Listen to Vin narrate this story on ABC Radio Melbourne program The Friday Revue (7 February, 2020)

Queenscliff, late 1970s

It was shaping up as yet another dull weekend.

Maybe it was the off-season for bands coming through our hometown, Geelong.

Maybe we’d been spoilt with all those gigs at the Eureka Hotel in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Australian Crawl, Ariel, Mondo Rock, Models, Goanna, Richard Clapton, Weddings, Parties, Anything, The Dingoes…

But on this Saturday night there was nothing in town for us, four mates a few years out of high-school. No weddings, no parties, nothing. Four mates wondering what to do with their Saturday night.

“Let’s go for a drive,” someone said. “There’s gotta be something somewhere.”

We knew that driving – anywhere – was better than moping around a take-away joint playing a juke-box crammed with Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf and Barry Manilow. I was more of a Jackson Browne fan.

We ended up in Queenscliff, half an hour away.

We ended up in a pub.

There was a country-rock band in a back room. They played with a certain honesty. Lap-steel guitar can do that.

They may have played some original songs but mostly it seemed to be covers. The Eagles. Maybe Linda Ronstadt, The Dingoes. And certainly one song by Jackson Browne.

I’m standing in the backroom of a coastal pub, wondering if the night, and more, is slipping by. The band plays the opening of The Pretender. Like so many of Jackson Browne’s songs, The Pretender is wise, poetic, sad.  I block out my mates’ conversations about football and uni life and romances. I block out the young woman near the pool table, not that I’d even know how to begin to talk to her.

The Pretender has always resonated with me, even though way back then I was too young to rent myself a house in the shade of the freeway, too young to be caught between the longing for love/and the struggle for the legal tender, too young to know that ships bearing our dreams would sail out of sight.

Save for the country-rock band, it’s unlikely anyone else in that backroom was listening to the song as intently as I was.  Well, that’s what I like to tell myself.

I don’t tell my mates about The Pretender and what it means to hear the song live for the first time. I don’t tell them about the surprise, the recognition, the anticipation as the song builds, the quiet wonder as the song ends. I keep the secret close. Savour it.

Jackson Browne has performed at The Palais several times. Concerts to cherish. Standing ovations. When he plays The Pretender a part of me remembers a long ago Saturday night in Queenscliff.


Author’s note: When Brian Nankervis, co-host of The Friday Revue with Jacinta Parsons, asked me to contribute to the program’s new segment, Gigs Of Our Lives, I remembered a few sentences from one of my first Stereo Stories (about, yes, The Pretender) and wondered if I could turn a few sentences into a story of its own. Thank you Brian,  thank you ABC Radio Melbourne and The Friday Revue.

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