The Croxton Bandroom

By | 13 May 2024

Maybe today was how old people might live
in a perfect world. In the morning the pool
for me and the exercise class for him
because we are both of us trying to keep moving
for as long as possible. I float in water
that holds me up, I drift from one end
of the indoor pool to the other, flapping
arms and legs because proper backstroke
would use muscles that are under
assault from my immune system. He
is dancing around with dumbbells, he comes
out of those classes quite tired. We go
home. Grab lunch. I spend an hour
on the phone to Jennifer who is taking
my long poem apart, section by section,
and checking that everything works,
which it doesn’t quite, but it will. An hour
is about as much as I can manage. So
then there are a few quiet hours, and then
it’s off to an opening! – we take the tram
and walk through to Fitzroy and the baker
that hosts small exhibitions, and there
is Iain with his latest work: late life
discovery of acrylic paint: a football player,
the races at Hanging Rock in miniature
seen from between enormous boulders,
and colonial confrontations. The problem
is how to deal with such toxic events,
he says in his introduction, and then
everyone gets back to talking and drinking
and eating. But we have to go because
we have tickets for a band! – Ezra Collective
from south London, my old stamping ground,
is that partly why I love their music? – and doors
open around eight. Another tram
and another walk, and we have a drink
in the front bar – a light beer for me – and
then they let us through. The Croxton Bandroom
once famous for its sticky floor, is now
airconditioned, smoke free, exits marked
in green neon, and over an hour to wait,
and some young person is producing
electronic music from a bank of tech
on stage to keep us happy, and the two
of us find steps at the side which we
can just about sit down on: top step,
a wall behind us, uncomfortable but
better than standing – and another beer
for both of us, and that is quite enough,
and the place is filling up with people
young enough to be our grandchildren, and we
are lucky to have our step, which is a magnet
for other people whose legs are not quite what
they used to be, and he’s checking the cricket
on his phone, and a couple of forty-somethings
settle down next to me, and I say to the bloke,
seen this band before? and he says, no
but his girlfriend has, and I tell him
how this is our third time for some of these guys
and he tells me how he moved from Perth
to Melbourne for the music scene, and that is
how he met his girlfriend, they’ve only been
together for three months, it’s music
that brought them together, and he wants to know
what bands I liked when I was that age (gesturing
to the crowd on the dancefloor) and I tell him
oh it wasn’t music so much then as politics,
women’s liberation, the anti-nuclear movement,
and I don’t regret that at all, I just wish
I’d fitted in more music, paid more attention.
Now the young person with the electronics
is winding up their act, and the dancefloor
is getting excited, and finally the musos
roll happily onto the stage like old hands,
they know this crowd is theirs, and we’re away –
and standing up there the two of us
old people are dancing carefully,
side to side, one leg then the other,
and the band holds us all together as
one human organism for an hour
and a half – we are in their hands. Femi
the drummer does his usual sermon,
comes out from behind his drums,
he grabs a microphone, he asks us if we’re
all right and the crowd screams yes, and then
he tells us what we know, that these times
are terrible and how can we live with this
and what he wants to tell us is that when
times are terrible – which may be most times
but this time in particular – what we need
to get through things and try to keep
dealing with them and not get sucked in
to hopelessness and anger is simply
joy – like we are having together
this evening, it doesn’t change anything
at all, but when we all go home we
will have that joy, that little bit
of something different to sustain us
whatever happens, and the crowd
is bopping away to something coming out
of the bank of electronics gizmos where Joe
the keyboard man is nodding his shaggy
head in time to his own rhythms – and people’s
voices are raised, this is a revival
without religion, maybe one day we
will turn to some stranger at another gig
and say, did you see them at Croxton? – that
was a wonderful night, and tomorrow
I will remind myself of the names
of tenor sax and trumpet – bass guitar
I know already, Femi’s little brother –
and afterwards it’s buttoning up
jackets and winding scarves round necks
and the windy tram stop and home. So late,
and the cricket’s on, and we sit
woozily in front of the TV, still
a bit lit up, way past bedtime, not
ready to go to bed, minds still dancing.

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