acoustic Album – A shitload less understanding than what is required

15 May

“A SHITLOAD LESS UNDERSTANDING THAN IS REQUIRED”
By Drive West Today

a bold improvised instrumental interpretation of the lessons that were pounded into me about humankind, misery, happiness, life and death whilst wandering the Central deserts of Australia and things that have been ticking in my head since I walked back South-East with my tail ‘tween my legs.

You can download the album from bandcamp if you’d like,

  • Track 1 – title taken from Craig San Roque’s article “Coming to terms with country” also previously released in US
  • Track 8 – Anthropology also released on New Weird Australia’s compilation volume #3

Here are a series of notes that I wrote a couple of years back … some of it is nonsense, some of it is kind of poetic, most of it centred around the ideas that I was thinking about whilst making this music.

Part I – Life

[ These are thoughts that I am thinking out loud to the ether … if you care to read them, be my guest, you might even have something poetic to add to the comments section down the bottom … again, be my guest. They are thoughts that I am contemplating in relation to my album-in-waiting, I like to have some theoretical substance behind my albums, so they sit within a design rather than randomly recorded music that has nothing interesting to bring up. They are not amazingly complex concepts but they are, nevertheless, concepts that have developed in a context that may be wholly alien to you, so take your time in reading them, or skip through merrily and blissfully.

The concepts that I have in my head are ones that come from conversations with people that I have bumped into in my work in Central Australia and the experiences that I had there. I think Central Oz is unique in Australia and, consequently, misunderstood by many people. I worked as a Mental Health nurse in remote Aboriginal communities. Mental Health, by itself, is a very misunderstood area at the best of times. Remote Aboriginal communities are also majorly misunderstood which has led to many poor decisions by successive governments which have complicated the demolition of their cultural integrity. I won’t go into that much. ]

In 2004 I made another hand-made album that was titled “the balloon”. The background concepts of the balloon had been largely influenced by Dante’s La Commedia Divina. Certain phrases and images that Dante used stuck in my mind and I thought about how they might apply to some sort of high-urban fantasy sequence of someone running out of their apartment window and stepping into the space of air between buildings and soaring upwards. It reminded me somehow of a particular scene in Gabriel Garcia Marquez “One hundred years of solitude” where the village’s most beautiful girl was once lying in her bed and she simply flew up and out the window and into the sky. Nothing more is mentioned about her for pretty much the rest of the book, transforming that moment into a simply exquisite mythical scene.

boy Brightlulb was a character that was developing in my head at the time, and what I named myself when wielding an acoustic guitar (he has since left the building). The balloon itself was something that the boy saw floating gently over the cityscape, past the Russell Hotel and out of sight. It caused wondered in him about what lay beyond the visible landscape of buildings, cars and smog. This was really me wondering how to get the hell out of the urbanised hell that I felt I was surrounded by. Whilst I love cities, another part of me hates them, a small but not insignificant part of me. So I imagined myself willing the balloon to float towards me … or perhaps I just imagined the balloon floating toward me as I sat on the tin roof-dunes of warehouses and apartments. As it came close I stood up and reached for the string dangling downward and I grasped for it.

As I floated over the mountainous buildings, between windows of offices, toward the blue sky, I saw people at desks, board-meets, couriers, I saw hustling and I saw bustling. And I ascended upward.

There was a line from Dante’s Purgatorio which was translated to say “a cloud enclosed us”; myself and the balloon, Dante and Beatrice; the protagonist and the guide. Retrospectively I have the idea that my thoughts were searching for something divine. I was dreaming about what was beyond the reaches of the city. Perhaps I was yearning to explore the world, who the fuck knows?

My life growing up in Melbourne entailed living in suburban and then urban areas, very urban. In lived in three-storey terrace houses with twenty bodies, cheap wine carpets and dimsim dipped in curry dinners. I moved to Sydney warehouses on busy streets with apartments flats towering around, no privacy, only fumes. The one patch of paradise was hanging off the fire escape mid air either accepting how beautiful urban profanities were or wishing my way out. There was a piece in “the balloon” called “Flying out the 3rd storey window”. Suicide is not something that is particularly interesting to everyone … though I’ve met people who think of it all the time. I seem to be a very good coper. The song-title didn’t actually mean that I was flying downwards, more up really. I don’t know how I coped with Sydney. Perhaps I didn’t cope, I just moved to Central Australia, I got the hell out of Sydney.

Part II – Death

A very charismatic man, came for a very philosophical planning day for the Remote Mental Health Team and put the first line of a poem by Gabriel Garcia Lorca (another Gabriel) to us –

“ (Perhaps it occurred because he hadn’t learnt his geometry) ”

Perhaps he hadn’t … I hadn’t thought about this in terms of geometry.

Suicide in Aboriginal societies is something that plagues all of us in Central Australia who are not racist bastards. Suicide didn’t really exist in Aboriginal cultures around twenty years ago. It’s rampant now. Where suicide in Western societies is generally thought about in terms of depression, suicide in Aboriginal societies almost exclusively comes under the banner of powerlessness. Most suicides have a few common elements – domestic violence; an argument between families; and an individual tries to take their life in a public place where they are easily seen by everyone, sometimes succeeding, but never with a truthful purpose; Alcohol is often involved but not necessarily.

They are seen to be extremely impulsive and the perpetrators do not usually have thoughts of suicide and do not have depression per se. Suicide prevention is a tough concept for NGOs. The problem they face is how one combats an enemy with this elusive nature. The locus of the perpetrator’s control is so far from their centre of gravity it’s hard to imagine that they can stand on solid ground without falling to their dooms. The perpetrators are many and give no warning signs until the screaming comes, the heat of the moment seems to burn all ties with reason as they teeter on the edge of oblivion.

It is important to note that this type of suicide, used as a threat under pressure, is not at all singularly related to Australian Aboriginal people but is also found in all societies where there is some breakdown of structure. The Western suburbs of Sydney would sport its own fair share of this behaviour, but perhaps not on the widespread level that this behaviour has been taken on in the last twenty or so years.

Geometry is the study of bodies in space, the distance between this object and that one, their angles, their connections, my relationship to you, your relationship to the government, this could extend from country to country, the planet to the sun, the solar system to the galaxy so on, so forth, etc, Amen.

Lorca’s poem begins with a parenthetic afterthought. Perhaps he had never stopped to think about his relation to the world, his connection to his family and friends. Perhaps Lorca judges him here: he had never stopped to think and learn. Literally speaking of course, he had perhaps not stopped to think even about gravity, the gravity of the situation or the gravity that makes him plummet to the humid concrete below. If you follow our gentle Spaniard out of the window in slow-motion you wonder what is going through his head right now. Is he perhaps thinking “oh shit! I think I’ve overdone it!” Or is he so caught up in the intense emotions that we assume are required to follow through on this act. Like the suicide that associates itself with Indigenous peoples, you could imagine that, in the moment, all thought of consequence are disconnected, all ties to the things that anchor you are untied, you become weightless, your feet leave ground.

Part III – In between

Central Australian languages have a word for those who have passed on. You do not say their name after they have died, you call them “Kumunjay”. In fact anyone who has the same name as the deceased must also be called Kumunjay. Some respected person named Alice died once in the town of Katherine in the top end of the Territory, from a time they referred to Alice Springs as “Kumunjay Springs”. Kumunjay is not a name really, just indicates that you have an unspeakable name. Everyone understands and doesn’t bother questioning, they just call you Kumunjay until such time as people forget who died and go back to the original name. Some people change their name completely to avoid the Kumunjay phenomena – I met a Cigarette Morton once, and a Jungle Bob … Tarzan.

I was discussing the flying boy of the poem when someone said the word “anomé”. I said what? They said the boy had become disconnected from the world and from himself. In that moment, whether he has died or not, he has become not-himself, unreal.

If you look at the scene even more closely as the young man screams at his wife you might notice that something changes. Look at his belly. Something about it shifts; something more subtle than his centre of gravity. Perhaps his locus of control passes out through his navel. Perhaps it slips in through hers. Perhaps that’s why the look of terror on the face of his wife equals the anger in his. Perhaps he has given her all power over him but stolen her power over herself.

“Shit!”

If I were her I’d rip that little silver ball of light out of her belly and piff it as far from her as possible. As far out of reach of him lest he forces it back on her again. Throw it out the window!

“Shit!”

It’s this point that our young Spaniard becomes disconnected from everything. The silver ball is now falling to the concrete ground three storeys down and the fear has taken grip of his senses. As he runs for the window and his feet lose their connection with the floorboards, the world loses its connection to him, and he will go tumbling after. The situation has run out of control.

The man said that the word for this is anomé, the name for those with no name. An Aboriginal Mental Health Worker said yeah, that’s what we call Kumunjay, same thing see. The other bloke paused and said, isn’t that interesting, you could say that in that moment, in that moment before he becomes Kumunjay to the living, he has become Kumunjay unto himself.

It wasn’t as out of control as we thought. Perhaps he flew out onto the fire-escape and lay feeling sore. Sore but connected, connected to his world. Nothing but a bloody lip to show for it.

Lady luck does CPR. Nice lady sometimes … but these things brew over time. Again, the ‘next time’ is already thinking about next time.

Remember son, all our problems come out of a clear blue sky.

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