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.
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Charcoal – waiting for holy moments

This, the closing track on illumineon, was written in London in the middle of a treacherous year, while I struggled to make my ‘difficult’ third album, embark on a new musical direction and teach English and Drama full time in London’s South West (and later South East) to stay afloat. If I recall correctly, I was standing at the exit gates on Tottenham Court Road.

Replete with quivering ghost voices courtesy of some strange Ibanez delay unit and sliding industrial background guitars, I’ve always been happy with the way it nails the nonchalance of waiting for someone at a big city station while holding the warmth and humble certainty of spotting them for the first moment in the crowd.

It’s easy to be busy looking for something else, searching the world for hope,  love, kindness, warmth. For me, Charcoal whispers back – twelve years later – ‘Look at what you have! Be surprised by what you see every day… hold these things, the embers are easily blown out.’ Grand gestures fade as quickly as small moments, but there are more small moments, so grab what you can.

Someone is shouting
Electric, mega phonetic
Subway train insistent

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Charcoal Lyrics

[Charcoal – from illumineon, 2003]

Countless faces
I’m standing
Cold, waiting
Crowd like a shadow passing
Shuffling in overcoats
Dark clothes
Someone is shouting
Electric, mega phonetic
Subway train insistent
And I’ve got pocket hands
Staring like a local

Then her eyes
Among the dead wood
Charcoal lit
And I am warm again