Wednesday, 4th July, 2007, 3.05 a.m.
In Adelaide for five days after June 21st . I attend the Adelaide Film Festival board meeting and look up friends. I went on Monday with Steve J. Spears the playwright in a wheelchair-carrying vehicle to inspect a number of seaside places he might die in. His brain cancer was cut out and he wrote about it wittily but it came back and it’s inoperable now and he’s got five months perhaps and he’s behaving well in Mary Potter Hospice, run by my sister-in-law Mary Brooksbank. There’s red wine for the visitors and bawdy gossip and reminiscences at all hours, and then he sleeps for a while.
Steve’s personality – part Bob Dylan, part Jack Nicholson, part Red Skelton, anarchist, troubadour, clown – has a secretiveness about it and you never know when he’s joking. As a playwright, actor, singer, composer and novelist of intermittent excellence with a play on Broadway when he was twenty-two he overindulged himself for a decade with drugs and booze and women and then in his forties went on the wagon and was oft seen after midnight in Kings Cross stark sober in a backwards-facing baseball cap with a budgerigar on top of it, behaving erratically and bouncily. He lived across the water from me in Ettalong for a time but we never made contact. Both sly and dismissive, cruel and kindly and bubbling with talent, simmering with it – sneering at it, casting it aside – he was forever stuffing up indifferent screenplays (in one, eight characters die and turn into ghosts) or writing excellent musicals that went too long unperformed or underpraised. One, called Namatjira Park, concerned urban winos sleeping rough through a single hot night and mixed marvellous dialogue and acappella singing and was as good as anything I’ve seen.
‘Where is it?’ I asked him on one of my visits.
‘Does anyone have the sheet music?’
‘Could be. Can’t remember.’
‘Steve, it was terrific. It must survive.’
‘I’ll tell you something, Bobby. Come close.’
I came close. His eyes widened. ‘Nothing . . . matters,’ he said emphatically. ‘Nothing matters. That’s the secret. The true, essential secret. Nothing . . . matters.’
His old girlfriend Adele, a tough grey-haired bureaucrat with the Adelaide Film Festival is nursing him through his last days in this his fifty-sixth year. Old friends gather often and he lunches with them in particular sidewalk restaurants. They encircle his wheelchair or his hospital bed and drink red wine and beer, an ongoing Algonquin cocktail party with nervous jokes. Sometimes he seems asleep. Sometimes he says quietly, ‘Fuck off, the lot of you. I mean it: fuck off,’ and they go away.
And so his decline continues. No loss of brain function, however intrusive the extending menace inside his skull, has yet occurred though his face is larger than it was, pumped up by steroids I guess, his eyes wily and humorous, no anger or bewilderment yet on show. I wish I’d seen more of him when he was well but he seemed a bit mad and my time was valuable and I’m chary of garrulous teetotallers. And now I guess there’s no time to say much except how much I admire him, and he won’t believe that either.
Thursday, 5th July, 2007, 4.45 p.m.
Grey-green Moreton Bay Fig leaves and branches over grey water with yachts below. Each yacht, I judge, represents a personal fortune of two million or more. How, in Australia, is all this money made?
Usury, as Ezra Pound might say. Usury. Tear it down.
Gordon Brown has effortlessly ended, it appears, with his dour understated rectitude and soft Scots burr and impelling dark-chocolate voice the Blair Effect in a couple of weeks. Handsome, dark-eyed, one-eyed, bereft of a baby child, stoic, decent, stoutly enduring a left-cheek paralysis (like Sylvester Stallone’s) which lessens and darkens his smile, he usefully shows, as one English commentator said, ‘that a Prime Minister doesn’t have to be your buddy.’
And I reflect how greatly Blair, our buddy, has changed the world. How notably. How fatally. Without him Bush would not have dared his Iraq adventure. Too clever for his own good, Blair hoped, nay, knew, that the UN would vote the war down and then he’d be off the hook and the US couldn’t go in, but he didn’t calculate on Bush saying fuck it, we’re invading anyway. And then he was stuck with it, the whole catastrophe, the whole gotterdammerung, Shock and Awe, mission accomplished. Or he was stuck with it in a way that Brown would never have been.
For Blair was a cradle Tory (his father a Tory candidate, his brother a Tory lawyer, himself a frequent gobsmacked fan of Thatcher) and he believed, and he always said he believed, that the only way to treat the Americans was to get in their pockets early and go wherever they were going, go along. The lesson of Suez – that greatest Tory debacle, he said – was how regally they can fuck you over if you cross them. So you get on board; he would say, for America is the only train that’s leaving the station; and you have to get on board. It’s the only available reality.
I should talk to his friend Geoff Gallop about this and ask him if what some say is true – that Blair from childhood believed he had to make friends with the biggest kid in the playground and through life has had no agenda but this. So when the biggest kid was Bush, a fellow closet-Christian, he felt chosen, foreordained, foredestined to fight the good fight alongside his big, strong American buddy and his thick-jawed armies and his thudding helicopters, against the Saracen heathen (with UN approval, of course) and to speed the Rapture and the conversion of the Jews and the Second Coming, and eternal hellfire for the heathen Muslims and the rest of it, as true Christians believe.
Can our leaders be as daft as this? Yes they can. Blair, Gallop, Clinton and Beazley were in the same Oxford prayer group; discuss.
Yes they can.
A question. What do Bill Leak, Tony Blair, Kate Fitzpatrick, Anthony LaPaglia and Julia Gillard have in common?
An infancy spent in Adelaide.
Of these only Blair – snottily accented, bisexually appealing, snobbily social-climbing, politically vacuous, untrustworthy, charming, persuasive – seems properly birthed. The others appear auslanders; New South Welsh persons; aliens.
Leak is not coming to the Primates. His doctor has told him he can’t drink any more and the tempting conviviality of the old gang would be too much to bear. A pity. And so it goes.