Somewhere along the Hume Highway, summer of 1982
We are encased in a faded, second-hand, off-cream coloured Mini 850, heading north out of Melbourne for the Murray River.
It’s like we’re in a four-wheeled coffin, and it’s being thrown and bounced down the highway, all black tarmac and spent shock absorbers, motor ringing out its highest falsetto note, three heads a-bobbin’ in time.
We are somewhere in the middle of summer: Pete, my best mate; Shu, his best girl; and me. On a whim we’re driving up to visit a friend of Pete’s, who lives in one of the border towns. But I recall no bags or changes of clothes. No tent, no Jaffle iron or pots. No sunscreen. Nothing to drink. No food.
Pete, the only one with a licence, drives. I’ve unfolded my skinny six foot frame into the back seat. Shu rides shotgun.
I try not to think about Shu. My feelings are known to all but bounded by a deep and mutual platonic affection. The three of us are mates and there is something wonderful about this trio, for all of us. Still, I catch myself staring too long at the sunlight on her hair, or laughing too loud at one of her jokes, and feel the sharp pierce of an unbridgeable distance. Rules around this are unspoken and understood. She’s Pete’s girlfriend. I’m his mate. She is my friend. Full stop.
All the way up yesterday’s highway we played various mixtapes on our Phillips single speaker portable cassette player. On the return trip though, the compilations are replaced by my copy of the just released Circus Animals by Cold Chisel. It was, (and still is), a perfect road album, full of the band’s sharpest playing and most impassioned performances. For the first time in the studio, the band had found their sound.
As we head south and the mercury heads north, strange bubbling sounds emanate from under the car’s tiny bonnet. The radiator boils – once, twice, twenty or more times. The elongated staccato journey is spent with six eyes glued to the temperature gauge.
A ritual develops. We stop every few clicks down the road, pile out, place the Phillips tape player on the roof of the wheezing 850 and wait for the radiator to calm and settle.
Then we dance in the dust and heat of Houndog and the rest of Circus Animals.
Sometimes I sing screaming into an invisible microphone, bending over like Barnesy. Or there are air guitar solos. Or perhaps the roof of the car doubles as Don Walker’s keyboards. The whole scene shimmers in a smelt of sweat, hot metal, steam and melting tar.
Then we refill the radiator and get back in the car and hump dat coff-in up ‘round one more bear-air-end.
By day’s end, the tape player’s bank of red Eveready batteries had wilted, leaving the last part of the trip in a haze of exhausted, dehydrated silence.
Houndog is a song about the hell that the road can turn into when touring as a band, about restlessness, identity, and getting lost in the sway of perpetual (e)motion.
For me, it also carries the essence of a time of wanderlust, of rudderless stop/start movement through unemployment, uncertainty, heat, hope and the wide open roads of seemingly infinite directions. Wandering around and waiting around. Feeling fantastic. Feeling frustrated. Not yet a man in no man’s land.
Text © Stephen Andrew.
Stereo Stories recording: Newport Bowls Club, October 2014. Narrator: Zoe Krupka. Musicians: Stephen Andrew, Peter Maskell, Anthony Shortte