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.
It's push and shove And Christmas Eve You stole my heart Now I wear it on my sleeve And I'm standing here Where a boy once stood When he dreamed of worlds That lay beyond the woods... Daniel Boone and Peter Pan Davy Crockett and Spiderman We fought together Blood brothers every one We used to save the world Before each day was done... It's winter now On Nelson Street The shadow men Celebrating my defeat Never been afraid And not about to start So they stole my dreams Don't mean they broke my heart Daniel Boone and 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... And I'm wishing hard On every star I see That you'll find a place In your heart for me... It's Silent Night And final drinks I'm too far gone To hear what anybody thinks Now I'm walking home Can someone tell me Where that is? Somewhere someone wakes To a Christmas kiss Daniel Boone and Peter Pan Davy Crockett and Spider Man I fought beside them And with Zorro I would run We used to save the world Before each day was done... Before each day was done... It's done... Cc) Frank Howson 1998
When I was a small boy living in St. Kilda, both my dad and mum would point out a man in a black hat and a long black coat to me. “You see that man, son?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!” Always intrigued by a good mystery, I from then on took great notice of this man. Over the years, as I grew to be a man, I would always look around at local markets, street performances, Luna Park, crowded Saturday night boulevards, and sure enough, there he would be. And as I aged, he always appeared to look the same. A middle aged man, neither smiling or frowning, just there. A face in the crowd. Being a romantic, I thought maybe he was the eternal wanderer. A soul who was chained to this life and the suburb he loved, and his limbo was to forevermore, or until God’s forgiveness was granted, wander aimlessly these streets in search of a meaning he had failed to dis-cipher in his life here.
When I’d see him, I’d always stand transfixed waiting to see if he’d return a smile, or a nod of the head, or just an icy stare. But no. Nothing. Expressionless. No eye contact. This was a man well used to being alone. His face looked like he was a foreigner. Perhaps from somewhere in Europe. Germany?…France?…Vienna?…Maybe he’d escaped the war and had left behind his loved ones, his home, his belongings…and like his friends he too had become a ghost. A shadow. A man cursed to wander this life as punishment for running away from his true destiny.
I too ran away from my loved ones, my home, my belongings…and for the same reason, perhaps. There were dark clouds forming and I’d been advised that I could be dragged into a swamp that, although masterminded by others, justice could be blind in such circumstances. I went to Los Angeles as, in some circles, my work was still respected there and possibly some jobs could come my way, which they did. For nine years. I became a physician. A script doctor. Re-writing other people’s screenplays to make them better. No credit but the money was a living. Occasionally writing some songs that got into some movies. Writing my memoirs on my life in the movie business, well, all the parts that weren’t too painful to regurgitate at that time. The wounds were still too open and although time does heal, one’s heart does remain bruised. It’s stated in the small print when we signed on for this life but one is always too preoccupied with excitement and hope to notice.
Although I had amassed a great deal of experience making 12 movies in Australia, the experience I received in L.A working with the legendary Arthur Hiller, Joe Eszterhas, Amy Ephron, Michael Richards, Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Sally Kirkland, P.F. Sloan, John Grimaldi, Heath Ledger, Eric Burden, Bernard Fowler, Terry Reid, Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, Sherry Lansing, Phil Jones, Michael J. Pollard, Stacy Michelle, John Savage, Helen Mirren, Jackie Lomax, Wade Preston, Creed Bratton, Damion Damizza Young, Peter Burke, Eric Idle, John Capek, Barry Robinson, Mike Smith, William Friedkin, Thea Gill, Jack Tempchin, Patricia Clarkson, etc., etc., etc., took me to a whole other level. How could you not learn something?
Nine years went by like nine months. The last two years in a haze of a personal heartache, the theft of an idea that I lived to see the thief make millions from as well as get honoured with the highest award a country can give for such an original idea, and the subsequent spiral from meeting too many people who weren’t really there.
If it hadn’t been for the kindness and humanity of Barry Robinson and Mike Smith, I most likely wouldn’t be here today. So if you want to blame anyone, you have their names.
So one day, as the result of a turn of events, I returned from across the sea to my birthplace, St. Kilda. The first lyric I wrote as a result was…
“This is my country, these are my friends, this is the place my journey ends, I stand before you my heart in my hand, a refugee in my homeland, I did my best, I fought my war, I’ve seen enough to want no more, May I lay my weary baggage down to walk inside your door? Send out the word that I’ve returned, my face is lined with lessons learned, I thought my day was almost done, but here I am, your prodigal son…”
Some time later, encouraged by my friend Richard Wolstencroft to dip my toe into the icy water again, I began a new film, “Remembering Nigel” – a film about a group of people remembering a man they once knew who is now deceased. Trouble is, everyone’s opinion of this man and their recollections of him are so diverse and conflicting you soon realise nobody knew the poor bastard at all! And the more they speak of him, the more they reveal about themselves. It is still deemed too original for most distributors to release into a marketplace filled with movies for 14 year olds. It is an epic account loosely based on my life, heightened here and there for either comedy relief or dramatic punch. It is also a movie that connects with most people on a very deep, profound spiritual level. Well, that is, if you still have a spirit in this mad world we survive in.
When making this film, it became obvious that we’d have to see some funny flashbacks of Nigel. But in order to retain that underlying message that we are all Nigel, how best to capture that? Well, seeing I was directing, it was easier for me to portray Nigel as I was obviously on set all the time, so, whenever we had some downtime or an actor was running late, the crew and I would knock off some Nigel flashbacks.
Whilst in preproduction, I was out in Chapel Street one day and saw a shop with a huge half price sale on. Not intending to buy anything but a bit of time on my hands, my instinct steered me into the store to browse. And there it was. Only one left. And miraculously in my size. A rather uniquely cut long black coat. I knew instantly this was Nigel’s everyman attire. I scooped it up, and then it became obvious a black hat was needed, and that we’d only ever shoot Nigel from behind and never see his face. The black hat and the long black coat would be to Nigel what the Lone Ranger’s blue suit, white hat and mask were to him. As Martin Landau summed up when he saw the rough cut, “Everyone who’s ever felt misunderstood in their life, will see themselves as Nigel”.
Which brings me back to the man in the black hat and the long black coat who wandered St. Kilda for years, and who I actually saw again whilst filming Nigel’s death on St. Kilda beach one rainy overcast day. Or perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me. But I swear I saw him in the distance walking away along Jacka Boulevard that grey misty late afternoon.
After we wrapped the filming and it was all in the can, as they say, I, in the habit of wearing the black hat and coat, continued to do so. Only recently did I have the epiphany that I have become, around St. Kilda, the man in the black hat and the long black coat. Sometimes I see people pointing me out, perhaps a few here and there know of me or my work, or maybe a father or mother are saying to their child, “You see that man?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!”
So perhaps I have been recast as the eternal wanderer. And my journey has a long way to go.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
photograph by Vanessa Allan.