I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Prison Blues -- or Golds. Tex Perkins at Parramatta

On Saturday night, we went to hear Tex Perkins doing his Johnny Cash show -- Far from Folsum -- at the old Parramatta Gaol.  I'm sure I know more about Cash from Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line than any deep musical understanding, though I knew some of the songs, and remembered my childhood horror at A Boy Named Sue, and its anarchic rhythms ("My Name is Sue!  How Do You Do??). But the show was great. Perkins was fabulous and his deep growly voice hardly faltered. Rachael Tidd as June Carter was underwhelming, I felt, but the band was tight and the atmosphere pretty good.

We were seated towards the back. Little white plastic chairs in rows in the enormous old exercise yard of the gaol. As if at a festival, rather than a concert, people went up and back to the bar at the back all through the 70 minutes set, and a man next to me kept up an irritating mansplaining commentary to his almost silent partner for the first half hour, till he went back to the bar for a good twenty minutes.

The amplified acoustics were good; and the big screen helped with visibility. But something about the human acoustics was absolutely chilling. A flat plane, surrounded by four high square walls, has the effect of killing sound around you. We could hear people clapping maybe twenty rows ahead, but from our back corner, there was no acoustic connection with people over the other side or down the front.

It was prison architecture, after all, and the last thing you would want would be a group of exercising prisoners banding together. (I am going to visit the solitary panoptical exercise yards at Pentridge on Thursday, designed for the opposite effect.)

The other thing I couldn't help notice was the difference made by sandstone as the building's stone. Of course it was lit up by floodlights for the festival, but even so, walking around the elegant main block to the huge yard behind, all open to the warm summer skies, just ... felt ... very different from the bluestone effect, particularly in a prison context.

Cash's songs, at least those from the Folsom event, that Perkins sang, were gruesome enough: songs of desperation, suicide, murder, gambling, prison blues, woman-killing. And Perkins made a few jokes and told a few stories about the Parramatta gaol. But in the golden light of those stones, you had to work pretty hard to feel much of a chill.

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