Rachel Howlett
Brashs Record store Melbourne,1981

My first bite of the Apple was the tiny iPod shuffle. It became my favourite travel companion after a holiday to India with a good friend who snored louder than the Richter scale.

As I searched my music collection for songs to combat insomnia, the memories of past journeys came flooding back: discovering a pristine copy of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures LP at a record swap meet in Paris only to later forget it on the Métro; singing off-key along with a rowdy bunch of Kiwis to ‘Wannabe’ in front of a roaring campfire on the beach at Gallipoli; and, unearthing an old battered Beastie Boys mixed-cassette that helped me fight for my right to party, and sanity, while working on a Moshav farm in Israel.

Finding my musical feet all started with the first song I bought for myself — Adam and the Ant’s single, Antmusic. Before that track, I had been gifted Abba or Sherbet albums, and listened while my sister took over the record player with Split Enz and Blondie. But I fell in love with the new romantic sound after being mesmerised by the dandy highwayman one Sunday night on Countdown. As soon as Adam Ant appeared on screen, I wanted feathers plaited in my hair and gold stripes painted on my fingernails. I cut up one of my dad’s ties to wrap around my waist and destroyed my mum’s favourite Chanel lipstick after plastering two red streaks across my cheeks.

I just knew it was time to break out some of my pocket money to buy this tune and rattled my blue State Bank of Victoria moneybox until I got some coins. Dad loaded us into the family car, squeezing three kids into the back of a boxy red Sigma for the trip to the shopping centre. Mum wound down the window letting her cigarette smoke escape while my little brother kept pointing out all the trucks on the road. After moaning until Dad finally changed the radio station to 3XY, my older sister then instructed me to buy Australian Crawl instead. Crossing my arms, I poked out my tongue and let her know that Adam Ant was now my flavour.

At the Brashs Records counter, Mum gently pushed me forward. Standing alone, money in hand, I squeaked ‘Antmusic?’ The velvet-vested, spiky-haired assistant gave me a little nod of approval. I beamed back at Mum as he looked through the drawers packed full of records. When he held up a 7-inch single, I double-checked the orange CBS label before handing over my two dollars, made up of Charles and Diana commemorative fifty-cent coins.

Pocketing change, I peeked into the Brashs’s bag every few seconds as Mum lead me around the monolithic shopping centre. We sat together in the brightly lit food court and waited for the others to return. She drank a cup of tea while I pushed a straw through a chocolate Big M, slurping up milk from the corners of the carton. Mum laughed as I kept diving into the bag to check that the single was still in there. She told me how her teenage money had been lavished on jazz albums and confessed that she still loved to sway to the sultry sounds of Nina Simone in our lounge room.

On the way home in the car, I rustled the single’s paper sleeve so much that Dad threatened never to let me buy another. Leaning over, my sister whispered that sometimes messages were etched onto the vinyl. And apparently if I played the single backwards I might just hear secret Antmusic transmissions. I couldn’t wait to investigate and leapt straight out of the car before Dad had parked properly in the carport. Sadly, there were no messages of either kind on my version of Ant Music and the commando carport roll cost me dearly. Sympathetic to my plight, Mum bandaged-up my skinned knees until I looked like I could be the next King of the Wild Frontier.

Recently I found the remnants of my vinyl collection. Antmusic was warped — bent and twisted after being forgotten for years. Handling the vinyl, I realised that music was still my taste. I logged on, hit Buy This Song and clicked that I Was Sure. Within seconds the tune had added to my music library. One click and the past was mine. A few more clicks and I owned the complete Adam and the Ants collection.

As I scrolled through my iTunes library, I came across the jazz track we played at the end of my mother’s funeral. Nina’s still such a bittersweet flavour. But, I know some journeys are made better by soundtracks.


© Rachael Howlett. Re-worked from a piece published in the RMIT anthology tattle tales (2006).