by Jack Henry
A man recalls his glory days and a one-time encounter with fame.
A Flimflam Fling With Fame
"I was there," an old fellow gasped while swaying on his walking stick, "Seventy-six it was, ACDC touring with The Ted Mulry Gang. I was a bass player in one of the support bands. Them days, they didn't have roadies, not like today. Roadies were volunteers, anyone with the cojones to lift a speaker bin with a radial horn, got the nod. My job was to clear the electric guitar lead from under Angus' feet so it wouldn't trip him up. Angus, eh? He, he duckwalked the length and breadth of the stage. You see, he starts playing as soon as he gets off the steps—not like them pussies today who stand around for ten minutes waiting for a cue,” the old fellow spat on the ground.
“Yeah,” he continued, “Prancing about with them radio microphones and transmitters shoved into their instruments. What rubbish! A flailing guitar lead flogging behind the player like a predator was theatre. A performance of its own requiring skill and timing to work the gyrations and rhythms of the music. Fair dinkum, it was part of the act! Other members of the band, you know, Malcolm on rhythm, and Evans on bass, had their leads gaffer taped to the speaker grill. Sometimes they taped them to the floor so Bon wouldn't snag 'em. Hah! He was a wild'un, Bon. Heh, heh, heh, wore these little shorts that left nothing to the imagination of girlies down the front and they liked what they saw, know what I mean? They couldn't do it for him, Angus that is. He strutted the full length of the boards like a demented chicken. I stayed well back, of course, flinging the long coils of guitar lead clear of his feet. Angus couldn’t strut his stuff without me swingin’ the lead. We was magnificent, I tell ya.”
My job is selling pictures at the markets. We’re a weird bunch, market stall vendors. Phil teamed up with his missus to manage the markets, though I never remember her name. Phil told me the crazy ones line up at the gate when he opens at three in the morning. Moon howlers he calls them.
Gazing up at the life-sized picture of a shirtless Angus Young playing guitar, hair flying up from his head, the old boy was lost in reminiscence. He swayed on his walking stick as though it sucked into the ground, and the earth twirled him like a straw through a slice of melon on a market stall smoothie.
“It was soon after, me life ended," he muttered.
In a time before, I'd have quipped, "for a dead man, you do a passable impersonation of a live one." A market stall adage says,
"Keep 'em talking, and there's a chance they'll buy." My attitude since then has been dulled by experience. I, like those trading around me, recognize the buyers from the time wasters.
I knew there was more to this story, and he compelled to tell it as though the retelling gave it life. The fellow continued, "Worked the Brisbane Expo, eighty-eight it were. I picked up a bug, and later they told me I had six months to live!" He turned in expectation. I performed a well-practiced look of awe and amazement tinged with sympathy. Like all salespeople, I clung to the hope, albeit a long shot, of closing the deal and selling him the Angus Young picture.
"Yep," the old fellow chuckled impressed by my performance. Now that I think back, he may have seen through the shallowness of my concern.
Regardless, he resumed his tale, "I collapsed, you see, had a hard time breathing. Spent ages in hospital before they found out what was wrong with me. A bug was eating my brain. A virus called Guillain-Barre Syndrome lay dormant in my chest for a while until it took hold. I picked it up from a Campylobacter infection at Expo, you know, the one that gives you the squirts,” the old fellow chuckled in delight at rattling off his lexicon of medical terms, “At thirty-two years of age, me working life and pretty much everything else was cactus." His free hand wandered over his crotch to squeeze his balls. I let it pass. Most memories inspired by my pictures are pretty silly—a girl sings Let It Go upon seeing Elsa, or a kid recalls wasting an entire school vacation in the hot funk of his bedroom playing Halo, that sort of stuff. I noticed a flicker of defiance in the guy's face when he declared that he outlived his doctor's prognosis, as though his delayed death was a triumph.
"Been on benefits ever since—can't do things, you know, a shit number in the Centrelink queue, give you just enough to get by. I been down there so long now the security give me a nod. Hell, not everyone gets recognized in that place. Seen it all down there, the hefty mums who can't afford to dress their kids, but spend fifteen-hundred bucks gittin’ legs inked. The so-called reffos who been here five minutes and demand their handout. Yeah, you wanna see a cross section of life—sit in a dole queue. But I gotta tell ya, I seen worse."
I waited in anticipation for what could worse than the miserable years on benefit payments.
"I seen my life disappear like piss down a pretty urinal," he said grimly.
The man gazed at the picture of Angus Young; a photo of him in his prime, youthful and exuberant. For a second, I felt a moment of sympathy for the dud-hand life dealt this fellow. I thought to lighten the mood by asking if I should stand so close in case the virus was infectious?
"Only if I kiss ya," he said with a wry smile. He said his brain was a shamble, although he remembered things well enough before his ailment. He twisted on his walking stick to front the picture of Angus Young. "You know what Angus said to me on that night? Yelled it across the stage, if you must know, in front of six thousand people, looked right at me and said it," he stabbed a pointed finger at one of his eyes.
The old boy paused. It was a defining moment in his life, a pivotal incident that went with the animal spirits of the time; a life before his malaise; that brief period held precious in the neurons of his addled brain. Panic scrambled through my own (gladly not so addled) mind. Do we all stand condemned, guilty of watching our moments and opportunities slide into oblivion? Those long hours at work only to endure a mindless commute through ramshackle suburbs of congested cities? Nights that saw the little ones already asleep upon returning home. The moments of absence stolen by bank mortgages and futile deadlines. Lives lapping the edge of contentment with a desire that things will be better tomorrow.
I raced through possibilities of what the celebrated musician and energetic rocker could have said. Perhaps something that sustained him through illness? Maybe an explanation to understand the fickleness of fate, or appease his anger at the limitations of his compromised life? Something like, 'Live like you've been thunderstruck'.
The fellow leaned with the closeness of a fellow conspirator, "Angus said to me, get the effing lead, will yer?" the man grinned as though it was the best thing to happen to him before bugs ate his brain.
He sauntered away between the moon howlers packing their wares hoping to be home before lunch.
As I said at the outset, my other job is peddling memories, and sometimes, I also sell a picture.