I was fooled by the mystery of women
Until I realised there is no mystery at all
Invented by men so they could
Fall in love with the Virgin Mary
And partner with her to give life
To their boy child Jesus
But like Joseph us men don’t last the distance
We leave to give our saviour a chance
Not even returning to witness
One overcast day
On a mount somewhere east
In our guilt
Sacrificing his life
To try and live up
To our destructive hopes
I once was a child dancer myself
Early in my journey
Polishing the steps made famous
By others before me
Too shy to speak to girls
In case they saw right through me
And realised any charm I possessed
Only hid my fear
That the problems of my life
Could not be cured by a slick dance routine
And a few witty lines
I was married three times
To three absolutely charming women
Who took everything I had
Except the will to go on
Still, the romantic fool
And God was exasperated
By my lack of ability to learn
So I endured many hardships
Smashing my spirit
I then judged my true friends
By those still willing to listen to me
Patient enough to judge the message
And not the flawed messenger
Thus I found Saints
Where others found fault
I found angels
Where others found beggars
I found God
In the humility of affliction
No one is born with empathy
You are gifted it
After walking many miles
In the shoes of the suffering
Having lived it
How could you turn your back on another?
Young women are very well mannered
When they remind you that you are too old
It’s in their eyes
Their changing of the subject
It is appreciated
For otherwise us foolish romantics
May think we are still 18 years old
And that life is still before us
But it is I that also pity them
For I know what their road beholds
And such outer beauty
Is a hard thing to live without
On their journey to inner beauty and humility
And the higher purpose
Of a life
For sex leads to the entrapment of both parties
And longing is replaced by the desire to not belong
So just say that I don’t dance anymore
For my heart and my legs ache
And perhaps like Doc Pomus
Will save the last dance for me
And although now
I will decline it
But will be touched
By the invitation
As I think back
The days when I danced
Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.
All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.
When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.
My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.
Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.
My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.
The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.
After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?
Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.
Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.
Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.
I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.
I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.
After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.
All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.
It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.
It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”
It has been thought, up until now, that the 7th. Cavalry were committing a cruel and heartless genocide against the Americans Indians. An evil act. Not true. And we can’t believe that of the good guys, otherwise, where would we be? And good people are never confused about who they are. As anyone who knew him will testify, General George Armstrong Custer was a concerned citizen above all else. It has even been suggested by various world famous psychics that, in a previous life, at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the nameless man in the crowd that started the chant, “Crucify him!…Crucify him!” was indeed the spirit of Custer again, our eternal concerned citizen.
In fact you can trace Custer’s previous lives quite easily through history. He triggered the French Revolution by spreading the lie that Marie Antoinette, when informed that most of the people in the street didn’t have bread to eat, responded with “Well let them eat cake.” Not the first time someone has been misquoted for political agendas, and certainly not the last. But let’s not blame Custer, our spiritual Everyman. He was just a concerned citizen doing what he thought was best for all.
The truth about the demise of the American Red Indians is this, and you’re reading it here for the first time, they were killed by a whole bevy of concerned citizens, concerned that the Indians penchant for sending out smoke signals was harmful to the health of non-smokers. Yep, that incredibly dangerous and toxic second-hand smoke theory. Of course it’s never been proven that anyone has ever died of second-hand smoke inhalation, well not unless they have lived their whole life in the smokers room at Hong Kong Airport, that is. But that’s beside the facts. In fact, facts confirm that concerned citizens throughout history have been more dangerous than second-hand smoke.
I remember when I lived in L. A and I was standing outside a restaurant on Main Street, Santa Monica, having a cigarette on the pavement, when a woman jogger saw me and started coughing about 20 metres away from me and continued to do so right until she passed and in doing so made the effort to put both her hands in front of her nose and mouth in case smoke from my cigarette changed course and veered into her breathing orifices. I watched this pantomime with bemused fascination for sometime before yelling out to her, “You are so concerned about your lungs, yet you choose to live in Los Angeles?…Oh, have a nice day!”
I shouldn’t have been angry at her. She was just a concerned citizen. And the product of a long line of concerned citizens. Just as the Klu Klux Klan will tell you they’re just a gathering of concerned citizens. Being aware of this trait, I am now, myself, very concerned when people around me get concerned. I have mental pictures of me hanging from a tree for the amusement of a mob of concerned citizens, or a judge washing his hands and sealing my fate rather than stand up to a crowd of angry and concerned citizens. Or having the cavalry run me off my land and turning to see my home in flames, and my family killed. Or what is left of them. But hey, the culprits weren’t blood thirsty killers they were concerned men who had families and homes of their own.
I have lived through the Civil Rights liberation (allegedly), Women’s Liberation (allegedly), Gay Rights Liberation (allegedly) etc. So, I’m using this forum to announce that I am starting the Smokers Liberation Movement. And at this stage we have not ruled out using violence to get our message accepted. Especially if we haven’t had a cigarette in a while. No longer will we be shunned as second class citizens. Banished from restaurants (even outdoor restaurants), bars, beaches, within 20 miles of a school, football stadiums (and fuck, do you need a smoke when your team is losing!), and planes. Trust me, if I’m on a plane and we’re going down? I’m lighting up. Fuck the fine.
We are told, in no uncertain terms, to go and stand in the rain if we want a smoke, or go up a dark alley (I once said to a waiter who instructed me to do so, “You must’ve misheard me, I don’t want to shoot up, just want a cigarette.”)
It even screws up personal relationships with people, because you are no longer a person, you are a “smoker” and in most cases that makes you as popular as Donald Trump at Hillary Clinton’a Birthday Party.
Even signs seem to scream at you. WARNING – SMOKING NOT ALLOWED!
They even give us our ridiculously priced (in Australia anyway) lethal weapon in packets displaying some of the most horrific images of gangrene feet, diseased black lungs. etc., etc., etc. These images are enough to traumatise you into 20 years of therapy. I now order the “Smoking may harm your pregnancy” – thinking at my age getting pregnant might be the lesser of the illustrated horrors.
One night a woman turned to me in a crowd and said, “You smell of cigarettes!” To which I replied, “And you smell of rudeness.”
I shouldn’t have blamed her. She was just a concerned citizen.
Sorry for not seeing you but your beauty blinded me to who you really are. With each feature vying for attention it is easy to lose focus as to where perfection ends and heaven begins. Perhaps your beauty just confirms that there is such a thing as heaven, as well as the painful realisation that it will be denied to us on this earth. God allows us to make fools of ourselves in your presence by uttering the wrong word killing every perfect moment, and our chance to have had you. For the way to Him must truly be paved by our humility.
I have walked with wise men and none told how to handle you. Perhaps they were wise enough to know that such a thing cannot be handled as that would reduce it to the grubby conversations of hungry men. Like knowing dissipates the magic from a Houdini trick. But perhaps the truth to why they never prepared me for you was because you had broken them too on their journey to wisdom, stopping only briefly in bitterness – the platform on which we must all kill time, frantically searching the night for any sign of approaching light, waiting for a train that never comes.
I check my ticket stub and notice that I will be seated in carriage D with all the sad men. Old before their time, wearied to exhaustion from striving too hard and too long to have it all.
Why didn’t my mother warn me that I would always end up alone and that my mission in life was not to have love, but to write about it?
I was thrown up into this world
Or born into it
Or cast down
Some time ago
When everything was grey
Although some things were black
And your skin colour
Could be wrong or right
Regardless of your heart
It made me nervous
That one could so easily
Cross the line
And be punished
For who you were
So I locked myself away
In my room
And listened to the radio
But mostly the music was grey too
Like Johnny Ray
And Doris Day
So I dreamed in Vistavision
And lived in the movies
Where the hero stood up to the mob
And did the right thing
Regardless of the cost
Sometimes getting the girl
In the final reel
For the hero was mostly a loner
A man who'd seen too much
And didn't want to see anymore
For he too
Found that the world was grey
And was not above sacrificing his life
So that others may live
I continued on
Looking forward to Christmas
And my birthdays
When suddenly there was kindness
And glimpses of the colours
And what the world could be
If only we tore the walls down
And displayed our brokenness
And vocalised our care for others
I was about eleven years of age
With my mum in the Myer department store
In the city
When I heard a sound that changed my life
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard
My mother asked me what was wrong
I smiled because
Everything seemed somehow right
I wandered away
Toward the music
Leaving my mother to follow me
The singer's voice
Was the most exciting and dynamic sound
I'd ever heard
He sounded like a caged animal
That had just been set free
As I had
The record was "Twist And Shout"
By a group called the Beatles
And on the front cover of their EP
They looked to this kid from St. Kilda
To be from another planet
Their hair, their clothes, their boots, their sound
It seemed the planet they came from was called Liverpool
I needed to know what the singer's name was
And was told by the girl behind the record counter
That he was John Lennon
And he played rhythm guitar and co-wrote moat of their songs
John Lennon saved my life that day
And he has had my staunch loyalty ever since
I grew to read much about him
In fact, everything
And have since met many people who knew him
He was a complex, fascinating, contradictory and flawed man
All of which made him even more interesting
And still does to this day
Scarred by the early loss of his father, then his mother
And then his best friend
He put up a guard to protect himself
From any more hurt
His singing tone sometimes snarled to hide his pain
But we heard it in his soul
And in the words of his songs
And knew that behind the tough guy facade he was the kindest
And most caring of all
My friend Phil Sloan told me that John's spirit was so huge
That you actually felt his presence enter a room
Before you'd even seen him
Another friend of John's who'd known me for some time
Told me that he would've liked me
I hope so
Because I have spent a long time
He was my liberator, my hero, my friend
He made me laugh, he made me cry, he made me angry, he made me care
And sometimes when I am lost or despairing
I think about how Johnny Rhythm would handle things
And it gives me the inspiration to go on
To try and find a way
I guess it was destiny
That he left us after such a short time
But perhaps his spirit was too big for this world
As his beautiful boy Sean said to his mother when she was grieving,
"Don't worry, Daddy's bigger now...Now he's part of everything."
(c) Frank Howson 2017
In this business of show
The best advice I can give is
Don't take no for an answer
Your work will be judged by idiots
And by genius
And guess what?
Sometimes they all get it wrong
And if all these experts know everything
Then how come they make so many flops?
Your greatest guide
And you must protect it
Is your instinct
For those of us who believe in a higher power
I believe our instinct is God talking to us
But guess what?
Most times we second guess ourselves
And go against it
Or allow ourselves to be talked into doing
Something that doesn't feel right
And the end result is always disaster
If everyone followed sound advice
And stuck to the tried and true formula
We'd have had no DaVinci
Or Glenn Gould
And so on and so on...
The Beatles were told that "Guitar bands are out of fashion"
Tesla was told that "his ideas wouldn't fly"
Yet he lit up the world
And in return it broke his heart
Elvis was threatened with jail if he continued to rock the boat
And Dylan was laughed at as a freak
I'm not saying that sticking to your inner voice
Wont be a difficult road
It will be
But when was anything worth having easy?
All the people I have mentioned had only one thing in common
Fuelled by a total self belief
Don't get me wrong
I'm not saying don't listen to good advice
For only a fool turns their back on a good idea
But trust your own instinct as to what is right for you
And what isn't
My mother once told someone that if you want Frank to do
Something for you just ask him and he will
But order him to do it
And he'll do the opposite just to piss you off
So I guess I was born with a rebel soul
And all I know is this
Every time I was told
"You'll never make a film because you haven't made one before.
So go home and forget about it, sonny, and leave it to the experts"
It somehow made me stronger and more determined to prove them wrong
Every time I was told "Don't bother trying to get that big name star
For your movie, because it won't happen"
Or "You can't make a film about that because it's too personal and no one
will get it other than you"
That was the one the people responded to
In an era that I believe is the darkest age for movies
When they are only making films about comic books
Don't give up
Where some see a wasteland
Others sees a golden opportunity
Never before has an original idea been such a valuable commodity
Be bold and mighty forces join you
The future belongs to you
If you are brave enough
And strong enough
And stubborn enough to grasp it
And to those who are
We at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival
(SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE 2017 MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL)
(c) Frank Howson 2017
So many fucked up people in the world
Monstrously negative feelings about every living person
Every word from their mouths another poison bullet
Aimed at someone, anyone
Most times they actually kill the person who was attempting
To help them
But I guess to them we all look the same
Eventually they implode and eat themselves
But don't breathe easy
There are many who will follow
They weren't loved enough by daddy
So now they reach out frantically to everyone they meet
To give them the loving family they were denied
But when such immediate desperation hits
They frighten off their targets
And their baby love turns to a cold-hearted hate
Within a blink of an eye
They hit out at the world
For not giving them what they wanted
Yet they can't tell you what that is
They want to be celebrities
Without doing the hard work
They want to be successful writers
Without facing the pain
They want to top the charts with songs
That touch us without ever exploring themselves
They want babies
But marry those who don't
Almost as though this self-fulfilling prophecy
Will forever more be their excuse
For not having to love anyone
Or give of themselves
If you are trapped by them
There is no escape
Only a small room where death awaits
The living are always under attack from the dead
The spiritual vampires
Of the new millennium
Sucking off your light force
Until you are done
And then they will mourn you
Because now you are safe to be
Whoever they choose to invent
As their next excuse
(c) Frank Howson 2017