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my life with wilco


by Brenton Doecke

Melbourne (AUS), March 13th



















Last night we went to see Rob play at a pub called ‘The Drunken Poet’. It’s a Guinness pub just opposite the Queen Victoria Market, and its walls are covered with pictures of Irish poets and writers. Rob was playing in a make shift group brought together to perform songs by Wilco, a group I’ve never known very much about, except for the fact that they collaborated with Billy Bragg on an album of Woody Guthrie songs – songs based on lyrics that Woody Guthrie’s daughter handed over to them, fragments of lyrics he’d left behind him without ever composing the melodies to accompany them. Kay and I enjoyed watching and interacting with the musos with whom Rob works. Well, interacting is probably a bit of an exaggeration – I shook hands with the girl who was the drummer in the group. Esther seems to enjoy their company, and it was also nice to see her smiling and talking with the other personalities who were obviously regular drinkers at the pub. She sat next to a man who had otherwise seemed quite impassive, if not a bit surly, sitting mournfully behind his pint of Guinness, but who then became quite animated in his conversation with Esther, even offering to take a photo of her with her iphone with Rob performing in the background. The band invited a guest to sing a couple of songs with them, a curious young man from California who spoke with a pronounced American accent, and who appeared to go by the name of Jesus Christ. Outside, near Victoria Market, a soup kitchen was being set up for homeless people – their presence is felt everywhere around the city these days – and the police had cordoned off an area where for some reason they had restrained one of the people who had been lining up for soup. Or so at least we assumed. Inside the pub was warm and cosy, with people snuggling up to each other and their pints of Guinness, listening to Wilco songs.


Melbourne (AUS), March 15th

















The Smith Street Barber shop is a popular barber shop along Smith Street. I began going there when I was the Treasurer of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English, which is on Cambridge Street, parallel to Smith Street. Everyone who goes to the Smith Street Barber Shop wants to get Kizzy to cut their hair. She is a bit vain about her popularity, which derives from her undoubted skill as a barber. I also enjoy her Gen Y conversation, which reveals dimensions of her life beyond the ken of a Baby Boomer like me. Sometimes I’m happy to have my hair cut by someone else, just to flaunt my free spirit and independence of mind. 


This morning I was at the Smith Street Barber Shop around 10.00, having caught the 9.38 in from Rosanna. I enjoy the walk from Collingwood to Smith Street, though I’m always a little nervous, in anticipation of the crowds I’m likely to face at the barber shop. When some young men take a seat in front of the mirror, it seems to take hours for Kizzy or any of the other barbers to fashion their hair in the way they like. Me? I’m short back and sides, though I’ve never dared to say this in the presence of anyone at the Smith Street Barber Shop, as it would be likely to cause raised eyebrows and possibly result in my being banned from the establishment. 


This morning Kizzy walked out the door to do the banking, just as I walked into the place, but no one else was there, and I was happy to have my hair cut by the owner of the Smith Street Barber Shop. He addresses everyone as ‘buddy’. He is quite a bit older than Kizzy, and he takes a very fussy approach to your hair, even when you’re only looking for short back and sides, (Oops! I mustn’t say that! I mustn’t even think it!)  Yes, the Smith Street Barber Shop! And my unrequited love for Kizzy! But there are larger pleasures than simply fulfilling your desires, and I felt pretty happy with myself when, my hair cut and my eyebrows trimmed, I ventured out once again on to Smith Street. 


Yes, I felt good. What could I do to celebrate? I sauntered up the street a bit, toying with the idea of a spanakopita at Melissa’s. Yes, I was definitely going to enjoy a spanakopita. But to my right I saw a record shop that I had often passed on my walks from Collingwood to Carlton, and so I went in. After overcoming my confusion at the apparent lack of any alphabetical order, as well as strange generic categories they use to label music these days, I found the courage to ask the shop keeper whether she had any Wilco albums, whereupon she pulled out two: Star Wars and Schmilco, both second hand. We agreed that Wilco were interesting because of the way they mixed genres, I handed over $40.00 and walked out the shop, bound for Melissa’s, where I showed the young Greek girl there my purchases. She confessed to being a Wilco fan, too. We agreed that Wilco were interesting because of the way they mix genres. I munched on my Spanakopita and thought yeah.


This is a free culture license

Footnote (by the editor)

Three extra Wilco albums that Brenton should buy and enjoy (and my favorite songs thereof):


Being There (1996)


Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)


Sky Blue Sky (2007)


War on war

Impossible Germany

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