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Updated: Apr 30

Lost and Found

On these soft rainy days on the south coast there is no temptation to do anything active. It’s Sunday evening but I don’t have to worry about work tomorrow. It’s a crazy concept: I won’t have to worry about being hungry or thirsty, warm or cold, tired or fresh, happy or sad.

I’ve decided to trace out how I came to this. The pivotal event occurred when I was 19. Simon next door was older, 26; his band rehearsed in an outbuilding in his backyard; they got gigs and turned professional. I was pretty good on piano, I had taken lessons from the age of 10 and reached sixth grade in the AMEB exams. The next grade would earn me a diploma qualifying me to teach music. I didn’t bother. I turned to contemporary music.

This suited Dad. He worked in the Public Works Department and had a mate who was a surveyor. This guy came around occasionally to talk up surveying; after he and Dad had a few whiskeys. I enrolled in a surveying course at the Institute of Technology and completed first year. I was a couple of months into second year surveying.

One morning during Uni term time I had no lectures or tutorials so I was studying at home. I decided to spend a couple of minutes on the piano. I was playing blues and boogie woogie and heard. “Good morning.”

Simon was peering in. “You sound great. I love that blues you’re doing. We’re playing a lot of blues and blues/rock in our band. There’s a keyboard in the band room, why don’t you join us at 4 o’clock.”

I got there dead on 4pm. A lady was there, older than me, late 20’s, tall, long beautiful face and willowy figure. She was beautiful. I felt guilty because she was as old as one of my aunties. I went to the keyboard. She said, “That’s my keyboard. What are you doing here”. I explained Simon had invited me to join them this afternoon; he hadn’t told her; I headed to the sliding doors.

Joanne said, “Stay”. She sat on a stool and pulled a guitar strap over her shoulder and tuned it. Simon came in and told me, “I forgot you were coming.” A guy called Richard arrived; I knew him by sight, he lived up the street; he was a couple of years older than me. As kids we were told to avoid him. He brought drumsticks; there was a drum set already there. Another guy came in with a big guitar case, Jeffrey. He was the bass player; I learned he was about the same age as Richard.

The band talked for a while and started a song. Richard lent me the chords. They stopped in the middle of the song. Simon said, “Let’s go back to the chorus”. Joanne said, “Let’s start again.” After the song finished Joanne said to me, “In the last chorus, play the Hammond.”

I looked around for the Hammond. Joanne laughed, “It’s an effect on the keyboard. The button “Electronic 2”, that’s the Hammond sound.” I was lost in in the dreamy wavy sound and made it swirl around the room. When we finished they looked me. Richard said, “Is it the first time you’ve played with a band? I said, “Yes except when I played piano for the senior school choir.” They laughed, but not a mean laugh.

Joanne said, “You’re in.” I said, “In the band?” She said yes. I said, “I’m studying to be a surveyor, I can’t study full time and be in a professional band; Joanne said, “You’re right, you will have to pull out of your course.”

Simon said, “Jo, to be fair, Douglas didn’t ask to be in the band, I just asked him to play along today.” Joanne said, “Don’t you want him?” Simon said, “Sure, now I’ve heard him. I’d like to hear him sing but on his playing alone I say yes”. Joanne turned to Richard and Jeffrey who said yep. She turned to me, “You have a decision to make. The band will pay you $500 per week as a base wage and you’ll have a share of the profits. I’ll discuss with the band your starting share but I will be suggesting 10%. As to copyright ….”

I said, “Wait a minute, I’m over my head, I have to think about this and I make no promises.” Joanne wanted me to let them know in a week. I thought it through; the study of surveying was boring and the field work didn’t excite me. If the band didn’t work out I would probably get a credit for the first year of surveying. I raised it with mum and dad over lunch. Dad went red and left the room. Mum and I found him in his home gymnasium in the enclosed back veranda doing chest presses. Mum and I sat together on a padded bench and watched him. Dad shelved the barbell and sat up. “You’ve got a great future ahead of you. Perth is expanding; the whole State is expanding; subdivisions are springing up all over in the metropolitan area and country towns, not to mention industry, mining for example. You’ve got a great career, a great life, ahead of you don’t throw it away.” But he said I was 19 and it was my decision.

I went next door to tell Simon. There was a bus on the gravel driveway and the band van was gone. Simon said, “You’ve seen the bus. The band’s agent has booked gigs around the State and we’re off on our first tour.” He showed me inside. There were chairs and sofas and fixed tables for the band and two thirds down was a floor-to-ceiling cage for the equipment. They were leaving next Wednesday. Simon said, “But this is good news, right? He said, “We have two rehearsals before we leave and anyway you’ll pick it up on the road.”

The tour was a blast. Jeffrey was quiet but came up after one show and said my keyboard was adding a lot to the band and we hit it off. Richard was flamboyant and funny, always saying outrageous things, ridiculous things, though they often hit the nail on the head. Simon was the musical director and he didn’t talk to me much except about songs and arrangements. Joanne was the road manager. She was pleasant but we never talked one to one. Joanne and Simon as a didn’t talk much either. Sometimes during the tour I felt lonely but Richard and Jeffrey cheered me up.

The band noticed I had developed a following with the kids, as the youngest in the band. I developed an image: semi- emo though I dyed my hair blonde not black. My show of boredom and misery drove the young audience crazy. The girls crowded around me after the show, not that I was a great romancer.

On the road Simon and Joanne wrote songs and the band went to New York to record them. The album sold well and after touring the east coast of Australia we returned to New York for another album. A bloke came in during rehearsal; he was the manager of the great Lindy Walker and had forgotten to book the studio musicians. She was upstairs on her own and very angry. Could we back her up until he assembled the studio muso’s? We said of course and demanded a carton of beer as payment.

It was the night before we were due to fly out of New York back to Australia. We finished our album. It bombed as an album but the single did well in the US and Australia. We were staying in a hotel in midtown Manhattan where the Broadway theatres are located, not we went to any shows. Joanne knocked on my door and asked ** she could sleep in my room. I said sure. I knew what was wrong but didn’t want her to know that. I gave her the bed and nestled down on the sofa. The air conditioning was freezing and I couldn’t turn it up. Every few minutes I got up to find another blanket. I ended up heaping up my clothes. Joanne giggled. “This is ridiculous. This is a king bed, the only bigger bed is Michael Jackson’s. Get into this bed.”

Joanne was lying on her side with her head on her hand and her elbow on the pillow. Her hair fell like a waterfall onto the pillow, her eyes were lasers. She wriggled across and we kissed. I became someone else. All I remember is her giggling and saying, “Have you done this before?”.

At Rockhampton, the last leg of our next tour she looked pale and miserable and held her side and grimaced. She told me she had pulled a muscle on stage. She repeated, like a mantra, “Nothing matters.”

Joanne wasn’t in the room when I woke up next morning. I went down to the hotel dining room for breakfast. She joined me and ordered coffee. She fell into my arms sobbing. The approaching waitress retreated. Joanne said, “I have pancreatic cancer. I’ve had tests and the doctor gave me the results this morning.” She said pancreatic cancer was deadly and she had three to six months to live.

I found myself crying. She took my face in her hands and wiped it dry with a serviette. She released me and walked off. On the plane back to Perth, Joanne said, “I’m going back to Simon, he is my soul mate, I won’t see you again after we land, it will be too painful for me and I’ve got to spare myself that.” We kissed and she said she loved me.

I was eating dinner with Mum and Dad when a knock came at the door. Mum came back with Joanne. I said, “Mum and Dad, this is Joanne, we were a couple for a long time”. Joanne came out and said, “Douglas. I was wrong about two things; I have been saying nothing matters, and that’s only half right: nothing matters and everything matters; and secondly I was wrong, you are my soul mate, no one but you. Will you be with me to the end?”

From Dad came a strange barking sound. He stood up, put his forehead on Joanne’s shoulder and walked out. Joanne smiled and left. Mum and I went to the gym. Dad was chest pressing frantically, his face wet with sweat and tears. Mum put her mouth near his ear and said, “Don’t burst a pooper valve.” Dad laughed and dropped the barbell on his chest. Mum and I went to each end and put it back on the shelf. Dad laying there laughing, louder with each renewed bout of laughter. He never mentioned Joanne again but in the weeks that followed he was kind and gentle.

By amazing good fortune Joanne’s house was around the corner from the medical centre. When Joanne told her cancer team she wanted to die at home they weren’t happy but they rallied and set everything up and were always in an out with treatment and friendship.

Joanne knew a lot of people and most wanted to visit her. I played social secretary and enforced a ten-minute time limit; everyone was happy about that. We moved her bed into the lounge room because we needed more room for equipment and visitors.

I was sleeping next to her bed and woke about 3am She was looking at me. She was skeletal but her milky eyes sparkled when I drew back from a kiss. She said, “Douglas, keep love in your life.”

I woke again about 6am and lay in my chair looking at the ceiling. Her covers were rising and falling slowly and infrequently. I heard a sound like “whoosh” and looked to her. She was in perfect peace.

The band split up. Simon said he was going to London ** join a big English band; it came to nothing and the last thing I heard he was managing a rehearsal studio in Camden. Richard and Jeffrey understood why I didn’t want to continue.

I returned to study and finished the surveying course. I worked for a private surveying consultancy in Perth. I formed a band and was guitarist and lead singer; we gigged occasionally. The bass player was Denise and we became a couple. She used meth occasionally but she called it social meth and said it was fine. I tried it and hated it but she continued. We married and in a short time had two boys. I hoped that marriage and children would settle her down, but she spun out of control and we split. Jacob was fourteen and Aaron was twelve. They resented me and froze me out but lately we have been talking.

I had to get away from Perth. I moved to Albany and got this surveying job with the Albany Council. I have bought this property, a house with acreage along the Dunning River, five miles out of town. I have lived here for five years now. I take the Labrador for walks each evening. The sunsets are beautiful and from the top of the hill I can see the ocean. I don’t have a girlfriend and I don’t spend time with anyone except work friends over coffee, but I post a lot on Facebook.

I don’t miss Joanne because she is always with me.

Her face is coming up to me from the page.

Change of plan.

But how am I going to get rid of this; it is unlicensed and the creep who sold to me won’t have a buyback scheme. I will cut it to pieces with an angle grinder. An angle grinder is dangerous and I’m not good with my hands. I’ll buy an industrial strength face mask and sleeve-length leather gloves and I’ll get Gavan from the depot to supervise; I don’t want to kill myself.  



Dan Abbott 2024

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Apr 23
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

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