Car horns, Soundcloud rap from a ‘UE Boom’ speaker, grinding natural gas bus engines, bricks and rubble crumbling under huge tires, white, bright yellow and orange people yell at each other. I don’t know why people say that ‘Brisbane is too quiet’. They’re always people who have never lived here, or have lived here too long.
Sure, we don’t have theatres on every second corner, and those we do have are closing in a swift procession. Like a house of performing arts venue cards, no longer able to support one another under the weight of the crippled industry. Unfortunately, it’s the industry I was born into, or born to make a name in at least. I’m realistic though. I understand the instability of a life in the arts and I’ll turn my hand to any creative outlet that seems like it might make people pay attention to me. And has a pay cheque. Not my brother though. He too was born to be in the music scene and he’ll die in the music scene.
‘I write, he rocks.’ That’s what I’d tell people at parties when I was trying to impress someone I scarcely knew or had never met.
‘So you’re like Oasis then?’ they’d ask.
‘I don’t write songs. Callum writes his own music. I write plays,’ I’d reply.
‘Oh,’ they’d say, taken aback or even impressed, ‘What sort of music?’
I should have known better than to think being a writer was going to make people want to hear what I had to say. Nick Caraway and Margot Tenenbaum made it look so glamorous in the movies. Even Andrew McGahan managed to make me feel romantic about the notion in his tragic novel, Praise. But Callum didn’t have to worry about such things. He was a musician, born to soak up the limelight — or what little light our city could offer him.
His songs were all about hate, angst, heartbreak, drugs, politics, all the things our generation pretended to care about. His songs featured guitar licks that made a room full of strangers dance together, lyrics that made strong men weep, accompanied by melodies and haunting harmonies that made even stronger men lose it.
I am, of course, using ancient and sexist hyperbole there. Insinuating that strong men don’t or shouldn’t cry, or that a man crying must mean something is sadder because of some Neanderthal belief that men are stronger. We are not. Callum showed that in his own songs about himself, and they often made me shed tears. There were two main reasons for that.
Firstly, because they were being listened to and swooned over. Soaked up, loved and regurgitated back out onto him by adoring fans, while I struggled to see a finished script or attract even our parents to a launch party for a magazine I’d been writing for. It felt pretty shit.
The second reason his songs made me cry was the plethora of self-destructive messages littered throughout his catalogue. The stories behind which I was sure no one but I fully knew.
People would slowly move toward the stages of Crowbar (deceased), or Empire (endangered), or Tom Cat (still fighting the good fight), and head-bop or laugh at his onstage antics. Smashing old guitars and crowd surfing while buried shallow, barely under the surface of his ‘rock star’ façade was, to his brother, truly horrifying.
He finishes every show with the same song. He sings about downing whiskey to numb the feeling of a breakup, which would make any audience member say, ‘Yes! He gets me!’ but all I saw was my brother, in a gutter somewhere in the suburbs. All I heard was the terrified cries of a drunk kid, desperate for help, over the phone. The song goes on, much to the same sentiment, but it’s the one that never fails to trigger the panic in me.
I try to swallow it down. Drink, party, dance like the rest of the crowd. Try not to lose myself, too much, in the depression. After all, I got there in time, that night I got the ‘Dude, I’m not ok. I need you to come get me. I think I’m going to do something stupid.’ call. I was there in time, despite the speeding ticket I was issued on Coronation Drive, while I trembled, dripping with sweat and struggling to ignore the calls from his worried friends. I got there on time. I still don’t know what I’d have done if he wasn’t already coming down when I arrived, or god forbid, if I didn’t make it. But I did.
He was like a god to me, untouchable, until that night. Like Thor who’d lost his hammer, Callum was a boy again. A boy who’d lost his fight. His thin, frail flesh appeared in my headlights as I turned another corner in Middle Park. Every turn I took, I braced for what I might see. It still didn’t help me to reconcile with who I found, because it didn’t seem like my brother at the time.
It still rattles me, the overwhelming sense of pride, fear, responsibility and deep love at the fact that he called me. We always competed, argued. Both trying to make it in the same competitive entertainment game, in a tiny town, with varied degrees of success, was certainly not without its tension. But he trusted me to make it, from the other side of this fucking city to the gutter he was sitting, shivering in, surrendered to the suburbs.
This is a love letter to my brother, so why did I start by rambling about Brisbane being a quiet city? Well, let me think about it for a moment.
I suppose because when people say that ‘nothing happens in Brisbane’ or ‘it’s too quiet’, they don’t see the terror in a brother’s eyes or hear the ringing of panic in their ears as they race towards his suspected demise.
I try to justify Brisbane’s lack of culture and sentimentality but in the end, it could potentially be what kills us. Callum is only the way he is, scared, angry, dependant, because of the struggle to succeed here.
I find it easier to blame the city for my own failures. People say, ‘all the jobs are in Melbourne.’ So why not move? Because someone has to write the stories, and someone has to write the songs. Cautionary tales. And because Callum is here.
We’re like Oasis. Without heartache and melancholy, and without each other, we’re pretty shit.
Stanley Benjamin is a Brisbane based fiction and play writer who’s work reflects his experiences growing up in South East QLD. You can find his portfolio at https://stanleybenjamin.com/
Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, script writing and performance.