I’m 23 years old, sitting in my University’s library, sort of jotting down notes for Tax Law whilst peeking around the Internet as you do. I’ve got my headphones on, Bose for those playing at home, and I’m thinking about what I should listen to. Scrolling through Spotify, apologies to the artists who post the minimal dividends they receive from such streaming applications, I still buy your music too, and I come across a few albums from yesteryear. Well before my time, well before I was even a speck in the eye of my mother who was a single mother in Adelaide, working at Singapore Airlines. Little more than a blip on the radar for my father even further back when he was a young stud prancing around Punt Road Oval as a seventeen year old kid back in the early 70s. The albums I’m considering listening to come from those legendary artists you hear bobbing up in conversations about the most important of the 20th century.
Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, Every Picture Tells a Story, Blue, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Willy and the Poor Boys, Rumours, What’s Going On, Sticky Fingers, Abbey Road, Music from the Big Pink, Highway 61 Revisited, Sweet Baby James, Tapestry, I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You, Songs in the Key of Life, The Stranger, Pet Sounds… I’ve just named some of the greatet albums of all time of course and obviously necessary listening each and everyone of them. Yet, one stands out. One artist I just feel summarises what I’ve grown up with and how I’ve grown as a man. It all really stems from the long road trips from Melbourne to Adelaide and back as frequently as four times a year when I was a kid, now kinda as rare as me going down to the local milkbar for a paddle pop. Nostalgia for the old times for me should be justified through a chance to look forward and develop into the person I wanted to as a kid. My daydreams of going up to be just like Kieran Perkins, the 1500 metre Olympic gold medalist with a wonderful smile and what I determined to be just as big a heart. I used to tell Mum I wanted to change my name to Sebastian because it was longer than William and I used to kick the footy to myself for hours imagining myself as the hero of an epic battle between two rivals.
I don’t really imagine myself as Kieran Perkins anymore though I still do admire great distance swimmers as there is something about their great discipline and application to their pet event that causes me to gasp with admiration. It must be hard knowing that your private life is the obsession of those standing in line to be served at a grocerer. Ian Thorpe revealed his struggle with his sexuality a couple of weeks ago, something that led him to legitimate thoughts of suicide and Perkins and Hackett have both been through domestic breakdowns. Being a role model is of course a thankless task. You don’t have to be a great role model to make a lot of money as shown by sportsmen such as Todd Carney and Wayne Carey but you still should at least acknowledge that at all times, kids, just like we all once were, are looking up to you whether it be right or wrong. For that, to be a great role model with personality, honesty and perspective is a truly admirable thing.
I don’t really care much for the name Sebastian as William has grown on me. I am a William. A man of passion, great emotional depth, although uncertainty in myself at times does plague me. I’m not sure if this is what a William should be but as a name with ties to British royalty, there is no doubt that from time to time royals all feel the tap on the shoulder to do their god-damn job. Unfortunately I was never blessed with the blood lines of royalty so finding my own way is my blessing and curse. But I will commit to it as any individual does. Seeking solace and direction in life is something that we as the confused youth strive to find. The countless conversations I have had with friends recently in regard to direction is indicative of this. We are Generation Y, the generation who seemingly has had everything delivered to their front door and yet we always seem to be looking out the windows for something else to jump onto our plates. Maybe one day we will revert back to the old school, find one thing, become good at it and live. I’m not sure what outlook I prefer. My sights have consistently been set at the highest point and I’ve had to readjust them throughout my years as a young adult. I’m not sure I’m going in the right direction as a William, but at least I’m going in a direction. Maybe if I was a Sebastian I would be standing on a podium being celebrated by the world. Maybe I’d be searching the bins for answers, hoping that the answer would be in the discarded cup of formerly hot chicken noodle soup. Do I really need to be considering this?
And I still do kick the footy around in the backyard from time to time, carving my way into folklore albeit at a lower level. I’m not the footballer my father was but I can still prance around a local field down in Kew and be happy with my situation. A premiership, a good bunch of mates and a good weekend consistently had. That’s not so bad, is it? I still imagine myself kicking 6 goals in a quarter as I punt the ball into the sky and mark it as it falls back to earth. Like gravity, I am always brought back to earth, but who really wants to be 10 feet in the sky where there is no one up there to talk to?
The trip to Adelaide is now pretty much biennially but the albums that are played remain the same. As Dad is usually in the driver’s seat, we listen to his and our favourites. It changed for a time as my sister and I became more aware of the sound system and its capabilities. For a time it actually played Usher, Matchbox 20, Savage Garden and some obscure female punk-pop acts much to Dad’s derision. He didn’t complain much though. All part of being a family, he was probably thinking.
In the sweltering January weather, we floated up for my Uncle’s second wedding. We played the old classics on the desolate Victorian M1 through Stawell, Nhill and Border Town stopping at all the favourite and forced stops. Brunch at Deer Park, a quick pie near Border Town, rolls and tea near the big slide in Nhill which has become remarkably more sophisticated since we were kids. A roof to protect the kids from the harsh sun and no more burns on the worn out steel. Boy, oh boy, I swear it was faster when I was 10. Anyhow, that’s just the way things go.
It wasn’t long until the classics started playing. A little bit of Dylan, a little bit of Hendrix and a whole lot of the man I’ve been steering toward in this essay before I got sidetracked by my childhood. Van Morrison. The quintessential singer/songwriter. Irish folk. With a voice you could never mistake for anyone else, not even the imitators who have come and gone as he continued to ply his trade. Travelling and Van go hand in hand for mine. Of course you can travel in a van… bad joke… but the way he seems to just float through a song, delivering these golden warbles in between magical instrumental stanzas. You simply have to listen to ‘Brand New Day’ to understand what I am talking about here. The entire composition, the sea of female vocalists, the delicate piano, the steady bass and the golden pipes of Mr Morrison come together to create a song that you could listen to in your darkest hour and the most beautiful twilight you could ever witnessed. ‘Yes it feels like, yes it seems like, yes it feels like, yes it SEEEEEEEEEMS like, a brand new day.’ Every instance that I listen to his music feels like a brand new beginning. It is one of those universal truths that no matter how many times I tap into his material, there is some sort of nuance, note or tidbit that denies it the opportunity to be perceived as stale.
So as we drive along the M1, no matter how stale the environment has become, it is always Van Morrison who seems to keep it fresh. It is possible that it is because I still am delighted in the company of my family and as we grow a little older it appears to become a little more scarce. With a sister across the bridge in Newport with a child and a house, my brother still rollicking along, always comfortable in his own skin, my younger sister with a boyfriend, my parents starting to enter into that beautiful, or dastardly, twilight that we all seem to fear so much as kids… and me, the kid who isn’t ready to become an adult who listens to too much music and dreams a little too much.
The trips to Adelaide became part of my year as much as it did moving from one grade to another as a kid. From one fashion trend to another as my identity shifted with each step I took and each role model who came into my life. Yet, Morrison remained a constant. He’s grumpy, he’s a perfectionist, he’s been just as scared by life as I’ve been from time to time and yet he is Van the Man. A flawed genius. Creating albums as wonderful as Astral Weeks, where he worships his gypsy lovers and travels an uncertain road, to a Crazy Love and a Moondance before he returns to Cleaning Windows. In between these wonderful moments, he has travelled just about every road in his struggle. The only constant has been his music.
I suppose this is a pretty apt way to parallel my young life with the experience of Mr Morrison. The moments that I cherish are as simple as the road trip to Adelaide in my youth as Van sung about a Brown Eyed Girl who he made love to in the green grass, singing ‘SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA DEE DAH’ and rocking her gypsy body just like the days of old, floating into the mystic.
Unfortunately he has caught me at the wrong time as I think about winning the heart of a girl whose gypsy body makes me collapse into myself and burn brightly inside. Perhaps I need to imagine myself as Kieran Perkins in that pool, my name Sebastian, winning premierships for Richmond, kicking goals from every corner of the ground as I shout ‘SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA DEE DAH’ to the clouds, hoping that all the work I have to do will just happen. But no, alas, it doesn’t work like that. Nothing real happens in an instance. I just have to remember that those 9 hours I spent in that car three times a year are still some of the most prominent and formative moments in my short life. And Van Morrison didn’t just show his genius in one album. He has showed his genius throughout his life. Maybe one day I will meet Van and we can stand together as men who have been through the Mystic and come out the other side knowing we’ve seen the smile she smiles and been elevated to Heaven… just like Jackie Wilson said.
Thanks for your help Van.