School-crossing, Melbourne, 2019.

Big orange ‘lollipop’ stop sign. Hi-vis uniform. White wide-brimmed hat. Whistle at the ready.

Traffic coming and going. Cars and trucks. Not a main road but busy enough. Children coming. Parents going.

I’m waiting for kids and I’m waiting for cars. And I’m waiting for the ‘bell music’, the 8.50am music that tells the children to stop playing games, and line-up outside their classrooms. Tells the teachers to down that strong coffee, stop gossiping, and head for the classroom.

Who, or what, will be coming from the school speakers this morning? Pop? Disco? Rock? Classical?

Decades ago, at St Patrick’s Primary it seemed to be old-fashioned, old-time marching music, broadcast via a record player in the school office. Stern Sister Aiden’s choice. “This’ll keep those kids in line,” she would say to herself, before placing the needle on the vinyl. “This’ll wipe the smiles from their faces. Those damn excitable boys.”

And we were expected to march into class. One-two-three. One-two-three. We marched, in a fashion. Some of the younger nuns were as bored as the kids. But they didn’t fancy their chances of getting The Rolling Stones or The Beatles past Sister Aiden.

Some mornings at the crossing I hear slow classical music. To calm down the children? To settle them? (Hasn’t such music been used in public places – railway stations, for example – to deter troublemakers?)

Sometimes I hear themes from movies: Toy Story, Frozen, Moana. Star Wars. Once I heard the theme from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

Often, it’s Abba, or Foreigner, or Toto. Madonna. Principal’s playlist, at a guess.

But one morning, and one morning only, I hear an unmistakable, unforgettable piano riff. I’m across the road from the school, so I’m depending on the breeze to carry the tune over the sound of the traffic.

I’m hoping there are no latecomers, no stragglers, because I want to hear as much of this song as I can.

The chorus, though, catches me off-guard. That’s not just Zevon singing. Or back-up singers. No, that’s a whole choir. A children’s choir. I guess there must be more than one version of such a popular song.

But what do I do now if a student, running late, arrives? The shrill pierce of my whistle would be an assault on the song.

Do I escort the latecomer and then stay on the crossing until the song ends, thereby testing the patience of the drivers?

Or, even if there are no latecomers, do I stop the traffic anyway, to catch as much of the song as possible?


I first heard a live performance of the song about 40 years ago. Rick E. Vengeance, a Canadian folksinger with rose-coloured glasses, was playing in Geelong. It was one of the last songs of the night, a fine night that went so long that Vengeance missed the last train back to Melbourne. In the broader sense of the phrase, ‘folk music’ is music for the people. And Werewolves Of London is certainly that.

Warren Zevon toured Australia at least once. I’ve tried to convince myself that I was at one of his Melbourne gigs. The 1993 ‘live’ albu