NOBODY

My name is Nobody
The world don’t know my face
When I was young
My family moved from place to place
Never done much schoolin’
Other kids called me dumb
It made me kinda shy
And damaged me some

I’ve tried to be a good man
And fought in the war
But God has rained bad luck on me
With a fear I can’t ignore
Every asian face
Of every kid I killed
At night comes back to haunt me
With the beat of each heart I stilled

God forgive this soldier
Lord forgive me what I’ve done
I killed to protect my country
This fucking country
That betrayed this foolish son…

My dad was Nobody
He named me after him
He beat me some
For no cause but a drunkard’s whim
Seen him hurt my mother
Like a fool I stood there
He took away my pride
And my will to care

I tried to build some things like
A life without pain
But somehow I just don’t fit in
I’ve been branded like Cain
Each night a nightmare
For me the war goes on
All these ghosts come back to haunt me
Then I wake to find them gone

God forgive this soldier
Lord forgive me what I’ve done
I killed to protect my country
This fucking country
That betrayed this foolish son…

I only followed orders
God this has got to stop
Spreadin’ like a fire
Through my harvest crop
I went to mass each Sunday
And prayed to you upstairs
But you must’ve been sleeping
All the way through my prayers

My name is Nobody
The world don’t know my face
When I was young
My family moved from place to place
Never done much schoolin’
Other kids called me dumb
It made me kinda shy
And damaged me some…

(c) Frank Howson 2020

 

Photograph by Bruce Woodley.

MY MOTHER

My mother had suffered. While other teenage girls were carefree, my mother's 
youth was robbed from her by polio. And the result was she'd walk with a limp 
the rest of her life. She'd also been denied an education because she'd had 
to leave school at 12 to work in a florist shop to help financially support
the family. Her father, whom she'd adored, was thrown out of the house by her
mum, and although he'd occasionally return to beg a reconciliation with his
family, it never eventuated. 

I was told that he couldn't keep his feet still if he heard music and loved 
to tap dance. It's one of those spooky things in life that I too loved music
and told my mum I wanted to learn tap dancing when I was all of 7. I guess
somehow in that mysterious way of the world I'd inherited his love of that. 

One night he was hit by a car driven by a drunk and died instantly. No doubt
my stubborn Irish grandmother felt guilt that she'd never taken him back into
the family and household he'd loved so much. But all actions have ripples, and
some turn into tidal waves.  

My mother missed him all the days of her life, and always told me what a
lovely man he was. 

Some say wisdom can't be taught, it has to be earned. And perhaps all the
early heartbreaks my mother endured explained her inherent wisdom. She had
a calm soulful way of smiling and imparting her wise words that would cut
to the heart of any problem you had. 

She was also the greatest mental arithmetic exponent I've ever witnessed, and
could correctly spell any word by sounding it. She was never wrong. Perhaps
She had a love of words that rubbed off on me. Her mathematical skills did 
not. 

She loved people. Another trait I inherited. And like me, she sometimes
trusted the wrong people. At the age of fourteen this pretty, naive, 
friendly girl was raped by a much older man. At fifteen, before her life
had really begun, she had a child, which was brought up by my grandmother
as hers to avoid a scandal and being ostracized by society at that time. 
My mother assumed the role of the baby boy's sister. A common story in 
those days, and much later gave me the insight to write about it in the
musical based on the life of Bobby Darin, "Dream Lover." I had witnessed
first hand the aftermath of the pain, shame and fallout of that situation. 
Hence the line in "Dream Lover" that "once you tell a lie, it must become
your truth forevermore."

In her early twenties my mum met my father. It was obviously, on my dad's 
part, love at first sight. But my mother steadfastly resisted any commitment to him. 
Still, he persisted. Phone calls, flowers, visits to the house, all
intended to wear her down and make her fall in love with him. His desperate
Quixote delusion. These days such a romantic fool would be arrested for
stalking. Back then it was considered "woo-ing."

He and his two brothers were all steeple chase jockeys, and although my
dad wasn't yet earning big money, healthy prospects loomed. All the 
brothers had been brought up as stable boys so they had a great gift with
being able to handle horses. It was second nature to them. My father offered
to give up his promising but tenuous career to get a steady job if only
Pearl Walsh would marry him. She refused his proposal. Then one night he 
showed up at her mother's house, drunk and crying, and threatened to kill
himself if she didn't marry him. My mum's oldest brother, Bill, told her
to "let the silly bastard off himself so we can all get some sleep!"

My mother, cursed with a soft heart, married Henry Francis Howson (Jacky 
to his friends) and they set forth to try and build a life together.  

She'd thought her child would move in with them and the wrong could be 
righted, but he'd grown too attached to the familiarity of her mother by 
then. My mother carried the hurt of this rejection the rest of her life. 
In his later years he'd desperately sought my mother to acknowledge him 
but she never did. He had made his choice. In Irish Catholic homes 
betrayals and vendettas ran hard and had a way of icing even the sweetest 
of hearts. 

I never knew any of this until I was a teenager. I was staying at my
uncle's house once, and his kids kept referring to him as my brother.
Suddenly, it was unraveled and and revealed.

My father's drinking accelerated and one can only assume as to why that
was. He went to his grave with so many inner feelings unvoiced. Like most 
men of his day. Perhaps he regretted what could've been if he hadn't given
up his racing career. He watched both his brothers go on and gain much
acclaim culminating in his oldest sibling winning many Grand National
Steeple Chase events and ending up in the history books. 

Or perhaps it was because he was sensitive enough to know that my mother's
love never matched his. After he died, my mum told me that she hadn't loved 
him and had only married him because he seemed so lost. That hurt me very 
much to hear, and made me sad knowing my father had endured a life with that
knowledge. She'd married to get away from living in her mother's home with
her two older opinionated brothers. Suffocating living under too many 
people's rules with a child she wasn't allowed to acknowledge as her own. 

At times I've thought that some people marry in order to kill each other. Or
themselves. Not sure if there's a name for that syndrome but it surely does
exist. As much as day follows night. 

I guess I always dreamed that I'd one day have a normal family life of my 
own, not damaged by denials, guilt, recriminations, and shame. And, for
15 years of a marriage I did, but lost it all when I stood up over a
principle (that Irish streak again). I won big in the integrity stakes but
lost in the financial one. Still, I could live with that far better than the
alternative, for I'd seen first hand what damage living a lie does to
people.

Who knows what my mother could've achieved if she'd been born into
different circumstances. Her great love was the movies. Spencer Tracy, Bing
Crosby, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Ronald Coleman, Katherine
Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman were among her favourites. Later she became a big
fan of Peter O'Toole and thought that the acting between him and Richard
Burton in "Beckett" was the greatest she'd ever seen on the big screen.

My mum quoted Hollywood stories like some people quote Shakespeare or Bob
Dylan. Somehow she's found some morality stories about Tinsel Town. One of
which was about dear ol' Cary Grant who'd married the Woolworth's heiress 
Barbara Hutton, and how everyone at the time had thought he'd only married
her for her money. Yet, when they divorced, Cary took not a cent. What a
guy. That morality story has cost me a small fortune. I too, as a result, 
have never walked away from a marriage with anything other than the clothes
I'd been wearing. Somewhere Cary and mum are smiling. As for me, I've spent
years crying. 

She had an amazing instinct about people. Not sure if one is born with this 
ability, or earns it from meeting too many horribles along the way. Anyway, I'd 
bring a young school friend home and after they'd left she'd say, "He's 
(or she's) not for you." That really pissed me off as I thought she was far
too judgmental. But what pissed me off most was the fact that she was always
right. In fact, I've missed her judgements for far too many years. 

She was so protective of me. I'd been a change of life baby and in her eyes I 
was a precious gift from God. Of course I tried to rebel against this
rather restrictive image at every opportunity, but her love to me was always
unconditionally. When my much older sisters heard my mother's good news about
my impending entrance into this world they, in their usual graciousness,
refused to speak to my mother for 12 months. In many ways, I became the love
of my mother's life. All her unrequited dreams were wrapped up in me. It 
became a heavy burden for a young boy but on reflection I guess it pushed
me to strive harder so as not to let her down. This resulted in my mother
thinking everything I did was right, and my sisters believing everything I
did was wrong. It got me used to mixed reviews. And I also learnt early that
if people resent you it doesn't matter if you walk on water they're going
to be unimpressed. Or pretend that they missed it. And you can't fight that
or you'll become as mentally ill as the swallow people. 

Every day she'd get on the tram to the city and wander around all the floors
of the Myer Department Store shopping for the latest bargains. I shared those
journeys with her many, many times. She was on first name basis with all the 
sales staff of that vast shopping complex. If she didn't have the money she'd
put some item on higher purchase and pay it off (sometimes over years it seemed). 
Or, she'd have them deliver it "cash on delivery." If they delivered during
a poor week we'd have to be as quiet as mice as the very patient Myer delivery man knocked
at our door. It was quite an adventure. The policy was that they'd attempt
delivery three times before they'd give up. If this happened, we'd go into the city
and order the very same thing to be delivered hoping that by luck the knock
would come at the door on a more prosperous day. My mother was a first-hand
example of perseverance and hope.

She had a smile for everyone and loved a chat. A trip with her to the corner
shops and back could take all day, as she'd stop and chat to each person
she encountered. It used to frustrate the hell out of me as I'd hear the
same stories 43 times in succession!

When she died, her dear friend Kathy Jansen described my mother's voice as 
"the sound of joy." And so it was. I never once caught her being maudlin,
sorry for herself or depressed. To her, each say was a new adventure. Along
Along the way, she beat cancer and overcame heart problems - probably by
her positive disposition - and it was only a freak silly accident in the
house and a bump to the head that caused a blood clot, that signaled her
exit from this world. 

Her stroke cruelly took away her ability to speak. To my mother, this was her 
lifeblood. Every day I'd visit her she'd clench my hand with all her might,
look me in the eyes, and through sheer force of will force out three words,
"What's...the...use?"

I had no answer for her. We'd never lied to each other. 

It didn't take long until she'd willed herself to death. 

Years later when I was living in Los Angeles and having my own voice
problems caused by intense stress, my longtime friend John Capek
suggested that I go to an energy healer he knew on Laurel Canyon. I
took his advice and did so. During my first session, the energy guru
asked me to tell him a potted history of my life. I did so as best as I
could to which he replied, "Oh my God, what a hard life you've had!" 
I was momentarily shocked as I'd never thought of it that way. Not in those
terms. After all, I had no other life to compare it to. It was what it 
was. In fact, I'd felt that I'd many things to be grateful for. But when
I thought more deeply about it, given his statement, the tears started to 
flow uncontrollably from my eyes in spite of myself. As though my body was
releasing the intense pain I'd suppressed since childhood in order to
just keep going. It was quite a cathartic experience. He then said, 
"Oh, and your mother is still with you. She doesn't realise she'd dead. 
She loved you so much she can't let go. You need to tell her to go away."

It was one of the hardest things I've had to do. The fact that her great 
love for me had transcended death was so touching and yet I had to reject
her in order to breathe and begin to restore my own life. I have weathered
many great losses and loves in my life, and this was another loss I'd dealt
with. To everything there is a lesson, and I've learnt the art of icing my
heart to certain things. To quote a line from my film "Remembering Nigel,"
..."It's alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that 
thing too much."

And I'll be damned if I wasn't right. 

I've never been one of those men who looked down upon women or devalued
their opinions or didn't see them as an equal, and that's no doubt because
my mother was a very positive example to me. She was smart, wise, funny, 
instinctively sharp, kind, true, strong and open-hearted to all other
open hearts. It's true that when some people die the world is diminished
in some way. And so it was for me and all those who knew Pearl Howson.
Not a day goes by...


(c) Frank Howson 2019














I REMEMBER YOU

I remember you
Even more painful, where and when
You told me when it was over
That you'd find me again
So you searched all the hostels
Inhabiting lonely men
I was killed by your mouth
You were killed by my pen

I told you I liked chocolates
So you bought me a cigar
You have a cruel talent
For pushing me too far
I remember walking miles
While you passed me in your car
The same one I'd bought you
When you became my star

Now the years are conspiring
To drive me insane
Along with some of my friends
Who only deal in pain
So let me spell it out
To you nice and plain
My dance is slowly fading
And it failed to bring you rain

I'll soon be gone like Jesus
To never come again
You nailed me to your cross
And made me watch you with other men
They all hurt and manhandled you
And I shed tears for my precious friend
But you stood with them and mocked me
I should've known how it would end

(c) Frank Howson 2019

UNTIL THE BROKEN HEARTS HEAL

Let us kneel and say our prayers
That something hears our call
We think too deep
And we see nothing at all
Rome wasn't built in a day
But I bet it took an hour to fall

Let us not weary in our cause
Until we right the wrong
A place is not a home
Until you feel you belong
A country isn't great
Until it looks after its own
To value true friendship
You must walk many miles alone
Let us not rush to condemn
Until we know what's real
Let us try a little kindness
Until the broken hearts heal

Let us not worship false gods
Like money or power
For we will see their futility
In our final hour
And when we face the truth
May we hold our heads up high
And know we did our best
And that the seeds of those deeds won't die
And that the judgement we're given
Can't be argued or repealed
For the best of us did not rest
Until the broken hearts healed


(c) Frank Howson 2019 

Photograph by Frank Howson 2019 Mui Wo.

UNEASY RIDER

“All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be…”   The Ballad of Easy Rider.

I was recently saddened to wake to the news that Peter Fonda had died. At my age it has become a regular occurrence, almost daily, to hear about a dear friend, acquaintance, associate, or a boyhood hero checking out of this world.

When I lived in Los Angeles for nine years I was very fortunate to have met a large number of actors, musicians and directors that’d inspired me during my formative years. Some of them became friends, others I’d see around here or there and we’d give a nod and a smile. They were mostly nice people dealing with their own pressures, families, problems and all those things we too juggle. Just on a much bigger scale. The few I encountered that were mean or monsters were the pretenders. The ones who’d seized a spotlight or some power through bluff, marketing or manipulation.

The bigger the talent, the nicer the person is what I found. Mostly.

Which brings me back to Peter Fonda. I only met him once. It was in one of my favourite books stores, Book Soup, on Sunset Boulevard, and I was browsing the latest releases when Peter came in with some people and they began setting up a table for him to do some book signings for his autobiography, “Don’t Tell Dad.” The title referring to his father, the legendary actor Henry Fonda, who was described by his children as being strict, uncommunicative, and unaffectionate. He never told them, ever, that he loved them. One of those closed men from an era when it was deemed unmanly to show your feelings. Perhaps this explains why both Peter and his sister Jane became rebels. Pushing the boundaries, striving to achieve and seeking approval from others. Running wild in Hollywood.

Peter had nothing in common with his father other than looks. I chatted with him that day and he was a genuinely nice, kind, loving individual. Before the crowd arrived he even signed a complimentary copy of his book for me. He was a hippie, spiritually, until the end.

Carving out a film career had been difficult for Peter. When he started out he had to stand in the very large overpowering shadow of his father. Remembered not for his work, but for being Henry Fonda’s son. Then later, he would be referred to as Jane Fonda’s brother. It must’ve been a creatively lonely and humbling existence for him. In fact, in most of his early films he looks stilted and uncomfortable, devoid of any identity of his own.  If the trick to great acting is total relaxation, he was a long way from it.

Not making much of an impression in movies such as “Tammy and the Doctor” “The Young Lovers” and other forgettable fluffy fare, the offers dried up as he sat on the sidelines watching his father continue to shine in major movies, and his sisterJane soar in one film after another. It must’ve hurt Peter to have been thought of as the “loser” of the family, but perhaps those forces also shaped him as the gentle, unassuming, empathetic, kind man he became. He knew, in his own way, what it was like to suffer. To be ignored. Or dismissed.

Like many outsiders of the big slick Hollywood machine, Peter stumbled into the conveyor-belt Roger Corman “B” grade movie productions churned out for drive-in market. These exploitation films had budgets less than what real movies spent on catering. Some of them were shot in two days! And those that worked on them, usually had two or more jobs to perform. But Peter joined an illustrious company of other young, eager outsiders who couldn’t get a break in mainstream movies either. People like Jack Nicholson, Francis Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Dern, etc.

The brilliant thing about the Corman movies was that you learnt on the job, from experience, seeing yourself on the big screen and seeing what worked and what didn’t. You can now observe in these mostly crappy movies how Fonda and Nicholson go from stilted, self-conscious actors to guys who  become so comfortable in front of a camera, their true self shines through and magic is born. We see this in Fonda’s performances in “The Wild Angels,” and the LSD fuelled “The Trip.”

And so it was, with a small budget film called “Easy Rider” (directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Peter, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced it) that Peter Fonda became a huge international star in his own right, and a cultural icon to a whole generation of baby boomers. His character Captain America oozed quiet confidence and the cool factor in abundance. The way he moved, how he dressed, the manner in which he spoke, had us boys all trying to emulate him. He became our martyred hero who, like us, was so lost, confused and despairing about the world, that we dropped out of the ranks of what was expected of us.

One of the last lines his character utters in the film, just before his date with destiny is, “We blew it.” He doesn’t elaborate. It is a beautiful, sad, famously enigmatic line that in a way is a eulogy to a lost generation.

Although Peter went on and starred in many movies and won Golden Globe awards and nominations for Oscars, it is his character in “Easy Rider” that still haunts us. That cool, disenchanted, silent-type loner, searching for the meaning of life on the coolest looking motorcycle we ever saw.

The advertising by-line to the movie “Two men went looking for America, and couldn’t find it anywhere,” best sums it up.

Peter screened the final cut of the movie to Bob Dylan hoping that the famous troubadour would give permission for his recordings to be used for the movie’s soundtrack. But Dylan was so angered by the movie’s tragic ending, he said he’d only give his songs to the movie if the final scene was reshot and the bikers won. But Peter explained that the two leading characters had to be martyred. That’s what happened at that time, at that place, in America. Young people couldn’t beat the system.

So Bob took a piece of paper and scribbled these lines on it, “The river flows to the sea. Wherever that river flows that’s where I want to be. Flow river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town…” He handed it to Peter and said, “Give it to Roger McGuinn to finish. He’ll know what to do with it.”

And do he did. Roger added the lines, “All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be.” And “The Ballad of Easy Rider” was born. Dylan declined a credit as he’d given the lyrics to Peter, and the film, as a gift.

Peter Fonda was born to be wild. He is now free from the chains and restrictions of this earthly world. Free to ride the wind. To be a part of that beautiful dawn. To be as still and wise as the trees. And to flow with that river to the sea.

Farewell, dear Peter. Take it easy.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

SO WE CALLED IT LOVE

There used to be stars

Before we pulled them down

We used to have leaders

Who were mentally sound

There used to be a gift

From up above

We didn’t know what it was 

So we called it love


There used to be care

For our fellow man

When friends were in trouble

We’d try and lend a hand

It’s now considered weak

And out of date

So we look the other way

And we call it fate 

 

The older we get

The more we forget what we’ve been taught

By all the friends we squandered 

And all the dreams we bought 

We toss and we turn

We live and dont learn 

Stumbling in the dark

And shooting from the lip

Until we wake to find

It all comes to zip 

 

There used to be Dreams 

That got us through the night

Some called us lucky 

Until we missed our flight

And we’d lost every girl 

By the final reel

Too old to try again

And too scared to feel

 

(C) Frank Howson 2019

x 

ONCE I WAS A CHILD

Once I was a child
And the world was beautiful
And frightening
Loving and cruel
Simple
And complex
Much bigger than me
I looked up to everyone
Seeking guidance
Wisdom
A smile
Some grownups didn’t like children
You could tell by how they looked at you
Perhaps they didn’t like fellow grownups either
But I didn’t know that
I was just a child
I liked to play with little soldier figures
That I collected until I had my own army
Then I started collecting an army for them to fight
They like to hook boys on war as soon as possible
My army won every battle
But none of them got really hurt
They just pretended to be to satisfy my scenario
That’s a grownup word for story
Grownups like to show off
I also liked to listen to the radio
My mum said I could identify every singer
Just from hearing a few bars of their voices
My dad worked every week day
And sometimes he took me with him
I was made a fuss of by his workmates
Because I was a child
Sometimes my mum worked at night
I didn’t like that
I would sit on my dad’s knee
Listening to the radio
Eagerly awaiting her return
I wished that we had a TV set
And then one day Steele’s department store
Delivered one by accident
We never told them
And they never came back
My parents thought it was luck
I knew it was magic
And my wish had come true
But what did I know?
I was a child
Sometimes my much older sisters were nice to me
Most times they weren’t
I grew to accept that
I must have done something wrong to them
And they were paying me back
Or else they knew I was worthless
I should’ve thanked them for bringing this to my attention
But I was just a child
I liked watching things on TV
In those days shows always had a happy ending
And the cast would smile as the credits rolled
Sometimes they’d wave at me while they smiled
And I waved back
Before they faded out
I wished that I could be on TV
And then I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew it was magic
My wish had come true
Again
One day my mum took me to see a pantomime
At the Tivoli Theatre
It looked magical to me
And everyone seemed to be having fun
I wished I could be up there on the stage
And one day I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew much more
You see, I was a child
And for a time my wishes came true
Then I grew up
And I wished I hadn’t
But as much as I wished
Nothing happened
And I couldn’t go back
Ever again
Then my dad went to heaven
He said he’d had enough
So I got married
Because that’s what grownups do
When you replace grownups
And take on responsibilities
And it all begins again
And I got to learn grownup secrets
Like
There are not always
Happy endings
And that wishes rarely come true and it’s more to do with luck
The older you get
The more selective you become about what you wish for
One day my wife took me to dinner
And told me a happy occasion was coming
And soon we had a child of our own
I always knelt so as to not look down on him
No matter what he asked
I always smiled and gave him
Guidance
And what wisdom I had
I tried to make him feel he was worth
Everything
To me
Then one day it was all taken away
But that’s a long story
I guess I’d forgotten in my joy
To say thank you
To the one who grants the wishes
Or luck
And he can be a hard God at times
My mother didn’t want to leave me
Alone
So she hung on a long time
But finally she got so tired
She had to go
Sometimes people ask me what I want
And I answer that I want what I had
A long time ago
When there were heroes
Before the press tore them down
Back when my family and I gathered around
Our hot TV
And watched our favourites
And laughed as one
Cried as one
And cheered as one
When I was a child
And the world was new
Once
When wishes came true
And
If you were lucky
Stayed true
But now I’ve been cast as the kindly old man
And seek signs of affection
In the eyes
Of those I pass in the street
As I did when I was a child
But people’s eyes are cold these days
And they don’t see others
For they are only looking inward
I also smile at children
Remembering when I was one
But they confirm that I am now invisible
For they’ve been taught to ignore strangers
I’m no longer in the club
Expelled for growing too tall
Too grey
Even though my heart remains young
And open
And child-like
The deserted alleyways of night
Sometimes
Are the only friends one can confide in
Walk it away
Walk it away
Around the next corner there is no light
Anymore
And you can lose yourself
Quite easily
Sometimes I am seen
Looking lost
Frantic
Anxious
Searching for my youth
In the recycling bins
Trying to find one little toy soldier
Who might stand up for me
Take my side
Fight the good fight
And guide me
Home

(C) Frank Howson 2019