Sunday, August 29, 2021

An Ukulele Epitaph for Someone Not Yet Gone (but nearly)

Christmas 2011, Maitland.
Chris Morley is being shown the door.  

And this, friends, is the 'problem' with community. 

For despite all their frailties and foibles, you get to hang out with people; you get to know them. And then they die, and you miss them.

You miss their wordiness, or their caustic view of the world. Or you miss their compassion and loving heart. You miss a whole swathe of emotions, behaviours and tics that cleave them to you, and they colour you and your life. 

All of this because, together, you decided to act, to participate in some common purpose. Not because you necessarily liked them, or loved them, or that they are family or lovers - they are not your obligatories. Rather, they are part of a world that you have both decided to create. 

Chris played ukulele too loud. His rhythm would swamp others, and not necessarily in a good way. His songs and poems were deep - deeper, and longer than many had the time for. 

I didn’t know Chris all that well, but from what I did hear, he was a good human being focussed on social justice. I know he was a poet. A musician. A songwriter. A think he was a good leftie, and possibly some sort of anarchistic compassionate, generous church going Christian. I think I also heard he was handy with a hammer and screwdriver, with a renovator’s mindset. In one way he was an enigma to me, a person who appeared, and then would not be seen for a year or two, then return, covered in plaster dust and paint. He apparently was older than his dyed hair belied. (Well, someone once whispered to me their suspicions). 

Not everyone could see the way that Chris saw things. But I felt I did. He was my sort of guy, a complex, passionate, creative, intelligent, skittish and skilled oddball. I understood and appreciated his depth of compassion and inquiry, but at times I didn’t appreciate the time that some of his soliloquies took. 
Christmas 2011 - what a surly looking bastard

I’m using the past tense here, but you’re not gone yet, are you Chris? From what I hear on the interwebs, it sounds as though your passing is loving and peaceful. With a lover like Nicola, it surely will be. 

Thank you so much for the colour you brought to the outer circles of my world, and to many many others in our little ukulele world here in Newcastle. I hope you are around long enough, and with enough presence of mind, to appreciate my small piece of doggerel. I hope I haven't kept you too long. For at times I tend to be a little too much like you.

Love to you Chris. Loved your singing and passion.


Chris at Danielle Scott's farewell 2018

Nicola found the above video of Chris singing at Ukestra 4 years ago.  Their daughter then asked Chris to reprise it. He's still got it. Here's Chris singing Heavy Heart in August 2021, off by heart, with not a lot of energy, but full of passion.

Chris and Nicola's Facebook post from 29 August 2021

Dear friends of Chris, this is his wife Nicola. You may or may not know that Chris has been living with metastatic pancreatic cancer for the last 18 months. Unfortunately all the treatments have stopped working and now the cancer will run its course. Chris is fairly comfortable at home with his loving family, good pain killers and daily support from the palliative care team. I was thinking that he might get some pleasure from hearing some stories, memories or poems from friends (not soppy!!). You can send to me and I will read to Chris. Take care, stay safe. Love from Chris and Nicola.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Anzac Day 2021 - Ambivalence and Quinces

It’s dawn and I write. I don’t know what. But I know why. It's ANZAC Day, and I am never sure what to do.

I’m the son of a World War II soldier. He had shrapnel in his knee, he had tears when music, mates and memory collided. He was a good dad, with residual pain and occasional demons from losing a brother, and presumably from killing, and from nearly being killed. The horrors of war is not just a pithy phrase; it is literal and visceral. I have no idea how you carry those emotional scars with you for the rest of your life. I don't understand, and don't really want to accept the human culture that asks this of young men.

As a teenager I arced up about war and its place in our national identity. Me, the offspring who actually got accepted into the Navy, but then turned it down. When the two Navy recruiters showed up at our house in 1978 to see where they went wrong, Dad sniped: “I don’t know what happened son, but I think the peacies have got to you”.

He was right, albeit described with a word that was new to me.

Quinces, awake and a woke

I’ve been awake since 3:09am. Not because it is ANZAC Day, but because yesterday I was exhausted, and went to bed early. I have abluted, sliced and stewed quinces, and listened to a really interesting chat – Are the Australian Military too Woke? Let’s not forget, says the learned retired lieutenant / academic, that the military are here to be violent in sanctioned ways, to kill with the greatest humility and precision. This is the reality, and it is exactly what I decided that I couldn't come at. 

Upon realising that me joining the navy meant me possibly killing someone, my teenage self retreated. I didn't want to be that sort of human. Not too long after this I became a vegetarian. Still am.

I know the paradoxes and intersections of peace, violence and freedom  but I cannot reconcile them. I'm with Moxy Fruvous who so eloquently (and Canadianly) said: 

We'd like to play hockey, have kids and grow old.

When I ride my bike on the shared footpath/bikeway, I usually whistle, instead of ringing my bell. Instead, today in the pre-dawn light I sang their Gulf War Song. 

We got a call
to write a song 
about the war in the gulf, 
but we shouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. 

So we tried, 
but then gave up 
cause there was no such song, 
but the trying was very revealing.

Have a listen. It's a beautiful acapella number. 

A fractured ANZAC Day

In the ride to town, I pass a number of COVID-cautious ceremonial podcast blasts emanating from open car doors in auspicious ocean viewing car parks, broadcasting to small bemedalled gatherings in the dawn. At 6am I'm at Estabar. In front of me there is a COVID rump of people, listening to the murmur of an amplified speaker, a mumble from here, the occasional bagpipe there, and then the final resting trumpet.

Later today many people will be very drunk, celebrating whatever it is we celebrate about such complex matters. Drowning their sorrows, their own internal lifelong residual pain. Except most of those people ironically have never 'served'. That irks me. Just another day, just another excuse to get completely trolleyed and then perhaps punch a stranger.

I have played the Last Post ceremonially. Most poignantly it was at Dad's funeral some 30 years ago. My oldest brother was quite jealous of my act of common heritage with Dad, the damn peacenik who farewelled Frank Jackson with the Last Post, holding back the tears, keeping a stiffish upper lip so that that obligatory refrain could be completed through well disciplined lips.

I suppose life and death is just one big contradiction, and I clearly struggle, and have great uncertainty and definite unwillingness to participate in an ambiguous celebratory public ritual. Writing helps me acknowledge my internal conflicts and uncertainties. I am no saint, and I have no idea how I really would react in the face of violence that directly threatens me or others. I go out of my way to avoid any sort of violence. Other men cross the street to seek it out. 

RIP Dad, I will never know what you went through. 

With love, your quince loving son.