Ballyhoo, Alice Cooper and the Resurrected Gods

Ramble through the fairgrounds of an agricultural show; you are coursing through the heart chambers of tribal ancestry. I love shows because they short-circuit the passivity of rote society. They restore a healthy flesh & blood anonymity to the show-goer which is quite different from the mundane anonymity that comes from being society’s rote consumer/audience zombie. These shows are earthy, pagan, exploitative, humbling, dignified and ridiculous all at once. They are an aspect of our species which is significant in the same way as funerals and marriages. For those of us who see festivals as places, as opposed to events, they remind us that time and history are circular, not linear. The fairground is symbolized as a carousel; a chiming colourful centrifuge; a force that stands separate from our mundane world but which is also within its own constant musical motion.

“There are lads for the lasses there’s toys for the bairns

There tumblers and jugglers and folks with no arms

There’s a balancing act here and a fiddler there

There are nut-men and spice-men at Copshawholme Fair” – traditional song.

The flags of city-states and guilds snap in the wind and the paragon beasts of the field are displayed by squire and farmhand dressed in styles both customary and smart. Pig pens are splashed and dappled with ribbons of gold, crimson and proud bright blue. Prize goats are groomed like collectable dolls and the trade talk amongst the farm folk murmurs without start or end under the clamour of the city crowds.

Everyone is met face-on. The dignity of a family’s calling is on show and shared with us all. A breeder will talk with you for fifteen minutes about his champion hounds or rams or roosters. You learn something from them all and you glimpse other vigorous worlds and clannish communities. I’d never heard of Bracco Italiano gun dogs before being introduced to two splendid specimens by a pioneering Italian breeder who’d had them flown out from the Old Country. And the cat people are almost evangelical in their enthusiasm for the Maine Coon, the British Shorthair and the Selkirk Rex. This is not consumption, not marketing, not spectatorship – there’s nothing ‘in it’ for anyone other than communication – yet people will queue for it. So it seems we’re not all owned by the saturating advertisers after all. A lot of people still want to crowd in delight around somebody’s moonfaced cat.

Sideshow Alley is where the wild things are, forever.  Maudlin rows of clown heads grind east-to-west in a frozen song of yearning hunger. There is something ritual about this. Something mendicant in the visitor to the sideshow. A sense of deranged pilgrimage.

The garbled laugh of clowns through the dirty mesh of a PA. The totem of the clown – the trickster and Fool – is emblazoned everywhere. He chatters in a beguiling nonhuman weirdness, calling you in no particular direction across the fairground. The hydraulic demons which loom above the shrieking gates of their rides (a ride being a hellbound journey) are themselves totems of giants, imps and wood gods. Representations of old and wild spirits, Gothic folk figures and quasi-medical Victoriana hangovers. Their maledict stares offer us the chance to dance in the madness of their realm. The Devil is gambolling and capering among ten thousand light bulbs. The phlegmatic screams from the distorted PA reflect the actual human screams in the same way these warping mirrors reveal us as bloated mooncalves…  grotesques abroad in the land of Bedlam. Alice Cooper and Axl Rose and Angus Young are painted up on the rides and played loud, like saints in some temple of savage abandon. Herein is the clamour of what rock’n’roll can stand for, funnelled through the bloodlines of animistic pageantry. The carneys crack the whips here, in this sugary magical hell. We are anonymous and there is no prejudice. They shout at me with isolating force – daring me, and cajoling and flattering – and when I surrender and take up the mallet or water cannon, they whoop and ridicule and then hand me the tiny priceless prize and there’s that one second of offstage acknowledgement and decency, for we are all playing a game. We are all Fool Knights in an inferno of clowns and red devils, bristling stupid with inflated swords and maces. We go tripping into the mockery of rationality’s stasis, just as we’ve always done.

And all of this at Easter, these rites named for the Saxon goddess of life and renewal, and the hare spirit at large and abundant with eggs while, in the poultry pavilion, prize roosters strut and shine in colours of brilliance unmatched. Christian sects, in keeping with the ubiquity of the legends which live in the soul of the human animal, invoke a Hebrew god-king slain and reincarnate. Round and round we all go, as riders in the squeaking painted gondolas of the Ferris wheel.



Leery Saint Patrick: The Rebel in Human Resources

I get a non-alcoholic kick out of the cardboard leprechauns stuck up on the windows of glossy soulless Sydney bars. I dig that sort of thing in most of its forms (not so much on Valentine’s Day). Contrived & brazen. Aggressive totems of merriment. The leprechauns are on the piss, or beaming magnanimously under rainbows, or swinging around cauldrons of gold. In a familiar variation, I have a tattoo of a swaggering pugilistic leprechaun, taken off the wall on stung into my forearm by the legendary Tony Cohen.

“Rebel songs are shite” – Steve Wickham, Irishman & fiddle maestro.

Watch the humans pour into the bars stickered up brightly with leprechauns, watch them march in and swing their own cauldrons of gold. They pour in like a glowing platinum river to the shimmering ocean of merry noise. The suits and the surf t-shirts, the English football jerseys and the ‘Just Jeans’ shopwindow extras.

They communicate SOMETHING to each other this way. They convey SOMETHING, like fat blind bombers cruising at altitude on the distant fumes of some faraway refinery. Can’t say what it is exactly…

Organized sloppiness with an ethnic theme and a jaded motherfucker belting out the Thin Lizzy version of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.


Historical precedent. Involvement. Taking no shit. Something like that.

In the Mercantile Hotel, I once saw a Paddy’s Day woman straddle the men’s urinal and the geyser of piss poured powerful, like mercury, and I didn’t react until a diaspora navvy muttered “…my kind of woman!” and then I laughed.

The Spirit – now, that’s what it is; we’re getting somewhere – The Spirit swirls like the surging creamy piss in the troughs and the night gets louder and louder and is it just me or is it just this bar or is this actually some sort of ENGLISH thing??

“I’m a rover, seldom sober, I’m a rover of high degree” – Scottish (Irish) folk song

They’ve got paper shamrocks up for all the rovers in Human Resources this week.

Somewhere in an Australian cemetery, a well-mannered long-gone forebear is invoked and resuscitated in a shower of alcohol and pressed up against a coffin with a shillelagh in their paw and it’s Tim avourneen, why did you die… and here’s a Caffrey’s. Get ‘em in, because you won’t be drinking any more Caffrey’s until next Paddy’s Day.

Yeah, I know the psychology, the anthropology…  it was all Irish humour, stage humour… the turning of the tables, the holding of the mirror, the putting-the-joke-on-everyone-else. I know all that malarkey. And I am descended from Mullarkeys from Ballina, Co. Mayo (true). A leprechaun grins back at the reflection of a slack-jawed tradesman from Cronulla who is swaying like a liquid man and the bouncers will have him out on the street in a second, here they come, they’re frogmarching him out that door, his jaw is flailing and he moans the rebellion of protest.

Some second-generation types get on with doing his drinking for him. Someone seems to be sort of apologizing for protestant roots. Not sure what all that’s about.

There is ‘Dirty Old Town’ in honkytonk time signature. Of course there is. That’s what you want, yeah? That’s part of The Spirit.

Written by an uptight Englishman, it’s a plodding drowned phonebook of a song when done honkytonk.  I once played it, by request, fourteen times in one night. For me, it always reads like something translated from Japanese or Polish or what-have you. It has a perfect sense of immediacy, particularly for something that traditionally sits alongside a million narrative ballads.

Also, I used to play a style of derived, collegiate punky-Irish and would see The Spirit chased after on nights that didn’t include cardboard leprechauns. It was alright, but it looks now that the world only needs two or three professional bands doing that, and the world knows that. There’s only so much of The Spirit to be splashed around.

But you want to splash it around now, and you’re welcome to splash it around now, so splash it around. I’m going to swipe that big cardboard leprechaun under his rainbow and stick him up in the kitchen.

And tomorrow, I’m going to play The Dubliners’ take on Dirty Old Town. It’s the first version I heard, and it will be the last, too.


Will Swan

Cobra brand

By far, most of us are Coca-Cola brand people

Then there are the Homebrand people

And then, like stars shining from black storm drains

There are the Cobra brand people.


Coca-Cola brand people live subliminally

They mistake pleasure for happiness – without faltering.

In this, they are arguably very lucky.

They subconsciously assume that positive acknowledgement

By other Coca-Cola people

Is a self-evident pillar of life.

They observe thorough distinctions between:

* The balloon that is the brain

* The mouth

* Their benign circle (i.e. Coca-Cola people)

* Vices, virtues and principles (semi-formal abstractions

which might as well be corporeal lumps of marshmallow;

not to be taken to heart but useful for plumping up ‘Meaning’)

* Official entertainment

* Boundaries of existence, taped off clearly with electric fencing

Though they often move and speak with an

Uncertain soreness

This soreness is not on account of private ideological struggles

But is simply the wear and tear of being a Coca-Cola person.


Homebrand people are somehow aware

That there is unseen suffocation in the Coca-Cola branding

But they do not hold enough violence to strangle it dead

So they compensate with words and ideas

They may read the wordier newspapers

They like ideas to be listed as delineated elements:

Energy, Protein, Fat-Total, Saturated Fats, Carbohydrates, Sugar, Sodium

Equality, Justice, Individuality, Self-Realization, Enterprise, Improvement

They have faith in substance and choice and polarity

They believe slogans and aphorisms can be ‘used’ to resonating effect

They buy the idea that they, the Homebrand people, can have true form

They ascribe that things should be a certain way.


Cobra people are the drachma of Atlantis

Lone eternal coins found on dusty bike tracks at dusk

No accounting for them, no explanation forthcoming

They will be sitting at the end of the platform

Struck by patterns in the heraldry of birds the others can’t see

Chasing the signature melodies of birds the others can’t hear

They will be leaving the seminary gates for the last time

Their studies incomplete, accepting their own resignation

Isolation and courage in their sequence of decisions

They will emerge from the Tropic of Capricorn

(Into a world of Coca-Cola brand people)

Their dignity smiling like polished oyster knives

Good perfume, on them, smells even better than it’s supposed to

They don’t need to dye their hair green but if they do

It’ll be the green of a supernova’s magma

It’ll be greener than yours

When they say “no” (which is often)

There is a rain-rinsed freshness to the sound of it

Even if you know them in the vacuum of hope/the wake of disappointment

(That is, the aura of true gamble)

They still stand out like scarecrows

And they come back even better

Cleaner and stronger and, of course, they were always a

Cobra brand person in the first place.

They are ignored by most of the Coca-Cola brand people

But when noticed by them, evoke threat.

They tend to impress the Homebrand people.

Cobra brand people know how to

Move the furniture of their lives

They recognize each other very quickly.

Have you ever watched a conversation between

Two Cobra brand people who have just met?

It hardly ever happens but when it does

It is really something to see.


Will Swan

Adult Book X-change

As with museum moths


Their destruction forbidden

Overlooked, with sand in their nostrils

Even now, when out on the street

Passing pocket phones swell in pornfat

The bookshop defies both prudish spectres and

Varicose search engines

And prevails, along with the bingo hall, the cobbler

The cigar emporium and the

Slow urban, loamed peasantry of the barbershop

Antique axles of community

The bald Cypriot car hire man bulges out

From the doorway’s showband tassles

Electric blue linoleum strips heavier than eyelids

After spruce exchanges with the knowledgeable proprietor

Over a desk display of phallus-numbing potions

In hot black eyedropper bottles

Bryan Adams on daytime radio

Slapping off his torch songs


Will Swan

Thereabouts, 1872

The Mayor will not be found, not in the sun

Benighted as a dux, School Prefect, he was

Already set in the cement of his

Ingratiating morality

He’s already forgotten


White wall, lip of cobblestone porch

Three chairs of puppet wood

Neighbour grows roses fatter than sows

A Datsun chassis lunging, sunk

In its own surf in the yard, a straining crypt

Growing juicy straw hair like some Queen of the May

Whom nobody will waltz


White sun humming on tracks and cables

Humming eternity, drowned in light

Chinaman’s wife going about in parasol shadow

Lone heathen in an empty church

Blood ink roses, three chairs, white wall

The town of Thereabouts, eighteen hundred and seventy two

Thin Lizzy trapped in a house up the hill

Under the water tower

Caught in there like something summoned

Rumbling the walls with bass

Struggling by melody for the surface world, for the oxygen

Of the stingray sun


Jurd’s daughter goes without eyebrows

To the beer garden by the cemetery

Born simple, manlike, threatening to none

Big Amelia Jurd coming now

For the beer glass language, beer glass shade

Beer garden tables get spot-kissed all over

With beer glass condensation kisses

The grasping animals at watering

Corrugated iron catching white sun, here in Thereabouts

The graves catching it, the bottle caps

Enough sun caught in cluster says

Ah, this is us here

Exhalation, then

Mouths wiped across animal knuckles


Will Swan

The Primitive

Fitfully alive, unlike anyone on that station platform

Even in this glazing death

(all four hotplates left on forever

the door of the flat left open

invisible heat blazing x 4

blind hotplate brown)


On the nod

Leaning into me like a hound


Bubblegum jeans

As her legs tumble with the carriage

In full dress rehearsal for the coffin


Dharruk strands and Wessex strands

Winch a profile sharp as a crow


Brow defiant with intellect

Eyes jammed with heroin

At 12:35 pm, five minutes after she dropped down

She gazes out & asks “…where are we?”

Like we’re in this together.

for five minutes

with her unconscious

it was like we were.


But now I leave her to the homing train

I’m joining the advanced people, further up into the carriage

For the rest of the day, on all these trains

The advanced ones phone other civilized people

And tell them where they are in life.

They mention privacy laws & HR & recommend gynaecologists

They ask who will be coming on Saturday

Each one of them their own homing pigeon, they say:

I’m at Auburn

I’m at Central

I’m still at the station

I’m on the way home

I’m on my own

I’m on the twenty past six


Will Swan

Brunswick Djinn

It’s like someone forgot to give me the brochure:

Cold white light in the hallway turned on, the first night

Returning from the local to where something else had been

In the disarmed slouch of the Salvation Army refuge

While the junkie told me how his bones had felt

Like long shards of glass creaking in his meat

Wherever the bee buzz of our noise above ashtrays was

They were there

In rusty volume, in the backgrounds of rehearsal catacombs

They were there

When the clogged air around a fresh addict

Threw him into anti-spotlight, right there in front of me

I was startled, dumbfounded, sober and

Looked around that black aura, as present as a stain

They were there

When those Last Drinks, caught in sloppy fear the evening before

Ran right back out to sea, in the eyeless sun of that dawn

They were certainly there

Slamming in the hallway like drifting doors

Whole howling chasms of them

Flying past my eyes

They were always there, where the pigeons weren’t

They were there, vultures in the grey glow

Watching from roof tiles

From graveyard galleon shadows

Swaddling around censer campfires right there

In the beer gardens

Where it darkened hard around the edges

That coiled presence at a tram stop

The kebab wrapper by the train tracks

Sucked of all its meat

In the apple taint of hookahs

Ambling in ragged elegance

Toward twilight and miasma

They’re there


Will Swan