Sydney is heading into its second city-wide lockdown, while Melbourne has only just emerged from its fourth (though who is even keeping count anymore). In this highly personal account of Melbourne’s most recent lockdown, comedian Matt Quartermaine tries to find meaning in these horrible events that have become a semi-regular part of our lives.
As Sydney grinds to a halt, here in Melbourne we’re all pulling out the jumper leads and trying to start our lives again. Going into isolation constantly has separated us from our work and family. For me it’s been my daughter Eve, a 188cm tall in her Doc Martin’s streak of passion and possibility in the body of an 18-year-old.
My last outing with Evie before the endless lockdowns was to the Top Arts opening night at ACMI in the city. It was a gallery filled with dignitaries and parents uncomfortably dressed in their fineries. Not long after that the city closed down and her exquisite oil painting of a friend stared out at the empty streets.
There was no public vote for the favourite because there was no public. At the beginning of Melbourne’s 2020 first lockdown Evie grabbed the moment to move out of our home into a shared house. Happy for her freedom, but aware it could be a while before we meet face to face, I decided to send her a song a day for the duration of the lockdown. What I thought I would be curating a triple album for a few weeks turned into an endless pandemic playlist eight months and over two hundred songs long. Every day, day after day, scouring YouTube, my friends’ playlists and googling “best of” decades lists became my lockdown routine as Evie flexed her new freedom; isolated partying hard, sleeping late and sometimes not replying for days. When she did reply they were insightful, hilarious, bizarre judgements completely lacking punctuation with devastating brevity and sniper paragraphing. I also learnt not to try humour.
I also asked for song ratings, because Australians will apply sport to any activity. Here are some of my favourites:
Driver’s Seat – Sniff ‘n the Tears
I never forced my music on my kids, but it was always playing in the car on long drives to distant beaches or just to the shops for their childhood. I’d make compilation CDs with every Monster Mash and Captain Planet ditty that wasn’t the Wiggles. We weren’t a Wiggles family, more a “toddlers headbanging in the back seat to Queens of the Stone Age” family. For my son Lloyd little of my music connected with him as he preferred Gangsta rap. From the age of six Evie could remember lyrics from a single listen and by eighteen had cherry picked my music catalogue so we shared a love of Prince, Robyn and Donna Summer.
Who’s Making love – Johnny Taylor
Much like the general response to the pandemic I never reached a point of thinking “this send a song a day is getting out of hand”. It was happening, deal with it, get on with and try to find another bloody new song! Month after month I’m scouring YouTube going to recommendations of recommendations, searching for songs and reading the oddly touching comments sending encouragement into the pandemic void: “If you’re listening to this in 2020 you have great taste.” Pulling a song from the 1940’s is no different to a sixties hit for eighteen-year-old ears, so I searched for anything that sounded different. I was dealing with someone forming their likes and dislikes without nostalgia, so I tried to entertain not educate. The continued effect of my daughter pointing out the sexism of songs like Pretty Flamingo had me forensically investigating lyrics.
Get Down Tonight – KC and The Sunshine Band
My favourite lockdown song was Womack and Womack’s “Teardrops” with the ultimate accolade of starting a house party. Music visuals enhanced and diminished songs for Evie, so “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads with David Byrne’s sweaty bespectacled singer was the perfect embodiment of our lockdown experience (“Same as it ever was”) and Spike Jonze’s directing Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” is the Spinal tap of music videos. On the negative side Evie was annoyed by Marianne Faithful’s teeth, Roland Gift’s jawline and all of Supergrass…
The Price of Love – Bryan Ferry
Around the time of song ninety-six there was a loosening of the restrictions, which seemed an ideal time for me to take a break as I had playlist fatigue, which I identified when I sent Evie a Sade song and I don’t even like Sade. As restrictions eased Evie arranged for her boyfriend, the chef, to cook dinner for my birthday and it was a master stroke from the teenager. Hard to be harsh about a bloke who cooks marinated pork on parsnip mash with a drizzled sauce delicious enough to make you dribble. We delighted in face-to-face dinner conversation and stood awkwardly for goodbyes; arms paralysed by our sides not reaching out to hug someone you’ve held for nearly twenty years.
Rock Your Baby – George McCrae
The second Covid wave hit Melbourne hard and we all returned to lockdown. I wondered if I could go back to finding a song for Evie every day. Ultimately, I did what everyone else did in our city; I took a deep breath, put my head down and carried on as best I could. We started losing legends, but at least I had the sympathetic ear of my daughter.
Didn’t it Rain – Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Evie sent me a picture holding a vinyl of ABC’s Lexicon of Love album.
One hundred and twenty odd songs in I noticed Evie coming down harsh on anything blues, punk or rock and roll. It turned out her two housemates were Nick Cave fans.
I immediately got online and ordered her a vinyl double album of disco hits. My first outside venture was close to the 5-kilometre limit, but dammit this was important and time was of the essence, so I went to a record store to pick up my order. In a surreal moment in the middle of the pandemic a sense of calm enveloped me as I glanced at familiar the rows of alphabetised albums and discussed old gigs with the owner. I considered getting a record player, not for the warm sound of vinyl, but to re-enter a world lost from my youth. Driving home I picture second hand book stores. I delivered the disco record to Evie’s place, a dark crumbling house full of crumbling furniture and a shrine of Nick Cave posters adorning the loungeroom wall. Evie thanked me as we stood like Thunderbird puppets with our strings cut for our socially distanced goodbye. I’m not saying it worked, but a few days later the lads moved out and my son moved in. My own house echoed polished wooden floor footsteps without the bedroom boy screaming laughing with his online mates.
Berlin Chair – You Am I
Evie woke up every day and played my song in bed disturbing her hungover housemates. We were apart, but I still got to say good morning, even if it was afternoon sometimes. A lot of the time actually.
We communicated every day through the shared language of music. Music that gave hope when there was none and connected us emotionally and practically. It was also therapy for the parent whose child leaves the nest and leaves a house with a bit less life in it.
Much like any post traumatic event, after a while we forgot the terror and the boredom that faded with every hug and handshake, but the pandemic is like a crafty old school teacher who waits for you to nod off at your desk so he can rap your knuckles with his cane. We have just emerged from our fourth lockdown in Melbourne and the city is a safer, kinder place for all the small sacrifices that people have made; wearing masks, social distancing and not hugging their children, because the real virus that’s killing everyone is selfishness. My son has spent his 21st and 22nd birthdays in lockdown and I’m sending songs to my daughter again. Same as it ever was.