BEING THERE

Emperor Dallas

New York, 5.30am. An iPhone alarm tinkles its way through the fug of a heavily jetlagged, confusing sleep. It’s still dark outside, and it’s Saturday. Strange outlines in an unfamiliar room make it difficult to work out where I am or why I’m here. I reach over in an attempt to quell the noise that the Apple Corporation optimistically call “Calypso”, but right now feels like “Apocalypso”. The touch screen fails to respond to my initial clumsy attempts to stop the noise. Eventually the appropriate digit finds the approximate widget, and the room is blissfully silent once again – with the exception of the air conditioning unit working under duress right outside the window and the sound of sirens and taxi horns floating up from the street, twenty flights below in mid-town.

My initial feelings of confusion as to why I’m here start to fade as I lie in a typical Manhattan sized hotel room. By ‘typical’ I mean that there is roughly 5 inches of clearance around the perimeter of the bed, there’s no room to swing the proverbial cat, and the nightly room rate often leads to you finding something in your eye when presented with the bill at the end of your stay.

“Sir, are you alright? Are you crying?”

“No. No, I’m fine. I’m just remembering something quite sad that happened in a pay-per-view movie I watched last night for $14 whilst eating a disappointing room service Caesar salad that came in at $30 dollars including delivery charge minus tip, thankyou”

“Have a great day!”

I’m here because I’m lucky. It’s show business that brings me to town as it often has over the years. The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, the old razzle- dazzle. I’m in an appropriately Empire state of mind, as Australia’s foremost providers of cosmic musical wizardry, Empire of the Sun begin doing their rounds of press interviews and promotion in support of their soon to be released album. I’m here to carry the bags and administer the good cheer. Tonight they play the first show of their world tour at the Electric Daisy Carnival. It’s exciting. It’s a production that has been put together with painstaking care over the past six months. If Gilbert and Sullivan had written a space age rock opera with the assistance of opium they may have come close to something like this. It’s excellent.

That explains waking up in New York, which is a great start. The self-imposed early rise however, has nothing to do with any wizardry, musical, cosmic or otherwise, and it bears no relation to my professional duties. It is actually due to the Cats (none of whom you could swing in here in case I hadn’t labored that point enough already) and the ‘pies squaring off 16,000 kilometres away back in Melbourne. I’m up before the sunrise to watch the game. In days of yore (that is to say, pre-internet) such an undertaking would have been impossible. Now, it’s a doddle. Slip a little bit of money to Telstra and they very kindly – altruistically almost – stream every game live all over the world.

Of course, I could simply sleep for a few more hours and watch a replay of the game at a more convenient time. I could tap the AFL app on my phone upon awakening for a score update. I could miss the game entirely and watch the recorded version on TV upon my return to Australia next week. Needless to say, I will do none of these things. Such is the siren’s call of our great national game I simply cannot countenance the thought of not watching the match unfold in real time. You have to experience it as it happens, as closely as possible, to feel that you’re there, no matter how far away you actually are. Somehow the images hurtle across land, through space and time, through undersea cables, bouncing off satellites from the MCG into a small laptop perched on a hotel bed on 58th street. Those may not be the precise mechanics of it. It’s alchemy. It’s fantastic.

So from the island of Manhattan, I log in, and just as the siren sounds, we’re on. Almost immediately my instant messenger pops up. It’s MK, another friend in the musical smoke and mirrors game, and our footy team’s gun full forward, currently stationed in London.

“Good morning. Stevie J is out. Good for you.”

We settle in as if we’re sitting next to each other at the MCG. It’s his cats against my ‘pies, and we’ve already exchanged emails for two weeks leading up to the game discussing how we’re going to watch it, what time it will be on in the respective cities, and each teams’ relative chances. We continue to chat as the game unfolds:

“Jimmy Bartell having a stinker. 4 absolute clangers”
“Pretty weird, not like him at all. O’Brien on fire.”
“Harry been all Australian before?”
“2010 I think…”

I ride the first quarter as if I’m sitting on the fence. I’m ecstatic at the way we start, looking unbelievably sharp, putting on massive amounts of pressure, not giving the cats any time or space. The second quarter follows the same pattern, and I can’t believe it. It’s too good to be true I tell myself, but it is true – look at the scoreboard. I know that Geelong are too good a team for this to continue, and sure enough within ten minutes of the third quarter they have slammed on four goals in a row and come from 27 points down to a goal on front. A dark cloud descends over 58th Street we continue to chat

“Flashback to GF”
“That’s not a great flashback for me. That’s the last time I watched a game
online in the States”
“Hahahaha”
“This is a bit close to the bone!”
“This is why I love barracking for Geelong”

I fume quietly at the alarming turnaround during the three quarter time break. My wife sends me a text asking if I want to know the score. I tell her that I’ve been up since 5.30am and am watching it live. “You’re mental” comes the simple reply. She means it in a supportive way. The last quarter is a roller coaster. We look down and out for the first five minutes. Then two goals later scores are level. I can’t sit still. I’m standing up on the bed, yelling, punching the air. I send a text to another friend, Mark, bass player and mad cats supporter who I was originally going to be at the match with.

“Holy shit, are you at the game?”

The pace is frenetic. Andrew Krakouer gets a free kick in front of goal, then somehow evades the man on the mark and possibly the actual rules to kick a major and bring the ‘pies back to within four points. It’s pandemonium. There is possibly a fair bit of noise at the ground too. We kick another. We hang on. The siren sounds. It’s a great win against the odds.

I love an early morning rise! I’ve always said that. It’s the best part of the day. No use wasting time lying around in bed, that’s another saying of mine.

Mark sends a belated text back to my unfamiliar US cell number.

“Who is this? Oh…yes. It was terrible”

Shannon, drummer and ‘pies fan texts me from Melbourne:

“We should have been there!!!”

MK returns with a very sportsmanlike sign-off

“Very good. I’m off to see some bands”

It’s as if we have all been watching the game together, yet only one of us was at the actual ground. We shared the experience and rode the bumps, yelled at the screen, at the ground, at the umpires, cursed, cheered, fumed, we all lived it. There is no doubt in my mind that footy is our glue. Connected by whatever it is that makes the Internet work, we watched the game together.

A few days later, in Dallas, Empire of the Sun play a headline show that’s being streamed live into tens of thousands of homes across America. I sit alongside the talented and amiable crew in the broadcast van parked outside the venue, and marvel as the fourth wall comes tumbling down. The director sits up front watching a bank of screens intently, instructing the camera operators with a friendly urgency that I can’t help but admire.

“Camera 2, get ready…go, camera 2. Nice, nice. Camera 3, 3…ready, nice and tight on the singer…go! Okay, 6 get ready, soft focus, soft focus…go! Woah, the singer’s in the crowd, great, great, camera 5, stay on him, great, hello crowd, yes, yes he’s right there, you’re excited aren’t you crowd, yes, you are…”

It’s great to watch, in the way that seeing anyone who is good at his or her job is great to watch. The show itself is amazing, and even sitting in the van you can tell that the band are having the time of their lives, and the crowd is mad for it. In a completely unscripted moment, Emperor Steele jumps off the stage and into the crowd, inviting them to sing ‘Walking On A Dream’ with him. He’s beaming, genuinely touched that people are so excited to be up close and a part of the show. It comes across on the broadcast. Days earlier, Andrew Krakouer ran past the fence behind the goals high fiving the crowd. He was ecstatic too, as were the fans at the ground, and speaking only for myself, anyone of Carringnbush stripe watching from afar.

I think about my dedication to my football team in getting up at 5.30am on a Saturday morning to watch them, and hope that a similar phenomenon is happening here with this show. Are there kids in Idaho and Grand Rapids waiting up, counting down the seconds until the lights go down and the band walk on stage? Is this as close as they can get to being there, being part of something taking place thousands of miles away, yet still feeling a part of it? Are they speaking to friends online in real time, experiencing it together? Is music their glue? I hope so. I think so.

We want to experience the things we love together – music, sport, theatre, art, dance, movies. They’re not really solitary pursuits. They help us connect and form friendships and be a part of something collectively, if only for a couple of hours. As individuals we experience and perceive these things differently, but in concert with each other, ideally sharing the experience increases our enjoyment and understanding of what we’re seeing, and helps us make sense of it all. ‘Being there’ isn’t what it once was in the sense that we’re not always there together in body, but the sense of communion remains as strong as ever.

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