Brezhnev

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I’m very sad to hear that Graham has died, even though we had a fairly conflicted relationship, early on anyway. It got better in later years, when mutual respect took over from the competitive follies of our youth. We must have got to know each other in 1972 in Auckland – part of a loose group of friends who drank and partied together. Dave McArtney was also among that set; we called him Robin Hood, because of the hat with a feather in it that he wore; later it was generally abbreviated to Hood. Graham’s nickname was Brezhnev. Not sure why: something to do with the authority of his person, perhaps, along with a recognition of a strain of violence in his character, which would show itself only seldom and then unpredictably. Most of the rest of the time he was soulful, generous, witty and kind. A complex person – there was another side of him that manifested after he had committed some outrage: a little boy who was remorseful but not really responsible for his actions and so should be forgiven. Needless to say, women loved him. I remember afternoons in the back bar of the Kiwi, when Graham would have his harmonica and Dave his guitar and they would improvise medleys while the rest of us banged or clapped or shouted along. They used to do Robert Johnson songs like Come On In My Kitchen; Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?; the Who’s Magic Bus. They were great days. When I moved up to Puhoi the following year, Graham was a constant visitor. I remember seeing him walking across the fields, looking like someone out of an Italian movie of the 1950s, with Jenny Harland skipping along next to him on her short little legs. Somewhere among my things I have a drawing he gave me that year, an illustration to a poem I wrote called A Year of Birds. The drawing, on brown paper with coloured pencils, shows a flight of tuxedo-ed birds arrowing upwards through an empty sky. That was the year in which he seduced my sister away from her boyfriend then abandoned her as too intense; I always thought that contributed to her first breakdown, from which she never really recovered; but more of that later. He and his mates, McDougall and Bruce Moose, were working on the dustcarts and they adopted the swaggering demeanour, and even the brownshirts, of a fascist gang. One night, after I had wantonly disrupted an art opening at which they had designated themselves bodyguards, they pulled me out of the back of a van, beat me up and left me lying in the street. I’d passed out, from drinking too much, and came to with Graham’s fist in my face. I guess I asked for it – but still. I didn’t see him for a few years after that. The next time was at the Cook Street Markets Christmas party in 1977; I was performing with Red Mole and Hello Sailor were on the same bill. Graham came up to me just before we went on with an offer of some cocaine. It was his way of apologizing and I accepted the apology. That remains the only time I saw the first incarnation of Hello Sailor play and, to my chagrin, I can’t remember a thing about it. We visited the Sailor boys in Los Angeles later the next year. They were lounging round the pool with their girlfriends at a rented house in the Hollywood hills; their manager, David Gapes, was inside, frantic, on the phone. Things weren’t going well for them but Graham’s habitual insouciance was intact. He told me that, after a gig at the Whisky A Go Go, Ray Manzarek of The Doors had asked him to front a revival of the band but that he’d turned him down. I think it was a true story: Graham wasn’t a fabulist in that way. One day in the 1990s I was walking through the deserted streets of suburban Mt Eden when I saw a familiar figure approaching. He was coming up one street while I was going along another; they were at right angles to each other and we met, as if by fate, on the corner. Chatted about this and that. What are you writing? he asked. I said I was transcribing my sister’s diaries. He said: is she thinking of publishing them? And then I realised he didn’t know. Graham, I said, she’s dead. She died in 1975. It was like I’d punched him in the guts. Worse than that: I watched her die again in his mind, where she had lived on during the intervening years. But it’s odd, isn’t it? At that moment I forgave him everything. We ran into each other a few more times after that, mostly at gigs; I saw the Harry, Graham, Dave version of Hello Sailor play a few times, most recently last year for the launch of the Alan Brunton Selected. I’ve seen Graham completely out of it and then, when he climbed on stage, snap instantly back into total clarity. I always loved the way, at the end of Billy Bold, he used to segue into a few lines from William Blake’s Jerusalem. He once called my friend Sue the Lady with the Delicate Essence, a play on the word for the place where she worked behind the counter at the time. He could quote Baudelaire, or Villon, from memory. In later years he was like a ruined king of a ruined kingdom on a ruined throne; but the splendour was real.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Brezhnev

  1. Grey Owl

    A restained human reflection with sweet depth.
    In his fraility, he possesses the ink we look for.

  2. sums it up in the sublime

  3. Neville Lynch

    That was Brilliant…

  4. Thanks, David. I remember him from the late 70s when his band and Dave Dobbyn’s were often in the same place, public and private. Unforgettable man.

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