Perth to Adelaide
After the second show I walk down to the river around midnight. A city of two million people and not a soul around. I peer up at the constellations in unfamiliar array. The brackish water of the Swan laps imperceptibly at the bank and I startle a couple of ducks lurking in the gloom who flap off to safety. The breeze is delicious to the skin. This is the most chilled major city I’ve ever been in. Everyone is so open and relaxed. There are no sideways smiles. In my room I watch an Attenborough show about a colony of king penguins. It’s like being thrown into Times Square.
We load our monstrous pile of bags into a little silver trailer on the back of a minibus and head for the airport under a sky of eggshell blue. The security hall is spacious and calm — nobody obnoxiously barks orders at you as they do elsewhere. We are politely advised on protocol and efficiently processed without breaking sweat. I wander into a shop and prod buttons on a Bluetooth speaker display. Every model spurts forth unlistenable modern pop of such anodyne yet enervating quality it could have been produced on any continent in hell. It’s not really music — the songs are jingles advertising themselves. Adelaide, bizarrely, is two and a half hours ahead of Perth. I’ve barely slept but feel mellow for the moment having been woken by a disturbing dream at 5AM. I listened to most of Anne Enright’s superb Actress for the second time. There’s so much detail I’d forgotten. But it’s too beautifully written to put me back to sleep. My reflection in the mirror looked like a puddle of soiled milk.
At the airport we meet a lovely woman who just heard we were in town this morning and has driven two hours and gone through security to meet us in the departure lounge. We pose for photos and sign some things but we think she’s mad. I nod out on the flight. I glean from the conversation that I’m sitting next to a surfing American stand-up comedian. “It’s comedy and science, I guess” he tells his neighbour. He has long brown legs with spare wiry blonde hair like a beach bum spider. He’s playing Adelaide tonight at 6:30 and then off to surf in New Zealand. I notice from his laptop he’s studying the effects of psychedelics on the brain. This must be the “science” bit. There are little illustrations of scans, presumably taken while the volunteer was on various types of consciousness altering drugs. I strongly suspect they’re all his brain. I also suspect he’s rich.
I let myself into my 14th floor room to find a spacious suite; kitchen, lounge, balcony and all. Fucking yes! I put Bowie’s Low on the stereo and sit outside in the hot night to watch the sun set in electric violet over the city. These developments definitely weren’t here in 1990. Thirty three years is a long time in relatively young cities. Another downtown tower is going up a few hundred yards away. Nothing I can see looks more than twenty years old. The traffic is a hushed rumour and rising from the street comes the occasional drunken cheer.
I order in, mistaking chips for (US) crisps and ending up with more potato matter than one man can deal with. I wolf down a vegan burger and go looking for a grocery. The drinking fountain water I filled up with at Perth airport is desalinated muck and tastes like weasel urine. I hate buying bottled water. A racket and an environmental aberration. Back on my balcony sirens wail below and helicopters purr above. A human haemorrhoid on a Harley drowns it all out tooling off from a stop light. He who has no class makes the loudest fart.
I sleep like a stone waking briefly at 2am. I drag myself up for a shave in the afternoon and think, fuck it. It’s too hot to explore. It’s too hot to sit on the balcony. I’m just going to hang in my palatial apartment until soundcheck. I check my algorithmically challenged Spotify Weekly. Having made the mistake of listening to too much 10cc last week it’s full of the most godawful 80s power pop. And Steve Hillage. Aargh! Iggy Pop’s Fall in Love With Me appears, the model for Julian Casablancas’s vocal sound. I saw the Strokes singer do a solo set wearing a shell suit in an obscure corner of T in the Park in the zeroes. He and his band were tremendous. They looked like Blake’s 7 extras. Tom Verlaine makes the list. There was a moving encomium by Patti Smith in a recent New Yorker. It is nearly forty years since he produced two songs for us. He came into the studio progressively later each day. He started at midday on a Monday and by Saturday we started at midnight. He claimed this was because in New York it was too hot in summer to work till then. But we were in Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row studio in London. We had no money so could only eat at the hotel, meaning our main meal was breakfast after staying up all night recording. It was mad. And Tom was mad, in a gentle, eccentric way. At 4am one morning he added a gorgeous little overdub on a Rickenbacker. We were agog. Our hero. I was 18. Tom’s long, bony hands were as beautiful as his elegant playing.
Smog come on the stereo and I discover a washing machine and dryer behind the bathroom door. I start to wonder if there’s a butler hiding somewhere. If I weren’t so decrepit I’d throw a a laundry and beer party after the gig.
The annoyingly spelt thebarton Theatre is a “buzzy retro-chic live music venue” according to Google maps. It’s built onto an old church and the high walls backstage are dominated by enormous wooden boards celebrating the local Roll of Honour — long lists of the war dead. I notice three Curries. All these poor fuckers perished for the sake of feuding monarchies twelve thousand miles away. I find a pizza place down the block on the main drag whose staff are of indeterminate origin but not Italian. They’re friendly but their food is fairly impolite. Iain and I meet Charles (our biographer!) and his lovely wife Meg in an Abyssinian place where my friend Stephen from Hong Kong joins us. We hear tales of wild Tasmania and Chinese oppression. It’s a welcome and heartwarming distraction from tour things. We’d love to sit there all night drinking Cooper’s beer under another violet evening sky. But we’re working. Or as we call it, playing.
Back at my pad I sit outside on my roost and gaze south out to sea. Somewhere out there is Antarctica and those king penguins. I slide my soul between the sheets and slip into an icy sleep.