Event: launch of Meanjin on Rock ’n’ Roll: All Yesterday’s Parties, Sappho Books, 51 Glebe Point Road
The evening started inauspiciously. Driving down Crystal Street behind a tottering, dull-red Mitsubishi four-wheel-drive, I read the sticker on the back window: ‘Campbelltown for Lovers’. Hah! (Loud street-side domestics, more likely, I thought evilly.) Eventually the stupid car turned off into a side street and I swooshed, free at last, down the broad lanes of Parramatta Road, in the direction of the city.
Sappho Books is situated in an old terrace-style building next door to the iconic Gleebooks. The event took place out the back, around a brick-paved yard dotted with concrete tables, plywood chairs with steel legs, white plastic stools, and draped with canvas awnings, where about fifty droogs, for the most part, congregated. A young professional in a beige, open-neck shirt and with a brown suede jacket draped on the back of his chair mooched with his girlfriend or wife. A commercial TV personality occupied a stool with his girlfriend or wife, who wore her hair short and a white singlet-style shirt that showed a lot of cleavage.
An intrepid photographer clambered around the enclosure throughout the event, snapping away. He would be the one to take our picture.
The beer was free (“courtesy of Meanjin via yours truly,” said Mark Mordue, my tutor) but served in tiny plastic cups that required about a nanosecond to drain to the lees. I found a chair and waited for the festivities to begin. Soon, Mark — who edited this issue of Meanjin and in fact originated the idea of a rock ’n’ roll issue — came to the microphone and said hi. He promised that the entertainment would last about twenty minutes and introduced a very short, stout, balding poet who gave us a rendition of a song, accompanying himself on harmonica, that included lines such as “the Blues had a child and it was named Rock ’n’ Roll” and other similar riffs.
He was followed by another poet who gave us two of his things, one of which is published in the magazine. Then came Reg Mombassa, a pop icon in Australia, who provoked an amused response from his audience with his erratic and amusing verses about young men with rope-like veins on their heads which “explode out of their shirts”. That got a few laughs. (Polite ones. The applause that followed each performer was also extremely polite.) A female singer followed this who gave us a song about a bee (“When we were sitting there/You and me, and the bee”), accompanying herself bravely on an unamplified electric guitar. Then an ageing rock musician appeared who was effusive in his praise of the mag while fiddling heroically with his reading glasses.
Mark was genial as a host, but his delivery this night didn’t compare at all with the focused, intellectual rigour I am used to hearing from his mouth during our tutorials, when he has the uncanny knack of homing in on a problem in a piece being workshopped, and delivering a blazingly accurate critique. He was out of his element and I felt sorry for him.
I felt sorry for him especially because in order to sell the magazine he had to appear flippant and eager before this sorry collection of mutant yuppies who had dragged their carcasses in off Glebe Point Road to be entertained for two hours on a Wednesday night. Mark is not an entertainer, he’s a writer, and a damn good one.
The photo shows me with Mark. I’m the one with the pepper-and-salt beard. One of us is smiling. Can you guess who?
The commercial TV personality worked the crowd shamelessly, singling out Mombassa, whose illustrated T-shirts are famous throughout the country, for attention. A guy who had come in at the same time as I did flopped around the enclosure with a pen collecting signatures from the authors whose work appears in the mag, on the flyleaf of his copy. I didn’t pay the $22.95 the mag sells for. I felt let down. All that hype for a few bars of music and some mediocre poetry. You can do better, Mark, I though wistfully, loyally, as I trundled back down the street to find my car spattered with bird droppings from out of the Moreton Bay fig tree I’d parked it under.
At least the beer was free.
But I hate cleaning my car.