RADIO DAYS

I loved listening to the radio when I was a small boy. My ear pressed up against the speaker of the mahogany radiogram, a furniture feature in our modest living room.  All those amazing artists whose voices shaped my life, i.e., Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, the young Elvis, Buddy Holly, Harry Belafonte, Anthony Newley, Eddie Cochrane, Patsy Cline, Sammy Davis Jnr., Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Bobby Darin, Johnny Desmond, Louis Armstrong, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Horton, Ned Miller, Burl Ives, Johnny Ray, Tommy Steele, The Ink Spots, etc., etc. An eclectic bunch, and I loved ’em all.

My mum said I had an acute ear for voices and as a party trick she and my dad would challenge the guests to put the radio on and I would guess the singer within a few bars.  I was four.

My parents were slow to get their own television set so unless we visited relatives on a Sunday we had to settle for listening to the radio. It was our only outlet for news updates, music, plays and comedy sketches. Oh, and serials. I’ve always felt so sorry for my mum. She was addicted to a daytime radio soap opera serial entitled “Doctor Paul” – it ran for a phenomenal 4,634 episodes and my mum listened to 4,633 with rapture. I could’ve been hanging from a rope in the bathroom and she wouldn’t have noticed. Unfortunately she had to go out one day for a real doctor’s appointment and came home to the devastating news that she had missed the final episode. I tell you, the grief I witnessed from that poor woman rivalled Jackie’s after the J.F.K assassination. She never did find out what exactly happened. So I guess she shared that with Jackie too.

Those radio plays and serials were magic and a real art form, creating a visual world in our minds using just voices and effects. Orson Welles learned much from his radio days and brought a lot of his sound tricks to his film-making. If you close your eyes and listen to “Citizen Kane” it is as aurally interesting as its visuals.

When I was 14 and a child no school room could teach, I ran away and never went back, no doubt much to the relief of my teachers. My mum, who always took my side when I was in trouble and despairing, accepted my decision without judgement or debate, and took me into the city to try and get me a job as an office boy at radio station 3DB. She knew I loved music and the entertainment business so in her intuitive wisdom she felt this was the right starting point for my future life. And that I would learn a lot. And so I did. For the rest of her life my ambition was fuelled by my efforts to repay her faith in me.

As fate would have it, 3DB were not looking for an office boy at that time. Another lesson learned – success is all about timing. So, not taking no for an answer my quick thinking mum walked me a few blocks to radio station 3UZ. And yes, a meeting with destiny. The general manager, Mr. Lewis Bennett, a man of such class and distinction he has had a lasting effect on me, gave me the once over, liked the fact that I dressed like him in a nice suit, polished shoes and a bow tie, and gave me the job. I smiled at him with tears in my eyes as I felt the joy of finally being accepted in the outside world after years of humiliation and rejection in the then cruel school system. The warm inner joy I felt at being wanted and appreciated made me work my guts out for $16 a week so as not to let Mr. Bennett down. Sometimes he even sent me his leftover lunchtime crayfish sandwiches, and I sat in my chair in his secretary’s office, and slowly savoured them bite by bite, feeling like a king. And silently giving thanks for how lucky I was.

That job imbued me with many lasting ethics – the pride of working hard, not letting anyone down, being on time, not leaving until the job is done, being polite to people, the unselfishness of always presenting a positive attitude even if you’re down, and not taking the job for granted but, instead, always remembering that you have that job because someone had faith in you.

I learned so much in my three years at 3UZ that it’s too much to detail but, because it’s so ingrained in me, even today I may do something, or give a young person advice, and then realise it’s a lesson learned from those radio days.

In those magical days of the Sixties, dee jays were gods. And I worked with the best of them – Stan Rofe, Ken Sparkes, John Vertigan, Allan Lappen, Don Lunn, Graham Cherry, Sam Anglesea, Noel Ferrier, Mary Hardy, Jimmy Hannon, etc, etc, etc. We will not see their like again. Because, like a rare vintage wine, those days are gone.

But some of us remember.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

MURDER AS AN ART

It’s always midnight in my heart
Only the alleys have known my joy
For sometimes I have experienced a bliss that is so exquisite it can’t be verbalised to anyone
Not even to the few who would care
So I have walked it away
In the dark
Along empty city side streets                                                                                                             We bloom on cue then disappear from view                                                                           Such is life                                                                                                                                           It’s a pity Oscar Hammerstein didn’t write the script for our lives
He would’ve written it just right                                                                                                       It would’ve had its highs and lows, some humour, all the boring bits cut in Philadelphia And ending on a note of hope
Instead, here we are
What’s it all about, Alfie?
The Winner Takes It All?
A Change Is Gonna Come?
Were they just 45s from our youth?
Is this the little boy I carried?                                                                                                     Some disappointments and betrayals can never fully be washed away                               We live in a world where just about everything we’ve been told for the past 50 years has been a lie and the opposite, in most cases, is true                                                                    The shadow brokers are keeping the public confused by a daily avalanche of complexities, creating a terminal dose of anxiety and fear                                                           All designed to make us give up, surrendering our power and responsibilities                  To flee to the safety of watching mindless TV to a laugh track of mostly dead people           Or turn up the doof doof music and tune out                                                                         Those brave souls that come forth and tell us the truth get ridiculed by                             The card carrying experts who translate the news for us                                                         Because we are no longer capable of thinking for ourselves                                               Here’s some breaking news –                                                                                                       There is, in fact, no news anymore                                                                                               Just opinion pieces                                                                                                                               If the smear campaign doesn’t murder the brave truth-tellers                                                 Then the lone crazy gunman will be wheeled in again to create another convenient myth
New leaders are thrown up on a platform of change
But usually it’s just a case of
Same car, different driver
Evil does indeed exist
And those who have sold their souls
Worship at the alter of a false God –
Money
But all it buys them is emptiness
And if there is an eternity
What a hell it would be to spend it in the state of regret
Arrogance comes before a fall
And the weather report suggests a hard rain

(C) Frank Howson 2017

THE MUSE

I came
I saw
And was conquered
So many roads to choose
But they all became the same
I was driven
Before being driven mad
To seek a meaning to it all
Or at least some of it
But you clouded the issue
Appearing quite a few times in my life
In the guise of different women
Always fooling me
As I laughed into my drink
Thinking I’d seen it all
You were an exquisite distraction
To my work
But God always removed you
Leaving me with just enough pain
To be able to write about it
So there you live
Forever
In my work
Always young
Always intoxicatingly crazy
Always puzzling
To us mere mortals
Who worshipped at your throne
Thinking we had the time
To make a clean getaway
Before the fall
But it came
Like Babylon
Like Rome
Like America
And now old men
Aged before their time by you
Stand on street corners
And reminisce
While I
Being human
Take the easy way out
By writing about it
God tells me if I write it enough times
Eventually it’ll all make sense
But I have my doubts
And life is short

(C) Frank Howson 2017

MY CONVERSATION WITH GOD

My birth was a bit messy from recollection and ever since I have been flaying around like a man drowning in gasoline. People have come and gone in my life, some leaving an impression, others facial scars, but still, I wouldn’t change it even if I could shoot them.

Life is funny isn’t it?

Sometimes you win and sometimes the cards are stacked against you. Still, it keeps us occupied doesn’t it? I mean, otherwise we may turn into animals and attack each other thinking there was no purpose to it all. But the good news is, there is. I can say this with all certainty now as only a few weeks ago I was stirring my pot of porridge when I saw God’s face on the surface. He said unto me, “Listen, go forth and tell all the fucking morons that I have spent a fortune on this human experiment and have nothing to show for it. Other than one lovely Jewish boy and he doesn’t count because he is related on his mother’s side. All I ask is that you scumbags make a little effort and be nice to each other. It’s not brain surgery y’know? Oh, and your porridge is ready.”

I have since taken to the streets spreading the good news that God is alive and still loves us. And that we need to be kind to each other. In return I have been beaten, spat upon, cursed, betrayed by friends, had my sex tapes made public by Billy Bush, been blacklisted by Hollywood, been lectured by Robert DeNiro on morality, and treated by the media worse than Donald Trump. It could’ve been less kind, though. I could’ve been treated like Joan of Arc and roasted like a chicken as a public entertainment. Thank God I wasn’t a woman.

These days I keep to myself and have stopped eating porridge lest I get any more messages from you know who. I mean, I myself, even, don’t know why God chose me to be the bearer of his good news although he does have a history of choosing flawed messengers. Life is complicated enough without all that.

Father, forgive us we know not what we do.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

LOVE & THE LAST DAYS

They drop you in the middle of it, and they don’t care. All they think about are their opinions, yet yours they resent. And God forbid you should tell the truth, these days that could get the police called. It’s abusive. It’s threatening. It’s crossing the line.

Who’d have thought when we entered this world, we’d be here to see it burn? All I know is, give somebody freedom and they’ll hate it for you. Act it out and it could get you killed. We’ve been manipulated by experts and now all the best comedy shows are on the news channels.  Everything we’ve been told for the past fifty years has been a lie. Black is white, and up is down, and left is right, and right is wrong. Now function if you dare.

Isn’t it interesting how people accuse you of what they are? They’re too scared to look inward into the mirror of their soul. At least Robert Johnson had the guts to sell his for a song. Nowadays the price is a cup of coffee.

Oscar Wilde was destroyed by his indignation at the truth. There can be no opinions of the truth, or various scholarly interpretations of it. Or dismissals of it when it doesn’t suit you or your political party. The truth is non-debatable. The truth merely is. Like the sun is.

And how does one find the truth in today’s world? Seek it not in people’s words, but in their actions.

Notice how everything looks better from a distance? Even past relationships. The woman or man who hated someone for their selfishness, their withdrawal, their lack of effort to make money – now, a few years later – praises them as an infallible king. Unfortunately, they are still the same person.

Some lives are crushed by envy, some by love. But perhaps both are the same. We are attracted by what we don’t possess, and then we destroy it. I, myself, have been wearied by love and am no longer available to be anyone’s psychologist. I don’t have all the answers so please don’t seek me out, all you potential assassins.

Our father who art in heaven, why have we lived through Armageddon?

(c) 2017 Frank Howson

THE WARM DARK TUNNEL

Freddie Hudson was cursed with a great memory. He could remember everything that ever happened to him. Every slight, every cruel comment disguised as humour, every kiss that led to heartache, every promise not kept, every humiliation, every betrayal by a friend, every stumble and fall in a life lived in search of meaning.

There were also bad memories too.

He remembered coming out of that warm dark tunnel of darkness and gazing up at the doctor painfully dragging him into a cold and clinical world. He had tried with all his might to scramble back but it was no use as the uncaring determined doctor gripped his little head harder and forced him into a place he wasn’t sure about. He always thought perhaps that was why he had a long neck. Some told him, much later, that it was the sign of good breeding but it never convinced him enough to give up his own theory.

On first viewing his parents seemed nice so Freddie decided to hang about and a short time later found himself cradled in his mother’s arms, his grinning dad beside them, in the backseat of a taxi on its way to what would become his boyhood home.

Once settled in his cozy compact blue room he began thinking about the meaning of it all and what all this fuss would eventually come to. He felt awkward imposing on this obviously struggling couple and guilty for the pain he had already caused his mother. This fear of imposing on people would remain with him all his life.

His dad like to drink stout and this miracle brew seemed put the old boy in high spirits – although it clearly had the opposite effect on mum.

“Stout is good for me!” his dad would utter with all the urgency of a serial killer pleading Not Guilty.

“Not when you’ve had ten bottles it isn’t!” Mum would counter in her best Perry Mason voice.

Observing all this sitting on his dad’s lap, Freddie was beginning to suspect he may be a genius. Well, at least in this household. After all, surely the solution to all this was simple. If only mum could just down a few pints herself she could join father and son in singing sea shanties that made absolutely no sense to anyone. And see the fun in it?

She didn’t. And so most nights his parents played another game where they would both reenacted the Battle of the Somme. Freddie very much appreciated the obvious effort they both put into this but it invariably left all three dissipated and feeling defeated.

It wasn’t long before Freddie was up and about and dispatched to school, an institution he loathed with every cell in his body. He thought it truly fraudulent that the teachers spoke gibberish and got paid for it. Yet part of him marvelled at their trickery and on several occasions offered to take over the class with his own form of gibberish which, instead of being rewarded for, got him beaten by the said teachers until he could hardly walk home. Upon completing that long painful journey he’d be greeted at the door by his smiling mum and the words, “How was school today, son?” On one such occasion Freddie found it difficult to speak so his mum cut in with her motivational skills, “Don’t worry, your dad and I were idiots at school too!” Freddie was tempted to ask if he could crawl back into her warm dark tunnel and shimmy up far enough to fall through some trap door and back to whence he came before he was so rudely awakened to this mad place. But refrained in the spirit of good taste and reverence.

Having survived school, Freddie realised he was old enough to be married so he did. He found a girl who seemed to honestly love him so he figured she was a good candidate to try and recreate the joyful association his parents had endured.  And so they took that huge journey down the aisle and thereafter were happy and life was simple and good for a time. Until it wasn’t.

Oneday she said something to him that he couldn’t forget. Or forgive.  So he went on alone trying to forget her and failing.

But as things developed, there was much to do, and shopping lists of things to clutter a life in order to distract a mind that never slept. Freddie’s religion was to stay busy. In a way he thought this would ward off death. For although this life had holes in it, it was all he knew.

He liked to hang out with his friend Jimmy Helle who’d never uttered anything that wasn’t a lie but his choice of words was compelling. Together they whiled away the days, one telling tall tales and the other pretending to buy them for the sake of a friendship. It was a fine relationship because they needed nothing from each other, other than the shared knowledge that they were witnesses to the futility of the passing parade.

Another pal was Alby who had more moves than a snake and was just as quick to disappear when a bar bill was presented. Alby was so dumb he joined ISIS thinking he was working for the CIA.

Around this time, Freddie had the sobering realisation that he had $32.56 to his name so he wrote a bunch of film scripts and hit the jackpot. Suddenly he found that he was irresistible to many women and it wasn’t long before he chose one of them to accompany him down the aisle. Again.

Things went swimmingly for a number of years and he found himself to be on everyone’s lips, especially actresses in need of a job. Or therapy.

Money rolled in but Freddie was too   busy to enjoy himself. Luckily he had a wife who wasn’t so busy so every day she very kindly thought up ways to spend his new found fortune. She was genius when it came to spending money and Freddie thought himself blessed to have her.

Freddie was also surrounded by a team of men who were good with numbers, which was a great relief to him as he’d found math to be as ridiculous as geomatry at school. He was told by these numbers men to just keep on doing what he was doing, whatever that was, and they’d handle the rest.

After Freddie had exhausted himself making 193 films in two years, the numbers men seemed disappointed that the workload hadn’t killed him. So crestfallen were they that they all took holidays at the same time and never returned. Freddie thought it was a little strange that he hadn’t received a postcard or any information on where all his money could be located. This was a major inconvenience as he’d been planning to take his wife (if he could get her out of the shops) and young son on a little holiday of their own.

The kindly men who were good with numbers finally popped up again years later and made a splash in the irrigation business before finally discovering their niche grading horse semen.

Soon Freddie’s name was mud everywhere, including his own home, and it wasn’t long before the Tax Department thought it might be opportune to lend a boot to the situation by charging Freddie with fraud. It wasn’t long before he found himself facing Judge Kafka in the Farce of the Century. Unfortunately Freddie didn’t have Paul Hogan’s millions, or even his own, to make the Laxative Department look like fools, so he had to rely on plain old common sense. Representing himself, Freddie stood and asked the Judge if the definition of fraud was “to financially benefit yourself through deception?” Judge Kafka smiled and affirmed that that was indeed the case. Freddie then stated, “Well I don’t have any money. So I guess I have disadvantaged no one through the deception of myself that the numbers men would take care of business whilst I was making 193 films. No further questions, you Dingbat” and sat.

This sent the court into an uproar. It had been a long while since common sense had been heard in public and the judge toyed with the idea of having him charged with contempt of court. The Lax Department then dropped the charge altogether and wanted to have Freddie retried on the grounds that they couldn’t understand the plot to one of his movies. Freddie stood  and asked them if they were able to follow The Lady From Shanghai to which they replied, “Not on your Nellie, no way” and asked the Judge to have Orson Welles joined in the proceedings. That’s when pandemonium broke out in the courtroom and Freddie was convicted for a parking offence, paid the appropriate fine and walked free. Then caught a tram home.

Urged by his wife (it was a public holiday and the shops were closed) to go to Hollywood and make another fortune for his family, Freddie accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, once he was away his wife, trying her own hand at fiction, told his impressionable son that Daddy had deserted them, leaving them penniless, except for a mansion and everything in it.

Whilst pounding the pavements in Hollywood, Freddie’s wife scored another bargain and moved one of her co-workers into the master bedroom to cope with those long, lonely nights and had Freddie served with divorce papers.

Pretty soon Freddie was seen drinking in bars that even Charles Bukowski would’ve turned his nose up at. He started on white wine and soon hit the harder stuff. One night he had a terrible nightmare and glimpsed hell in all its ugliness and debauchary surrounded by lost souls all screaming for mercy.  But taking a second look he realised he was actually standing on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western at 3am waiting for the lights to change.

Work started to come Freddie’s way and soon he was being invited to all the right parties. Demi Moore wanted him to write a screenplay and Sharon Stone wanted him to take a shower with her.

Every day without fail Freddie sent home, well what was once his home,  gifts, cards, drawings, letters and, when he had it, money,  to his son. But strangely the money never seemed to reach his son and somehow ended up in the bank account of a doctor who shot Botox into women’s faces.

Freddie thought it was about time he wised up, so he married a bipolar movie star in Miami. They returned to L.A and settled in a rented home in Sherman Oaks and there was peace in the Valley. For a time. Some nights her mood swings suited the music and somehow together they stumbled through it. Two against the world. At times Freddie didn’t know if he was coming or going but after four years he found himself between leaving and gone. One particularly hard night, Freddie walked into the darkness and laid down in the road waiting for a bus to run over him.  Unfortunately for him there was a bus strike that night and misfortune followed misfortune until the marriage ended.

Somehow he came to be running a restaurant and proved to be so popular with patrons he was voted the unofficial Mayor of Santa Monica. He made some great pals amongst those he worked with like Ben, Gordon, Cathy, Pat, David, Neth and many drinks were consumed after closing time amidst shared laughter and stories. For a time it felt like he was part of a family again.

On the other hand, the two owners he worked for, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, were insane. Dum had the personality of white wallpaper and was the only wealthy Jewish doctor in L.A who couldn’t get laid. If he sat beside an attractive woman at the bar of his own restaurant and struck up a conversation with her, she’d be gone within 10 minutes. Sometimes less. Freddie named the empty bar stool next to Dum as the Seat of Death. His partner, Dee, always had a smile on his face even when you told him your mother had just died. He also spoke at a thousand miles an hour like a man who’d found the secret recipe of how to make speed.

Doctor Dum would sit on his regular bar stool every night after boring off every attractive woman in Hollywood and snarl at how popular Freddy was with people. It wasn’t long before Freddie was given his marching orders and on his way again, into the night with a thousand eyes and no particular place to go.

On one such night he gave all of his remaining possessions away and made his bed on the beach thinking, like the Indians do, that it was a perfect night to die. No sadness. No self-pity. In fact he welcomed the chance to now depart this strange world, leaving it like he came into it, with nothing. He closed his eyes and drifted off expecting to enter that warm dark tunnel again that would hopefully lead to a light. Or something.

But instead, he awakened to a new dawn and the disappointing realisation that a homeless person hadn’t killed him during his sleep. Then he looked around and witnessed a dawn of breathless beauty, and finally heard the voice of God as it said unto him, “Leave your cross here and find the music again.”

Freddie misinterpreted this message to mean go forth and populate so he found a jumpin’ little joint on Pico and exchanged numbers with lots of Black girls, until finally he got the right translation that it was all about the music being played at this club by a band of all stars led by Wadstar and Turk.

One night the doorman Basil Wrathbone sussed that Freddie had nowhere to go so he invited him back to his pad to share another 437 beers until they collapsed on the carpet and awoke a week later.

Sometimes between late at night and early in the morning, the bewitching hours, Freddie would see his new best friend appear giving a perfect impression of Creeping Jesus as he quietly inched in the darkness towards the Venetian blinds and nervously peeked out, whispering “The C.I.A are looking for us!” To which Freddie would reply from his living room sofa bed, “Why?” This question would rattle Basil and he’d give a knowing smile and creep back to his room. Sometimes they’d get so paranoid from this nightly activity that they’d watch endless repeats of Sherlock Holmes on TV in the hope that something, anything, would be resolved.

One day Freddie’s cousin thought he may be useful to him so he paid for his airfare to get him back to his suspicious homeland, Australia, the land of second chances and forked tongues.

Freddie returned and everyone patted him on the back.  Yes, everyone seemed pleased to see him except his old editor, the famous drunk about town Peter McBland who was genius at cutting the plot out of every film he edited.

Freddie was excited to see his son again but found that the young man’s heart and head had been poisoned by a woman who resented that her only achievement had been hitching herself to Freddie’s wagon. One night he invited his son to dinner and excitedly prepared a roast with all the trimmings and waited. And waited. Sometime after midnight Freddie turned the oven off. And something deep inside him too. Possibly the hope that the truth would win out and a happy ending might prevail. But life clearly wasn’t a movie.

An old friend Richard Masters, whom Freddie had once given a big break to, remembered enough to repay the favour. Richard was now running a very successful underground film festival aptly named P.U.S.S.Y and honoured Freddie by presenting a retrospective of 8 of his old movies. It was a roaring success and audiences cried in all the wrong places and the films were now deemed to be classics.

Freddie was hailed as a legend and people thrust awards at him in the hope that they’d weigh him down and he’d become stagnant like good old safe legends are supposed to behave. But it didn’t work and the bastard continued to live and produce new works.

In fact he lived to be 100 and received a telegram from the Queen  which read, “You’re a fucking miracle, Brad.” The fact that the silly old bitch had gotten his name wrong after too many G&Ts didn’t dilute Freddie’s delight in receiving this thoughtful correspondence and so he went on about his life, making mistakes, taking people at their word, searching for meaning in everything, and just being human.

His final words were reported to be, “Awwwfuckyasall!” Or something to that effect as he passed from this earthly world back into that warm dark tunnel of mystery, taking his place in our cherished and grossly rewritten history.

Text (c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting (c) Frank Howson 2017

NO MORE VALENTINES

389289_382657621756211_1022672344_nOh what a life we had when we thought nothing of it. It was fun and sunny and we always got by. There was food to buy and things to do and by dinner time all that mattered was the scent of something delicious cooking. We watched movies and looked for the relevance in our lives. Some made us laugh, others made us cry. Sometimes we didn’t know why. Perhaps they were premonitions of things to come known only by our hearts.

It felt like home to me and I hadn’t had a home in such a long time. I was proud of our quaint apartment and comforted by the books and music that glued our lives together. Now all gone.

I worked hard to get money to keep the wheels moving but in the end you resented that I did. So everything stopped. Including me. Our small world became overcast with your moods and I couldn’t breathe without some light.

You complained that my friends didn’t speak to you enough, so I had to lose them. You couldn’t get any work so you resented mine. Every act of kindness I offered you was rejected because in your words you didn’t wish to feel beholden to me. Then you complained that I hadn’t offered. Please forgive me my confusion as to what to do in such a circumstance.

I had been at peace before you decided to crash into my life, appearing at my door every night around dinner time, with your troubled tales of how a troubadour had treated you badly – had not encouraged you – had not listened to you – had not supported you – had not helped you. I listened every night for hours and melted and let you into my heart.

But as time went by you contradicted your stories about the selfish troubadour and elevated him to a mythical status above me. But where was he when you were hungry? Where was he when you were cold? Where was he when you needed laughter? Where was he when you were offered kindness?

Now it seems, in your mind, I have become the troubled troubadour of bygone days.

You forced me out into the night by your verbal cruelty and ruined my Christmas.

I have wandered since, here and there, thinking too deep and caring too much, in an effort to harden my heart for self-preservation.

Please send no more Valentines my way, dear Lord, I have paid too many times and my heart is too weary to try again.

(C) Frank Howson 2017