If you look too long you see… angry, lost young men

graf wall
[Eyes Open – SUPERHYDRATED, 2000]
It’s hard to hear this song without hearing the squealing wheels of trains; feeling the languid heat of the Australian summer; and catching the disconcerting other-worldy echo of the suburban malaise I grew up in. But the song centres around the eight years I taught English and Drama at Birrong Boys’ High School – a tough school in Sydney’s southwest – working with Nick Danta, collaborating with Tim Carroll and the BYDS network and creating several large scale drama projects framed as responses to violence.

And if you look too long you see too much
And it’s hard sometimes, just keeping your eyes open

During this time there were more than a few tragic student deaths, and these stories weave their way through the track. The train announcer’s megaphone voice is particularly piquant – one young man was killed tagging a carriage; a few years later disaster arguably avoided when an alert train guard spotted a year eight boy showing his friends a gun on the platform shortly before school – enabling authorities to find it on him during class. Too many stories to list.

as the wind blows through my hair
on hot summer days through the haze
of VB, testosterone and steel,
feel the tension rising …

Morganics’ rhyme recalls the misguided bravado of my youth – leaving dances heartbroken over a girl and driving foolishly through dark stretches of Australian bushland. Or ‘testing’ my courage by pulling the handbrake as I rounded a corner in the rain – losing control, pushing the car into a tree and almost killing myself at three in the morning. Growing up, I felt the expectation to be armour-plated, bullet proof, aggressive. There remains a desperate need for talking, mentoring and exploring the fears, hopes, and limitations of young men. And perhaps men in general.

The song was recorded in my Annandale weatherboard house to half inch eight track tape. My first foray into hip hop crossover, it marks the start of a lifetime friendship with Morganics, and he brings a breathless, frenetic pulse to the quiet nonchalance of the chorus. Didi is hitting the piano at crazy angles, teetering and falling off Reza’s steam train backbeat. DJ Neicha’s cuts scatter and fracture heartbreakingly; and the mix by Tom Kazas conjures Tchad Blake, my sansamp pedal pushing the drums into overdrive.

The track pumped SUPERHYDRATED to album of the week on 2SER, mostly because there weren’t many Indie singer-songwriters working with hip hop artists at the time, but in main I think due to that energy leaking through the mic from Morganics. I remember one critical friend at the time said – “No! You can’t use that. That vocal is so out of place. It’s like the postman just dropped in, or your cousin Eddy came round and decided to hop on the mic.”

It made me realize how great it was – effortless, extraordinary, commonplace – pushing it into archetype and trope.
And it made me wish that growing up I had a cousin Eddy like Morganics.