Sunday, November 13, 2011

Men of Letters

Women/Men of Letters is an ongoing charity event run by Michaela Mcguire and Marieke Hardy. It raises money to support an animal shelter. It involves the lost art of letter writing. You read your letter out to a room full of nice people.

The theme for the day I participated was "A letter to the woman who changed my life."

Dear St Columba of Rieti,

I am writing to you in the hope you may be able to help me out of a bind.
I read on Wikipedia that you are the Patron Saint to turn to in matters of sorcery and witchcraft, and frankly, I hope that you will be the second woman to change my life. I will tell you about the first later.

I know it's a bit rich asking for your help, given I am not a Catholic or even baptised. 

In my defence though, I did grow up surrounded by Catholics. The country school I attended, Clintonvale State Primary, had 19 students and one teacher who was my Dad.  My family were one of three in the entire district that wasn't Catholic so I absorbed a lot of Catholicism by osmosis. For example, I still love to get drunk and feel guilty about it afterwards.

I am sure you would have approved of the pious atmosphere at Clintonvale Primary. One day my classmate Danny Ramsey brought a Gene Simmons KISS mask to school. All the other students said that KISS were devil worshippers, and that their band name stood for Knights In Satan's Service. They confiscated the mask and buried it under the library.
When Danny Ramsey protested that it was a birthday gift from his mum, we hurled large pieces of cactus at him. 

Around this time (grade three) my best friend Lawrence Ryan told me that a lady who was a devil worshipper had been jogging in the park in Warwick and one of her boobs had fallen off. When the ambulance came, they found it on the ground, full of maggots.  This definitely happened, and if you don't believe me, just ask Lawrence's Aunty, who doesn't have a phone.  

Of course St Columba, you have seen way weirder stuff than this, having raised the dead and toured the Holy Lands without your body, so I'm sure you totally get it. My point is that I was not without spiritual guidance. And I can't say I wasn't warned about the devil. 

My parents, one Atheist and one Agnostic were unaware that in Clintonvale I had started praying. I mainly prayed for Donna Cootes to love me, but I also prayed for selfless things like having a spaceship land in the school grounds and take us all for a ride.  I see that just recently the Vatican has announced it's okay to believe in aliens, so I think you'd have to agree I was way ahead of you guys on that one. 

When I was in grade six we moved to Toowoomba. I could tell it was a big city because it had a McDonalds. 

For high school my parents sent me to Toowoomba Grammar.  You'll be pleased to know that my grade eight science teacher, Mr Rudolph, was a very devout man. During one lesson on physics he told us that there was no such thing as perpetual motion - it was impossible.  Despite this, he said, two of his friends once drove all the way across the Nullabor with no petrol in their tank, just by using the power of prayer. Mr Rudolph said if we were interested in hearing more of this sort of thing, or even if we weren't but liked free pancakes, we should come to the Inter School Christian Fellowship meetings held every Tuesday lunch.
While ISCF was no where near as cool an acronym as KISS, the pancakes were a real drawcard.

At the meeting , Mr Rudolph told us the story of one of the members of his youth group. She had been walking around, smoking lots of marijuana and didn't know why. "Why are you doing that?" they asked her. "I just don't know," she would say, "I don't know why I'm doing it." 
Nobody at the youth group could work it out. Then one day they realised she had been listening to  "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen on her walkman. Hidden under the music was a backwards message that said "it's fun to smoke marijuana".

Mr Rudolph played us a video which seemed to feature my entire music collection. 
It turned out Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, even XTC were in league with the devil. They confirmed that KISS was indeed an acronym for Knights In Satan's Service, AC/DC for Anti Christ Devil's Child and  WASP for We Are Satan's People. 

Overnight my albums had become dark and fascinating. I could feel them luring me towards evil. 

At another ISCF meeting, a mysterious guest from outside the school came. He stood at the front of the room and looked at us all. After a moment, he announced he had the power to see demons, and that he could see them right now. They were hanging off our backs and sitting on our shoulders, whispering in our ears, telling us to sin. Demons of pride and hatred and lust. 
Lust!  No wonder I was so horny! It all made perfect sense. I ate my free pancake.

Columba, I know you can relate when I say there was an internal battle going on between good and evil inside me. Throughout this time I had become obsessed with the guitar, in particular, trying to play the guitar as fast as humanly possible, with no regard for timing, dynamics or taste. The pivotal moment came when I saw the movie "Crossroads". Not that travesty starring Britney Spears. This Crossroads was all class. It was the Karate Kid with guitars.

In the movie Steve Vai plays a guitarist who has signed his soul over to the devil in exchange for the ability to shred heinously on his axe. That means "play guitar well".  I saw him and I wanted to be him. 

And here is where I got myself into a pickle, St Columba, please forgive me in advance.

I prepared a contract  between myself and the devil. In exchange for my eternal soul, I would become the best guitarist in the world in a famous rock band. I cut my finger open and signed my name in blood, then burned the contract and scattered the ashes. I had learned the finer details on how to do this from my ISCF friends.

Within months my guitar chops were blazing. Sure, I practised a lot, but it was obvious to me it was mostly the devil making good on his end of the bargain. I stopped attending the ISCF meetings and started sinning in earnest.

St Columba, I confess that I smoked a lot of cigarettes, got drunk for the first time and had sex with a post pack. I won't go into details here. 

I bought remaindered Penthouse and Playboy magazines off my friend whose parents owned a news agency and sold them at an outrageous profit  to the boarders at school. Now I could eat all the pancakes I wanted.

I must have been listening to a lot of Queen too, because pretty soon I was smoking heaps of marijuana and I didn't know why. One day the Gideons visited our school and handed out pocket sized Bibles. Me and my friend Dave discovered that their pages were the perfect size for rolling joints.
That summer I worked my way through nearly the entire Book of Revelations. 

The ISCF had made it very clear to us that sex before marriage was a big no no, but I knew those rules no longer applied to me.
Still, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop being a virgin.  

Then I met Tammy LeStrange.

I saw her after school at McDonalds hanging out with Harry Delbrige and his girlfriend. I called him up, asked him who that girl in the pink miniskirt was and could I have her number. He said he'd ask. Two hours later my phone rang. It was Tammy herself.

"So, Harry says you think I'm hot?" she said.
"Um yeah." 
"Well," she said "Do you want to have a root then?" 
 "Oh...Yes please."

I don't know why I told you that Columba. I guess I thought you might be curious, seeing as you went to your grave a virgin and all. No offence.
Please watch over Tammy.

I didn't worry too much about school, safe in the knowledge that my contract with you-know-who would soon pay off and I'd be set for life. I know what you're thinking St Columba, and you're right. They call him the devil for a reason! 
But I've always been pretty slow on the uptake. For example,  I never saw my own face in profile until I was nineteen. It was a real shock.  Similarly, I didn't realise that the devil wasn't living up to his end of the bargain until I was thirty. 

I was already three years older than Hendrix, Joplin, and Kurt Cobain had been when they died.

The bands I had played in over the years: Uncle Stinky, More, Funk Me Dead, Cradle, Seethe, Eat Biscuits, GACK, Dogmachine, Earthfish and Complicated Game had all either broken up, failed or no longer required my services. 

Now I was in a band called Transport. We were all ageing, and saw it as our last shot at the big time. To show our dedication we got band tattoos.Transport had gotten further than any other band I'd been in:  we had a song on high rotation on Triple J and a real manager. She got me a meeting with the music publisher and ex-member of Icehouse Keith Welsh. I was pretty excited, thinking it might lead to a big break for us. Keith shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said "You're past your use-by date."  

I didn't know it at the time but I had already fallen in love with the woman who would completely change my life. Katie was also a struggling musician. After much debate about mixing business and pleasure, I started playing guitar for Katie and writing some songs with her. When she needed a whole new backing band, Transport stepped in. Over the next couple of years her success grew and grew.

Often, Transport would play an early show backing Kate in front of a sold out crowd and then go to another venue and play our own show to five bored punters. Kate got a record deal while Transport maxed out our drummer's credit card touring the country playing to nobody. The day Kate was presented with her first gold record, I watched all my dreams come true, but not for me.  

Look,  I'm not complaining in any way.  I 'm extremely grateful. If it wasn't going to happen for me, having it happen for the person I love most in the world is the next best thing. And I still get to play guitar and write songs for a living, which, let's face it, is like having won the lotto. 

But as I get older, my own certain death has become less of a concept, and more of a feeling in my spinal column.
St Columba,  I'm not sure if I believe that lady's boob fell off in Warwick, or if prayer can run a car as well as petrol or if there are demons hanging off all of us making us sin. I don't know if there really is someone called the devil, and I'm not sure you can even read this letter. But, for some reason, it's not hard for me to believe I might have a soul. Please can you help me get it back ?

I've reviewed the small print in my contract with the devil, and I think I have a good case. It said and I quote "I will become the best guitarist in the world" unquote , and quote "in a famous rock band" unquote. My wife Katie has attained a B grade level of fame at best and plays pop music, not rock. And Steve Vai is still the best guitarist in the world. I think you'll agree, the devil didn't honour his contract.

I'm sorry, no, I don't have a copy, I burned it.

Yours faithfully,



  1. B grade level of fame? Much better to be real musicians, and write and perform with intelligence, wit and skill, than be part of the 'A' grade celebrity game and only be able to perform with computers and auto-tuning.

  2. I still have fond memories of dancing with you and Kate on stage after an early KMH performance at Woodford in 02/03. Having been included in the Women of Letters thing, I think you can safely say you've made it as a rock guitarist god.

  3. PROUD to be able to say I saw you play live !

  4. In all contracts, the devil is in the small print................