mix tape

1.

I am 19 and lying on my single bed wrapped tight around the body of my first boyfriend with all the grace of a particularly eager anaconda. I’m approximately four minutes worth of song away from losing my virginity; the awkward elbow attacks and skin and sweat slicked tight passing for dramatic and legitimate romance; everything feeling illicit and mildly terrifying, true, but not so terrifying that my brain starts to panic.

Above me sits my record player, and resting in that record player, my first record, a copy of Patrick Wolf’s Wind in the Wires. The needle moves across as the music plays, sliding into the album’s title track; the music grabbing hold of the entire experience and cradling it, making it a real life Indie Music Daydream.

He smiles at me – this is about two years before our relationship’d go to utter shit, here, so still a genuine smile that lit up his eyes and face – and slowly, tentatively, grabs my hand, pushing it down the crevasse of his pants.

I pause, the hairs on my neck rising up and shuddering as the music continues and I flail around in the compartment of his underpants.

Oh, I think. So that’s what a penis feels like.

2.

At age 15 – a young, obese, awkward teenager on the cusp of embracing his homosexuality – I lived as most young awkward gay teenagers do: online. These were the days of MSN and ICQ, of Winamp, of authoring awkwardly lame fan fiction, of customizable Windows ’98 comic book character themes and tentatively, awkwardly typing into Google: “shirtless men” while your heart raced apace, threatening to explode right out of your chest. While doing one of the above – for about a year I worked unabashedly on an incredibly terrible fan fiction continuation to Stephen King’s It, also featuring Freddy Kruger, Chucky the killer doll and all of my friends, so it was probably that – an MSN window would pop up.

Hiya!

Then: How’re you going? What’s up?

This was (is) Jude, an online friend I’d made through a real life school friend, Rihana. Jude lived (lives) in Brisbane, and is of the same social and sexual persuasions as I am, so of course we made fast friends. As well as finding myself on the verge of confronting my sexuality, I also found myself on the verge of my first childhood crush. I couldn’t explain it – having never seen the boy or met him beyond MSN and that bastion of social introductions and excitement, Live Journal – but every time that MSN window’d chime and pop up, my heart would begin to beat faster and I’d find myself grinning like a loon at nothing much in particular. I felt, as one often does in the throes of an innocent, unfulfilled crush, the strange desire to impress him; to come off as an Intelligent and Intellectual and Humorous Young Gentleman. This mainly came down to quoting song lyrics in your Live Journal entries and taking attempted “artsy” photos that would, a few years later, be rightly and bluntly classed as “emo”. I type, the pounding in my heart leading me away from the mounds of year 10 homework that await me:

Not much. You?

…. Jude is typing a message …

Be cool, I think. Cool as a cucumber. But funny. A funny, cool, cucumber. You can do that, can’t you?

He replies, and a mildly insane idea pops into my skull. Be romantic. Romance! You can do that, can’t you? (The answer to that question, FYI, is “no, I couldn’t”, and indeed, “no, I still can’t”). My Winamp – an eclectic mix of Black Eyed Peas pre-Fergie, Green Day, Garbage, No Doubt and Marilyn Manson – spits out a Manson song. “Coma Black”. Long, slow and dreary as fuck. That’s romance, my brain pipes up. I think. Possibly. Try that maybe?

I jump in and type: This song reminds me of you.

Next to my display name is: Now Playing: Marilyn Manson – Coma Black.

Coma Black by Marilyn Manson, I add, if there’s any doubt. It’s really good.

An excruciating pause.

… Jude is typing a message …

Oh 

Dickhead. I’m a right dickhead. “Hey, I really like you, you remind me of this song about suicide and drug overdoses!”

Thanks, I think! I haven’t heard much of his stuff actually, but if you say it’s really good, I believe you 🙂 

3.

“That was really good, well done,” Rihana’s mother smiles, slight pity creasing across her face. “Shame we had to see the angry inch, though.”

To cap off Year 12 and encourage us all to really engage with the arts in the Best Way Possible, my school had held a performance night where any student who wanted to do an act could do one. Of course, I did one – convincing Rihana and a few of her friends to start a band with me and perform Wig in a Box and Angry Inch from Hedwig and the Angry Inch as my backing band (my singing voice has declined since then but it was, at that point in my life, probably the best it had ever been). They’d agreed and we’d rehearsed, I’d brought the sheet music to my singing teacher, too, and Rihana had taken care of my makeup and styling, everything coupled with a shake-and-go blonde wig I’d bought from EBay.

The actual performance had gone out without a hitch, I’d thought, until speaking to Rihana’s mother and realizing, rather quickly, that I’d worn boxer shorts and a tartan skirt, and done a whole host of high kicks. Oh Jesus. The entire year level had received an unfortunate flash of my genitalia slapping around both in and out of the confines of said boxer shorts and tartan skirt.

“I… what?” I reply, not quite ready to express out loud the realization I’ve just had. My skin is somehow both on fire and doused in ice-cold water at once.

“HEDWIG”, yells a classmate as he tackle-hugs me from the side. “Well done buddy,” he grins.

“Thanks,” I reply, and then, a second realization: it’s just genitalia, and hey, it doesn’t really fucking matter. What I take away from that night is nothing about proper crotch-coverage or embarrassment or appropriate underwear to couple with your ugly tartan skirt. What I take away is that feeling of accomplishment, of excitement, of sheer freedom: of standing on that stage singing Wig in a Box backed up by a band of your peers; of deciding you’ll do something and straight-up going and doing it.

4.

We are sitting on the couch at my parents’ house, him in tears, me not, as Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism blasts out. He cries:

“I’m… I’m… I think I’m falling in love with you, Chris.”

I blanch, and attempt to look surprised or excited or however the fuck one’s supposed to look in these situations.

“I…” pause. Pause. Pause. “I… I’m falling in love with you, too.” Lies. All lies. The lies of a terrified uncertain young gay boy who doesn’t really know how to do this, if he’s being honest.

He cries more, and hugs me tighter. Then: “Well then this can be our song. This can be ours.”

My arms hang limply around him as I nod in numb agreeance, ignoring the fact that he can’t even see said nod. My brain screams at me loudly. The hairs on the back of my neck rise up in protest and warning. I force myself to properly hold him. I think again that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I really, really don’t.

On the stereo, Death Cab sing: “I need you so much closer.”

5.

I sit stock still in my seat, quietly enjoying the standard shudders and rattles of the plane as it takes off on its way towards Melbourne. I am on my fifth journey back home. My reactions to the experiences of this journey became ROTE some time around the second interstate journey to and fro, and I feel, blithely, that nothing could surprise me. Not anymore.

The plane evens out and, like clockwork, I press “play” on my new iPhone 6. The humming electricity of strings fill my ears: Owen Pallet’s I Am Not Afraid. If this is the eighth or ninth journey either to or from Sydney, then this is the eighth or ninth time I’ve listened to this song suspended in midair. I listen to this song because I am afraid, and fairly certain I’m the least stable I’ve been in my life bar that super depressive stage I fought through at age 15. Afraid of what, I’m uncertain, but the fear is there: fear at leaving Sydney, fear at coming back to Sydney, fear at staying in Sydney. Fear, fear, fear. This is my war cry to myself; my half-arsed, desperate attempt at snapping myself out of it.

Psychiatry would’ve probably been a better choice.

6.

2014, still. The tension is high, running electric through my body, and I stalk through the streets of Edinburgh, ear buds jammed in. Christeene – “Damn’d Right” – the mononymous drag terrorist slams her patented brand of brash electronica into my ear holes as I walk, filling me to the brim with false grandeur and attitude. I am a day or two away from actually meeting Christeene herself.

I am flying again, this time from Heathrow airport to Berlin, and Christeene plays again; musical gyrations tempered with glee and dirt, slapping me ‘cross the face and grabbing my by the neck and screaming at me to go out and seize it – no matter what “it” is, I should still go and fucking well seize it. I think as I wait of meeting Christeene, and then Paul – the “man behind the mess” – and of how intense and confronting the performance had been; how taken aback my classmates had been, how I’d moved closer to the stage, grinning like a lunatic at the heady beats and synchronised obscenity before me while everyone else in the room moved further away. I think how she hit me like a brick wall, and how, more than anything, that was what I wanted to do to people who came to see my own work.

And I think of how astounded we were: for a group of writers, engaging with theatre show after theatre show, Christeene’s patented brand of filth had held some of the best and most accomplished writing we’d seen across our fortnight, and there, lying in the filth, laid something that I wanted to challenge myself with: to write as she did, not in an imitation of her or her style, but something with the same energy. Live, visceral, fearless and above all, fucking dangerous. We had gone headfirst into the woods. We were lost, but connecting for once – to ourselves and to each other; soaring above, wild and free, as each of us accepting the challenge that Christeene had, perhaps unknowingly, laid down for us.

7.

It is some time in 2006. I am 18 and sitting on MSN, as one does, talking to my friend Sienna (an effortlessly cool girl, it’d seem, who shaped much of my music tastes as they now sit).

Hey, can you answer me something? I’m trying to figure out if this guy’s gay, she writes.

Not that it matters anyway, but I have a crush on him and it’d be nice to be validated.

And below this, a link to “Overture,” a song by Patrick Wolf. This will be the second time I’ve heard a song of his, not that I remember the first one at this time, anyhow. I don’t know if he’s gay or not, but I do know, now, as Wolf dances and sings in honeyed tones, his dyed-red hair flipping debonairly across his face, that Sienna’s not the only one with a crush.

It is early October last year. I am sitting with Jeremy and my parents on the brink of an international flight. We have finally escaped Berlin. There are some ten hours of flying ahead of us. My body aches, but doesn’t scream like it used to, still as hurt and bruised as my ego and brain. I’ve been here for six or seven weeks, I think – I haven’t kept count, in fact, found it impossible to do so with the drugs I’d been pumped full of and the traumatic amnesia (not that I’m not thankful for the drugs; they took the pain away, put me to sleep when I needed and helped me otherwise). My body and brain and reflexes are better than they were in early September, but still a shadow of what they were pre-accident.

Gingerly, I place my ear buds in. I haven’t listened to music for nigh on two months (bar unrecognizable jingles on the television and an incident I don’t remember where I’d apparently gotten angry that my parents couldn’t find Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” on my phone). For someone who uses music as means to shut out the world at large, it’s been a hard two months on top of the whole ‘hospital’ thing.

My fingers pause in midair, shaking with fear and speculation and an aching and tiredness of a much older man than myself. It occurs to me that for the first time in my life I’m completely unsure of what song to play; what best to compliment my mood or what best to kill the expanse of flight time in front of me. My thumb rests above the “shuffle” button, mindlessly caressing the air and strangely terrified to commit and press it.

Okay, I think. Whatever you listen to, when you hit the “play” button, if it feels normal; if it feels like you’re back in Melbourne or Sydney and safe and secure and together again?

A pause, then: If it does this, you’ll be okay. No matter what else, you’ll be okay.

The fear again like a knife buried deep in my guts and twisting, and before I can properly freak out, my thumb darts down of its own accord and hits play.

The song hits me like a freight train, the tune and vocal warmth solidifying around me, wrapping me up with warmth and geniality. Another first: for the first time in my life I’m having an emotional reaction to the music; big fat dumb tears rolling down my face as my body shakes and laments despite itself. Patrick Wolf’s “Overture”.

I stare out the window; pitch black but for a collection of tiny lights like fireflies on the ground – and far off, maybe an hour or two into the future, as we finally leave my time in Berlin behind, sits kilometres of ocean, black and unknowable and still and calm, it looks like: calm and blessedly inviting. I want, for a second, to plunge out of the plane headfirst, to dive in and let it engulf me, head to toe in pure blackness deeper than anything I’ve ever felt, to feel nothingness, real and knife-pointed nothingnessI came close, I say to myself, but was it close enough?

And then the strings and the harp and Wolf’s honeysuckle tones, comforting and genuine and beautiful in their simplicity. I haven’t noticed it, not properly, but I’ve stopped crying: sitting half asleep in my airplane seat, the quiet hum of the engine mixed with the quiet breathing of the Jeremy sleeping next to me, and Patrick’s voice, and the realisation, small and soft and filling me up with warmth from head to toe:

I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.

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