Wednesday, April 11, 2012

'Khe Sanh' Killed the Party

Is "Khe Sanh" an Australian classic? An institution? Surely one could argue that the band behind the song, Cold Chisel, is an Australian institution. At the very mention of that name, it's as if I can smell the eucalyptus and meat pie wafting through the breeze. I know that Cold Chisel is an Australian institution because my very Australian uncle loves Cold Chisel, and he's about the most Australian person I know. Growing up he'd tell us about hunting pigs and shootin' things and goin' down the pub and generally doing a lot of leaning on things while swigging a pint. He likes the Screaming Jets as much as he likes Cold Chisel. That's how I know the Screaming Jets to be A Very Australian Band. I'd like to have seen the Screaming Jets at the Espy in the years before I was a thought in the brains and loins of my parents. I think that would have been a very Australian thing to do.

This story though, is set many thousands of kilometers away from St Kilda, in Buenos Aires. It was in Buenos Aires that I was struck by these thoughts concerning how Australian a song "Khe Sanh" truly is. I was compelled if you will, to ponder the nature of "Khe Sanh" and its place in our national psyche. Brandishing a bottle of Argentinian red wine and yelling my declaration of love for my home city, it was then that I decided that the Cold Chisel karaoke go-to was The Most Australian Song That I Know. So you know, it was obviously a very profound moment.

A dance floor in its early stages, a night that by Australian standards would probably have been about to wind down or head out the door, but by a Porteño measuring stick was only just beginning. Outside on the streets of Avenida 9 de Julio it was cold and rainy and enough to warrant wearing one's most obnoxious beanie en route, but it was warm warm warm in the Lime House and I had a kick-ass posse to spend the night with, and I'd just done my laundry for the first time for about three weeks. So obviously I was on my A-Game.

The dance floor - if we're being specific, it was the space between the bar and the couch - was not a full-fledged area of rocking out as yet. It was a mere suggestion of something waiting to happen; not yet guaranteed, but nothing the right amount of musical coaxing and stars aligning and able/willing bodies couldn't achieve. It was a campfire ready to ignite, sparks ready to be fanned into action. It was just too damn bad for all involved that I had just met another Australian.

That night will go down in infamy as The Night I Met Jesse. Those who know me well will have heard all the the warm descriptions and laughed anecdotes of and about our various adventures in Santiago. Jesse would come to remind me of all the best bits of home, served as a sign that I was somewhat ready to return (albeit grudgingly). Where once was intense wincing and vague nausea, all of a sudden were smiles and fond Melbourne memories. What you might not know however, was that before these warm and fuzzy familiar feelings was our meeting at the Lime House in Buenos Aires. His Australian accent cutting through the crowd (as the grating twang of Aussie slang inevitably does) I very quickly honed in on Jesse. I even interrupted my Grade-A move-making on my Star Wars-loving American architecture student romantic interest target, Codename DM - Dorky Mike. That's what happens when you haven't spoken to an Australian in two months.

He worked at The Carlton Club, he went to high school a mere suburb away from where I did, he lived a stone's throw from Mitch's place. Our interests were remarkably similar. Our paths MUST have crossed any number of times, but we'd never met. And here we were - sharing a bottle of Argentinian wine from the store below our creaky hostel. I hadn't spoken to an Australian in a long time - let alone an Melbournian who frequented all the places where I would more often than not spend my weekends. My brain was exploding into a million little bits. Jesse even looked like he'd just been teleported from Australia; clad in thongs (flip-flops), a t-shirt that betrayed time not yet spent on the dusty road, and without the mandatory South American-traveller-llama-sweater. We were in Buenos Aires during winter, and he didn't have a jumper. In true Australian fashion, he'd just spent time in South-East Asia. The laughter flowed as readily as the drinks and all of a sudden, I felt a pang for home in Melbourne.

Home? Until then, I hadn't been thinking about 'home' in the Melbourne sense of the word with fondness, with any longing. By that stage, my home was my backpack. Home was a crowded bus, a smelly dorm. Home was Cusco, for a while at least. Cusco was filled with the warm memories and the endless soundtrack of summer tunes that one would associate with home. Leaving Cusco was heart-wrenching. So heart-wrenching that I ended up returning about three times. Home was the feeling of complete contentment and happiness felt when floating in an Amazonian lake, thousands of miles away from Melbourne.

Hell, home was beginning to morph into Buenos Aires. Bitch please, you'd best not take me for some gringo-ass backpacker (lol); I got me a Subte map that I don't even have to use anymore I'm so damn Porteño. You want to find a cinema? Bro, I'll show you FIVE. Hueon, I got a breakfast place, and a favourite local radio station blasting out of my muy, muy barato Argentino phone "¿TIENES UNO UN POCITO MAS BARATO?" - as I emerge from the subway, grinning underneath my ridiculous beanie. Of course, it became clear exactly how gringo my ass truly was/is when my wallet was stolen a mere four days later. Oh, the woes. That's besides the point however, pray forgive my digressions.

Talking to Jesse about the places we'd frequent on the weekend, where we spent our days and nights and bits in between, I was filled with a sudden love for Australia never even felt during typical days of national pride. More so than any ANZAC Day or Australia Day, or any other day of Southern Crosses and boxing kangaroos, I suddenly felt VERY VERY AUSTRALIAN. And it was at that moment that I was distracted from excitedly describing the myriad reasons why I suddenly missed Melbourne to my Canadian and English friends by the D-Floor Happenings.

It appeared as if "DJing" duties were all of a sudden being shared by the Lime House inhabitants. The theme: YOUR COUNTRY. It seemed as if others at our hostel were in a similar state of mind to my own, because that theme was seized upon by all those around us with gusto. The posse of boozy Brazillians put on some amazing boogie-inducing dance tune. So did some Dutch guys. Ditto a couple of Brits. The D-Floor's future looked bright.


It was to be so. This was happening. We were going to hit the room with an aural punch in the face so Australian, all ears involved would be spewing VB. THE LIME HOUSE WAS GOING TO GET SOME AUSTRALIA ALL UP IN ITS GRILL. But what would we play? John Farnham? Kylie Minogue? Get the party started with some goddamn Presets? No. NO. NO. I raced over to the bar and shoved everyone aside. "IT'S OUR TURN" I declared.

Badababdababadababadbabdabdbba ... the opening strains of piano were met with puzzled faces. I remember grinning at Jesse, fist ready to be thrown into the air in the way that one must always throw ones fist into the air when singing the opening lines to "Khe Sanh".

(you'll please note that I did not know the actual first line until I Googled it about ten minutes ago)

By then the dancing and two-stepping had faltered with the lack of a thumping bass line (I HAD THE VIETNAM COLD TURKEY) and the embryonic campfire dance floor that had looked so promising, so full of possibility (FROM THE OCEAN TO THE SILVER CITY) looked as if someone had poured water all over it.


Jose-behind-the-bar watched us do our best Jimmy Barnes, looking more than a little confused. Here were these two Australians playing an obscure and almost unintelligible rock song, singing along loudly with fists a-pumping, effectively clearing and killing the dance floor; morphing it into a puzzled audience.

Someone changed the song before it was halfway through.

I felt like racing around the room and explaining, "No, no, no! You don't understand! This is COLD CHISEL, they're an Australian INSTITUTION. Jimmy Barnes man, he's a NATIONAL TREASURE! This song, it's about as Australian as you can get without being pure, undiluted Vegemite! This is as Australian as you can get without being the cast of Neighbours!" ... but alas, that was not going to be. Instead, the another house tune began and "Khe Sanh" was forgotten as abruptly as it had barged into the room, uninvited and unwelcome. Of course, that was to be expected. As if one could expect the song to play in its entirety without someone thinking, "what the fuck is this?"

It's okay though. No, no, I don't need your pat on my shoulder, I'm not sad. Thanks though. Mate, we did give the room a good ol' Australian-ing in the face, right in the grill. We gave the night a good ol' dose of loud yellin' Australian pub-rock. I made a new friend, one I'd meet again in Chile. I decided that I did in fact miss Melbourne a little. And while were at it, I could proudly notch up YET ONE MORE DANCE FLOOR I'D SUCCESSFULLY RUINED.

Let it never be said that I'm not a multi-tasker.


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