Northern suburbs, Melbourne, 1988
From the novel Undercurrents
In the aftermath of his brother Dennis drowning at Gunnamatta beach, teenager Jack McIvor confronts past events compounded by new, interconnected dramas featuring family, friends, teachers, local low-lifes and one special girl. In this short extract, Jack’s aunt Teresa helps him compile a mix tape to woo Katrina.
They relocate to his bedroom whereupon Jack begins rummaging through a stack of compact discs. Teresa views Dennis’ guitar in the corner. She cradles the neck, tipping it back and forward as if considering a purchase.
‘Have a play Tess. I do sometimes. I’m rubbish but the sound brings back memories.’
Teresa declines the offer and joins in, flicking through and reordering the cases alphabetically with the dexterity of somebody who does it for a living. She is a veteran of the mix tape caper, having made a number for boyfriends and would-be boyfriends of yore. There are guidelines; no heavy metal, no techno, no hip hop, no breakup elegies, no schmaltzy love songs and definitely no Phil Collins or Rick Astley. On the ‘do’ list; vary the music styles, upbeat, clever lyrics and songs that bear repeat listens.
By the time she specifies the ground rules Jack loses a little enthusiasm for the exercise. But Teresa knows what she’s doing and before long they arrive at a short list of twenty tracks from which they manage to squeeze fourteen on the cassette;
Jack’s Ripper Mix Tape ’88
- The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
- To Look at You – INXS
- Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
- Message to My Girl – Split Enz
- Raspberry Beret – Prince
- Saturday Night – Cold Chisel
- Always the Sun – The Stranglers
- In Between Days – The Cure
- Absolute Beginners – David Bowie
- Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode
- Ask – the Smiths
- A Good Heart – Feargul Sharkey
- Hold On – Models
- Head over Heels – Tears for Fears
‘We should work for EMI,’ enthuses Jack after an hour and a half absorbed in a relaxing, if not at times emotionally fraught activity.
‘It’s been fun. Takes me back to being a teenager again. You know Jack, fifteen is like the best and the worst time of your life, depending what day it is.’
The streets are buzzing and the cross town traffic makes for a slow journey to Carlton. Watching all the city lights, the cars and dolled up punters with places to go stirs Jack. ‘All this goes on every Saturday night and what am I doing? Nothing. It’s so dull in Shitsville.’ Katrina acknowledges Jack’s plagiarism with a smile and a peck. She nestles her head on his shoulder and they click into place like two pieces of a puzzle.
‘Your time will come,’ reassures Teresa. ‘Anytime soon,’ she smiles.
‘Hey Frank, what radio station’s this?’ Katrina asks. Jack recognises the familiar sequence of tunes and nervously awaits her verdict.
‘I dunno, but I wish they’d play some Bon Jovi or Whitesnake.’
‘It’s a tape,’ Teresa informs Katrina.
‘Some sort of compilation?’
‘Yeah, I don’t know how it ended up in Frank’s car,’ Teresa replies, winking at Jack’s mirror reflection.
‘I like it.’ She clutches Jack’s now relaxed hand even more tightly.