Cleaning my bedroom window, Canberra, January 1982
I flew from Canada to Australia in January of 1982. I turned 15 on the Qantas flight and somewhere in the middle of the night, 30,000 feet in the air, the flight attendants, or hosties as they insisted I call them, gave me a pavlova with candles. Back in the Canadian winter, you couldn’t go a day without hearing Jessie’s Girl somewhere, and by the time I got back to Canada, The The would be all over the airwaves. In the years between 1982 and 1984, my whole musical world would change forever.
When we hit the tarmac in Sydney, my parents, my sister and me were greeted with an honour guard of insecticidal spray cans to stop us from bringing in foreign bugs. Landing in Canberra on a Sunday was something else altogether. You could have landed a spaceship in the centre of Canberra in the 1980’s and no one would have noticed. I sat by the pool in our hotel for a blazing 15 minutes, jet lagged and freaked out, and proceeded to get the first of many heart-stoppingly severe sunburns.
At night, the animal noises were awe-inspiring. The possums sounded like zombies from outer space and the magpies sang a kind of underwater dawn chorus that I fell in love with even in my homesick stupor. I missed my boyfriend, I missed my friends, I missed my dog and I missed my records. I spent hours at night learning to ride a skateboard in the dark up and down our driveway, trying to decipher the new sounds in this new world.
This was long before globalization, and foreign bugs weren’t the only things that didn’t make it across land and sea. Music was massively different in my new strange land. In Canada, I’d just begun to venture beyond my Sony cube clock radio to the record store downtown, leaving behind Betty Davis Eyes and Jessie’s Girl for the Sex Pistols and Joy Division. But when I first turned on my spanking new gold ghetto blaster, in my room in the new house with the weird animal noises and the crazy heat, everything I heard was strange and unfamiliar. Almost every song was different, and even if some of the artists were the same, the choice of album single wasn’t. It was all so English and so Australian. Everything I’d left behind was so American.
I remember the moment I first heard XTC, the beginning of a massive love affair, in outrageously vivid sensory detail. I was standing outside on a chair, wearing overall shorts from Sportsgirl, cleaning the windows of my new room. My ear was burning in the sun, and my nose, which I had just recently pierced with the aid of a needle sterilized with a match and a handy bit of raw potato, was throbbing softly. The window rag smelled of this new stuff, eucalyptus oil, which I wanted to drown the world in I loved it so much, and my music box was precariously perched on a stool.
And then this song came on. Plink plink plink of a hollow guitar. Thrummy base line. A tambourine, for fuck’s sake. That tinny, boxy beginning. The medieval back up singing. The crazy build up to that silly chorus. The crows! I couldn’t stand it. Who was it? When would I hear them again? This was long before Soundhound of course and back announcing has always been an unpredictable science.
They weren’t talking about girls, love, lust, poverty or existential despair. There were no cars, no crime and no personal history. There was no ranting, hot passion or despair, just simple enthusiasm. So white, but in a good, not too much mayo kind of way. They were singing about taking in the world and the weird and wonderful joys of perception. It was the kind of music that brought you into the present. And with the sad loss of the past and the uncertainty of the future threatening to take up my entire emotional catalogue, it was a great relief.
I did hear them again of course, having listened to the radio fanatically for days to finally find out who they were. I found a back catalogue as well – one of the great joys of falling in music love – wait, there’s more! And I played that beautiful green album with the Uffington white horse emblem to death at my new best mate Andrew’s house until Mummer became the new favourite.
But I never got over Senses Working Overtime. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love like that again. My music heart is thirty years older now and it’s heard so many things that it’s rare for a piece of music to get right in and immediately set up camp like that. And all the world is football-shaped, It’s just for me to kick in space… How can you go past that?
© Zoë Krukpa.
Music performed by Stephen Andrew and Jack Gramski, of The Stereo Stories Band. Newport Bowls Club, Melbourne, October 2014
Photo of Zoë and band by Patrick Reynolds. Geelong Library Word For Word Festival November 2016