ME AND JOHN LENNON

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
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DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER

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






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.)




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.