Loungeroom, Country Victoria, Late at night, 2019
Backyard of a squat, Melbourne, Late at night, 1988

It’s nearly midnight. I’ve just spent the entire day painting the spare room. It took much longer than I thought. I flop onto the couch covered in flecks of blue paint with a cup of tea and a crumpet. I flick the telly on. Rage bursts onto the screen. I haven’t watched in decades. I should probably go to bed but Smash It Up by The Damned is on. It reminds me of my misspent youth. The distorted R-R-R-R-Raaaage cry punctuates the end of the song.

Another grungy chord fades in, and a guitarist’s face in sepia with a plectrum in his mouth, fills the screen. I’m suddenly alert. I recognise that face! Seconds later, rapid-fire drumming joins the manic guitars and the footage cuts to the drummer’s nose. I recognise that face too! As the band and song title come up on the screen – VENOM P. STINGER – Walking About – the lead singer starts screeching: “They got my car, they got my house, they got the keys to my door, I can’t get out…” I remember these guys! I saw them play heaps in the 1980s, at parties in squats, in sharehouse loungerooms and at mad pub gigs. Two of them are dead now. The other two are pretty well known these days, almost respectable. I still exchange the odd message with one on social media, but just about kids and art.

 The clip pans around from the band, switching to grainy colour as it cuts to the antics of the crowd watching in some scruffy backyard. Some are no more than sort of flinching to the intense sound. Others are leaping about erratically. Though it’s hard to make out through the low-brow blurry images and all the chaotic jumping about, I think I spot other people I recognise. There was never much footage of stuff back then. You had to be pretty mainstream to have a film clip on telly, plus have the equipment and dollars to make one. It wasn’t like anyone had phone cameras, editing apps or YouTube. I take another sip of tea and pick up my crumpet, captivated by this window into the past.

Mid bite, it happens. There on my TV screen, just for a few seconds, doing an intense wiggily kind of jogging on the spot, is a girl with cropped spiky, reddy-bleached hair wearing an oversized suit jacket. I just about choke on my crumpet. That’s me! That’s bloody well me! But before I can be sure, the camera swings back to the band. Was that me? Maybe I just thought...The clip continues to shift erratically about from the musos to the backyard crowd, and just as I think Naaah, can’t be… there it is again, another brief grab of the jogging girl, and the familiar shape and flavour of my much younger self is unmistakably recognizable. What the actual f–k? Before I can really process the absolute weirdness of suddenly, randomly seeing my old self on telly one night, the song is over and the screen is filled with a Swedish punk band running manically around in animal suits. I turn the telly off. What the hell? I’m 52. I live quietly in the country. I usually go to bed pretty early. I NEVER watch Rage. The one time I do, the very next clip that comes on includes my 22-year-old punky self, dancing. How freaky is that?

Jane Leonard dancing in the moonlight to Venom P. Stinger in 1988.

 Before I go to bed, I google the song to try and verify what just happened. The same clip is on YouTube, dated almost 20 years after it was filmed. No wonder I never saw it. I freeze frame the spiky redhead. It’s definitely me. But at the same time, I’m a stranger, a mystery, a thousand million moments away from my life now. I remember things about her, but she is distant, as blurry as the grainy footage I’m watching. Over the next few days I show people and tell them how I came to see it. Some laugh, surprised to know about my hardcore phase, especially my kids. Others comment on what noisy shit the song is. But everyone agrees, that yes, it’s pretty freaky. One friend asks me what I think the universe might be trying to tell me.

Weeks later I’m in my new blue spare room studio trying to get to know what I love again now that the kids are grown and I have more time. I’m reading Joan Didion. She writes “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

I think of the Venom P. Stinger clip. I watch it again, the young me dancing, not caring, and caring a lot, all mixed up in exactly the right kind of way. One of the comments underneath reads: I love the crowd at the party, too, they look just like the freaks we hung with’. I pause on my young self. It’s good to see my freak again.

Stereo Story #499

 

Jane is a writer, artist and educator now living and working in both Melbourne and North East Victoria after many years spent in Alice Springs.