Sometimes it’s wonderful to hear the sound of a friend’s voice. Sometimes it fills your heart with pain. How are +you to know which one it will be before you press play?
I’m listening back to the set of a friend I secretly recorded at the Moon one night. Electronic drums, looped guitars, incredible voice. Typical Perth world class music in a late night cafe with maybe ten people watching. But then eventually the secret gets out.
The show at the Norfolk Basement had been built up in my mind for weeks. This was it, the night my two boys, Nick and Pete, were going to be there in one room and I would get to play with them. Just the three of us, like old times, like the time when it was the three of us at the Moon with ten people watching, but each of us loving the other enough for a small cult or an army of lovers.
It started ok. I’d picked up Swedish Felix on the way and we’d rushed over to the house where they were all staying which turned out to be the house I’d visited and slept at so many times in university with my beautiful friend whose parents owned it, their greyhounds always leaping into the air in the backyard, a dancefloor raised up in backyard as well. This time instead of greyhounds there was Joe and Bella playing UNO, Pete and Strawberry Pete practicing songs. I wandered round fast in circles round the empty fish pond, remembering the place, wondering what songs to play, wondering if I have ADD. Gumby came out and I showed him the raised dancefloor and told him about being at parties up there, and he told me about his new guitar and the new way Pond are going to go with their music and then I told him about being worried about playing and he said the best thing which was “Aw it’s gonna be great. I’m in the mood for some emotion.”
So we all went there, Joe and Gumby squashed into the back of my messy car with my heavy keyboard on their laps and all my crap scattered at their thighs and feet, me and Felix in the front giggling at our own jokes, Felix teasing me for never knowing the way to get anywhere, ever.
It was time to set up and I was feeling nervous. It was weird because I play all the time and don’t usually feel that way, but the soundcheck took a long time, and there were people there already. I had to keep singing and singing and playing and playing but I didn’t want to use up any magic I had in me on a soundcheck. I made up words to the songs and sung in French to the French sound guy without him really noticing, but then in the middle of checking something good happened. The good thing was that when we’d got there Nick said yes he would play with me for a song and then yes he would just do the whole set with me. So in the middle of the soundcheck we just started playing round a bit, I played the first (and only) chords on the keyboard to some of the songs he hadn’t played on before and within a split second he was adding lovely tapey guitar sounds and not holding back and we had each of a whole bunch of little half minutes of songs, all ready to play when it was actually time.
~ ~ ~
Ah, man… A very special song has come on in the secret recorded set I am listening to. It’s killing me. But not really killing me. Just making my heart and my brain really hot and making me remember things – how things were a few months ago, how friendships go, what songs are made of, what songs are for, what our lives are, what happiness should come from living in freedom. Oh. Oh. Oh.
~ ~ ~
So anyway, it was harder than usual. But I had Nick with me. I was listening to him, looking at him even though my eyes were closed, and the first song kept going and going and going. In my mind I said “I just want to keep playing this song forever” and that was the first thought and that’s the thought I should have listened to, especially since the song was about being in a forest and we could just have stayed in there forever. But instead I had a second thought which was “I better play some other songs as well,” and then it went a little bit awry. I could hardly sing, I could hardly feel all the way into the songs, there were hardly any faces to look into, but at least I had Nick. All the way through, him understanding the songs, flinging tapey echos across, feeling into it, holding my head just above the water with the neck of his guitar.
~ ~ ~
I think about all my friends all the time, don’t you? Think about them and love them. Pray for them. Worry about them. Wish for them. Hold them up against the light and watch the light streaming through. I examine them like I examine plants, with awe and wonder and sometimes fear. I need them like I need the plants, all of us being the oxygen for one another but having no way to keep or control or be sure of the other, just the chance to give a little bit of water, turn a pot toward the sunlight, try our best. Sometimes you might try to unwind a tendril from where it’s wound, thinking you know a better way for it to go, but they’re all mysterious and just wander back in the same direction they headed out in most of the time.
~ ~ ~
The rest of the night got blurrier and of course Pete and Nick were so good, but it all went across me like butter. So I’ll explain about the night after when they both played again.
~ ~ ~
Nick and Pete at the Spinning Top Show, Saturday.
These days when Pete plays he is surrounded by an amphitheatre of bodies. All the bodies are turned towards him. Some of them are bodies that sing along freely, and the other bodies are bodies who are feeling this sensation for the first time. The sensation of being recognised deeply by the songs of “some guy from Midland.” Because that is the power of Peter Bibby, that he calls out familiar things for any person, a small girl (me) from Albany, a footballer from Applecross, a workman, a lawyer, a band manager. He’s like e.e. cummings’ description in 1956 of little children discovering the ocean – “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.” Do you get what I mean?
No matter who the person is or what they have lost, they can find something like that thing inside Pete’s songs. He was playing out in the garden when all the other bands were playing on the big stage, but he made the garden big. I feel a little sorry for him, having been “discovered” and taken round to all the cities to sing to the people in them, and I also feel a little bit happy for him.
And when Nick played this night, with all his Pond band, after Kevin and Cam and Cam and Ben Witt had done their magic, a new thing happened. This time I heard the voice of God speaking straight to me in words about him. That’s quite unusual and so I could pretend it didn’t happen or not mention it, but that’s what happened. And it’s always wonderful things that get spoken, but I’m keeping them private for now. Gumby was being the star of the show, as in the last few Pond gigs I’ve seen, with his parts soaring out over the rest of the music, Joe holding up each of Gumby’s solos with either a parallel harmony solo or a bed to rest it in, Cam’s hips telling as much of a story as you like to imagine, everyone working together, but yeah, that voice coming through loud and clear, a friend’s voice, the biggest friend, and definitely this time it being a good thing to press play…