The Clouds

the clouds

On my way home from the library this morning I had a psychic radio moment, where a spontaneous thought was immediately followed by a song that exactly summed up the thought, so much so that it should have come before the thought and indeed, produced it. Put simply, apropos of nothing I thought of a man. And then I changed the radio station. And then his favourite song came on. I turned up the radio and thought about the band (INXS), glancing off the thought that the past must be a pretty powerful aphrodisiac if it can make me wonder what that particular Raskolnikov is doing right now. Sorry, Raskolnikov! I’m sure you’re not complaining as much these days. I hope the weed is mellow, and the dumpster food varied and plentiful, wherever you are!

I turned off the street and remembered that no one can really claim a special relationship to that band, especially not that song. It’s one of those universal situations. So special that it’s nothing special. ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ is good in the same way, I don’t know, the light off the moon is good. I mean, we can talk about these things, but where will that take us other than more surface appreciation? Of course the point is that in the surface lies the chiming beauty; forget about deep connection. I mean, by all means, let’s talk, but let’s not expect too much from our talk. Our talk about INXS. I’ll make wine from your tears.

Speaking of chiming beauty, I saw the Clouds the other day. Now that’s a band you’ll never hear on the radio. As I stood to stage left at the Corner, predictably stuck behind one of those stupid wide pillars, sipping a beer that tasted like carpet, it struck me that my thinking had been all wrong. My thinking had been this (and this is probably just what I’ve often told people): the Clouds are one of those bands that probably would have been really big if the festival circuit had been as developed back then as it would later become. Interesting, catchy pop songs, genuinely independent girls, tough hard playing, heartbeating, Australian belters. But as I stood there at the show, a scary couple of decades later, the fans all seeming like they had babysitters and desk jobs at NGOs, I realised: it’s actually very strange that this band ever got as big as they were. Oh, and if the tone of this post seems mean, that’s because I’m probably just jealous of people with babysitters and desks at NGOs.

The Clouds have a very distinctive sound: lots of dissonances based around 4ths, which seem borrowed from medieval and early modern music. Lots of breakdowns into 6/8 or 3/4 time. Very tight arrangements based around weirdo chord changes. A shitload of attitude. ‘The right attitude‘ quipped my friend, whose cousin, Raph, is the Clouds’ drummer, smiling his way through blissed-out fills. I remember seeing them at an all-ages show at the Fly by Night in Fremantle, Jodi and Trish swinging their guitar and bass like giant schlongs, so dapper and swagger without being butch, somehow virile rather than sexy. Very musical without being nerdy, or showy. ‘Pure,’ said Raph’s cousin.

There’s something very honest about guitar music. Especially when no one’s shy. ‘It’s nice to hear women sing properly,’ I commented to Raph’s cousin. She told me that Trish’s mum was this great country singer and suddenly the storytelling aspect, the narratorial character of songs like ‘4pm’ made sense.

I’m a bitter, twisted soul
With my hand behind my back
I feel my shiny silver blade
Love on my right hand
Hate on my left hand
God at my command
But they don’t understand

The two sets the Clouds played the other day were immaculate, album-perfect. And the only reason this matters is because through this virtual copy of the past (and incidentally, Jodi looks exactly as she looked when I saw her play in 1996) I was able to transition from nostalgia to time travel. It was like breaking a physical law, or a universal taboo. After intermission I passed a middle-aged couple engaged in an ersatz waltz; I presume they’d seen the band when they met in their uni years, a story like that hovered around them as they smiled into each other’s long grey hair. They were remembering hearing it all the first time, while hearing it exactly as it was the first time. ‘This shouldn’t be allowed’ I thought to myself. Memory is obscene. It should remain private, obscured. As I stood there during the sets, refusing to finish my Carlton draught, the waves of pleasure I felt during certain chord changes and bridge distortion reminded me that I was no different from this waltzing couple, forgetting the horizon to wallow in the shallows of memory.

Post script: Neither Raph’s cousin nor I could remember the fourth person on stage that night, a tall man shredding away between Jodi and Trish whom they called Dave. Dave? Who the fuck was Dave? The lovely thing about memory is that it omits what’s not necessary. And the trouble with time travel is that it’s too accurate.

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