True Stories

BACK TO BLACK

June 21st – The virus was long-lasting. I don’t recall when it began, before I lost the urge to dream I guess. I climbed to the top of a red London double-decker bus and hobbled down the aisle. I sensed him, a young boy, dead inside. I pulled off my mask, popped my earbuds in and hit play. The song Back to Black by Amy Winehouse dropped on my iPhone. I limped to the window, dragging my injured right foot behind me and glanced outside. The midsummer sky had turned a whiter shade of pale, men and women lined the streets wearing surgical masks and carrying blood red roses for the dead. As we idled at the traffic lights, children hurled their frail bodies against the driver’s door praying for mercy. On the footpath, a beggar carried a placard with the phrase, ‘The End is Nigh,’ scrawled across it in black paint.

I had no fight left. No fear either. If the end was a bus ride away, I’d travel mask free listening to Back to Black. No time for regrets. The bus hit a speed hump and turned hard right, leaving Kensington tube station behind. I steadied myself, gripping the pull-ring tight and watched the chaos outside disappear before my eyes, as the bus raced towards its destination. With music playing in my ears, I dropped my mask on the floor. I hummed Back to Black, and looked up. He stood before me, a fair-skinned boy, holding a sharpened bread and butter knife. He wore an oversized Kill Bill T-shirt, checked pants and sandals. “You dropped your mask? It’s not safe outside,” he scolded, “They’ll die out there. So, might you?” “I’ll take the risk!” I smiled, looking around at all the empty seats. “Don’t worry. You’re safe…as long as we stay 1.5 metres apart! The virus can’t travel further than that!” he assured me. “I’m Thomas Nixon, at your service, sir. Westminster Abbey is where we’re headin’. I’ve been travellin’ this route for a while now. Since this bleedin’ contagion took hold of old London town. Oh, the characters I’ve entertained on board this bus, you wouldn’t fucking believe! Kings, poets, scientists, even wandering minstrels. All of them sinners, of course. Are you infected?” I didn’t answer, I knew he was. “Once, I met a suicide bomber, delirious with fever. He tried to blow up the bleedin’ bus. I fought him off. With this bread and butter knife, dragged him kicking and screaming onto the road and set him alight. He went off like a firecracker! A superb ending, don’t you think?” He lit a cigarette and slowly inhaled. “That leg looks bad,” he cautioned, cigarette smoke billowing from the corners of his rather cruel mouth. “Take care, won’t you? You don’t want to catch an infection.” I didn’t respond, I don’t like chitchat. “I travel back and forth, you see,” he continued, “…alone on this bus. Not a soul to converse with since the virus hit. I’m looking for someone, but I’ve no fuckin’ idea who it is! Are you that someone?” “I’m not sure. I could be I suppose,” I added. “My old man would say to me, Thomas Nixon, remember this when I’m gone, only the good die young. He was right! I mean, every good man I’ve ever known is dead or dying in London. It doesn’t matter much at the end of days, if this virus doesn’t kill us, something else will. As for me, honestly…I’ve died a hundred times already. It’s all about space and timing, isn’t it?” He scratched his nose, and using the tips of his fingers, put out his cigarette, tucking the smouldering butt into his pants pocket.

The bus came to a sudden halt outside Westminster Abbey. “This is our last stop,” Thomas Nixon announced, ceremoniously taking my hand. “It’s alright,” he assured me. “This is the fairy tale ending you’ve always dreamt about.” What he didn’t know was I’d stopped dreaming years ago. He took my hand and led me, mask free, across the lawn, which was scattered with the dead bodies of homeless men, their faces contorted in pain, and ravaged by disease. They lay like rag dolls on the grass, barricading the entrance to Abbey, all of them forgotten. Climbing over bodies, we made our way to the entrance of the Abbey. Holding the door, Thomas Nixon proclaimed, ‘Here’s to all the things you love, my dear,’…and kissed me on the cheek. In that insignificant moment, time ceased to exist. We walked hand in hand to the nave of Westminster Abbey and stopped at a memorial stone wedged between two graves, that of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Inscribed on black slate the words – ‘Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking 1942–2018.’ I let go of his hand, feeling unsettled.

But Thomas Nixon cupped both my hands in his and held them close. He whispered, “Did you know black holes in the universe are not entirely black? In fact, if you look closer, you’ll notice they emit light. A warm, somewhat loving glow.” With that said, Thomas Nixon plunged his bread and butter knife deep into my heart. “Life would be tragic if it weren’t so funny,” he laughed, twisting the knife. Blood ran freely over the memorial stone, and I remember thinking, there are no coincidences.

And… I go black.

June 21st – It’s been two years to the day since I went away. It took less than two minutes. I often think of Thomas Nixon. It’s a shame we never got a chance to say goodbye. I miss London town, before the virus, and before the blackness took hold of everything. Mostly though, I miss Amy Winehouse, I miss humming Back to Black. And I miss the midsummer sun against my skin.

Author’s Note – This short story was written when I was in isolation, during the second wave of coronavirus in Melbourne, August 2020. While at home, I’d followed the virus outbreaks on TV news reports, particularly in the United Kingdom. When I sat down to write something on the virus, London immediately sprang to mind as the setting for the story. To all the frontline healthcare workers, thank you for your continuous dedication, selflessness and sacrifice during the pandemic. Best wishes Noel 😊
Written in St Kilda East, Melbourne, Victoria

podcast

‘Confide in Me’

'Music is the great healer in life'‘Six years ago, I put earbuds in and turned iTunes up full blast. I hit repeat. Then, I did it again. It had been a week since my breakup, the pain still cut deep. I started writing random notes. Then, I wrote for hours. A 10-year relationship over. I had a lot to empty, a lot to get off my chest. No one relationship is the same I recall thinking. I wrote overnight, stopping for Promite on toast then back to work. I was on autopilot. Who is flying this ship? Stay in the moment, stay with the melody. Out of heartache grew a rose. Beautifully sharp, not for theatrical traditionalists. Yes, of course, it’s about love, what else? Not tied with a pretty pink bow, but full-bodied, full-blooded. Keep hold, just keep on, I remember thinking. It hurt like friggin’ hell. Eventually, I would call this hell… this crown of thorns, ‘Confide in Me’ and now … I want to share it with you as a podcast’ – Noel Anderson 13/03/2018 ‘Music is the great healer of broken hearts. I know, cause I’ve been there, I’ve been broken’ ‘Confide in Me’ had its world premiere on 14th September 2017 as part of ‘Love Kills 2017’ at Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets in Collingwood, Melbourne Fringe 2017. ‘Love Kills 2017’ was produced and directed by Noel Anderson. You can now listen to it on iTunes and YouTube

CONFIDE IN ME – A Pop Podcast

Confide in Me - An Adult Podcast
‘Music is the great healer of broken hearts’

writing

Unfinished Symphony by Noel Anderson

In my dreams I remember music more than people. If God was working today I’m convinced he’d be a professional musician.  Probably playing trumpet in a swing band in a dodgy RSL club in Yarraville or strumming a guitar and singing an old folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary about peace, love and hammers. I use to think friends and family are all we needed in life but now I don’t believe that, now I believe only in music.

I remember standing on Halsted Street in Chicago not knowing where to go. It had been a strange holiday, not what I had expected exactly. Most holidays aren’t. New York wasn’t what I thought I needed and neither was Montreal. I was searching for something that trip, something I’d lost in my late thirties. Something I wanted back. There’s this thing with travelling, it unravels the springs inside you, letting your soul loose and imagination free to roam uninhibited.

I recall standing on the footpath, city map in hand, wondering where I should go next.  A doctor I went to when I was on worker’s comp in Sydney told me once ‘when you are unsure of what to do in a given situation then best do nothing.’ For some reason I’ve never forgotten that, so I stood there holding the Chicago city map and didn’t move.
I don’t know at what point I started to drift, maybe it was the music coming from a nearby bar that had prompted it, but drift I did. My mind shifted into an altered state of absolute relaxation, a state of chemically free bliss brought on by the tribal beats in the music reverberating through my body, every beat teasing my eardrums. A commotion was happening in a tiny bar on Halsted, and my senses appeared to open up to the sensation.

As I stood there drifting, my boyhood was paraded candidly before my eyes in technicolor flashbacks; an occasional sour note in grainy R.K.O black and white, thrown in for good measure. “You can change your future but you must never forget the past” I heard Grandma chuckle as she buttered a scone. I saw myself in my grandma’s backyard in St Peters playing with wooden pegs while my mum hung a week’s worth of family smalls on the clothesline.  There’s something about panties, bras and Y-fronts blowing in the breeze on a hot day that always makes me smile. I remembered the day I locked my mother and my grandma out of the house for eight hours, giggling the entire time until my uncle Kenny came home, jumped the fence and let them in. I was sent immediately to bed and given no pocket money that week.

I drifted again, this time a few houses up the street to Christine’s place, where we sat on the lounge cuddling and I had my first kiss. I remember Christine taking my hand and placing it up and under her school uniform. It is those days of raspberry cordial, teenage dreams and family that that come back whenever I hear a song by the Carpenters playing on the radio.  Those days, when I was younger.
I dropped the map and bent down to pick it up. The music coming from inside the bar was very loud so I decided to go in. I walked straight up to the barman and ordered a Budweiser. There’s something about a DJ spinning records that has always fascinated me, to this day I can sit alone anywhere in the world and listen to a good DJ and never feel the need for social contact. I decided at some point this God given gift was to keep me safe and out of trouble. It gives me a sense of contentment that most people struggle to find in day to day life, foolish people who put their faith in loving someone else… but not me, I have put all my faith in music.

“Do you believe in God. I was watching you from the DJ box. You were enjoying my set. Do you believe in him?”  I didn’t answer. “Have I offended you or something? Maybe you think I should get back up there and just spin tracks. Do you live in Chicago?”

“I believe in music, nothing else” I responded. “I’ve tried believing in other things but it just doesn’t work. I’ve been let down by other things, people mostly I guess. I am never let down by music. So, I believe only in it these days. Does this make me a coward?” I asked him, finishing my Bud. “You know that’s a strange question for a DJ to be asking? So, what do you believe anyway?”

“I believe in America and Budweiser beer of course. First thing in the morning I always believe in a good coffee, strong black. I believe in God. He created music for everyone to enjoy, not just you. I gotta get back behind the deck. Nice chatting. Enjoy your flight.” He smiled a cheeky F.U. smile and left.  Enjoy your flight? How did he know that I wasn’t from Chicago? Must be my accent I decided. I ordered another beer at the bar and sat nearest to the stage right speaker.  I drank, listened to the music he was spinning and started to drift.

I was thirteen and living with my mum and stepdad. I had suggested our kitchen table for a sneaky game of poker while mum was out.  I remember dealing the deck of cards and smoking, feeling out of place surrounded by my neighbourhood friends. I tried my first and my last cigarette that day while mum was out shopping.  I nearly choked to death. Smoking was never going to work for me I decided. The music changed tempo, I drifted towards the sky through endless silver cloud and landed feet first at a set of gates with the sign Rainbow Depot hanging in midair. Inside the gates I could hear an orchestra warming up and walking towards me was the DJ from Chicago drinking a Bud. He pushed on the gates and stood open armed as if to say ‘Sing For Me.’

“I’m a tenor ” I confided clearing my throat and immediately started to sing Che Gelida Manina from La Boheme. I sang in a voice I’d never heard before, hitting notes I never dreamed I could hit. When I’d finished  we stood comfortable in our quiet time, much like lovers setting up house for the first time somewhere in a big city. He broke the silence with his strong Chicagoan accent.”How well did you love?” he asked. I didn’t answer or wouldn’t.  Instead I fidgeted. “How well did you love my friend?” Still I didn’t answer preferring to get lost in the melody line of the music coming from the orchestra beyond the gates. “This is not a competition. At Rainbow Depot there is no right or wrong answer. There is no failure here, not in this place. There is only the symphony. Can you hear it?”  Indeed I could hear it, I have heard it all my life I thought, sometimes while doing the dishes as a kid with mum, occasionally while having sex, leading me closer to a place yet to be discovered.  “How well did you love?” he prompted again. “Not very well I think mister DJ. Oh, there has been times I’ve done okay. But, at the end of the day, once the shit is left to settle and the band has gone home, I don’t think I’ve done well at all. But, if you compare me to other people I’ve done alright. Alright does sound a little underwhelming though. You said something about there being no comparison but that, I think, is a very idealistic position for you to be taking and …” The DJ cut me off mid sentence. “Stop. I said this is NOT a competition. And, as a general rule there should be NO comparison. How well did you love is all I asked. It is the easiest of all questions, yet you stand in this safe place with no answer, only comparison. Tell me, what do you feel under your skin?” There was no getting out of it, no changing records, not even a murder on the dance floor could save me. I had to answer.
“Okay. I’ll tell you. Under my skin I believe not all people are created equal. I reckon there are a lot of really fucked up things happening today that most people aren’t aware of or even give a shit about. I stress. I think sometimes, not every day, but sometimes I think we are all doomed to die if the young generation is left in charge of the office, even just for five minutes… and I believe wholeheartedly in the power of chocolate to make you feel better after a break up. But, mostly mister DJ I believe in music and a God that can dance.”
He finished his Budweiser, turned to leave, stopped at the gates. “A God that can dance? Good on you, good-on-you. At least you’ve got something to hold tight, most don’t.” He did a little foxtrot and shut the gates.
I was back inside the bar on Halsted Street, the bartender came over and asked if I wanted another Bud. I declined the offer and left. Outside I sat on the curb and listen to the rhythm in the music cut through the cold night air.  I sat for a long time alone not needing anyone, lost in the music. He was a good DJ I thought, taking me to places I’d only ever dreamed of. I waited until he’d finished his set, catching him off guard in the carpark as he packed albums into the boot of his car.
“How well did YOU love Mr DJ?” I asked him.  He looked up a little surprised but kept packing.  “Are YOU from Chicago?” I continued. Still no answer came. He shut the boot, got into his car, turned the keys in the ignition. The car radio came on, 98. 7 FM Chicago.  A symphony was playing.
“What’s that playing?” I asked. “That music, I recognise it.”
He looked me in the eyes, no one spoke for what felt like eternity and then…
“You can’t know it. It’s an unfinished symphony. Mine,” he confessed. “I’ve been working on it between gigs. It’s a work in progress, Woo Wap Da Bam. I started back in London when I lived near the Angel. It’s called The Symphony of…” But  before he had finished the sentence, he drove off.

In Melbourne I dream about Chicago often, when I close my eyes I hear his car engine idling through the walls of my St Kilda flat and I can just make out the unfinished symphony playing in the distance. It’s usually turns out to be nothing more than static from Barry’s TV set next door. Static that sounds like music to me. An unfinished symphony beckoning me to a bar on Halsted Street with a DJ spinning orchestral tracks at Rainbow Depot. How well did you love he’d asked? I don’t know how well I’ve done so far.  I tried my best I guess. What do I believe he smiled, looking up from the deck, as I shut my eyes. I believe I mustn’t compare. Well, at least I’ve learnt that.  In the end that’s gotta be worth something.

Originally published in the MWSG Anthology 2017.

 

Director, Producer

I’m That Showman!

I don’t like labels. If someone tries to put me in a box then I try to break out of it as quickly as I can. Write, direct, act, produce, I want to do it all. Indeed the people I admire most are multi-skilled. But, recently when I called Club Tivoli (Melbourne’s German Club) to organise rehearsals for the musical ‘Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets’ the German girl on the other end of the phone said…
“Hallo…? Ja, you’re that theatre guy. I remember you.”

I’m that theatre guy, I thought!

After I hung up the phone, I found myself thinking long and hard about that label. Sittin’ at the Railway Hotel in Windsor I found my mind questioning, while drinking a beer, that statement…I’m that theatre guy? Theatre has dominated my life. Sometimes, the shows I’ve been performing or directing have dramatically mirrored my life experience so closely that I often found it hard to finish the rehearsal. In the middle of the play ‘Fitzroy Romance’ for example, which played successfully at La Mama several years back…I was having a relationship breakdown, and I was directing a show about…guess what? A relationship breakdown!

Recently I’ve drifted back to my other great love, film…directing two season’s of the award winning dating show NEXT: Date Addict vs Date Phobic, and the odd music video. I love directing film, I even enjoy the editing process, and hope to direct a classic horror film someday.  I always loved horror films as a kid.  I still don’t like labels but as this year draws to a close, I think my label has changed.  The label that describes me best now is…showman.

Over the last 10 years, my creative journey has played out for everyone to see on Facebook and other social media sites. I have approximately 10,000 followers, and reckon none of them like labels either.  Honestly, (I’m still thinkin’) I don’t want to be put in a box, would you? But, hell, I’m that ‘showman’ I guess!

Hugs Noel x

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True Stories

I Wear The Same Size Shirt As William Holden (from Sunset Boulevard)

I’m at home eating Vegemite on toast, wondering how to kick start my film career when the phone rang.

“Hello Noel it’s June, I’ve got job for you, filming in the Blue Mountains, starring William Holden, you know from Hollywood. Can you talk?”

The job was The Earthling and  I remember I was very excited to be working on such a high profile film.

“Who am I playing?” I asked my agent.

“There’s no role as such, they need a Stand-In for William Holden. He’s the lead, playing a character called Patrick Foley, a drifter. You’re exactly the same shirt size and height.”

Boy, I’m the same size as William Holden? William Holden who danced provocatively with Kim Novak in the film Picnic, won an Oscar for Stalag 17…and starred in the Hollywood film classic, Sunset Boulevard…well, fancy that!  I continued…

“But, isn’t he like a hundred?”  I was after all only in my early twenties.

“Yes, he’s much older than you but you’re the exact same size” June repeated. “Can you do it? It’s shooting next week.”

“Yes, of course I can do it. Who turns down the chance to work with  a true Hollywood legend?”

“Oh I almost forgot about Ricky Schroder,” my agent continued, “You know the kid in The Champ…”

“The film with with Faye Dunaway? Didn’t he win a Golden Globe Award?”

“Yes. Sure did. Anyway, he’s playing the boy” June barked and hung up the phone.

Kid I’ll show you a step I learnt in LA, first you gotta set the rhythm – William Holden in Picnic.

The Earthling was produced in Australia by Samuel Z Arkoff, a Hollywood B movie producer, responsible for some of the best exploitation films around, films like Blackula, The Amityville Horror and The Thing with Two Heads starring another Hollywood Legend, Ray Milland. Samuel Z Arkoff often stated his film formula for success as 1. Action 2. Revolution 3. Killing 4. Oratory (good dialogue) 5. Fornication.  This is interesting thinking back, as The Earthling didn’t have anywhere near the five points Samuel Z Arkoff mentioned in interviews.

You’re half dead. Together that makes one of us – William Holden as Patrick Foley.

The Earthling told the touching story of an old man returning to the Australian wilderness to die, only to find a young boy, an earthling, wandering lost in the bush after the tragic death of his family.  The old fella teaches the boy the art of survival.  The film was shot mostly around the Blue Mountains…however, when I arrived for my first day’s work as Stand-In for Mr William Holden, the production was filming in a national park on the out skirts of Sydney.  I remember being nervous, and to complicate things my car radiator started to boil over on way to the shoot, which was stressful. I arrived on set flustered, and was quickly ushered in and introduced as Holden’s Replacement Stand-In to the director Peter Collinson (The Spiral Staircase and The Italian Job starring Michael Cain) and also the great Aussie cinematographer Don McAlpine (My Brilliant Career, Mrs Doubtfire, Wolverine and The Dressmaker).  I remember it being very cramped for some reason on set, and I recall a nervous energy at the very mention of the name, William Holden.  Pleasantries out of the way, I was then shuffled over to the costume truck and given a shirt, a sheep skin jacket and an old fashioned hat to wear.  Someone pushed a copy of The Earthling script into my hands, and pointed out the scenes we’d be filming that day. I was then handed a shooting schedule for the week. At this stage there was no sign of Mr Holden (or Ricky Schroder for that matter) but you could feel Holden’s present on set, it was everywhere.

You wanna know my name? It’s God! G – O – D, GOD! – Ricky Schroder as Shawn Daley.

The crew stopped and had morning tea while I ran over the scene to be filmed, preparing for my job as William Holden’s Stand-In.  In case you don’t know a stand-in runs the lines, stands in for the lead while the crew set lights, camera moves and focus. It’s a strangely lonely-challenging-job that requires you to be patient and alert, something at my young age I found difficult.  Still, I managed to fight off my uncontrollable nerves, and I got the job done.  Once the blocking was done, we were ready to shoot, it was time to bring in the star, William Holden. The first glimpse of him my brain switched to slow-motion…as this old man of similar build, emerged slowly from his trailer, wearing exactly the same clothes a me, his facial features movie-star-familiar. William Holden tipped his hat in my direction and offered his hand…

“Hi I’m Will Holden, you must be Noel…?” he prompted for my surname.

“Yes…I’m Noel Anderson…?” I said swallowing my name, unsure of who I was.

“Well, Noel…And-err-son welcome to our little movie!” He looked me in the eye,”You know you look about as old as Ricky Schroder, think you can play me? Play Foley?” he chuckled with an American drawl.

“Yes, I think so.” Did he like me? I couldn’t tell.

We shook hands…quickly Mr Holden flipped back his hat, it landed plonk on his head, just like in a Hollywood musical, and he took his place on set.  Suddenly there was fussing about, wardrobe started tugging at the clothing  Mr Holden is wearing, adjusting this, perfecting that…while the hair & makeup department went into a frenzy. Finally, Mr Holden held both hands high in the air, motioning he was ready act, and that he wanted everyone to FUCK OFF, which of course everyone did, immediately.

Peter Collinson the director asked me to run the moves for Mr Holden so he could get the scene down faster, which I did self-consciously, then I was escorted to the back of the set, behind the crew and William Holden took my place on set.  The legend was up and running. Lights! Camera! Action!

Nothing belongs here that wasn’t born here – William Holden as Patrick Foley.

By my third day working on The Earthling I had started to wonder what happened to the stand-in before me, the production was well underway by the time I was brought in.  Did he not get along with Mr Holden? Did the other stand-in get sick or something? I never did find out why I was brought in at such late notice…or why I was let go a week or so later.

The William Holden I remember was a cranky old codger with cracked skin and troubled mind…I thought.  Maybe aging, losing his looks in Hollywood damaged his spirit in someway, or maybe it was Lady Demon Drink that had soured him. The Earthling was released in 1981 and took a pitiful $72,000 at the Australian box office. The critics weren’t kind to the film but over time it found an appreciative audience on television.

In 1966 William Holden killed a man in a driving accident in Italy, he was intoxicated at the time, and in 1981 just two years after we worked together on The Earthling, he died alone in his apartment from a fall, intoxicated.

Ricky Schroder who played the boy in The Earthling struggled as an adult actor and is mainly remembered now for the TV series NYPD Blues. I remember him as just another kid on set, surrounded by minders. I never spoke a lot on set to William Holden, I felt disappointment with himself whenever I looked  into those piecing eyes of his, and when I watch Sunset Boulevard on TV or his other film classic Network with Faye Dunaway, I’m proud to have experienced working on The Earthling with him.

You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big – William Holden as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard.

It was an exciting time back then, a time of pride in Aussie cinema, in some way I feel part of the renaissance of Australian films, thanks to the experience of being a Stand-In on The Earthling. Thankyou, Mr Holden.

For his contribution to the film industry, William Holden has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1651 Vine Street.

I Wear The Same Size Shirt As William Holden : The True Story Series – Written by Noel Anderson.

Noel Anderson’s 15 Mins of Fame Showreel

Why not checkout other work by writer/director NOEL ANDERSON