTS

I sit in this room, this crumbling room I grew to love, cluttered by the mementoes of a crumbled life. Framed photographs of friends, lovers and family, all long gone. My bookshelves filled with the greatest wisdom the world can offer, written in the most eloquent of ways, and yet all it did was lead me here. And very soon lead me somewhere else because of a landlady who is in my opinion certifiably insane and subleased apartments to me and several others without having the authority to do so. I would’ve thought that was fraud but it seems the police have no interest in fraud these days. I guess there’s too much of it to deal with.

So good luck out there trying to deal with people in good faith. I have written in the past about the death of common sense. But I also believe we have lived to see the death of basic common ethics. All of this of course is flamed by apathy. Nobody cares anymore. We are too emotionally burnt out by watching the end of the world live on the internet.

Einstein could see things the rest of us couldn’t. And yet quite often was unaware he had odd socks on. John Lennon was so acutely insightful and sensitive about himself and yet could not pick a mad man who meant him harm. We can, allegedly, put men on the moon and yet so much of ourselves is left untouched. How deep does that darkness go? That inner space we fear to go lest there be no coming back?

They say to kill someone also kills a part of ourselves. So, after a few more what is it to kill six million? It just becomes a number. We live in a society that does much to take away our dignity, dehumanise us, mock our integrity, and reduce the truth of our lives to third hand gossip because we have lost the will, the pride and the energy to correct it. No wonder we have become the most dangerous species of all. In fact, if we went away the world would thrive. What a sad epitaph to our existence. The proof that there is intelligent life elsewhere is their very reluctance to make contact with us.

Is it easier for us to hate than to love? Yes. But we weren’t born like that. The act that creates us, most times, is love and we are programmed to be born into it. But if that love is not waiting there, and all we get from a mother is regret and tears, and from a father anger and blame, how could we ever wish for the capacity to hope, or know of its existence? Monkey do as monkey see.

Some of us are born into great love and a warm bed. We are shielded by our parents in our formative years so that we don’t experience too much hurt, rejection, violence, and any physically harmful mishaps. They sing us lullabies and read us stories about heroes who laid down their lives for something bigger than themselves and are loved for it. We are nurtured like this until we are old enough and adequately delusional to go forth into this world in search of a love of our own. For we’re told we are not one until we are two. Complete. Our better half. Ready to be wedded to each other and to a mortgage, a job that pays us enough money to sacrifice our self-esteem, 500 pay channels of crap and fake news to dumb us down, and a long slow road to that retirement village and watery vegetable soup until one day we surrender back into that inner space. And if we have lived that accepted life without complaining we are deemed to be the lucky ones in society’s eyes.

But what happens if you are full of love for everyone and yet never find the right partner? Or waste your best years on the wrong ones? Well buddy, you’re on the scrap heap of life. Banished to Regret on the outskirts of Shame. Always finding yourself standing in the rain on somebody else’s property, constantly being moved on. Looked at suspiciously. Labelled a possible future threat. Told that we just don’t “fit in”. A gypsy. A fugitive. An unwanted man. As doomed as Jeffrey Dahmer.

I once wrote the following lines for a Keith Potger song, “The cowboys pine for the open range, the sailors stand looking out to sea, the gangsters get gun-shy and start acting strange, and the lovers end up like me.”

So, if the very foundations of our existence are either gone or, at the very least, shaky and unpredictable, is it any wonder we make such poor decisions in regard to everything else? And to the many of us who have lost all hope and are locked away in our rented tombs, are we not ticking bombs? The most dangerous person in this world is the man who has nothing left to lose. In effect, he is already dead. He no longer fears the police, or jail (he’s been living in his own for far too long), pain, slander, or meeting God. The government hate this person because they are considered a wild card and their actions cannot be predicted. You cannot bargain with him or her for there no longer exists anything they want. All those desires and needs and beliefs died long ago. The seeds were planted when we got too close to Santa Claus and realised he was just an out of work actor in a padded suit designed by Coca-Cola, hiding behind an ill-fitting false beard. In most cases this disillusionment make the disenchanted confrontational. They demand answers. If we have been expertly lied to about Santa for years where do the lies stop?

Man kills anything he can’t understand. And one of those things is love. We have a long history of murdering the messengers who preach it as our salvation. But if you promote hate and genocide and are paid big bucks to invent sophisticated lies a government can sell, you’ll most likely have a long life and die in your bed.

Recently a man who’d died for some time during an operation and brought back to life, was interviewed about this experience. During his dead time he said he’d had the usual white light sighting but then travelled on into the heart of it. He then became suddenly aware of a powerful presence behind him. He could sense it. When he went to turn, a voice of great authority said to him, “Don’t turn. For if you see my face you cannot return. And trust me you wouldn’t want to see me angry.” (The last statement proving God has a sense of humour.) The man asked, “Are you…?” To which the voice replied, “What do you think?” The nervous visitor then said, “May I ask you a question?” And the reply was “Yes. Of course.” The great presence was then asked, “What is the meaning of life?” There was laughter and then the response, “I get asked that a lot. It is very simple what life is about. Love. Love one another and be loved in return. This is not your time. You need to go back and appreciate the love you have. But when you return we will have much time to talk and you can ask all the questions you wish.”

The man was then hugged by the presence and the feeling of unconditional love filled him with a joy so intense he feared he was going to explode. And then he was back in this life. He weeps to this day because he misses that feeling of unconditional love. It seems that a love that pure without agenda could be addictive if we ever experience it.

Perhaps Life really was meant to be that simple. And man through his over-inflated ego has sought to make his own impression by complicating the natural balance and looting everything he can for his own benefit. In this lust to sell the world, pure true love has been replaced by how many women you can con into your bed for bragging rights to impress other con artists. But there is no love in carnal conquest just as there are no riches in financial wealth. Those who have acquired huge fortunes by walking over people often, at the end of their days, talk about the hollowness they feel inside. Having killed many lives with their fountain pens, and the excuse, “We’re just doing our job” they then attempt to fill their dead centre with booze, drugs, and sexual perversion. But that leads to feeling even less. “Pity the man who inherits the world but loses his soul”. You can lie to your conscious but not to your subconscious, for it records every con, lie, hurt, betrayal, etc,, until one day you cannot take any more, and so you don’t. The suicide rate is astonishing amongst the extremely wealthy. This doesn’t get much press because the power brokers of this world who push for more and more productivity are scared to inform us that our goals are wrong and that money is a false god.

I fear it’s too late for us to reprogram ourselves. This bullshit is too ingrained in our DNA. Or is it?

There’s a very insightful lyric by that mystical troubadour Bob Dylan, “Man has invented his doom, first step was touching the moon.” We have now invented technology that gives us the internet which we were told would open our minds, make our lives easier, and that the answers to every question would be at our fingertips. So how come the ignorance level has never been higher? We also don’t need to have to go to all that trouble inviting someone over to participate in sex because we have every porn clip in the world depicting every sexual fantasy anyone could possibly imagine, all performed by beautiful people. It saves being rejected, as well as all that energy. But should we be inspired by the sexual acrobatics upon our screen, we can get into Tinder and have a total stranger knock on our door within the hour. As easy as ordering a pizza. Too busy to establish personal friendships? Not a problem, grown men can play online games. It’s very exciting.

So, we become more and more isolated within ourselves, and reality is conveniently invented and programmed for our personal needs as easily as switching on the air conditioning to our perfect temperature. If there is a Satan could he have invented a more effective device to bring about our own hell?

But that’s where we are now. Perhaps the world has ended and nobody told us? Where are those madmen in the wilderness when you need them? Oh yes, that’s right, we probably killed them. Or at the very least, locked them up. Discredited them with a phoney scandal. Silenced them. This modern world doesn’t tolerate freedom of speech anymore. Yet it was those opposing voices and radical opinions that triggered spirited debate that led to positive changes. Today all the truth tellers have been very effectively silenced for fear of being labelled a Nazi, a sexist, a fascist, a racist, a bully, or just plain crazy. And in the present day world, if enough people unfriend us do we really exist anymore?

How clever of a higher being who initially gave us free will, to also have allowed us to orchestrate our own doom.

In spite of it all I still believe in love. And in the inherent good in the majority of people. We have just lost our way, that’s all. And the road back is very difficult to find in the dark.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THAT’S HOW IT ENDS

She died in my arms
Not a word was said
In silence we rose
And got out of our bed
Her eyes would flash
I knew them too well
Every man in this town
Had a story to tell
But they weren’t her lovers
They were just friends
That’s what she told me, and
That’s how it ends

She cried for the boy
Who had dared to dream
His suitcase was packed
For the journey downstream
She’d lost her chance
To salvage herself
From the toys in the dark
That were left on the shelf
There were too many cracks there
For me to mend
That’s what I told her, and
That’s how it ends

We feared the many dangers
That stood in our way
Too many strangers
With something to say
We stood there grieving
At the death of our youth
The first thing to die
After the truth

She calls out my name
But the hunger’s gone
For some times we die
But still we go on
The game of love
Has been played and lost
Now old men sit alone
And fathom the cost
But there’s always tomorrow
And what fate intends
So the story goes on
But that’s how it ends…

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photograph by Vanessa Allan

WHEN THE NIGHT COMES

When the night comes down
And the world’s at an end
I hope the dying of the light
Catches you with a friend
If it were up to me
You’d live a thousand years
In a world that was fair
In a world without tears
You stood up for me
When I was condemned
But there are some things
This life can’t mend
So I’ll see you in the next
And save a place for you
For your heart was always kind
And your word was true

(C) Frank Howson 2019

IN MY TIME OF DYING

In my time of dying
They’ll call for a holiday at the workhouse
For there’ll be no bills to be paid
Mouths to be fed
Or favours to be returned
And the women that loved me may walk a little slower
And the men who plotted my downfall will have nothing to do
The people who go around taking names will give them back
Realising their data and all their lists reveal not a thing about who we are in those lonely nights
In our lonely rooms
Where the hours after midnight are our only friends
And some will weep for what was denied
And others will laugh at the remembrance of what was done
There will be those who will continue to phone my number expecting me to be there
As I did for some weeks after my poor mother died
Others will walk with my ghost
Along familiar broken dark alleys
That I walked to expend my joy and tragedies when they were too intense to share with anyone
Some will cry at the ground beneath my headstone thinking I’m there
But I’ll be gone from the things that rooted me to this earth
Maybe some women will regret that we didn’t take that dance
Just once perhaps
In an intoxicating act of madness
Risking the stars for a shot at the moon
But we risked nothing
And got nothing in return
Staying home
While others saw Paris
Saving ourselves for what?
We weren’t given a life for safety
But rather to live
To make mistakes
To learn
To rage
To feel
To love
To sometimes get it right
And to find shared humanity
In the loss and ruins of our deluded dreams
Some will express disappointment
That they never saw what I did
Because there were too many excuses that kept them home in front of their mirrors
Reflecting on things long gone
Old men with cracked voices revealing broken hearts will drink to our friendship in all the bars where we laughed away the night
And reduced all our tragedies to punchlines of a joke
Those whom I loved will know that I loved them by the strange feeling of warmth they feel each time they remember me
And that will be because I am still with them
Smiling that smile when you have said it all
Shared it all
And given all
And they will be the custodians of my true legacy
Not the academics
Who never knew me
Nor the critics
Who never got me
Nor the talkative acquaintances
Who never saw me bleed
And be less than myself at times
Or surpass myself when a friend had stumbled
And needed someone to defend him or her
No, don’t look for me in the cold corridors of libraries
Or reduced to a 60 second grab on a news channel
Or killed again in some passionless speech from some senile professor
Who thinks he has worked me out
Or edited to the bone in an obituary dashed off by some hack demoted from the sports page
For I was never here for them
I was here for you
You were my mission
My purpose
I have seen how people are rewritten in order to take their place in the posterity of people’s hearts and minds
Sanitised
Buffed up
All the creases ironed out
Photoshopped
Christ-like into history
By a St. Paul who thinks there may be a buck to be made from my resurrection as a different man
My intentions adapted and rewritten to reflect someone more palatable to the masses
As if it is not enough to be crucified in life
They must crucify you in death too
Eventually we are all turned into Lincoln monuments
Stony cold and all-knowing
Devoid of all the doubts, regrets, mistakes, failures, anger, frailties and foolishness that made us human
For the road to earthly perfection and hero status is merely a Houdini illusion
The big lie
Told enough times to become fact
But if this circus comes to town
I don’t want you to attend it
For you knew me better than anyone
You saw me weep
When I pretended not to care what they said about me
You saw my anger
When I turned the other cheek
You saw my bewilderment when success came too late for me to care
You saw my scars from the loss of the irreparable
You saw my kindness without agenda and trusted it
You saw the pain that wrecked a life but was rewarded with a shining talent and an impossible schedule
You saw an old soldier’s dignity that could not be captured by the enemy
You saw the effort it took to face another day
You heard my prayers and the foolish hopes and dreams of a prize fighter punch drunk but still standing
You heard my approaching footsteps when all the others had run for cover
For you were my friend
And I loved you with all the nobility of Sir Galahad laying down his life when it was needed
Drinking
And discussing life
And the reasons we live it
Till dawn
At our little round table
Watching you being whipped for the sins of others
I caught your fall
And guided you to the ground
Safely
Laughing at the stupidity of taking it all too seriously
For it, after all, was just a dream
And now here I am
In another dream
And can be summoned up whenever you need me
I am stronger now
Rested
Weightless
Joyful
No aches
And the night, and people, can no longer tire me or disappoint
I am now all yours
And no one can be jealous of what we have
Your past and present friend
Who came to save you from the confusions of life
And in doing so saved myself too
It is only love that gives sense to this whole huge expensive gaudy experiment of God’s imagination
And in excepting your love
I have given you mine
And it is in this love that we are granted eternal life
In my time of dying
I will take one last look around
To see if I missed anything
And then close my eyes to what could’ve been, should’ve been
And was
For you are allowed no baggage in heaven
And yours will be the last face I see
There will be no will to find
Only the stubbornness that left me penniless
For I gave no names
To betray my brothers
For the betterment of my career
And the belittlement of me
I was always wiser in my work
Than I was in life
Thus I withdrew from life
And lived in my work
So if you ever miss me
This is where you will find me

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE MEANING OF LIFE

He came with love in his heart for every living thing. His innocence had been untouched and his light force shone so bright that crowds gathered to see him but, more importantly, to feel his warmth. By gazing upon him they were somehow changed. “Was this the Messiah?” they mumbled to each other in hushed tones lest they be deemed blasphemous by some. For some can find darkness in every hope, every wish, every prayer.

And when this man spoke it brought some to their knees, others to tears. It was as if the calmness in his voice could heal every hurt and fear that had weighed them down and they were now somehow lighter.

The taking away of such anguish even brought back sight to the blind. As if all they had needed was to believe in something and were being granted the ability to see the world anew. Men who had walked too many lonely dead end loveless roads and were now crippled, found that they could walk again. And after those first awkward unsure steps they inched closer and closer to him growing more confident and accepted with each one until they were in his arms, and the safety and strength  of unconditional love made them sob for the joy of each precious moment. Time that they had, until now, misinterpreted and cursed for their burdens, and wasted, was now rediscovered and rejoiced over. All things were possible again.

In his face they saw no judgement, no impatience, no pity, only love. And his love became contagious among the people and they sang his praises.

He had not come to destroy the Romans, or hand out weapons, or preach hate. He was here to give meaning to our lives. What was the meaning of life? Love. For love opens the door to joy. And its light extinguishes all shadows.

But there were those, the shadow people, who were angered by us learning the meaning of existence and saw that this teaching could undermine their power over us. For they ruled by fear and threats, both of which were rendered insignificant when the masses walked proudly in the sun again unchained from their own mental limitations.

So they arrested this man, this dangerous man, beat him, whipped him, ridiculed him and his suffering, and sentenced him to an agonising death for the crime of telling us to love and forgive each other.

And in his final conscious moments he forgave those who had plotted his death, and the ignorant who had killed him. To this day it remains the greatest triumph of the human spirit.

Perhaps he was drawing evil into the light so that the world could recognise its face?

 
(C) Frank Howson 2019

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2019

I’VE FALLEN FOR YOU

I’ve fallen so much
On my way to nowhere
But I stuck out my chin
And pretended not to care

I closed my heart
To the harm people do
So please don’t tell me
That I’ve fallen for you

I’ve known you so long
That I cancelled you out
But it’s beyond Einstein
What this love is all about

How high the stars?
Why is the sky so blue?
‘Cause nothin’ makes sense
Since I’ve fallen for you

I fear it’s a dream
And like other dreams will end
And I will awaken
To find you just a friend

I shut my eyes
But my heart can still see
As it searches for signs
That you’ve fallen for me

 
(C) Frank Howson 2019