Mad Max and Mad Max 2 are the only good films ever made in Australia. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the worst film ever made anywhere. I meditated on this dilemma for 10 years. Unable to come up with an answer I dumped my frustrations into my only song. “The Ballad of Mad Max” is dedicated to the Road Warrior of the first two Mad Max films. The Road Warrior was the last hero in a long line of Australian outlaws stretching back to Ned Kelly. The Road Warrior’s modified 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon coupe, named the Interceptor, provided an iron shield similar to Ned Kelly’s famous armour. In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the Interceptor wallows in a pigpen and the Road Warrior shuffles through the desert in beach towels until the climax when he topples from an airplane into a two-tone black and white cowskin dune buggy.
My band never liked “The Ballad of Mad Max”. They never liked it because they never got it. They never got it because they never appreciated it. They never appreciated it because they never understood it. They never understood it because they actually liked Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Maybe their brains were clotted with all that smoke and ash from the bushfires circling Sydney. It hadn’t rained since August and everyone was starting to feel trapped. For many nights that summer I wandered from Potts Point to Bondi Beach and back, pacing out my song, constructing lyrics under the influence of the anti-reality pills that the government prescribed to my mum. The pills were meant to keep her sane, but they had a different effect on me. They scrambled my lyrics and made me think too much. Who was I? Where was I going? What did it all mean? Was identity an illusion of language masquerading as cognitive thought, or was it the residue of repeated actions hammered out through space and time? What was space and time? After three months of little sleep, I thought I might be turning into a philosopher or a spider, instead of a drummer, and then I started having Technicolor blackouts, and the more pills I swallowed, to control the Technicolor blackouts, the more I was afraid of coming down.
Ma quit for 32 hours and 25 minutes and nearly choked to death believing that the government lit the inferno to fumigate the city and sell it to Hollywood as a deserted movie set. She wouldn’t let me drive my white 1967 VC Valiant sedan. She thought I might try to run the gauntlet across the city limits and explode in a fireball. I didn’t want to worry her, so I just wandered around.
I usually ended up perched barefoot on the empty bandstand in Green Park, guzzling McWilliams port, to take the edge off the pills, and crunching 7-Eleven popcorn to take the edge off the port, while watching ambulances coming and going past the palm trees outside St Vincent’s Hospital. I craved a distraction, a subplot, a close-up tragedy, a bloody sheet, or an arm in rigor mortis, anything to ignite my lyrics.
I got what I wanted when a flamenco red metallic 3 Series Compact BMW, heading south along Darlinghurst Road, fishtailed into Burton Street. My 7-Eleven popcorn carton dropped from the bandstand.
The BMW’s kidney grill jumped the curb before swerving to avoid a park bench. The cross-spoke wheels flew back to the street, dipped around the turning circle, and jolted into the hospital’s emergency zone. I felt like a kid in the back row of the cinema, chewing popcorn caught between his toes, after a couple of late arrivals barged his feet off the chair in front of him. I sat up and rubbed my eyeballs with my T-shirt collar.
When my vision returned, it revealed a woman in a black dress fighting off the passenger seatbelt and escaping from the BMW. Her high heels scratched a drunken line across the asphalt. She looked like she’d been to a nostalgic crime film fancy-dress premiere, your typical femme fatale, Veronica Lake fallen through the screen during a 1940s California tremor, ending up on the wrong side of the world at the wrong side of the millennium. She looked more like Veronica Lake than Kim Basinger did in LA Confidential. I remember when Ma rented that video. I ejected it as soon as she fell unconscious in her deckchair. I unscrewed the case and hacked out the scene where Russell Crowe says Kim Basinger looks better than Veronica Lake. Then I screwed up the case, rewound the thing, and slipped it back to the video store.
A semi-midget with a solarium tan in a grey suit, the BMW driver, thrust both hands in his trouser pockets and strolled towards the park. He must have had an uncontrollable erection for the woman in the black dress. She stumbled to a pine tree and glared back at him. He ignored her rejection and moved across the grass like a somnambulist whose dreams told him he would snare his object of desire no matter how far away it got. The distance merely gave the man time to ease down his blood pressure. The woman pinched her thighs and wafted air under her dress, cooling herself in anticipation of a hunt and subconsciously enticing the man. I pictured him losing control of the BMW during foreplay. She covered her genitals with her leather Chanel shoulder bag, its golden chain wrapped around her fingers.
“Can’t we talk this over?” he yelled. “I promise it won’t happen again.”
“Talk it over with your shrink.”
“Stop. Wait there. Come back. Don’t be so childish. Get in the fucking car.”
“When you remember how to drive.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To find me a real man.”
“You’re dead. I’ll kill both of us.”
I splashed wine on my black Levis but caught the bottle before it rolled off the bandstand. I stood up, gulped the last two mouthfuls, and rattled the popcorn carton to show the woman that I was up for the case.
She brushed her fringe behind her ear and shot me a mixture of sympathy and disgust as if the bandstand was a gallows with a trapdoor and I was about to swing.
When she turned and walked away, her dress revealed her shoulders, spine, and ribcage.
I figured she was either too scared, or too drunk, to ask for help, or she didn’t understand my offer. I might have been a creep who expected her to replace the spilt popcorn and the wine.
Ma told me it was impolite to take advantage of a woman in trouble and unwise to get mixed up with a femme fatale threatened with murder and suicide, but I didn’t reckon I had a chance with someone like that anyway. She was too beautiful of course. If she wasn’t so beautiful, and if the man wasn’t so old, I might have been agitated.
He clicked open and shut a mobile phone and kept on stalking her. I started tailing them down Darlinghurst Road but had to go back to the bandstand because I’d left behind my two-tone black and white cowskin boots.