Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dead sea captains, my very own pile of bones and the United Nations

This is the very first draft of a letter I intend to send to a friend.

Dear Friend,

Firstly, this is a kind of letter of thanks. Secondly, this is the first letter I have written on HAL so in this way at least it is special. I don't know what in the fuck came over you to make you decide to give me my very own ticket to see PJ Harvey at the State Theatre. There is no possible way I could have accepted such a generous gift if it wasn't for the kind and equally generous words that accompanied the giving. I suppose this letter will be entirely redundant by the time you receive it seeing as you are going to the very same PJ Harvey show tomorrow night but I'm not afraid of a little redundancy, every now and then.

I think I've come away changed. It was her quiet deliberateness that's done it. She was so sure, moving in and out of the light, making use of shadows. She was so sure of every exchange of silence for sound. I'm thinking my pile of bones will be talking about the time I saw PJ Harvey long after the rest of me has vanished.

She began in darkness, edged forwards into a dim light and cast a tall shadow up the vaulted walls of the theatre. There are angels in the architecture here. I couldn't tear myself away from the dark image, the long feather tendrils of her headdress casting ideas of ragged bones and fallen wings while she sang and strummed that damn autoharp like it was easier than breathing.

I used to play the autoharp, when I was a kid, in the garage. It was where all the interesting things were, old ammunition boxes, glockenspiels, melodicas, tamborines, guitars, an ancient upright piano, basses, amps, quad boxes, wood blocks, workbenches, train sets, easels, paints, a banjo, jars fulls of coloured picks and an autoharp. Dad covered the floor in avocado green carpet tiles that scratched and itched bare flesh mercilessly. It was basically coloured sandpaper. I'm not sure why he did that. Between the carpet tiles tearing at the backs of my legs and the autoharp taking the tops off my fingers I don't really know why I spent so much time in there.

If I had to state my purpose in spending so much time in a hostile garage I'd choose possibility. The sense of possibility, you could do or make or play anything in that room, nothing was off limits, no flight of fancy I couldn't at least make a decent attempt at turning into fact. I eventually came out of that garage with the knowledge that not every idea works, a series of crazy attempts at weird instruments, a detective agency, a solid sense where I fail creatively and the ability to fall steadfastly into an idea.

This is where I'm going to try and make a point, I think I might have one. I feel like PJ Harvey came out of that garage in a way that I didn't and it has filled me with awe. Sitting under the gilt vaults and arches in the theatre tonight I struggled to comprehend something, it seems just beyond my reach, a sense of power and wonder unlike anything people call religious. Ideas turned tangible.

She was tiny, wrapped in that big black dress, trailing feathers down the back of her hair. Tiny but solid as definite as a tree. I believed, without struggle, every word she sang, wailed and uttered. Followed her without question down the thick path of mourning for a country I've never seen.

My friend N, whose ticket I had arranged to collect and hold for her, arrived two minutes before the show started so we barrelled in and took our seats as fast we could. Once the light died and we spied shadowy figures making their way onto the stage I sat in silence. Uttered not one word, shared not one thought, glance or movement. You have given me the indulgence of solitude. The unfettered joy of witnessing without the burden of being obliged to hack off part of my experience and give it away. I've collected each moment and pressed them into private unvarnished memory.

I don't need to talk about the music, you already know what I mean.

Last night you called the Sydney Festival "art served on white bread", which is just about perfect for everything, except this. So thank you for the ticket, in case it wasn't clear from this letter, I'm saying thank you for the ticket.

I'm glad you've travelled round the world and back again. You're a pal and a confidante.


With actual sincerity for once,

DS

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