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






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HOME

The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.

How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.

I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path  leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.

Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.

More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.

After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.

I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.

You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.

For in that sheltered moment, I am home.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

THE ICON

Robert Travell was about to make a comeback. It seemed like all anyone had talked about for the past few months, the return of the 6os music icon whose songs helped changed the world and stop a war. You couldn’t turn on the TV, radio, pick up newspaper or surf the internet without seeing the excited commotion this had caused. It was rumored that Columbia Records were paying him a million dollar advance for his first album in thirty years.

What had happened to him? At the height of his career he just disappeared. Retired. Became a recluse. Periodically there were sightings of him – or someone resembling him – in diners, at bus depots, on a construction site, but nothing ever confirmed. Some say he’d gone mad like Howard Hughes and now had a beard to his knees – others say he did a J.D. Salinger and had simply had enough of the prying eye of the press and public and was now working as a history teacher in some rural area school. The truth is, no one knew.

The magazine I worked for had assigned me to interview the great man on this eve of his return. I was only twenty-one at the time and had missed Mr. Travell’s glory years, but had grown up in a home where my parents had played his records ad-infinitum. In many ways he felt like a member of my family. Like a beloved uncle I was yet to meet.

I was given his address and the appointed time for the interview. The address was in a little street in West Hollywood. It seemed an odd location for him as I knew the street well and the homes and apartments there were all very modest. I would’ve expected a mansion befitting this man’s contribution to the world, but I was young and yet to learn about the music business and the thieves that run it.

I was so nervous on the day that I almost had a car accident because I was so tense and my mind was on everything other than the road. I pulled up outside the address and had to recheck it as I couldn’t believe this little house in disrepair could possibly be where the great Robert Travell had ended up.

I knocked on the door. There was no answer. My disappointment went straight to my stomach and I felt sick. I must’ve written down the wrong address. Maybe I misheard the interview time. Oh shit. I’d been given the chance to interview Robert Travell and I’d screwed it up. Just as I was beating myself up on the porch, I heard a voice.

“I’m around the back! Come to the backyard”

Oh thank God! He’s home. Well, around the back. I then began the grand adventure to get to the back yard. I had to maneuver my way past several rusted out cars, knee-high grass, an old discarded washing machine, and through garments that looked like they’d been hanging on the clothes-line for several years. Finally, after some time, I succeeded in reaching the backyard but no one was there. Then, from inside I heard…”Where are you?”

I know realized he’d gone to the front door in search of me. My fantasized wonderful interview with the great man was rapidly descending into a farce.

“I’m here!” I yelled out but doubted if he could hear me.

I opened the back door and walked in. I could see him, his back to me, at the front door. I was silenced by awe and fear. I heard him grumble something to himself and then he closed the door and turned. Lost in his thoughts he was almost up to me before he saw me. He stopped with a jolt.

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my house?”

This was now a Laurel and Hardy sketch and I just wanted to turn and run from the embarrassment.

“Ahhh I’m Suzie Montrose…I’m here to interview you, Mr. Travell. I’m sorry, I went to the backyard and you weren’t there so I just came in. I’m so sorry. I’m usually very well mannered.”

He smiled and his whole face softened. “You are well-mannered, Suzie. I see that in your eyes. A cup of green tea, perhaps?”

“Yes…Oh thank you, Mr. Travell…thank you so much. That would be lovely.”

I hate green tea but at this moment I was so looking forward to it.

As Mr. Travell walked into the kitchen to prepare the tea, which he did with great care as though it was sacred ritual, I studied his living room for clues about him. I looked at his book shelf which usually revealed a lot about a person. But in this case it was empty except for one book – “The Art of Dentistry.”

“Mr. Travell. I see you’re interested in dentistry” I yelled out so he could hear me in the kitchen.

“No, not at all. A friend of mine gave that to me.”

“Your dentist?”

“No, he’s a carpenter.”

This man was becoming more and more fascinating and enigmatic by the second. How could someone so great with words be the owner of only one book?

He suddenly appeared with a tray and our teas. He took great care to place my cup on the coffee table in front of me. I could see his hands shook a little. Perhaps he’d been an alcoholic? Or maybe by caring too much as illustrated in all his songs he’d burnt our his nervous system.

“Don’t you read many books, Mr. Travell?”

“No. I find they contain too many words.” He sat. “Never read a book that couldn’t be improved by cutting it in half.”

I wasn’t sure whether he was serious or just having me on. I was lost for words so he jumped back in to fill up the void.

“For instance, “A Tale of Two Cities” would’ve been much better, in my opinion, as a tale of one city. But what do I know?” Then he smiled.

I was speechless and had nothing to add to that, so I drank my green tea. All of it, in order to buy some time to think.

“Ah, we’re off to a great start! I see we have something in common.”

“Huh? What’s that?” I asked.

“A love of green tea.”

“Oh yes, I can’t get enough of it” I lied.

“Well I shall get you some more.”

And so he did, and poured it slowly and with considerable care.

Desperate to say something to fill out the silence, I uttered, “I see you live very simply, Mr. Travell.”

“Two divorces and a record company that robbed me blind. I have always admired Jesse James. At least he was honest about what he was.”

“You must be excited about your new album?” I ventured on.

“No.”

“But the whole world is waiting for it.”

“Are they really?…Isn’t that sad?”

I had nowhere to go with this interview and was losing any grasp I had on an angle for the story.

He looked at me for a long time. I was used to that, being a woman and interviewing sleazy rock stars. But Travell’s look was different. He was looking at me – into me – as though seeing my soul. There was nothing sexual about it. His caring eyes exuded the warmth of a father. For the first time in my life I felt safe. And loved.

“Here’s the deal. Forget this interview, I know how they go, you ask the standard questions and I give you the standard answers. Why don’t you hang out with me for the rest of this week and get to know me. The real me. Y’see everyone I’ve ever met has written a book about me, as well as all the people I never met. They all seem to be an expert on my life. And y’know something? It’s all bullshit and lies. And seeing this will be my last foray into the public, why don’t you take the time to get me right?”

“Really?…How do you know you can trust me?” I asked.

He smiled again, “I can trust you. You have a shining soul. You must protect that, but I’ll tell you how to do that later in the week. Now, who’s for some doughnuts? I know a wonderful place and it’s so much superior to those Krispy Krap ones.”

I loved this man already. “Yes, count me in!”

And so off we went on another adventure. This is how the whole week was. A series of adventures with a man who, if he was mad, it was a madness like Don Quixote – a madness that cut through all the ugliness of the world and taught you that there was love in everything. If you looked hard enough.

That week I had the best doughnuts ever. We also went to a baseball game; sat on Venice Beach and saw and heard the drum ceremony at sunset; ate in diners and all the while talked about our lives. He asked me why I was working for a stupid magazine that only interviewed stupid celebrities. I told him my dream was to buy my own little apartment so I’d never have to struggle to pay rent again. He told me I could achieve that without selling my soul.

I was concerned for him because he fell several times that week. Literally. He had so much pride he was back on his feet within seconds. He told me he had dizzy spells occasionally and was on medication for it. In fact he seemed to be on a lot of medication. He had pills in every pocket and regularly took them.

Every time I asked him about his new album he changed the subject. All he would confirm was that it was finished. And so was he. It would be the last.

“So that means that it must contain some interesting statements about the present day and age?” I ventured.

“You could say that,” he smiled mischievously.

“Why did you walk away for so long?”

“I didn’t walk, I was driven away actually. But that’s a story of greed and darkness and why ruin our meal? Anyway, I’d said everything I wanted to say in all those songs. Each one of them deals with a different aspect of life and, seeing the world unfortunately hasn’t changed, I have nothing new to add. To have gone on would’ve meant I’d have just been repeating myself, which so many artists do. You have to have the class to know when to go. You owe it to the public to leave their fantasy about you untarnished.”

“So, with the new album – are you taking music in a new direction?” I bravely asked.

He looked momentarily disappointed in me. But then the warm smile returned. “I am giving the music industry what it deserves.”

He then looked sad, and turned away indicating he’d said all he was going to say about that.

I asked him if he had any children.

“Yes. But they were taken away from me years ago by mothers who convinced them I was mad and dangerous to be with. Not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t break when I think of them. I hope they have grown to be good people and that they are safe.”

That night we walked back to his place. When we got there he was genuinely concerned about me driving home.

“I won’t hear of it. You’ve had three glasses of wine over dinner and that’s enough to get you in trouble with the cops or worse still be involved in an accident. You can sleep in my bed, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“No, no, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Nope, that’s the deal. Besides, I like the couch. It’s my friend. To tell you the truth I fall asleep here most nights.”

Then he looked at me and said, “You are safe here you know?”

“I know that. In fact I have never felt safer.” I am so glad I said that to him.

The next morning I got up and went out into the living room. He was sitting up asleep, or so I thought. After some time I touched him and he was stone cold. As cold as a statue. As cold as the monument they would eventually erect of him. I ran screaming into the street. I wanted to tell the world he was gone. I wanted to tell them everything was now changed. A light had gone out. He was gone.

I watched them take away his body. But that was not him. It was just a body. I lied and said I was his daughter just so I could sit in his house and feel his spirit a bit longer. On his table I found a CD that had scribbled on it “The New Album.” With trembling hands I put it on and sat on his friendly couch to listen to Robert Travell’s last statement to the world.

The first track was Robert reciting “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

The second track was a diatribe about what thieves record companies are.

And so it went on. 10 tracks in all. He had delivered 10 tracks and fulfilled his contractual obligations, and thus could keep his million dollar advance.

I started to laugh, uncontrollably. This was his “fuck you” to a record industry that had fucked him long and hard. The record company would later issue a statement saying that the reason the album wouldn’t be released was due to the fact that it was unfinished and in respect of Mr. Travell’s important legacy they would shelve it.

In his will he left each of his two children $400, 000 plus all the royalties from his record and publishing catalogues. And to me he left $200,000 so that I would never have to struggle to pay rent again.

I have quit my job writing about other people’s lives and have started a Robert Travell Charity Foundation to help homeless people. I am also writing my first book and making sure it’s not too long.

Every night I sit on the couch, his couch, in my apartment, sip my green tea and give thanks that he came along and that I was lucky enough to know him. Really know him. Trouble is, I fear he has ruined me for any other man. You see, a Robert Travell comes along just once in a lifetime. If you’re lucky. Although I live in hope that I will find his spirit in someone else. And that that someone will look into my eyes and really see me. And I will feel loved and safe again.

Recently I was offered a million dollars to write about my experiences with him. I told them to go fuck themselves. And somewhere, Robert Travell laughed, and I was filled with a warmth deep inside. A warmth that told me he was proud of me and that I’d turned out alright. In his words, I’d grown to be a “good person.”

(c) Frank Howson 2014

ONCE THERE WAS A KING (who looked remarkably like your Daddy).

 

He was born a simple boy,

in a simple land,

but his dreams were bigger than himself.

 

He dreamed of magical places, 

exciting adventures,

and of damsels in distress

                                        who needed him.

 

His simple parents were beside

                                        themselves

                                        with

                                        worry.

 

“What will become of him?”, they asked each other.

To which neither of them had an answer.

 

But the boy was brave and followed his dreams.

No matter where they led

                                        him.

 

By the time he’d grown into a man

he had survived many battles

and defeated all the dragons

and giants

that the world threw at him.

 

Word of his victories spread

throughout the land

and suddenly strangers wanted to be his friend.

 

“We must honor this hero!”,  shouted his new friends.

 

So they gave him gifts,

awards,

gold trinkets,

chocolate covered almonds,

and

headaches.

 

And then they made him a king.

 

His parents were very proud,

                                              and worried no more.

But

some of

these strangers were not really

                                                his friends

                                                and some

                                                meant

                                                him

                                                harm.

 

A king’s life can be very lonely.

 

He no longer went off to battle.

There was an army for such things.

He was too precious and (mostly) too well thought of.

Besides,

there was much to do around the palace.

 

Like,

signing papers.

Listening to other people’s speeches.

Yawning.

Trying to find a pen that worked.

 

Playing chess.

And looking serious.

 

His enemies

plotted

to bring him down.

Instead of storming the gates,

they laughed at his jokes,

did everything for him,

patted him on the back,

gave him advice,

and enough rope,

told tall tales,

and complimented him on everything he did.

Which was

now

very little.

 

After awhile he forgot all about

giants

and dragons

and damsels.

 

One morning, when he awakened and

rubbed the sleep from his eyes,

                                                 he saw

that his

world

had become

                           smaller.

 

He had become smaller too.

And somehow,

older.

 

His people worried about him.

He looked so lonely.

“He is dying for an adventure!”, said the palace doctor.

When night

                   fell

the king quietly

                        packed his bag

and,

disguised as a simple man

crept out of the palace

and

ran

      away.

 

Far, far, away.

 

In fact,

he didn’t stop running until he reached the Enchanted Wood

where

it’s rumoured

dreams

sometimes

come true.

 

The Fairy Tree,

which was by far the widest

and

oldest

tree in the forest,

asked the simple man (who was really a king), what it was he wanted.

 

The king thought long and hard.

And when he looked up he saw

the most beautiful

damsel

in the world.

She was good,

and kind,

and listened to his stories about his youthful adventures.

 

And she didn’t yawn once.

 

One thing led to another

and they were married.

And not long after,

a baby boy was born.

 

They bought a nice, reasonably priced condo

in the suburbs,

and life

was once again

                        simple.

 

Every night, the man and his son

would watch

adventures

on television.

 

When the man grew tired

                                        and fell asleep

                                                             in his favourite chair

in front of the TV set,

the boy

and the Mommy

would make sure that

he got to bed as safely as possible.

 

And when the boy went to sleep

he dreamed

of magical places,

exciting adventures,

and damsels in distress.

 

His dreams were bigger than himself.

 

Meanwhile,

in the very next room,

a Daddy dreamed

about the places he’d been,

the dragons he’d tamed,

the giants he’d befriended,

the battles he’d won,

the damsel he loved,

and the warm strong hug of his son.

 

And

in his sleep,

he smiled.

 

      ***************************************************************

 (c) Frank Howson 2013.