This story is by Helen Clancy and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
UNDER THE MILKY WAY
Outback Australia, 2037
The family felt as if a soft gentle mist of quietude descended upon them beside the billabong, as the purples of evening darkened to magenta, then black. The dome of sky was punctuated by uncountable tiny sparks of light from billions of kilometres away .The family listened as the honey-eaters and fairy wrens in the coolabahs ceased scolding their fledglings, and as the occasional black bream or rock-hole frog plopped and splashed.
“ So peaceful here without mobile phones; no interruptions” sighed Mum.
Lucy and Adrian exchanged annoyed glances.
“Who cares about peaceful, we can’t contact our friends, and we can’t play games on our devices, there’s no connection!” whined Lucy.
The teens were also a bit annoyed to be burdened by Grandma: why invite such an oldie on this special Outback trip? Mum’s warning glance reminded Adrian to ask reluctantly
“What are you humming, Gran ? It sounds like an ace tune”.
“It is called “Under the Milky Way Tonight” It was very popular once, I could teach you, if you like.”
“Seems like a great song for tonight. The Milky Way is so sparkly-thick, the light is almost enough to read by” said Dad.
“I’m shivering, how about you teach us the song, Gran, while we find the track to our camp?” suggested Mum.
The words and tune were so easy to learn, all were singing heartily by the time they arrived back at their fire. They added a few dry logs so the billy would boil for their nightly cocoa.
“How come you know songs like that, Gran? Were you a singer when you were young?” asked Lucy.
“I guess it seems unlikely to you, but back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was a fan, I would go to the ABC Ripponlea studios, every Saturday, where they recorded “Countdown”.
“What does that mean, “Countdown ?” asked Adrian.
“ It was a television program. Bands from all over the world took turns on the stage. They would be presented in any order, while we danced and sang along. The last song was always the one that won the Top 40, for that week, so we would try to decide which one would win the Countdown.”.
“And you were there, every week? “
“I sure was, with my girl-friends ,in our short skirts, all rock’n-rolling, or doing the twist, or our version of jive . No matter how much home-work we had, we were sure to be there”.
“I believe you had an interesting experience, there, Gran” hinted Mum
“Um, yes, I did. I could tell you about it ”
“Come on, Gran, let’s hear your “experience”, there’s nothing else to do.”
“That’s encouraging, I don’t think! Oh well, here goes.
“It may shock you young things to know, that all the songs were “lip-synched”. You don’t have a clue what that means, do you? The program was live to air, so there wasn’t time for changeover of all the equipment and speakers , every group had to use the same drum-kit. So a record would be played, and the band would pretend to play and sing. They had to be good actors, and make the words seem genuine, as they mimed their latest hit. It was early television days, fifty years ago. Weird, isn’t it?
“All the girls had their favourite singers, and we would try to dance near the front of the stage so they would see us, and notice us. We would do our best twirls, and sing along, and try to make the singers look at us.
“I was sure one of the musicians really liked me. NO, I can’t tell you which one, that’s a secret! He would look into my eyes all the time he was on, and I would look into his eyes, and I just KNEW he thought I was special.
“ Now don’t laugh, you two; I was attractive once! Many of the bands were in the Top 40, so “my” group would be on every second Saturday or so, and would be the band we “counted down”. I was so thrilled whenever I knew MY muso would be there! I wore my best shortest frock, and my prettiest make-up, and made sure I danced right in front of the stage. One evening I realised he was not lip-synching the proper words of the song, he was singing to me! If the words were “I love you” he would put my name on the end; if they were “you drive me crazy” he would say my name instead of “you”. Every time he was there , he would do this, for the whole song.
“One evening he sang “meet me back-stage” instead of the real words, so after the show I tried to go there, but there were too many other girls wanting to meet the bands, and I was too shy to push through.
“Next time he came, he sang ”back-stage, door five” so I knew where to go. I told the roadie I had a special pass to go to door five, and they let me in. But when I arrived in the corridor, there was no door five. I was so upset, I cried and cried, I thought I must have misunderstood – after all I had been reading his lips, it must be my fault! I caught up with my girl-friends, and went home with them. All I could think of was what I had missed, here I was on the train with a gang of noisy giggling girls, when I should have been enjoying a milk-shake with my new muso-friend.
“My “special” group were on tour, so it was a few weeks until they came back to Countdown. They were even more famous now, they had been top of the Pops several weeks in a row, but there he was, my favourite, singing to me again! This time he sang “My sweetie Rose” and “I will be there for you”, and “ door with a star”. Of course they won the Countdown, which make me feel SO PROUD of MY rock-star , soon to be my special boy-friend.
“So once again I struggled through the crowds of screaming girls, past the bouncer, and found the door with a star.
“ All the other fans pushed into the room., and pushed me with them. I almost fainted when I was shoved right up against his shiny suit. My idol.! At last!
“ I said “Here I am, your little rose, I came!”
“ He wasn’t so attractive close-up, I have to admit. His make-up was sweating off in patches, and his eyes looked quite dazed, not sparkly and alive as they seemed to be on stage.
“Waddya mean, my little rose?” he muttered in a slurred and horribly husky voice.
“It’s me, Rose, you have been singing to me for weeks, you asked me to come, and told me where you would be waiting”.
“Get lost kiddo, I wanna real woman, not some pimply minor who’d get me arrested. Hey, Boris, gimmee anutha beer!”
“As you can imagine, I was devastated, the love of my life, who didn’t want me! How humiliating! What should I do? I struggled past the other girls, and went home alone, crying all the time. I even told my Mum and Dad.
“Dad was furious, he wanted to tell the police, that an innocent young girl had been seduced by this devious rock-star .
“ However Mum – that’s your great-grandmother, you know – was more sympathetic, perhaps she remembered when she had a crush on singers on the radio. I know why it is called a “crush”, I was certainly crushed by the crowd in the room, and felt crushed in my spirit at the reaction I got….
“So what happened the next week?” asked Lucy.
“I don’t know, I couldn’t bear to go, ever again.”
“Gran, is that why you love “Under the Milky Way Tonight” so much? Was the guy you loved in that band ?” wondered Adrian.
“ Good deduction, I’m not saying. Except that: The Church had few followers, but after being on Countdown they sold out every gig! Lots of people wanted that song to be the National Song, it was so popular.”
“ And the words are really poignant for you Gran. Better than a song about a tramp in a billabong, doing who knows what to a poor sheep, even if Waltzing Matilda does epitomise our convict heritage “ commented Dad.
“I will only say, my experience with the rock-star taught me not to take such a romantic view of life”.
“Come on Gran, you’re a born romantic , what happened with grandpa? said Mum.
“Tell us, Gran, please, pretty please” demanded Lucy and Adrian. “That, my dears, is a story for another day”……
“Right-y-o Gran, you’re on Countdown! We want a story every night, and we will Countdown to the best one! “
When my friend and I were thinking about what ‘countdown’ could mean, the first thing she said was “Countdown! The show!” 🙂 Good work – a true tale of what it would have been like to grow up in that era 🙂
Phil Davey says
Wish I knew what you were looking for. Might have known what you would find…
Very poignant … remembering hopes and dreams from so long ago, and to reflect on how far you have come on your journey. Great story.