Monday, March 1, 2010

Mary Kay Place

March, 2010: In March, I spent three weeks rewriting the ending of Earthly Things, now known (I think) as Dust, on the veranda of the Railway Hotel in Koorawatha. Several days after arriving (arrival: stepping down from the Countrylink coach with 21kgs of books and food, Sunday 4pm, looking across the Olympic Highway at the pub, rallying myself as though the pub were a treacherous pass I now had to cross) I thought, erroneously, “This is a place where, when someone new appears, not only does everyone know about it, but they also know who he or she is related to.” It was the most beautiful season: hot days, cool nights, and a day of torrential rain, when the hill at the end of the main street was completely obscured by the rain. Drifts of native bluebells, silky grasses. Soon enough, I began to think of ‘STREETS OF THIS TOWN (ODE TO FERNWOOD)’, sung by Mary Kay Place for a ‘70s TV show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and written by Paul Grady. This song describes a country town that is a ghost of what it once was, where the past is bigger and noisier than the present. This atmosphere - the one you pick up when wandering around a rundown, half-deserted country town - is something I think of as my bread-and-butter. It sets me off into daydreams: it’s imagination provoking. I hadn’t heard or played this song for several years, and it came back to me in full over a few days of memory-racking. I’d never been able to decipher the whole of the last verse; when I first learnt the song about seven years ago, I even checked it out – in vain – on the Google. This time, I just made it up, pleased to be able to cut a notch in the song that would always remind me of my three weeks in Koora. Here’s the last verse: “The streets tonight are quiet and serene/ Dream a dream of things that might have been/ Just a trace of the lives/ Of the hearts broken, the fortunes lost/ As I walk down streets of this town, I can see what was.” I also made a change in the second verse: “Smoke from the tip blown in by a high lonesome breeze.” In the original, the smoke comes from the factory, which is inapplicable to Koora. I sang “wheat-fields” (Americanising “paddocks”) until the afternoon they burnt off at the tip.