I was born in the suburb of Blackburn in 1957, and when I try to remember the music I hear everything swirling together. My mother’s warm voice, singing romantic songs all over the house.
Pop songs on the radio. Hearing the lyrics, “Those lazy, foggy, crazy summer days, those days of soda, pretzels, and beer,” and thinking I wanted pop and pretzels, whatever they were.
Mrs. Smith, at two backyards, singing religious songs hanging from the laundry. Dad loved hillbilly music. In church we sang hymns, me trying to find a place for my voice among the many.
We didn’t have a record player. On Sunday evenings, when we visited my grandparents in Newport, we could take the cable ferry across the Yarra, the chains ringing and the streetlights twinkling on the dark, mysterious, magical water.
On the long drive home, my brothers and I in the back seat, on the radio – American evangelists. Billy Graham was the best, and we fell asleep on the Southern Baptists: “Now is the hour of decision…”
I was five or six years old, in the garden, when Tim next door shouted over the high wooden fence with the magic words “Come on, mom is out”.
As I was climbing I saw Tim’s much older brother, in a black leather jacket, jet black hair slicked back, disappear down the street. Tim was holding a pack of cigarettes. He fished out two and gave me one, and we pretended to smoke, trying to outdo each other with our exaggerated gestures.
“Come and listen to this,” he said, and in the dark room he shared with his brother, there was a small red and white record player, a black rubber circle in the center. There was another black disc in a paper sleeve. Tim took the disc, put it on the rubber disc, a mechanical arm rose, swung sideways and fell. He jumped up on his bed and waited – his body tense like a sprinter waiting for the start.
Drums/Guitar. Drums. Drums. Drums/guitar, then a voice rose from that little plastic machine, moaning, “The warden threw a party at the county jail…”
It was as if everything I had heard before was nothing. But it was all there too – the voice raw and tender, slipping and sliding in rhythm. I was on Tim’s brother’s bed and we were jumping around, arms flailing, legs strutting.
I didn’t know what was going on, just that I couldn’t stop. “I can’t find a partner to use a wooden chair…” the voice shouted. We jumped and jumped and I felt crazy and happy, drenched cigarettes bouncing off our lips.
Tim played the record over and over until we heard a sound like a cannon shot, and I was standing in a broken bed. As the needle scratched, we stared at each other, frozen. “Was it a car door?
I ran out and climbed over our fence. I sat there, panting, back against the wooden picket fences and clutching my knees. I didn’t know what to feel or think. What had happened? I didn’t know it, but I wanted to relive this experience and find out more.
Six decades later, the musical journey of a lifetime has taken me through so much – back to the roots of what I’ve heard – gospel, country, R&B. I’ve listened to so much since – hard rock, hip hop, Sufi music, acid jazz, electronic, Gaelic psalm singing and more.
But nothing ever seemed so dangerous and wild to this suburban boy, bouncing on a bed in Blackburn, when he first heard Elvis.
And Kim’s changing track is Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”