Melbourne – Billy, Bodhi and I fly from Boston to L.A., touching down briefly in the state of California just as it catches fire. Our next flight will take us to Melbourne, Australia, quite possibly the best city on earth. Australia, aka “England, Outside” or “Clean California” does most things better than the rest of us. Just so you know. When you aren’t there, you should probably feel bad about it. We do.
Bodhi has packed his wet-suit, flippers, mask and snorkel, roughly 4 million marine biology books and about 5 million toy sharks. He brings only one pair of shoes. “I wasn’t planning on wearing shoes,” he says.
Mirko, our new tour manager, picks us up at the airport. Mirko is German, raised in Australia. He has an interesting accent: he talks like a pirate like all Australians, but his speech is clipped and precise. He claims the combination of German and Australian is perfect for tour managing, “Efficient and lazy!” he grins. I never do catch him being lazy, but he is calm. And efficient to the extent that everything somehow gets done without you seeing him do it. I now know I can relax on this tour.
Mirko brings us to our hotel (next door to “The Sisters of Divine Zeal”) and while he is checking us in, it begins to rain. I look down at Bodhi and grab his hand “Wanna go outside and smell the rain?” He nods and we run out the door.
Billy then carries our suitcase into the lobby and asks Mirko where we’ve gone. “They’ve gone outside to smell the rain,” he says, deadpan. Billy meets us in the courtyard, smiling.
“I think I like Mirko,” he says.
This is a day off, so we go out looking for apples and snakes. The apples we find are expensive and disappointing; I keep thinking it’s fall because I left that season behind in New England. It is, of course, spring here in Upside Down Under, dewy and green. We switch to more seasonal produce.
Then the three of us look under stones, in tree branches and in people’s yards for snakes but, embarrassingly, the only snakes we find are in a pet shop. Of course, this pet shop is fantastic (Australians doing stuff better than us again). We talk to the reptile handler for a good twenty minutes, admiring a 7 foot python. There is also a nice selection of fish for Bodhi. “An epaulet shark!” he squeals. Then he races around the store, pointing into various fish tanks. “Neon tetras! Yellow tangs! A pipe fish! A long-nosed gar! Axolotls!”
Melbourne looks to us like someone laid New Orleans over Tucson. With maybe a little Reykjavik thrown in. It is wet and chilly. I pray that the fish don’t remind Bodhi of his wet-suit; it’s so cold. We walk through beautiful neighborhoods and parks until we’re tired enough to fall asleep.
The next day is a show day, with press in the afternoon. The cab to the radio station doesn’t show up, though, and I am very late for a live session. The publicist finally drives me there herself and we listen to the station on the way. The dj keeps hyping my interview. “She’s so trusting,” I say. “I’m four hours late!”
When we race into the studio, she smiles, “Thank you so much for coming!” No mention of the time or the fact that she’s almost off the air. They’re so kind here — (Australia = better).
I am then late for sound check, which is nerve-wracking, as it’s the first one. I have brought no band mates with me this time, which means I must make all the sounds myself and they should be good ones. Of course, there are buzzes and power issues, the amp is a rental and seems excessively bright, one of the delay pedals is acting weird, song to song, my distortion pedal sounds completely different, the mike feeds, etc. Eventually, Mirko and Billy sort out the sound in the room and I sort out the sound for myself on stage. Then we go back to the hotel so I can sign t-shirts.
We couldn’t afford to bring printed shirts into this country to sell, so Billy bought blank t-shirts ahead of time and had Mirko pick them up and bring them to the hotel for me to write my name on. The names of the colors are entertaining: “Ocean” for men, “Merlot” for women. Interestingly, “Ocean” is not the color of the ocean and “Merlot” is not the color of Merlot. Also, it’s really hard to draw on a t-shirt. I try a Sharpie, a paint pen and an industrial marker. They all catch on the fabric and make me write my name retarded. Then I feel guilty about trying to sell this to someone and draw them a sad little picture: a guitar, a tree, a spiral.
“I’m really bad at this,” I tell Billy.
“Shut up and do it,” he offers helpfully.
I eventually get 36 shirts done: 18 men’s and 18 women’s. Then Billy writes numbers on them all. We’ll have a drawing at the end of the tour and the lucky winner will receive a guitar. Hopefully not a crappy one.
Tonight’s show is a blur, but I am reminded of why I’ve always loved to play here: people care. They are just enough out of the fray to be able to. They aren’t as relentlessly subjected to trendiness as Americans, they just want you to know your shit. Which I sort of do.
Bodhi sleeps on the couch throughout my set. Afterwards, I bundle him in a blanket I swiped from the airplane and carry him outside, where it’s still cool and rainy. It’s strange for Australia to be so cold. I like cold, I just have no sense memories of this place cold. Usually it feels like a carnival here. And Bodhi so wanted to snorkel in that ocean. I put him inside my coat to keep the rain off and take him back to bed.
Hepburn Springs – Before heading out to the next show, we all feel so bad for the 4 year old marine biologist that we take him to the Melbourne Aquarium. It is a peak experience for Bodhi, who can name every single shark and ray there. I am mystified as to how he does this; they all look pretty similar to me. He says there are subtle variations in fin and tail shape and number of gills, eye placement, etc., that differentiate one shark from another. And the rays are different sizes with distinctive stingers. I don’t know. I try to keep up, but Billy’s the fish guy. I don’t even really like fish.
“If you want to know anything about reptiles, just ask,” I say to Bodhi. “Like sea kraits or something.” No response. “Marine iguanas…” Nothing. He’s busy staring at something so well camouflaged I can’t even see it. “Did you want to know anything about reptiles?”
“Not really,” Bodhi answers, touching the glass wall behind which a shark glides past. “Look, Dad, a white tipped reef shark!”
I wander off and buy a cup of tea with a pocketful of beautiful change (their money’s pretty, too). Eventually, Bodhi is cajoled into leaving (we have to buy him a Melbourne Aquarium baseball cap to get him out of there) and we drive to Hepburn Springs.
On the way, Mirko makes sure that we all wear seat belts because we’re driving out in the country, where it’s not unusual to “wang a roo” or two.
“Jesus, your roadkill must be spectacular,” says Billy.
“Yes. And interestingly, if you kill a kangaroo, it can kill you too,” says Mirko thoughtfully. From this point on, we no longer use the verb, to drive; driving is now known as “wangaroo-ing”.
Our hotel is next door to the club tonight. It is my favorite kind of hotel: 70’s + brown + a shower cap in the bathroom. There’s a party atmosphere here, too, as many people from the Melbourne show have come to tonight’s show as well and are staying in the same place. Our room is freezing. Like it’s haunted. In fact, Hepburn Springs is freezing. They light fires in fire pits on the sidewalk. It’s strange and very beautiful. This town reminds us of Santa Fe, but without the tourists. Really lovely.
While Billy and Mirko set up my equipment, Bodhi naps on a beautiful velvet chaise in the club and I do phone interviews staring out the window of my hotel room into the neighbors’ yard. It is full of cockatoos and a kind of wild parrot called a rosella. There are no kookaburras, ’cause they only show up in the morning(!). I can’t get over this. How can a place that feels so comfortable also be so exotic?
I make another 36 t-shirts and then skip dinner in order to sleep for a few hours before the show. This makes me a little fuzzy, but I figure it’s better than sleeping during my set. After the show, I mention my nap to a couple who brought CD’s for me to sign; I’m feeling a little slow and figure this is a good excuse.
“We know you took a nap before the show,” they answer, smiling. “We peeked in your window on our way to the club!”
Walking back to the hotel, we hear what sounds like Flipper on the roof. An Australian friend says, “That could be a koala…” and walks up to investigate. I’m glad Bodhi is already asleep because he’s afraid of koalas (“They can be nasty!”) — sharks, yes, koalas, no. Billy and I are thrilled, however. We’re getting our phones ready to take pictures for the kids who aren’t with us when our friend says, “Naw, it’s just a possum.”
“Aw, crap,” says Billy. Then we see the possum. It is stunning. Like a huge masked bush baby, smooth and elegant with vivid markings. “That’s what you guys call a possum?!”
“Well, what do you call it?” asks our friend.
“Our possums are like…big, dumb rats!”
“Oh. Sorry, ” he says. Australians are better than us and so are their possums. I should’ve guessed.
In the morning, we have an early flight to New Zealand, but we are told that we can’t leave town without first going to the Red Star Café. This is true, as it turns out. Each morning, we find a breakfast place so amazing that it becomes our new favorite restaurant and beats out the one before it. The Red Star is now our new favorite place. The wait-staff all appear to have been to the show (Hepburn Springs is a small town) and are extra nice to me. We leave healthier and happier and head out to the airport, Mirko and Billy still studying Hepburn Springs real estate listings.
Land of Oz indeed.
Posted in: words on October 27, 2007