Night After Night My Heartbeat Shows the Fear
I love to surf. But I grew up in Ohio, so I’m a very poor surfer. Yet if you’re going to learn the right way to wave ride, there’s no better place on earth than the Let’s Go Surfing! school on Bondi Beach. And there’s no better teacher than Bondi Brenda herself, aka Brenda Miley, a former professional surfer and the school’s founder and director.
The thing is, riding waves on Bondi Beach ain’t like riding waves back home. These things are huge, and the surfers riding these breaks are really good. “No worries, love,” Miley assures me. “We’ll get you up on a board. Guaranteed.”
Bondi Brenda speaks the truth.
Two hours into my lesson, I’m surfing the breaks all the way to the shore. Beyond the tremendous sense of accomplishment that I feel, I’m completely taken with my surroundings. Campbell Parade is the main drag, and scores of beachside restaurants and bars line the thoroughfare. The beach is a half-moon, with towering cliffs on either side. The panoramic views proliferate as tourists and locals alike congregate on the sand and on the promenade. I take a long rest on a park bench after my lesson. I feel good. Real good. Rested, even. The others in my media group head back to the Shangri-La to prepare for the famous Bridge Climb on Sydney Harbour Bridge. But not me. No, I have one last piece of business before flying home tomorrow. For as fate would have it — and as if it were cosmically cued — the man I’m here in search of is appearing for one night, and one night only, at the Basement in downtown Sydney. I’m hours away from calling on a man named Colin.
Ghosts Appear and Fade Away
“I’ve been looking for you,” I say to the man in white as I approach him in a hallway at the Basement, the best live-music venue in all of Sydney.
“Looks like you’ve found me then, haven’t you?” replies Colin. We lock eyes, shake hands and take a seat in a back corner of the bar.
In front of me is Colin Hay, the frontman of ’80s rock superstars Men at Work. The band disbanded over the years, but Hay, the genius behind the melodies and the lyrics, continues to tour the world voraciously. It’s not often that he returns to his Australian home, and it’s even rarer to catch him playing a one-man acoustical show at a tiny venue like the Basement.
He’s here tonight to prepare for a world tour for his most recent album, Gathering Mercury, and just like he has done so many times over so many years, he’s sold out the joint.
“Coming back to play in Australia is always like a homecoming for me,” Hay says. “The first two Men at Work albums were about as big as albums could get, and I’m very well aware that our sound was shaped by our surroundings. I love the old songs and I love to play them for the crowd, but I also want to move forward and evolve as a musician. I just want to learn how to play the guitar. I’m happy with my ability, but I could be a lot better.”
For a Yankee like me, that last statement is almost impossible to believe. Hay takes the stage to a raucous round of applause. Each song he plays is preceded by a story of the song’s origin. Perhaps the most surreal moment is when he plays an acoustical version of “Down Under,” in the Land Down Under to a crowd from Down Under. Of course, everyone there knows the words. But no one sings a single one. It would be sacrilege. These Aussies know that the man before them, and the song they are hearing, helped indoctrinate the world to the sound of Australian rock ’n’ roll. This is a national anthem of sorts, and there, onstage, is the ambassador, playing his heart out and sounding every bit like the man from 30 years ago.
Come Back Another Day
This story ends from 38,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on a Qantas 747-400. With last night’s concert fresh on my mind, I’m headed home, traveling back in time both figuratively and literally. I’ve done a week in Australia, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of the country. But I’ll be back, that I can guarantee. One week just isn’t enough to truly appreciate the Land Down Under. Because as Colin Hay would say, one week of playing tag with Australia, it’s just overkill.