Swimmers Club

25th February 2017

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Treading Water

Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.


Factfile

Who: Maddison Stoff
Where: Melbourne, Australia
What: Writer


My shitty darkwave band shoots a film clip

We shoot behind the bigger shoot of a hardcore punk bandin an abandoned flour factory somewhere in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The year is 2016. Their video would go on to receive 15,000 views on YouTube: 477 likes, 3 dislikes, and 4 full pages of comments. Ours would get 125: 5 likes, 2 dislikes, and a friend-of-a-friend to compliment the dancer. They have a camera crew and a proper backline. I have a camcorder and a mobile phone. We have to stop recording the second they begin to play. But it's too late to find another site to shoot, and anyway this one is perfect for my vision. So we have to make it work.

'Maybe they're just rehearsing?" my hipster friend suggests.

'Did you miss the cameras?" I reply. 'They'll be at this for a while."

I'd taken time off work for this, my friends had made space in their schedules, and we wouldn't have the chance again for quite some time. We just had to hope that they'd be finished soon. There was no one we could talk to, and nobody to call. None of us had any right to shoot here.

'It's fine," I say. 'We'll make it work somehow."

It's been twelve months since you left me. Six years since we'd met. It was the culmination of a series of arguments and disagreements, but I never thought you'd be the one to go. The worst part wasn't breaking up with you. It wasn't dividing up our stuff, or finding a new housemate for the lease. It was what you said (and didn't say,) when you were thinking about leaving. Little things I think about to the point of obsession. I hold out my mobile phone so the dancer hears it. She's grinding awkwardly on the bonnet of a burnt out car, craning her head in the direction of the tinny mobile speakers. The hardcore band starts up again. I groan and put my phone away. My hipster friend holding the camera grins and taps his feet.

'Pretty good aren't they?" he says.

'Yeah," I say.

I cross my arms and drum my fingers.

'Pretty good."

It's been twelve months since you'd left me. Six years since we'd met. I remember basking in your adoration like it somehow meant I mattered.I was Sean Brennan and Robert Smith, and you loved the way I looked when I was singing, watching our rehearsals in the shed behind our Northcote sharehouse. The hardcore band stops. I press the button on my phone and start our track again. The dancer resumes her awkward grinding while the hipster films. I glower at the hardcore band as if I think that it'll stop them from picking up their instruments, but it doesn't and they start to play again.

'Should we pick a different spot?" the dancer says.

She puts her fingers in her ears.

'My feet are getting sore."

'No," I shake my head. 'We have to wait for Jezebel. Besides, the lighting won't be good enough if we come back too much later."

The dancer folds her arms and turns towards the hipster. He shrugs.

'Liam wants to wait, we'll wait." he says.

They glance at one another with a look of what I'm hoping isn't desperation.

Fifty years from now a teenager will find my clip on Youtube. They're into all the other stuff I'm into and my music will be new to them. All they will discover is the year, the song, and the name of my band. They will become obsessed with me. They will post my video on an internet forum for neo-trad-neo-gothic teenagers too self-aware to be steampunks but not old enough to be monos, and I will finally havethe validation I think that I deserve. They won't understand that I was working ten years past the heyday of my movement, and they won't have heard the better bands I'm referencing. They will take my music as it is and they will love me for it. My video gets 178,000 views: 150,000 more than the hardcore band, and believe me I will check. 1787 likes, 12 dislikes, and 10 full pages of comments. They will track down my final album from the darkest corners of the internet and share it on social networks I'm too old to know about or understand. Six months later they will have tracked down my influences and my band will be remembered mostly as a gateway for a tiny group of people into othermore successful darkwave bands. They will interview me on an episode of their VR podcast, and that will be my legacy.

'We've almost got the shots I need," I say. 'Besides, they shouldn't go for too much longer."

The hardcore band stops. I pick up my mobile phone and start again.

We believed in the idea of stylistic purity, sticking closely to the sounds of 80's goth and 90's darkwave. It was how we set ourselves aside from other artists, but I think it left us stunted in the end. My bassist would play gothic-leaning hipster bands and laugh at them:

'Grimes," I'd said, 'What sort of name is that?"

My guitarist laughed. He's a builder in 2016. Doesn't play, but he has a lot of vintage Gibsons.

'Sounds like a fucking hip-hop band," he'd said.

For a little while it looked like we were getting famous. The goth scene loved us, and we were getting plays on local radio. But then the hipsters stole the darkwave torch, and my band began to move away.

'I've been accepted into Cambridge university," my bassist said.

'My wife and I are moving out to Bendigo to settle down,"said my guitarist.

I finished off the tracks we had and put out a new album. My 'musician wanted' ads on Gumtree languished. I carried on alone.

'Okay," I say. 'That does it. Let's move on to something else."

The film clip was my final chance at something. What that something was, I wasn't sure of anymore. I started out dreaming of world-tours, packed shows, and gothic groupies. But by 2016 I'd be blown away by even a mention on Tone Deaf, or a handful of plays on community radio. The world had just moved on. I'd been trying to promotemy new material for six months now, and it had barely made a splash. Then a more successful friend told mea film clip might be a way to save the project. I didn't think I had a lot to lose.

'And, action!" the hipster says, as if he's the director.

I walk beside my dancer friend holding my guitar as we move across the factory car-park underneath grey skies I'll change into a toxic fog in post. I hadn't wanted to shoot this scene yet, but Jezebel was yet to show. She never would, in fact. It means I have to do a hurried re-shoot with another friend I know in two weeks' time, taking sick leave to get away from work. The location will be more exposed, and a co-worker who doesn't like me will be driving past midway through the filming. She will snap a picture on her I-phone, leading to the loss of my fulltime job and some of the darkest moments of my life, which I later will refer to my "missing years'. By the time I manage to claw myself back into something close to regular stability, my music is the last thing on my mind.

'Okay, can we try that pass again?" the hipster says.

We repeat our steps, and finally he says:

'Great!"

We move on.

I should have known something was off between us when you didn't even want to listen to my new recordings. You kept putting it off. There was always something else to do instead. And when I told you I would get my album printed, you looked at me as if I was a crazy person:

'50 copies, really?" you'd said. "We've still got car repairs to do."

And I told you that the timing belt could wait another week, and even though I turned out to be right, it wasn't really about car repairs at all. It was more about my priorities, and the things they said to you.

My Facebook stalking showed me that you've found someone who really loves you, and when I'm not too drunk I'm happy about that. But my new partner doesn't know me like you did so I think I've always put you on a pedestal, and when I think about how stupid I was back then and how little I valued you, compared to the patience and respect you had for me, I cry and cry and don't stop until my head is sore and it's long past midnight and I have to get up early the next day, and I still can't go to sleep, and I hate myself for that since I lost my job last time when I didn't take it seriously enough, and I don't want to have to suffer through those years of hell again. It's 2022, and I'm pretty sure I still love you. I'm pretty sure I always will.

I'm against the basic income movement when it hits its stride in 2034, though honestly, it's just because I'm jealous. I'm working two jobs now, and my wife does too. We've got an eight-year olddaughter. And we watch the news while this fresh-faced little artist-brat talks about how much easier it would be for him if he didn't have to work to earn his keep. Says his work is 'culturally valuable" because his practice is, and name-drops a bunch of famous Aussie bands who would never have even gotten off the ground in the current economic climate, then I turn the television off because I don't want to listen to his drivel anymore. He has no right to ask for anything.  I read an article on how the working class would benefit from payments too. The writer mentions something about Russell's "Praise of Idleness', but I haven't read it. Never will. I've got no time for idleness, and no great love for artists either. They've all died off in ten years anyway. Most of our new media comes from overseas.

The government announces policies to stimulate our local artists. It's the middle forties, maybe 2046? I'm still against it, but at least they want to keep it practical: art to decorate the streets, writing to celebrate our achievements, video games and television shows to bring the kids up right. I do wish that we were more like that when Marianne was younger. Now she's twenty, almost twenty-one, and seems to be making the same mistakes that I did. She wants to be a holo-novelist or something. I destroyed my printed albums in a burst of self-loathing several years ago. The rest stagnates in the cobwebbed parts of Spotify and YouTube. Life goes on.

My daughter never does become a holo-novelist, but by 2061 she does get steady work proof-reading AI-written holo-manuals. I'm proud of her, but jealous too.  I wish I'd thought to get a job in the creative industries. But she helps to pay my bills through my retirement and her mother's too, so I can't hold anything against her. She tells us she's dissatisfied with her work. That it wasn't what she wanted, and she wished she could be doing something more creative. I tell her to be thankful for the life she's got, but she tells me that I just don't understand. So I show her my old YouTube video. It's at 300 views now:15 likes, 4 dislikes, and 1 new comment: "what happened to this band?'

She watches it and laughs at it immediately.

'This is super-cringe," she says.

I blush, but then she laughs again:

'Aw, you look so sweet though," she says.

And I think she's right. I'm awkward, but I'm earnest, and it's obvious I really care about my music.

'I wish you'd told me you used to be an artist," my daughter says.

'Tried to be an artist," I reply, and close the video.

'You were more of one than me," she says. 'I just proof-read holo-manuals."

Then she frowns.

'I wish you'd told me," she repeats. 'I really wish you'd told me."

I don't reply. I don't know what to say. By 2069 she works part-time, but mostly lives off savings, and is working on her second novel. Her debut was loved by almost no-one, but at least it made her happy. She's confident about the future, but she's looking leaner lately. I don't know if I'm proud of her or I'm feeling like I've ruined her. Either way, I will regret the things I've done.

The year is 2016. We're waiting outside the location for our final shot. The hardcore band is nowhere in sight. I'm feeling optimistic until Jezebel messages. She says she has a chest infection, but I'm fairly surethat only means she doesn't want to help me.I message back through gritted teeth to tell her it's okay, and I never hear another word from her again. She deletes me from her Facebook six months later.

'Maybe we should pack it up," the hipster says. 'I've got time off in a couple of weeks, we could find another place and shoot again?"

I don't say anything, but I feel a raindrop hit my collar. I look down at the ground and sigh.

'Let's go and get a beer or something," I suggest.

We barely pack our stuff into the car before it pours.


Maddison Stoff's book For We Are Young and Free will be out in 2017 from Dostoyevsky Wannabe