Thursday, December 25, 2008

Steve Connolly, guitar guy, Colored Girl, Messenger. R.I.P. I remember. I remember. I remember everything.

I don't know why, but here, in Paris, on Christmas Day, such as it is, I'm inclined to write about Steve Connolly, my friend and comrade and compatriot and well, whatever the hell he was. And isn't any more. And yet may still be, somehow, someway. Maybe, mayhap.

Steve was a guy I got to know first through coming across and upon and around Paul Kelly, the Australian singer-songwriter. Greatest songwriter in the English language, maybe, if it's a horse-race. And it may well be.  I've known a few of the very best, obviously, and listened to most of the rest. And Steve was Paul's guitar-player in what was called Paul Kelly And The Coloured Girls, until they got picked up by a major label in the US. After that, for radio reasons, they were Paul Kelly And The Messengers. Absolutely one of the greatest bands I've ever been near. Beyond that.

[So far beyond that, in fact, that as someone who toured with, oh, I don't know, what was left of The Band when Danko was sober, no less, and singing like a bird, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Uncle Tupelo, and who heard Little Feat in the glorious days and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band too, and Graham Parker and the Rumour, and the Clash, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and the Plugz, and X, and Los Lobos, and so on and so forth, and in their time, more nights than not, the Messengers were the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world.]

A lot of water and beer and piss and vinegar and tears and sweat and moisture went under a good number of bridges amongst us over the years. It got a tad incestuous over time, certainly. I toured with Paul and the Messengers a wee little bit in the States; I remember an amazing evening at my place in Los Angeles where I introduced the great Texas singer-songwriter crowd of Joe Ely and Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to their Antipodean equivalents over gumbo and Tecate and tequila; there was a time when my ex colonized the Messengers as her Australian touring band; there were a lot of times. There was that time in Tasmania when we took a mid-show break at a big Saturday night concert at the Uni just so the Messengers, Essendon Bombers barrackers one and all, could catch up backstage on a crucial match (against, I'd like to think, Collingwood), and it was late that same Tassie night that the American tour manager got so psychedelically drunk that he actually sang the Bombers fight song word-for-word, never having heard it before, never having seen a bit of a footie match in his life. It was magic. It was epic. Steve was, I reckon, the secret instigator. Had to have been.

Steve was intense. Steve was quiet, except when he wasn't. I've definitely known greater guitar players, but I don't know if I've ever known any who shoved down any harder on the strings. He played dead-simple lines, lines he struggled with, lines that he struggled to bring true, fiercely simple Spaghetti Western blues lines. Never busy, never crowded, never ever. And intensely critical of his own playing, never much satisfied with it. We all wish we could play the way he couldn't stand that he played.

(I haven't said enough here about Steve's guitar playing, but to say too much would be to be false, to be untrue to how he sounded. It was so empty, so full. He said so much, and played so little. He played those big fat simple things, those dumb things, those great things. Every dog can have his day, Paul would be singing; any dog can win, and Steve would sing that melody back at him so simply. Hardly any dog can do that.)

I remember where I was when Paul called. I was in New Orleans, at home, under the banana trees, summertime, sweaty, out in the courtyard. It was night, early night, so I suppose it was late in Melbourne, or early, maybe. There were mosquitos. The cats were chasing each other wildly. Paul was calling. The air was thick but it always is in New Orleans in the summer. Steve was dead. Junkie. He taught me so much, footie and cricket and politics, Australian and American and Irish politics; he'd been amazed that I was there, standing there like a dumb tourist in Dublin, just outside the GPO on the Saturday when the Birmingham Six were paraded free down O'Connell Street -- what he would have given to be there! What luck or misfortune it was that I was the one instead. He was dead.

Six, seven months ago, as my life turned upside down once again, I woke up of a Sunday, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I mourned Steve as I hadn't before. Why? I don't know why. Maybe I was feeling once again, maybe I was alive and he wasn't, and maybe now I felt it. Hot wet tears on his behalf, then and now. R.I.P. So many gifts given, so many received, and so much belated gratitude.

(Oh, and this: Paul's one of those who keeps it moving, keeps it living, and keeps the arrangements fresh. But no matter how fresh the arrangement, no matter how hot the guitar-jock who's playing it, those old songs that he must necessarily do, well, if Steve played 'em first, his parts were so sculpted and scooped free of anything but the essential, that they still end up, inevitably, always, playing Steve's solos his way. It's not aping, it's not even a tribute, it's just a fact.)


Hey ya'll to Michael, Jon, Peter, Paul and all. Go Bombers!

4 comments:

bubba said...

Thanks for writing about Steve, and keeping his memory alive.

I'm a big music lover, and the guitar playing of Steve Connolly is so cool, groovy and straight-forward. It added another dimension to Paul's already-awesome songs.

Not much has been written about his life and sad demise.

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Charlie Wells. said...

Great guitar player. Sadly missed.

Charlie Wells. said...

Great guitar player. Sadly missed.