Great Ocean Road, Victoria, September 2015
It was a simple errand. A five minute drive with my brother from the beach house to the general store. Cheese, tomatoes, milk. Dark chocolate maybe.
The day was ending, heading to sunset. We had pottered about the house, built by our parents 40 years ago, and talked about maintenance, firewood, watertanks, snakes, echidnas and family.
We’d kicked a little footy back and forth on a gravel road while Peter’s two children gained confidence on their bicycles.
We’d sat around the kitchen table, we’d washed and dried dishes. We’d talked about music and stories.
We got into Peter’s car. He turned on the ignition and there was Glen Hansard singing Drive All Night. Inside the house, amongst about 300 records, was the original version from The River by Springsteen. The second last song of the double album. Track 3, side 4, after The Price You Pay and before the final song, Wreck On The Highway.
But here, in the car, the song was all alone. Not part of the bigger picture of the album, the broader narrative, that included the brooding tone of Independence Day and Point Blank, and the throw-away rockers like Hungry Heart and Cadillac Ranch.
Here it was just Glen Hansard. And two brothers sitting in a car.
We didn’t talk for those five minutes to the general store. Not a word. Peter knows Hansard’s work quite well but I’m a newcomer. I’d heard of him at least. (On a previous short drive along the Great Ocean Road Peter had mentioned Hansard’s enthusiasm for Van Morrison.)
And then the spell was broken. The car crested the Aireys Inlet hill and we were at the store.
Drive All Night is a Springsteen love song, so it’s about cars and roads and romance. It’s about caring and loss and comfort, it’s about driving all night to buy a pair of shoes. It’s about making the mundane momentous. It ain’t about brothers – Springsteen’s got others to tell those tales.
I’d drive all night with my brother if I could. It would be escapism of a sort but also a rare chance to spend time, a long time, together.
We’d pack sandwiches and snacks and drinks. Chocolate. A football. Some of Peter’s surfboards.
We could keep driving down the Ocean Road, twisting and turning and winding our way through Lorne, Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Portland, looking, as the sun rose, for beaches and surf. And we’d return inland through country towns, looking for general stores and footy grounds.
Like Springsteen’s character in the song we might have to drive through wind and rain, but not through snow, not on the southern edge of eastern Australia.
We’d talk about our parents. How do you thank them, when they are long gone?
We’d talk about our eldest brother. All these years on it still doesn’t make sense. I was a teenager, Peter was just a boy.
We’d talk about our sisters, our own families, music, stories, work.
And we’d know when not to talk, when to let the music and the night and the road and the wheels and the engine and the sky and stars take over from the words.
We’d stop every hour or two. Stretch our legs. Give each other some space. Walk down a back road. Throw stones at fences and gates and signposts.
And then back in the car, back into this thing called life with all its ups and downs and disappointments and hopes. Back in the car, talking and not-talking, joking and laughing, listening and breathing, and wishing and wondering, and making the mundane momentous.
Peter and Vin Maskell are part of the Stereo Stories ensemble of musicians and writers.
Our next show is at the Williamstown Town Hall on Saturday 17 June, part of the Williamstown Literary Festival. Cabaret seating (330 tickets) booked out. General admission balcony tickets now available.