Tag Archives: bands

What makes a girl fall in love? And out?

Petersham InnWhat makes a girl fall in love? Even more interestingly, what makes her fall out of love?

It was another great night at the Petersham Inn on Parramatta Road in Sydney, thanks to the enigmatic Duncan who booked the music and was the licensee. (Duncan died last month but his legacy lives on.)  The band was firing and the buzz about them was beginning to grow.  They were a long way from the multiple ARIA Award winners they’d become but all of us in the Pismo Bar sensed we were witnessing a legend in the making.

Now, I’ve been guilty of falling for a few boys in bands myself in the past but I was nothing compared to my friend Angie. All the excitement got her hot and bothered. She’d caught the guitarist’s eye and wanted to move in for the happy ending.  Neither of them had a car so I was coerced into driving them, and his guitar, back to her place. He and I chatted about music while she hung onto his arm and gazed into his eyes.

That was how it started and that was how it was destined to remain. They didn’t have a lot in common so whenever she was going out with him she’d ask me along too. I’d act as a kind of interpreter; they could both have conversations with me but were at a loss when it came to talking to each other. The three of us spent many happy evenings at No Names in Darlinghurst eating spaghetti while I acted as their go-between.

However, there was one area of their relationship where I couldn’t help them. It’s an area that doesn’t require much talking so I assumed everything was ok. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It became clear that after the initial rush of excitement something was dreadfully amiss. My friend was not happy. She didn’t mind that he was lost for words but she found it inexcusable that he was tongue-tied.

It’s been my experience that ultimatums don’t work but try telling that to someone with a bee in their bonnet. They can’t hear you, the buzzing’s too loud.  She borrowed a friend’s apartment to ensure privacy and cooked an amazing dinner with candlelight, wine and Peggy Lee. Lord knows what they talked about over dinner but I do know what was said at the end of the evening.  He took the “or else” option and opted out of her life.

She didn’t miss him, but I did. I missed our conversations about music, guitars, books, bags and bands. Was I ever tempted to go out with him? No way. After all, this girl could never fall for a guy who didn’t….have a car.

The Sound of Music

As a child I used to sing myself to sleep. I can’t remember what I sang, I just made it up as I went along. My parents had a rule at the dinner table, “No singing” because most of us would rather sing than eat. Recorder lessons, piano lessons, I even made my mum buy me a banjo when I was 11, which I must confess I never learnt to play. The church choir, school choirs, and gathering around the piano for a good old sing along. The love of music is one of the greatest gifts we can instil in kids as they’re growing up, there’s something about it that opens the heart and sparks the imagination.

Mary-Lou Stephens 1984
Me, being a rock star in 1984.

It’s no wonder my mother was horrified when, at 18, I returned home after a year living in Kings Cross wearing black vinyl pants and having found a new vocation, playing bass guitar. I’d seen the Stranglers play live and had an epiphany. The volume from the PA was so loud it pushed my clothes against my skin and rumbled through my chest. In the mix was the most glorious sound, low and powerful, melodic and mysterious. I yelled into someone’s ear, “What is that?” When I heard the answer I knew what I wanted to do.

My mum wasn’t concerned about the whole post-punk, new wave ethos, she wasn’t even worried about me not settling down and getting a proper job, what really frightened her was that I’d lose one of my most precious possessions, my hearing. And she was right. The first band I played in nearly deafened me.

I don’t know who invented the belief that louder is better, it was probably the same guitar player who decided that faster is better and diddly-diddylied us all into an ear-numbing stupor.  I do know that the lead guitarist in my first band was already deaf and wanted to take the rest of us down with him. Back then you knew you’d had a good night out when your ears were still ringing the next day. But what happens when your ears don’t stop ringing?

My mum was a lot happier when some years later I had another epiphany. I discovered Patsy Cline. Out went the black vinyl pants and scowling attitude, in came skirts and a Dolly Parton love of children and small animals. I got an acoustic guitar and a band that even my mother could come and listen to without sticking toilet paper in her ears, except perhaps when I’d yodel!

How I Learnt to Swim in the Mainstream

Main Stream

How can we swim in the mainstream and still frolic in the areas that we love, those deep and mysterious rock pools where the mainstream doesn’t flow? By playing the game. Why not? It’s just a game after all. The beauty of the mainstream is that everyone knows the rules. The trick is to colour between the lines while using your own palette.

When my book was picked up by a mainstream publisher they wanted to change the title. Sex, Drugs and Meditation was too confrontational. Sex was okay. Drugs was not. They came up with a pleasant, inoffensive title and a pretty pastel cover. Trouble was neither the cover or the name was indicative of the truth inside. Fortunately, with a little persuasion, they agreed do go back to the drawing board. Literally. A new designer was commissioned. Her work was bold and edgy. I loved her cover concepts with a passion. But what would my publisher think?

I’ve always been on the edge creatively. I played in indie bands, wrote alt-country songs, before the phrase alt-country was even invented, and went to the alternative acting school, the one which fostered independent self-created work instead of slim blonde movie star smiles.

Money was not my goal nor was it the result. I learnt to live on very little. It was a great space in which to live and play but when my last band broke up I knew it was time to move on. When working in radio became an option I grabbed it with both hands, even though it meant diving into the mainstream. Commercial radio. Not my first choice but I worked hard, learnt a lot and eventually moved on to where I’d always wanted to be. The ABC. By then I had the skills that commercial radio demands and that the ABC wants. Now I get to swim in some interesting places indeed. For example in my series Modalities I explore the many ways of healing the body and soul that are available and interview the practitioners who facilitate them. Fascinating.

Writing books grew from writing columns for a newspaper. A weekly discipline that I loved. Although it was mainstream media I was given the freedom to be creative. Years of writing and rewriting have finally seen my book on the shelves. Despite diving into some very deep and mysterious waters the mainstream world has embraced it. You might see my meditation memoir in your local bookstore with my original title and a fabulous cover. How did that happen? Why did the publisher change their mind? The clever designer managed to swim in the mainstream but still remain edgy. A perfect balance. The best of both worlds. She played the game and we all won.