In early 1994 I had a job in an architects’ office and room in an old house in Hobart, Tasmania. I was 24. When winter rolled around I quit my job, sold my car, moved out of the old house and took off for America. I’m tempted to say ‘lit out’ for America here, which sounds more American. But that’s a trap. My journey – four months riding Greyhound buses around the US – was Australian in its outlook, as much as it was American in its landscapes.
A couple of months before I took off, Kurt Cobain put a gun in his mouth and put an end to proceedings. But for me, just out of university, single and soaked in the rainy rapture of grunge, things were just beginning. I needed to get to Seattle. A musical pilgrimage. Now or never.
Backpack, thick socks, dreadlocks: I stepped off a plane at JFK and wandered into New York. Four months later I stepped off another plane in London, England.
What happened in between? It took me four years to start writing about it, but in 1998 I quit my job (again), moved into in a top-floor flat in Melbourne and banged out the words. Later that year I mailed out the finished manuscript – Riding The Dog – to some publishers. But it was by turns too florid, too try-hard, to wanna-be Kerouac… Just too damn long.
Admittedly, much of it was unpublishable, self-indulgent crap: preachy, clichéd, banal, wordy, occasionally pornographic – take your pick. I was teaching myself to write as I went, fishing around for an original voice. But in between the failings, some of it really cooked!
Then I got another job, bought a house, moved on to other phases. Riding The Dog went into the bottom drawer. So why now, 21 years later, am I pulling it out and messing around with it? Midlife crisis? Maybe. I don’t pretend to fully understand how a man changes between 24 and 45 – it happens too fast. And certainly my life now doesn’t give me any cause to feel maudlin about the past – I’m the luckiest guy I know! But I also know that out on the road, on all those nocturnal Greyhound buses, along all those lonesome American interstates, I was really alive.
So the time has come for me to wheel out some choice cuts, give them a polish (not too much) and let the words see the light of day. Let them breathe. Like them, don’t like them – that’s up to you. I’m not embarrassed, and I’m not looking for approval (two of the best things about middle age). I just owe it to myself to do this.
These offerings will be random, both in timing and content – minor jewels, major rambles, all mixed up. A linear chronology trucks through the narrative, but somehow, looking back, it was these distilled and perfect moments that meant the most.
‘He not busy being born is busy dying’ – Bob Dylan
‘Don’t you lock up something that you wanted to see fly’ – Soundgarden
‘Drop the leash, we are young’ – Pearl Jam
All words © Charles Rawlings-Way 1998