Entry 65: Homebase– I’ve tried three times to start this entry. First attempt: I thought the phrase rootless cosmopolitan referred to an insult hurled by Stalin at Trotsky and I was going to apply it to myself. But then, a cursory examination, courtesy of Wikipedia, showed me that the ice-axe through the skull of Leon Bronstein occurred in 1940, many years before the insult became an instrument of the Soviet Dictator’s strategy for the removal of opponents.
Then, I thought that I could make a fresh start by delving into my memory and resurrecting a scene from my younger days, when I was at a protest rally in Belfast. It was in late 1970 or early 1971. I remember that I was somewhere near the city centre. Things began to get hairy; I retreated to a safer distance; black-clad police formed phalanxes and then I spotted a student politician from Queen’s University, Belfast, with whom I had been in disputation at an earlier student conference, not sloping off, as I was, but running towards the police lines and, indeed, hopping into the Black Maria, without law and order assistance.
Thinking I was onto the winner, I started to search my papers from files in the attic and, later, the briefcases stored in the front of the garage to see if I could get the skinny on what really had gone on all those years ago- as if it actually counts in the 21st Century! For I had seen that erstwhile radical student politician not so long ago on TV, a person who became a mover and shaker in the conservative camp, and, knowing that I could destroy his life should I so wish- what to do?
Were I to follow precedent in the media over the past few years, I would name this prominent politician and watch as his career crashed and burned around him. I’ve got the proof, ha, ha! Of course, I have no intention of doing any such thing.
Finally, I hit upon a cunning plan, as Baldrick, the long-suffering sidekick of Edmund Blackadder, used to assert. I’ll re-start for a lucky third time by telegraphing the use of the first lines of the song as the denouement of this entry- thereby avoiding the difficulties of making another start at all: (cunning, you see…) I do believe I was happier, and more attuned to the world and those around me, before the rubber band of schooling began to stretch me out of shape and sort us all out as points on the elongating, narrowing and vibrating ribbon that separates the educational sheep from the goats.
The song is a sort of coming of age tale. Were it written as a novel it would be called a bildungsroman. Now according to Wikipedia, A Bildungsroman relates the growing up or “coming of age” of a sensitive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result from gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune.
Well, I am the youngest son, and many would say I am also a bit of a dunce, too. However, no novel in sight yet for me (apart, that is, from an unfinished 80,000-word effort from almost forty years ago which I managed to hold on to for half-a-life time but have carelessly misplaced somewhere or other in the last few months). But songs I can manage to hold on to- a few I have even been able to resurrect from memory, when the paper versions have gone AWOL.
This song is just such an artefact. I wrote it in 1989 a year after returning to Australia from Ireland: an absence of almost ten years. Surprise, surprise, I lost it in the move back to Sydney from Queensland at the beginning of 1995. So I sat down with a bottle of wine and started to re-construct it. A rootless cosmopolitan no more, I had taken out citizenship, with the rest of the family in 1994.
Clive James, one of Australia’s greatest intellectual expatriates, gave an interview in 2015, as he was dying, where he describes Australia as the promised land. He wasn’t the first (or last, I guess) who will make that claim about one place or another. But after listening to the interview, a few lines from A Difficult Patriotism, by Michael Dransfield came to mind,
Europe lures away our idealists with/mythologies. Here to be different is agony/There it is easy/But this is the greatest country,/Australia, to leave it means/ death to the spirit We cannot/ change it with our verses and kisses and years…
Dransfield, as a poet, has enthralled-and eluded-me since I first encountered his verse in 1973- the year of his much too early death at age 24- when young poets in Wollongong were discussing new voices in Australian letters in the exciting dawn of Whitlam’s Australia. But now, it’s time: time for the denouement promised: the first lines of the song, most things worth knowing I learned by the age of four, school was a drag and I walked out that door, All that I really want, all that I really need is you.