ST. KILDA

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.)




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WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

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

SPIRITUAL VAMPIRES

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

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



THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD

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.

DAY IS DONE

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






THE MAN IN THE BLACK HAT AND THE LONG BLACK COAT.

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.