John Clare Writings


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Thoughts are racing at me as when death last approached.

They don’t seem particularly to be mine.

At these times there is always a feeling, a whiff of the psychic. In this area I am agnostic.

I have mentioned here before how names that have drifted up or breached suddenly from some hitherto obscure depth have appeared in this blog then suddenly reclaimed a lost garment of fame, of celebrity, which is usually lost again within days of my remembering it. But not always. Some are recruited by those agents who secretly pillage my memory to replace an irksome prime minister or to coach a famous sporting team that has fallen out of form. I recalled Bronwyn Bishop here for instance. I told here how how I had pretended to pray that our airplane would crash as she came on board, thus troubling Peter Jordan who was sitting beside me. And obviously by this means signalling hidden forces to give her the sack. And they did. Tony pecked her cheek with his thin grim lips.

There is much of it. All this mysterious conductivity not her cheek. A long time back a woman drove me home and told me this strange story. How, back in the day a budding rocker had suggested that they write some songs together. Sure, she said and let him in and got out paper and pencils. He had a different idea and chased her around the flat with a knife, demanding surrender. She was and is a very attractive woman – but a knife! Someone heard a yell or scream and hammered on the door. He opened it and brandished the knife in the interfering fellow’s face. Who was it? Not J.O.K but one of several Wild Ones in the vicinity. I knew the times she was talking about, but only vaguely remembered the man. I think he was from New Zealand. The odd thing is that his visage appeared shortly thereafter on the TV. He had just died. That was some time ago, but that pattern persists.

Long ago I remember someone broaching the idea of a performance demon. I knew Johnny O’Keefe, whose band rehearsed in my Uncle Charles Valentine’s restaurant. Observing O’Keefe also in Melbourne, a performance demon seemed not improbable to me. That is an entity, malign or benign, created from the energy field of a performance. It was not so long that I met O’Keefe again, and not so long until his death. And not so long after the story of the knife and the knifeman’s death that I was speaking at Charles’ funeral.

We are all tumbling fast or slow in that direction. It is the substance of memory as it comes out We are all tumbling, fats and slow, in that direction. It is the substance of memory as it comes out of darkness, prompted or otherwise, that hypnotises me.

“I was curious and eager to know only what I believed to be more real than myself”. The quote is from Marcel Proust –  A la recherche du temp perdu. It is a desire for knowledge, beyond even the scientific, of the nature of things, of sound and light, of the texture of substance and rarified air. It is there in the morning before full light when seagulls and ibis walk about on the grass before the viaduct, outside my glass front doors, when brightening light bejewels the canopy of plane tree leaves and cars and trucks move faintly on the road over the other side of the flat park and the city rises on the hill in silence through the trees; through the leaves.

Perhaps you will have assumed that for someone to rise back out of obscurity and appear on your TV, in various media including public, they will have to first surface in my memory. You might think I have some influence on the zeitgeist. Not necessarily. For instance. There were Bob Hawke and Blanche D’Alpuget on television together at the Woodford Folk Festival. Furthermore, Bob, I am told, had something to say about Paul Keating. None of this came out of my memory, but sent me back there.

I do remember something, back there, but haven’t for years. A long time ago I had a literary agent. I had met her while working for Maurice Kay’s Ad agency up near the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As it happens, this woman got some famous authors published, but not me. I was not surprised. I have in fact had four books published but for all but one I was I was approached by the publishers. One of them was suggested by Peter Rechniewsky to a friend of his at NSW University Press. One was suggested by Adrian Jackson to the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and another was suggested to Text Publishers by Halen Garner. The most recent was published by Miriam Zolin of extempore. Anyway the agent did her best and was very encouraging. She also told me a little thing she knew about Bob and Blanche – who was her friend. Blanche told her that Bob was now a less interesting man than he was before he became Prime Minister.

Fascinating? Certainly understandable. Maurice Kay, incidentally, was up a few floors in an office to the West side of the bridge looking away on the more industrial reach of the harbour out along the Parramatta River. The other side was the scenic one, but the Opera House was barely under construction. The ferry wharves on the eastern side, and of course the ferries, were the most scenic things in view. On the north west side, through through under the bridge is the smiling face of the Luna Park entrance, which was framed by a structure somewhat like the Chrysler Building in New York. Maurice Kay was a colourful character, yes, and also a big drinker. I doubt that he is alive now and sure that he has not had an obituary in any media. So who will rise through my memory and appear before you? What I would deeply love to see is a rescreening of Vertigo, Rope and Rear Window . I like all those actors who were Hitchcock’s cattle: “All actors are cattle,” said Alfred”, but but mostly Kim Novak who had some resemblance to my ex-wife, who was descended from the artist Walter Greaves (a friend of Whistler’s). Her father was the manager of the Wintergarden Theatre in Brisbane. Pam Greaves and I discovered that Walter had painted a large and brilliant impression of Hammersmith Bridge On Boat Race Day, which hung welcoming our arrival in the Tate Gallery. It is all rushing back, but my most intense nostalgia is for San Francisco – where I’ve never actually been!

I am on my feet. I cannot lie here any longer or I will die .Whilever I am horizontal my head pounds. The light has begun to blaze. I rise and walk up to Broadway, Glebe and Sydney Uni and the clouds are blinding white billowing cumulo nimbus or strained thin cirrus, or monstrously three dimensional full sails with the grey threat of rain along their undersides, surrounded by the vast soaring magnificence of King’s Blue sky It almost gives me upside down vertigo and now it seems to be exploding out along all its axes, tenses and polarities “Then it would seem as though a former existence must seem to a reincarnated spirit.”

I leave you with Marcel Proust.

Perhaps I will meet Allan Browne, Bernie McGann, my son, my sister, James Joyce, Herman Melville, Bernard Hermmann, Hitchcock’s great composer. I am still here for the moment. The composer and saxophonist Phillip Johnston told me to listen to all the kinds of music in Rear Window. Hitchcock can be see from the opposite window at a party.

Speak Memory is a book of Nabokov’s.

Memory is an ecstasy and a torment. As before death rushes at me and stops it can be terrifying and ecstatic.

Wait wait. One more thing.

When I wrote the book about the beginning and first ten years of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz they persuaded Jeff Kennett, Victorian Premier, to write the introduction. He did. At the beginning he made it clear that he was not interested in jazz, but the Festival had been a great economic boon to the area. I found it most amusing to have an intro by Jeff. His photo was in the front as if he had written the book, mine on the last page. I was in Victoria on election day, which was the day the book was due to be released. I walked up town and a few people who knew me expressed astonishment. I was impatient to be introduced by the Vic Premier.

This did not happen. The results were coming in and clearly Jeff was being voted out.

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