Basement Discs, Melbourne, 2012
Rare times, a hole opens in a life and a song appears from nowhere to fill it, explain it, exploit it… a fluky medicine – the voice you needed to hear at the moment you needed to hear it. Sometimes you blunder onto a song that fits the need.
I lost a friend. That’s the hole that opened in my life. But what size hole is that? There are friends and there are friends. How good was this friend? Well… he was the band-and-book friend. Whenever I heard a killer new band I wanted him to hear it straight away. If ever I read a novel that knocked me out I’d get it into his hands pronto. Like a part of me hadn’t heard the band til he had. A piece of me hadn’t read the book til he had. There’s no better friend than the band-and-book friend.
So how does a writer fuck up a friendship like this? With his pen. I wrote something I thought was light, flighty, funny… but it pierced a vital organ of the friendship. So I guess the fuckup was on me. But I don’t know… maybe the friendship was ailing by the time I wrote what I did. Shit, if you could see friendship from both sides you wouldn’t need a friend; you’d be the friendship entire. You’d be the island they say no man is.
So… anyway… Friday afternoon, I sit in one of those evil-smelling armchairs in Basement Discs in Melbourne’s CBD and grab the headphones and put on The Kill Devil Hills. I’ve never heard them before. I think they were playing on the system in the shop and piqued my interest, so I asked if they could be put through the phones so I could have a closer listen.
And this song, Words From Robin To Batman, drops snugly into the new hole in my life. There’s discordance in the tune that plays like pain. It’s written as a letter from Robin to Batman, years after their friendship has ended. Robin’s a man now, wondering what became of Batman. They’re getting old, life’s losing its color. “Our costumes are paling,” Robin sings. “I’ve seen your sign raised in the sky,” he sings, acknowledging he knows Batman is still out there, doing his thing.
How was it we met?
Drunk by the river
We were children then
Boys needing brothers
Well, shit. Our costumes are paling. And I do still see my ex-friend’s sign raised in the sky. And we did meet as boys needing brothers.
Each time I played the song it was like I was articulating and lamenting the whole dead mess of our friendship to him, with an elegant remorse beyond me – as if I’d asked Cicero to propose on my behalf. If we were still friends, it’s a song I’d have sent him pronto. “Hey, check out this new track I found.” But now we’re not – and now the song’s needed… I can’t send it.
Sadness is sweet inside the brief architecture of a song… knowing you have an out… knowing you can turn the sadness off after the five-shot rally of verse and chorus. Our thirty-year-friendship lives somewhere. So I play the song to reincarnate it for five-and-a-half minutes, to regret its death… and to turn the knife in the wound. I play it as if he’s hearing it. As if it’s a letter from me to him… words from Robin to Batman. But I don’t play it much anymore.
Anson Cameron has written critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and newspaper columns, as well as his memoir of growing up in Shepparton, Boyhooodlum.
He presented this story as part of Stereo Stories In Concert at Write Around the Murray, in Albury in September 2016.