Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Goodbye Chick Ratten

Txt, Sunday August 3:
Open house today
3 to 6. Love to see you!
J & R
Received almost immediately:
You would but
been in europe
3mths back sept 24
via nawlens
Chick Ratten has died. In a mobile home in Germany after his favourite meal – a rabbit stew with his soulmate Ursula. I wonder what stories he'd tell of New Orleans. Funny that he never did make it. Countless times we argued when I raved about it, urged him to visit there, see where the Oz music he loved came from. And he didn’t make it in the end.
I can’t believe I’ll never see his big boof head, his gap-toothed grin, his brick-shithouse form again. Never look into his world, peopled with characters like the German, the Singing Pig, Jazz, Bee Wise, Turtle, again. (I was Coyley.) Never smile inside at his vocabulary, peppered with language that shocked genteel souls, again.
His take on life was clear eyed, direct. When we hunkered down to talk he really listened. Gave time, as much as it took.
Chick created a space at Fitzroy's World Famous Rainbow Hotel where musicians gave of their best. I knew, putting gigs together, there that he’d be straight up, always pay, look after the musos. When we put on two Doug Sahm tributes a year apart, Andy Baylor put together a house band. The roll call of guests melded with the band and the venue, jampacked full, to create a pair of events cited in Hugo T’s memorial PBSFM show as the Rainbow’s best.
But there were so many great gigs.
Monday nights, specially, I always waited, no matter how long, for the sublime two minutes when the universe is aligned and the music takes you out of the smoky fug, transcending the little room with the wrought-iron hanging shelves above the bar, the framed rock memorabilia, the multicoloured walls, the day’s grind.
Thanks to the musos, to Ursula and Werner, to staff and friends, for I know you helped make it so.
The Sunday after Chick Ratten died we flew to Canberra in a prop plane through a white haze that reflected my inner state. We shivered our way across the windy, wet Melbourne tarmac to the small prop plane and, seated under the wing, I watched the mechanics of takeoff and landing in tremulous fascination. Thoughts jumbled – Qantas’ recent safety scares, the weeks before and the weeks to come, the miracle of flight – with the strobe effects of the propeller through a camera lens.
Chick’s funeral happened today in Melbourne.
Now here we are, the week after the whole universe of Aboriginal art squeezed into the surrounds of the MAGNT between 5pm and 8pm for the Telstra NATSIAA. So much to tell, but not until I say goodbye.
Goodbye, pal; I wish I’d been there. And it would’ve been great if Thorpie had made it for that final gig.