(The following piece is an adaptation of a story from my solo comedy show ‘The Cave To The Rave)
Those who knew me in my late teens will know who was responsible for unleashing my dance potential: I call to the witness stand ‘Duran Duran’!
Duran Duran in their pomp were at the vanguard of a movement known as The New Romantics who had a brief moment in the musical sun during the ‘Post Punk New Wave’ era. The movement reached its zenith in 1981 at the ‘Blitz Club’ in London where proprietor and ponce Steve Strange began turning away people who weren’t dressed weirdly enough: A policy that led to Mick Jagger’s one and only rejection by a nightclub. But for the tyranny of distance a certain teenage lad in suburban Watsonia was building up a wardrobe that would have seen him bypass Mick and his stodgy mates in the queue.
The music was peripheral to dressing up for the New Romantics. Their ranks would go out for the night attired as dandy highwaymen, foppish lakes poets, medieval ces pool cleaners, Flemish lorry drivers, albino Vatican guards: anything was on the table as long as you looked like you’d tried too hard.
As a teenager the New Romantics taught me 3 valuable life lessons …
1/ If you wear a pirate shirt, a kilt and your sisters make-up on the Hurstbridge Line you will definitely get beaten up: That is a given.
2/ If you survive said journey and arrive at your destination intact and dance like a New Romantic will get you the unfettered attention of girls
… we’ll deal with Part 3 later.
So why was getting girls attention so important? I’ll put this in perspective for you. I went to a Christian Brothers school … and no, is the answer to that question! But yes, I have undergone some counselling … to work out why I was overlooked. I must have been a particularly abhorrent adolescent.
The result of 6 years of all boys Catholic education was that the only women I had conversed with were either librarians or fundamentalist Catholic housewives who used to come to school to talk to us about the Billings Method of not having sex as a form of contraception. I’d been using that technique for a number of years and was to use it for a number of years to follow: I didn’t need their meddling. Subsequently the only topics I felt comfortable broaching with girls of my age revolved around the pros and cons of the Dewey Decimal System or the viscosity of vaginal secretions during ovulation. Not a great opener at a school social.
This all changed in Year 12 when I went on a Stranger Camp. These camps were so Catholic that most Micks don’t even know about them. Students from a variety of schools were sent away together on a weekend retreat. We’re talking male and female schools : very Vatican 2.
Our gang of 5 from Parade College arrived on a cold, June night at ‘Druscilla’ a mock tudor manor at the foot of Mt Macedon and were ushered into a circular room with natural acoustics and the feint piquant odour of Franciscan sandals. We sat on cushions and talked earnestly about our relationship with God and our attitude to prayer. All the while contemplating who we might like to shag later in the heritage listed gardens: perhaps unwittingly on the unmarked grave of a Jesuit.
The result of this weekend was not a spiritual epiphany but something more important for young lads starved of contact with the other gender. We met girl females! They came from a girl female school called Mater Christi in Belgrave in the Dandenong Ranges … and it didn’t end there. The girl females invited us to girl female parties at girls females houses with actual girl females in attendance … ney in abundance! They had girl female names like Julie & Tess & Fiona & Fiona & Fiona and the Campion Twins: the jewels in the Mater Christi crown.
Let’s talk geography for a moment. When you’re 17, you live in Watsonia and you don’t drive a car, the Dandenong Ranges may as well have been the Pyrenees. In fact in order to even get to these parties before they were over we’d have to create clandestine WW2 like operations. We’d mingle together in the cool misty dawn of a Saturday on the station platform, double checking our papers, exchanging forged passports and practicing our German because we knew when we got to Ringwood Station we stood a good chance of getting stopped by the Gestapo.
‘Papers please … yah you in za kilt und za sisters make-up … danke … So, Herr Callinan, do you intend to go to Belgrave or Lilydale? You go to za mountains yah? Zese New Romantics from za Northern suburbs choose to go to za mountains. Vat vill zey do when zey arrive? Maybe you will have za Devonshire tea. Maybe you will go to Miss Marple yah? Maybe you will go to Za Cuckoo? Zis is the Fuehrers favourite restaurant. Za profiteroles are exquisite. They use real brandied cream not za mock cream zey use at Fergusson’s Plarre at Northland! Pahhhh!! No I sink zey go to a party? Zis one looks hungry like za wolf. Maybe zey will mingle with za Frauleins: za blonde Aryan frauleins of za eastern suburbs and you will fuck up our gene pool yah?’
It was at one of these parties in Nazi occupied Belgrave that I came of age. We arrived at the party disguised as peasants having left at 4am 3 days previously. Immediately all the girls started saying …
‘Damian, do that dance you did at the Stranger Camp … Go on do the dance!’
Now I’m of the belief that what happens on a Stranger Camp should stay on a Stranger Camp but I was whisked into the games room, they pushed aside the bean bags, folded up the table tennis table and I was away
[For maximum effect now visualise me dancing in a kilt and pirate shirt to Duran Duran’s ‘Planet Earth’]
For 2 minutes and 42 seconds I became a Dance God in the Dandenongs! It started happening every week: we’d arrive at the next impossibly distant party, the French Resistance would disappear back into the night, and I’d get pushed into the rumpus room for another round. But after a few weeks I started noticing that at the end of the dance I became transparent. The girls would drift off one by one and snog my mates and I’d be left alone sipping my island cooler and would inevitably end up in the kitchen helping the hosts mum serve out the ‘vol au vents’
So at the tender age of 17 I retired from dance.
But then, a reprieve!
The Campion twins were having a Christmas party!! It was a co-sanctioned event with Dr and Dr Campion and their fellow doctor friends getting drunk in one room and the rest of the Campions and their friends going absolutely off their nut throughout three stories of Belgrave weatherboard chalet. It was the best party I’d ever been to. There were no rules.
To put this in some context, the Campions were like the Medicis of Belgrave. Think 16th century Renaissance Italy meets the foothills of the Dandenongs.
The guests arrived in their masks and cavorted, pranced and canoodled about the palisades and groves: the young snickering as the young are wont to do. The two generations nary met, like the Capulets and Montagues they kept their distance … Until!! The elders grew tired and grumpy and sought the more frivolous company of the young. The twins were summoned.
‘Twins come hither … Bring us the fool … Yes we simply must see the kinaesthetic musings of the dancing one you speak of so oft. Bring us the fool at once.’
Word passed around!
‘The fool intends to dance’ … ‘the fool doth channel Duran Duran once more, come hither’
The fool was trumpeted into the great hall with a twin on each arm. The fool found himself ensnared: the young at his rear, the elders in front. He had nowhere to run. But the fool did not want to run. He wanted to dance and how the fool did dance.
As the music commenced there was confusion in the room. This was a different composition. Secretly the fool had been rehearsing to Durans Durans’s news single ‘Girls on Film.’
How he amused them with his camera chirades.
‘Szzzz … Here madam I have taken a polaroid for you. Take it … Not yet. It’s still grey … now take it … ah but why take it. It is not there! It is but an illusion.’
Oh how easily he charmed them with his photographic antics.
‘I’ll take a Selfie with all of you in the background and then I’ll text it to you … in 25 years time when they develop the technology’
Even his anachronisms were working! The elders sat gobsmacked as he began to do moves nary seen afore in these temperate hills. He did hip swivels and arm motifs that even put the great Simon Le Bon to shame.
But the fool became over confident and climbed onto the feasting table itself.
The crowd hushed as all looked to see how the host would cope with this affront but he was pissed as a neut and began the slow hand clap. The tension was high for those who had seen the fool dance knew that he always finished with a double knee drop … always!! But surely not from such a height: surely not! But the fool … was a fool!
He leapt into the air with no care for his own personal safety with his knees tucked beneath his torso. But the fool had not reckoned that he was about to land on a cowskin rug and the pelt of a slain beast does not afford the purchase required to arrest trajectory from such heights. On landing his knees splayed outwards. Sensing peril he threw his arms forward but they too offered no help … oooopphhhhwhackk!!
The fools face bounced on the floor like a mallet on a peg at the Elmore Field Day. Such was the force of the impact that he was thrown back to his feet. Sensing his injuries the fool took a bow. Unaware of the damage, the adoring throng went into a euphoric rapture but as the fool raised his head a curtain of red poured freely from my each nostril.
Moments later the fool was whisked from the room by twins lest he bleed on something important and he soon poured his cardinal life force down the weatherboard citadel walls. Then the doctors came for him but each was more addled from their intake of ale than the last and offered wildly conflicting advice.
‘Hold thy head back fool … no knave forward … fetch an ice pack to ensure his nose becomes misshapen … send for the leeches … and get my bag I shall amputate the afflicted proboscis’
Soon all lost interest in the bleeding fool … except for one! For the fool had finally learnt his 3rd lesson under the tutelage of The New Romantics …
3/ Dance + physical injury is a powerful elixir no teenage girl can deny.
… For that Christmas Eve the fool awoke on the couch at the crowing of the cock and the bleating of Puffing Billy’s horn with a broken nose … and a Campion twin.