I was thrown up into this world Or born into it Or cast down Some time ago When everything was grey Mostly Although some things were black Or white And your skin colour Could be wrong or right Regardless of your heart And actions 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 My tomb 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 Sometimes not 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 laughter And glimpses of the colours Of joy And what the world could be If only we tore the walls down And embraced And displayed our brokenness And vocalised our care for others Imagine 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 I stopped Transfixed My mother asked me what was wrong I smiled because Suddenly 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 Loving him 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 And recriminations If everyone followed sound advice And stuck to the tried and true formula We'd have had no DaVinci Or Glenn Gould Nikola Tesla Or Picasso Marlon Brando Beatles Elvis Hitchcock Bob Dylan David Lynch Breaking Bad 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 Persistence Fuelled by a total self belief Don't get me wrong I'm not saying don't listen to good advice Do 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" It did 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 Salute you (SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE 2017 MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL) (c) Frank Howson 2017
I was born in St.Kilda Lived most of my life here Travelled the world searching for what was Probably already found And like the prodigal son I returned My face lined with lessons learned To the only place that ever felt to me like home My childhood was spent in Fawkner Street It was for a time my whole world Among our neighbours were ordinary battlers Sly grog salesmen Gamblers and gangsters Public enemy Number one Norm Bradshaw nicknamed The Beast for good reason Lived there When he wasn't on the run So did his in-laws The Shannons and our next door neighbour, the Aussie equivalent of Bonnie Parker - Pretty Dulcie Colourful big-hearted contradictory characters I remember the night that several rival gangsters Kicked in Pretty Dulcie's front door and walked down her corridor Spraying gun shots One stray bullet came through our wall and if it'd been a little further to the left Somebody else would be standing here today The 6 o'clock swill at the Barkly Hotel Produced enough colourful characters and street poetry To fill a thousand pulp fiction novels There was no better grounding to be a writer or an actor Than to stand on the corner of Fawkner Street and Barkly at sunset And watch the cavalcade of originals spew out onto the street and wander home in what seemed like a slow motion drunkard's dance Two steps to the left, three to the right Mr. & Mrs. Kilpatrick owned the corner Milk Bar And were the moral guardians of the neighbourhood If you were having a poor week They'd give you supplies and keep a tab You survived on your word and good name In those days people trusted each other My father worked for the St. Kilda Foreshore for over 30 years His little office was under the biggest dip in Luna Park's Scenic Railway and he looked after all the beaches as well as the O'Donnell Gardens The latter was where a lot of my boyhood was spent Playing while he worked In my mind recreating Sherwood Forest, the Alamo and every John Wayne movie Hiding in the bushes, climbing trees, attacking the cavalry Developing an imagination Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Davy Crockett and Spiderman I fought beside them Blood brothers every one We used to save the world before each day was done My mum worked across the road at Candy Corner To me, in my memory, still the best lolly shop in the world bar none And my dad, during the summer months Would work a second job at night Running the ferris wheel at the sideshows to the right of the Palais My first public appearance was on the stage of the St. Kilda Town Hall at the age of seven, performing "Give My Regards To Broadway" Although to us, Broadway may as well have been the moon Years later my father actually died in an ambulance outside the Town Hall It was a fitting place for him to leave this world For you see, our world was St. Kilda It was engraved in our hearts Everyone I have mentioned, other than me Have gone now They are ghosts that haunt these streets and boulevards and beaches You hear their faraway laughter on the wind and see their outlines in the mist of dawn The spiritual guardians of a place that was every bit as unique as Times Square, or Soho, or Wanchai Every weekend people from all over Melbourne would jump a tram Or a train and come to St. Kilda To see the freaks, hear the music, eat the exotic European food, Rub shoulders with the ten most wanted Poke fun at the bohemians Sneak a guilty sidewards glance at the painted ladies Eat the cakes of a thousand calories And parade along the promenade with someone special Please, for sake of all those ghosts, Don't let the soul of St. Kilda die Atmosphere can't be planned or created It is a magic Like stardust from the Gods And once it's gone It's gone It can't be explained And it can't be fabricated It's not a trick of Houdini There is no recipe It can't be reduced to something mortals can understand But at the heart of it there is a truth People don't come to experience a strip mall Even if it has been exquisitely designed They come to experience Life That to me is St. Kilda And our Art Tells the world who we are What we think And where we come from And like Davy Crockett at the Alamo I'll defend that till the end (c) 2017 (Speech delivered at the opening of the St. Kilda Arts Crawl September 21, 2017.)
fake reporters pushing their opinions into fake news fake views disguised as news flashes fake polls reported by fake news outlets designed to discourage people from voting how many lines have to be crossed before something is recognised as what it is and a light is shone on the darkness so that we may know its face when we see it or does it really matter? win at any price? fake scandals fake quotes fake candidates in a fake world of fake feelings and photo opportunity expressions of concern fake headlines that take the focus away from the real issues and the real scandals and nobody really cares as long as their team wins but at what price? and who do you wake to see in your mirror after such a triumph? and what is the statement you are really making? where is objectivity in a dying world rendered impotent by our naivety as we dance to the tune selected by our puppet masters thinking our opinion means anything to the NWO guys but their vision of a new world will sink as surely as Atlantis taking us all with it into the depths and darkness of a hell of our own making where is Paul Revere when you need him? silenced like them all or assassinated by a bullet from a lone crazed gunman a plane crash a sudden heart attack or a scandal or jail people keep voting for change and parties keep running on that promise only to deliver the same ol' same ol' same car, different driver and yet we complain when any change comes as we are not used to it and our stupidity even angers God and Mother Nature and not even the worst disasters can wake us from our sleep we no longer dream as our nightmares have become comforting and the great nothingness of indecision is all we are used to and crave and so we live until we don't (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 Or try 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
I'm there for you Even when I'm ignored When you hit out at the world I sometimes get in the way Because I appear to be strong I sometimes am not watered Like the other flowers in your garden But I'm there for you Observing Protecting Advising Defending Encouraging Worrying Until I feel empty From standing in these shadows That rarely get the sun I live for the laughter The words of hope Spoken by you or others The light The common sense that wisdom brings To all But is seldom noticed Or heard I am there Waiting Longing Bleeding Hurting Renewing Carrying the weight Of every decision made in my name That scarred me Humbled me Blessed me And saved me I am there for you Every step of the way To lift you up from every fall To shoulder every tear To make sense of every confusion To call your name When it's been forgotten by others I have been there So I can be here For you (c) Frank Howson 2017
I always remember that dream-vision of a long cold country road stretching out straight in front of me and going on, disappearing into the blurred infinity of the horizon.
I feel that I’ve been on this road all my life and yet every time I see it again in my dreams it’s from the same viewpoint and I realise I’ve made no noticeable headway. That’s when I feel weary and have to sit a spell and ponder it all. The only traffic passing me on this lonely road are the memories of my life flashing by like a huge over-loaded truck.
A truck thunders past and in the ensuing mist of dust I see my mum and dad. The haze clears and there they are. Unchanged. Smiling at me from across the road, and then gone. It makes me miss them so much I ache. Perhaps they were the only two people who ever really understood me. And loved me without agenda for what I was, and not what I was later perceived to be. All I know is, I’ve had to come a long way on my own. And that makes you strong. But every thing comes at a price and sometimes I wonder whether too much strength can make you as hard as a rock. And just as cold.
Another truck and I glimpse my first wife. Still beautiful and young and spirited. She too smiles at me but it’s different from the past. Her smile now exudes understanding, and empathy. Perhaps sympathic that I have been stuck here on this road for so long. She got away. And now knows the peace, wisdom and sunshine of the other side. I yell out, “We were too young, that’s all. And too poor. Nobody’s fault!” But she is gone in a mist of dust as another truck of memories flashes by and all I’m left with is her smile of warmth.
Why do I only see the dead on this road? Are they trying to entice me over to the other side? Sometimes I get so tempted I stand but at the last moment always remember something that compels me to sit again. And wait.
More deafening noise and dust. Then, there’s my Uncle Horrie who was never acknowledged by my family. An outcast for things beyond his control. I always liked him and felt sorry for his pain. He smiles at me and waves too. He seems so much more confident and at peace. Perhaps he is now sorry for me?
He yells out to me, “It doesn’t matter what they say about you. Over here, there’s only one truth. And it’s so clear to everyone there’s no need for words”.
I stand again. Wanting to cross and escape all those who’ve knifed me in the back. The pain doesn’t come from the knife wounds but the realisation that friends would betray you. And that pain doesn’t ever heal. Some were bought by money. Some by fame. Some, just to see you fall.
I sit again.
Another truck passes and I’m distracted by the rumble and dust again. As it clears, I see my smiling Grandma as she nods to acknowledge my existence. She yells out, “You don’t talk to me enough, y’know?…You were the apple of my eye. And still are. I gave you your name. Frank by name, frank by nature. Keep telling the truth, no matter how much they hate it. And smile. They hate that too. Bye baby. See you soon”.
I stand and walk a few paces onto the road, but an approaching truck forces me back.
When the dust clears I see a group of people but it’s my heart that’s the first to recognise them as it warms my entire body. I see my Uncle Frank, whom I was named after, who died before I was born. His sensitive nature taken by a war he had no right to be dragged into. But here he is, looking as young as he did in all those framed photographs my mother cherished until her dying day. Then there is Uncle Bill who was always the beacon of integrity; Auntie Gladys; Uncle Arthur; Uncle Jack, Auntie Dagma; Uncle Alf and Auntie Daphne, Johnny Wheeler (still yelling out boxing tips to me and that I need a haircut); Brian Hickey (my first manager who believed in me); and Big Bill Stephenson (my boyhood football hero). They all look so pleased to see me and are yelling out things but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Too many voices and too much to catch up on. I smile back with a joy that makes my cheeks ache, as I wave like an excited child. The warmth that fills my body tells me I’m home.
I take a few steps onto the road, towards them, all reaching out with open arms to embrace me. Suddenly I see everything with such a heightened clarity it fills me with a deep sadness at all the mistakes I have made in my life. Seeing where I let someone down; seeing those I befriended who were never my friends to begin with; those I trusted who ultimately worked against me; all the times I was weak instead of strong; the times I was strong when I needed to be flexible; seeing the women who were lovely but all wrong, who would take me from my work and all the people I loved; and all the times I said “Yes” when I meant “No“.
I am so lost in these painful remembrances, that the next thing I remember I am back, sitting on my side of the road, and looking into that faraway horizon that may very well be just a theatrical backdrop for all it means to me.
I am weary from surviving too many life shattering jolts, too close together. Jolts that would’ve killed some, that have killed some, and yet I go on. Why? Must I continue on my way feeling that I have taken 12 rounds of the best Muhammad Ali could give at his peak? Why? In the dying words of my mother, “What’s the use?” And yet, still the jolts continue. What is the use?
Then I am crying, my head in my hands in case someone sees. Seconds later looking like I am wiping the dust from my eyes because, as Marc Jordan says “That’s how men cry”.
So here I am. Back at the beginning of this recurring dream. Weary but wise. Lost but found. Aching but hopeful. Waiting for God to begin the play-off music and not to blow my cue. When you gotta go, you gotta go, y’know?
Why am I still here and so many are gone?
Maybe it’s true that God calls home first those he loves the most.
A dear friend of mine who has a connection to the spirit world tells me, “You’re here a bit longer to complete a few more projects, and receive some praise, but most importantly, to save someone’s life”.
Now, wouldn’t that be something worthwhile to cross to the other side of the road with?
(c) Frank Howson 2017
Photograph by Vanessa Allan.