Melbourne, 2014 onwards

“How can I help you?”

Was Ross my best boss? Quite possibly. We had met through sport and he had then found work for me. Casual hours at first, testing the waters. Then part-time. Then ongoing. Not as a favour for a slightly lost soul but because he could see mutual benefits.

As a sports coach and administrator he knew how to get the best from his players and the club’s volunteers. Ever-encouraging and patient. As an employer, likewise. His opening line, on the phone or in the foyer, or the footy club was always the same: “How can I help you?” Said with sincerity, each and every time.

We also had the common ground of music. The tattoo on his forearm showed the opening bars of a Sex Pistols song. My boss didn’t look like he’d ever been a punk, but judgements can be skin deep. I once asked him to write a Stereo Story about the tattoo.

Part of my job included sorting the mail. A magazine called The Oxford American would regularly be in the pile. Not that my boss was from Oxford. Or America. The Oxford American describes itself as ‘a national magazine dedicated to featuring the very best in Southern writing while documenting the complexity and vitality of the South.’ Which seemed a long way from punk. And from Melbourne’s western suburbs. And from footy.

There were always two copies. And always a bonus CD with the music editions. I would add both copies to the boss’s never-ending stack of mail. The next day one copy would be on my desk.

He explained the extra copy with a casual wave of his forearm: “I think my partner subscribed for me, as a gift one year, not knowing I had re-subscribed. And now they keep turning up.”

The long essays in the music editions were lessons in quality journalism. How to take your time, set a scene, evoke a place, draw a character, tell a fine story. And the CDs took me to places I’ll never see.

Visions of The Blues, from 2016, included songs by CeDell Davis, Bonnie Raitt, Regina Carter, Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Gil Scott-Heron, Big Mama Thornton…

Kentucky, from 2017, had songs by Bill Monroe, The Everley Brothers, Harry Dean Stanton, Loretta Lynn, Dwight Yoakam and loads of names new to me: Sturgill Simpson, The Phillips Family, Sarah Ogan Gunning, The Pine Mountain Girls Octet. All very educational.

He was my best boss*. He’s retired now. I work elsewhere. We keep in touch through sport and music. I’ve stopped waiting for the story about the tattoo.


Stereo Story # 657

*With Virginia and Monica, from the Queen St days, a tie for second place.

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Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.