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A GUIDE TO AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE WITH CHOPPER READ PART 4
A GUIDE TO AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE WITH CHOPPER READ PART 4
An hour before our first gig in Melbourne, and the place is filling up nicely. Word's got around that Chopper Read is going to be here. Neil has had a hand in promoting this gig so he's a happy, if terrified, bunny. And Stone the Crows Cobber, there's the great man himself, holding court in the dressing room. There's no doubt, it's a coup for the band. Unpredictability is Chopper's stock in trade; we were never sure he'd agree to come onstage and introduce the band. But he seems to have warmed to us; he's even bought his wife and kids along. The pivotal moment came in the Top and Tail:
D.Wayne's attempting to ingratiate himself with a series of rambling tales about his old Glasgow gangster pals in his distinctive highland brogue. Chopper shakes his head and says.
'What fuckin language are you talking mate? I can't understand a fuckin word you say'
'That's rich from someone who speaks like Rolf Fucking Harris'
A long pause. Chopper Reed laughs. Phew.
After that Chopper kind of opened up to us. I'm not saying he liked, or even trusted us. 'Trust' is not a word in his vocabulary. Nick who, in a way, knows him more intimately than anyone describes him as 'a Professor of Suspicion'. But he's chatting away with D.Wayne in the dressing room, talking about his medical condition, his concern for the future of his young family, and his annoyance at the fact that every time a gangster gets whacked in Sydney or Melbourne he gets pulled. For a while, he says, he tried living quietly on a farm in Tasmania, looking after chickens and writing his books. But he was a target for every Australian Player who wanted to make a name for himself. At the same time he was repeatedly refused a gun license.
'I was a fuckin farmer! What use is a farmer without a fuckin gun?'
We collectively shake our heads at the pettiness of Australian health and safety legislation.
In fact, Chopper has managed to dodge a bullet not by becoming invisible, but by becoming hyper-visible. Anyone trying to knock him now would attract media attention on a global scale, and the only person who can pull off that kind of wet-job is the Queen of England.
It's Showtime. As I finish my last fag, Chopper mounts the stage, red spotlights shining in his Aviators like hell-bound meteors.
'Alright you cunts, shut the fuck up and welcome onstage the Alabama Motherfuckin Three! The most fucking famous band in England!!'
It's a difficult claim to substantiate, but I don't think anyone's going to pull him up on it.
We launch into the first number; the crowd erupts, and it's all going fine, so I cant understand why Hot Steve, our flame-haired roadie, is waving his hands around and pointing at me from the side of the stage. What?
Now he's pouting and giving me the V's. That's not very nice. What's he trying to say? Silly Rat? Sigur Ross? Oh Shit, Cigarette! I forgot to put my fag out. That could mean a hefty fine, banishment from the venue, and the descent of the tour into financial unviability. I flick my fag away, stage left.
I'm coming up to my solo; I push the overdrive, about to launch into one when I notice Hot Steve is still gesticulating wildly...What? If only I could read his frantic hand signals. Hang on...he's not trying to communicate. He's tryng to put out a fire. A fire in a small boy's hair. In Chopper Reed's 8 year old son's hair...
If we were cartoon characters, which we are, at this point my eyes would pop out on stalks, a klaxon would go off, and Hot Steve would appear with a bucket of water. Hot Steve would chuck the water over the flames in chops son's hair, but chops son would bend down to pick up a sweetie and the water would go all over Chop. There would be a pause, Chop would look at Steve with the empty bucket in his hand and his son's head going up like a birthday cake. His face would fill up red like a thermometer and then there'd be a noise like a train whistle and steam would come out of his nose like a bull. Then Chopper's fist would come out like a jack in a box and smash into Hot Steve's face whose hair would spring up like wires and whose teeth would fall out of his silly smiling face like so many broken keys.
These are the keys to Chopper Read's mind. I know, because I know how Chopper Read got his name. A little bird told me.
Have you heard of Yakki Doodle? He was briefly a cellmate of Yogi Bear, a long-term, category 'A' prisoner in a facility called 'Jellystone Park'. Bleeding-heart liberals might have called it 'a Zoo'. Yankee right-wingers would have called it a 'Nature Reserve'. But for Yogi Bear, it was The World. And in The World, you've got to do whatever you've got to do to survive. Occasionally Yogi would try and escape, but whenever he got past the gates, it was always hunting season. Then he'd have to do whatever he had to do to get back in. He got by; he had an easy way with the wardens, and as he was fond of pointing out, he was smarter than the average bear.
One fall day a little blue duck appeared in Jellystone Park. Small and vulnerable, Yakky was lost and had nowhere to hide from the foxes and wardens, Yogi, being a soft, warm-blooded mammal took him under his wing, even allowed him to share his bed. But the little duck was smart; smarter even than Yogi. Yogi got so exasperated with his antics that he catapulted himself out of Jellystone Park, leaving Yakky to sleep through the winter alone in Yogi's cave.The following fall, Yakki got lost on his way south and wandered into the yard of a big bulldog called Chopper. Chopper barked at the duck to get lost, and Yakki replied he already was. 'Then stay lost’ Chopper replied. The little duck sadly walked away, straight into the jaws of a devious fox that was lurking nearby. On seeing the fox swallow the duck, Chopper took pity on the poor little bird and bashed the fox on the nose, forcing him to release his prey. From then Chopper was the duck's loyal protector, and they were the best of pals, united against the fox, their common enemy. Chopper: 'I'm going to do to you what you were going to do to him'
Chopper would have been a little kid when these early Hannah Barbera cartoons came out. Like his namesake, he has often displayed a surprising sentimentality towards those he perceived as vulnerable; It's said that after demanding money with menaces from a certain big-time heroin dealer, then shooting him in the leg, he took pity on his victim and personally drove him to hospital.
In the 'H' division of Pentridge, he formed his power base out of the Yakki doodles of the prison world, defenceless losers at the mercy of devious predators. These were the lost souls he tooled up to form the 'Overcoat Gang'. Chopper often defended his actions as part of a public service to protect the innocent, a 'garbage disposal man' who only preyed on dilettante smack-lords who took advantage of the weak. At one point, he openly boasted of working for the police as a kind of freelance vigilante, a bold claim for a professional criminal, and one which suggests a strange relationship with authority. This son of the military is no anarchist; he's a National Socialist. Like the Spartan Fasces, this Chopper is a two-headed Instrument that protects while it slashes. It cuts both ways. At the same time, the man's personality exemplifies two poles of the Australian character. Ozzies: always ready to help a mate out, or shatter his jaw.
It's strange to ascribe charitable motives to a Sadist. I don't go along with Chopper's tortuous self-justifications; I go along with my own. But the hyperbole of a man who describes himself as 'to the right of Ghengis Khan’ betrays a mask which protects a too-human face. Confronted with his double, he reacted like someone seeing his reflection for the first time. When you're in the business of delivering fear, it's best to turn yourself into a cartoon character, and wear the mirrors on your eyes.
In Chopper's Itchy and scratchy universe, a fractured cranium is a just a bash on the bonce. And when you break some muppet's spine, they fold out like a fan and make a noise like a concertina. The laughter of children and murderers springs from the surreal moment when the law is exposed as a stupid hand puppet, and the body turns into a silly flesh doll, a string of sausages in a wooden crocodiles mouth. Chopper's most deadly weapon was never a shotgun or a blowtorch, but a joke. Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone.
HAR! HAR! HAR!
Chopper seems to be happy to be in the dressing room with a bunch of dodgy geezers. Maybe it reminds him of prison. Happily, he doesn’t seem to have noticed that I set fire to his son. Chopper holds hilariously forth in the dressing room about the atrocities of his old gangster pals while the band giggle and lurk about him. Larry occasionally dives in and makes a daring remark. It's as if there's a pretty Lady with large breasts in the room.
This is the first secret of the Violent Man.
It's like being with someone you're in love with. Call it Charisma. The Violent man and the Lover can both destroy you. But when they pause, look you in the eye and say 'you're alright'...well then, you live a little longer. Relief floods the body; you feel hope, and the contact high of power by association. You laugh. He makes a joke and you laugh till the tears roll down your blushing cheeks.
This is the second secret of the Violent Man.
Laughter is the lifeblood of the Underworld; it brings complicity. It flows from the gash you make when you pierce reality. Ha Ha! Ha! Go on son, Drink up! You're one of us! You're bullet proof! You're gonna live forever! You make a joke. The smile disappears, and a light goes out, like a Cheshire cat in reverse. A tear comes to the eye.
What did you say?
This is the third, and final secret of the Violent Man.
© Orlando Harrison 2010