Tuesday, May 2, 2017


It was the most paradoxical element of the friendship with my brother, the musical aspect. He was the one to push for the acquisition of the Health Hustles cassette. He campaigned for the purchase of the iconic collection of cassettes that scored our trip to England. In 1993, he acquired Queen's Greatest Hits II and promptly educated me about the band. He soon pushed Dad to buy Greatest Flix I (and rent Greatest Flix II) and we watched them together, making observations about their music videos. I obliged in drawing a moustache on his upper lip and he climbed up onto his desk to pose like Freddie Mercury.

He was the first one to introduce me to the Beatles, again pushing for the purchase of the Red and Blue albums on vinyl. We watched the Anthology together when it first aired on TV. He'd dub songs from the Anthology onto cassette, with remnants of interviews from John, Paul, George and Ringo spliced between the songs. As I sat and watched it, I wrote and illustrated a short story about teenage twins who investigated petty crimes in Perth. In time, he'd make mixtapes for the rusty Magna and Porsche, primarily made up of truncated MP3s with low bitrates, salvaged from Audiogalaxy, ripped from Sonique and later, Winamp.

We bonded over Depeche Mode, Ratcat, Roxette, Erasure, The Smiths and The Cure. During one manic shopping spree, he purchased a stack of CD boxsets featuring one-hit wonders from the 1980s. He said he'd introduce music to me and then I'd ruin it, car crashing everything with my intensity. I'd want to transform all my musical passions into projects. I'd create an elaborate school project on the Milli Vanilli scandal. I'd teach myself HTML to create a Geocities webpage with lengthy lyric analyses and Choose Your Own Adventure fanfic. I'd design clothes inspired by Zandra Rhodes in a series of fashion folios. I'd handstitch lyrics from All Dead, All Dead into a cloth-bound journal. Behind a locked door, I'd sing covers on the piano, guitar and later, Microkorg and he'd come to bang on the door, demanding to play along with me.

The music was a fundamental component of the friendship that once existed between my brother and I. When the friendship broke down in 2001, he developed a newfound obsession with progressive hair metal, music that was far from the pop sensibility that we had once cultivated. To me, it was music that was primarily geared to impress those who wanted to impress others. When I cut contact from him in 2010, I knew that I would no longer have mutual access to those memories, persuasions or intensities. Wistfulness is currently limited to the practice of listening to Per Gessle obscurities. It's the only thing that I know he would like now, but I feel no compulsion to engage in any sort of dialogue with him again. I feel strong knowing that I don't wish to know him.

Our musical friendship was never compatible with my firmly established narratives of rage and control, violence and fear. Yet, it's the purest incarnation of a musical friendship that I've ever known. Future friendships with men followed its prototype, intense musical discussions with unacknowledged elements of shame, secrecy and resentment. When lovers left, I would devote myself to their ghosts, appointing them as patron saints of personal writing, post punk and creative enterprise. I'd fill grief into unread notebooks and dense essays, telling myself repeatedly that they are my muses, they own my creativity, they own the greatest parts of myself...

I've recognised the familiarity of the dynamic in those moments when the men I loved raged and verbally lashed out at me. My recognition would be sparked by a line that would recur in diaries: I try so hard to make them be nice to me... I'd become sensitive to their moods, adapting my behaviour to minimise the possibility of setting them off. I'd attempt to distract them with music, love or kindness, all the while knowing that they harboured this deep seated resentment towards me. In a naive gesture, I have revealed that I've had to implement familiar behavioural strategies to cope with their mood swings. Drawing metaphors with earlier abuse destroyed whatever love was left. My attempts to understand why this dynamic kept on occurring were left unexplored.

My brother once said to me that I was the best girl in Melbourne. There was a time when I was the only person he wished to spend time with. He described me as the best writer out of any of us, he raved that I was the most musical member of the family. As with any sort of legacy, it continues to be difficult to reconcile statements with behaviours. I have a choice of how to manage it, how to construct a cohesive narrative which accommodates for the contradiction of affinity and abuse. Perhaps I'll never understand why those qualities co-existed as they did, but I want to understand why I have permitted them to persistently occur in other relationships, living on and manifesting in this unacknowledged state.

Maybe I just wanted the music to be enough to cure us both.