The Gershwin Room, The Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, February 2013
A mate had scored a couple of tickets to the taping of the music game show, RocKwiz. When he arrived to pick me up he also had an agenda which he reveals to me as we get stuck in peak-hour traffic:
“I reckon you’d be a good contestant”.
“Hmm,” I frown. I’d been feeling kind of foggy since a car accident eight weeks previously when I’d broken my neck and spent a week in hospital. So I dodge. “Dunno. Let’s see what happens.”
Built above the St Kilda foreshore in 1878, The Esplanade Hotel is a beautiful, bedraggled live music venue. RocKwiz is filmed there in the grandly named Gershwin Room “in front of a live studio audience” as they say. This February night, it’s packed, sweaty and airless.
RocKwiz is a game show based around music trivia, but it’s really just an excuse to have fun. Lots of fun. By the end of the night there will be a winning team, but there are no prizes, scoring seems subjective at times, the house band is a crack trio of rock music veterans, the hosts sometimes drop heavy hints towards correct answers while laughs and gentle self-deprecation are more important the blitzing the opposition. The show is a wonderful mix of the hip and the daggy.
I end up semi-volunteering to be one of 24 potential contestants. In the pre-show warm up I’m sharper than I thought I would be and end up making the final four. Backstage as we prepare for the show itself, I meet Julia Zemiro, the show’s vivacious host. She spots my neck brace. (It’s hard to miss.) She touches me on the arm. “What happened?” I explain briefly. She shows genuine concern before adding, with a glint, that she is glad I am here; “I’ll be able to work with your neck brace all night!”
The four audience contestants are joined by two guest musicians who enter singing a song each. Then they perform a duet together at show’s end. I sit next to Dave Faulkner from The Hoodoo Gurus. I neglect to tell him that I treasure my copy of the band’s debut single, Leilani, bought with a picture sleeve way back in 1982. New Melbourne singer Courtney Barnett, (who probably wasn’t even born when Leilani was released), sits with the other team. Both performers’ songs sound excellent from my seat on the stage.
The show warms up and I start answering a few questions. Hey, I’m doing OK. The oddest moment for me was when I buzzed an answer to the question; “Sing part of a song, any song, with the word ‘slow’ in the title.”
There’s a quiet moment where the six of us think, before an answer, Slow Hand by The Pointer Sisters, enters my head. But I hesitate to offer it because I know the answer has to be sung. Five seconds later I’m sort of singing…
“I want a man with slow hand / I want a lover with an easy touch..”
…a cappella, on national television. Julia helps me out with the rest of the lyrics to a song I’ve never really listened closely to before. It’s a huge laugh.
Three or four times, as promised, Julia makes mention of the neck brace. It’s become a prop, a point of identification, a punch line. And in the spirit of the show, that’s all fine.
After our team ‘wins,’ Dave and Courtney end the show with a mighty, uplifting duet of the Died Pretty song, Everybody Moves. It’s one of the great, lost, Aussie singles of all time. It lifts me up and carries me.
At first I’m taken back to 1989 to the first time I heard the song as the lead track on a Citadel Records sampler. I fell in love with this towering, majestic song, destined, I thought, to make Died Pretty a household name. Sadly, I was overly optimistic about their eventual level of fame.
Tonight, after many years without it, I hear this song anew and in a way its composers never intended. The car crash that broke my neck came very close to either killing me or putting me in a wheel chair. Every doctor I saw post-accident used the word “lucky” to describe my situation. Tonight, the song sways with a reptilian rhythm that snakes its way into my limbs and torso. As the tune pours itself over me I feel deep relief – relief that my brain was still sharp enough to make a decent fist of the questions, relief that I am alive, and relief that I can still move.
Stephen is no longer wearing his neck brace.