Names in this story have been changed – except for Bernard Fowler, because he was a dick.
5am in high spirits, still reeling from the swirl of New Years Eve at Woodford Folk Festival. 2011: I am personally going to fuck you right in the mouth. Fuck resolutions; this is a pinky promise.
I was playing guitar for a dance performance, and I was in high spirits after winning the Woodford Slam Poetry Competition. That’s not tooting my own horn, this is deliberate important set up for my state of mind. I had $1000, so finally I was a millionaire, money was no longer an issue for the rest of the year, but making the finals meant that I had to change my flight – and so I spent New Years Eve for the third time in a row without any of my friends. Fuck ‘em, you know? I’ve got a grand.
That state of mind.
My flight is at 8am, and the airport is a good hour and a half drive. Perhaps I’m not in the best condition for the trip, so it’s just as well I plan to be sitting in the backseat, dribbling on the window winder.
I meet at the Shuttle Point, and instead of the bus I came in on, it’s a tiny hatchback. No problem. There was this lovely German guy, Ulrich, who was going to drive me. He let me know that we were just waiting on one person before we could leave, and another would be picked up on the way. Apparently, the woman who was supposed to meet us there refused to leave before 5:30am, for no good reason apart from wanting to finish her booze and to come down off her trip. So I make polite chit chat with Ulrich The Driver. He’s got me written down as “Dance Therapist”, so I spent most of the time trying to correct him. Now he just thinks I’m a bit of a dick.
At 5:25, this 55 year old country singer waddles up to us, stinking of rum and muttering about how many illegal substances are in her system. Her name is Mama Felicia, I think. She insists we call her Mama. It’s hard to understand her because the entire left side of her body is pretty numb and her top lip keeps getting caught between the various gaps in her teeth.
We get in the car and it’s a pretty hard drive, because she’s sitting in the back and talking shit, and being loud and occasionally crying, and swearing. I’m quietly making fun of her with the driver, by humouring her and baiting her. Nothing too harmful. I just want to get to the airport. We’re already behind schedule, it’s just as well I gave myself an extra hour assuming New Years Day at Brisbane Airport is nuts.
Ulrich The Driver says we’ve got to stop to pick up someone on the way. Arrested Development, and a couple of the bigger acts, are in a lovely hotel, and the guy we’re picking up is staying with them. So I ask who we’re picking up.
Ulrich says we’re picking up some guy named Bernard Fowler.
I say, “Fuck me, Bernard Fowler?” Let me explain.
Apart from the obvious musicians who run the world, I have two favourite musicians of all time. There’s a guitarist named Marc Ribot (find him in your own time), and the other is Bernard Fowler. He was a session musician for a heap of the Rolling Stones work, and is a featured singer and songwriter for everyone from Duran Duran, Sly & The Family Stone to Phillip Glass and Yoko Ono. He’s a gun. More energy, and wider vocal range than Celine Dion. More balls too. He’s a beast.
I’m pretty excited.
We’re sitting in the carpark for the hotel, and the driver gets out to tell Bernard we’re here, knocks on the door, has a discussion, comes back and says Bernard refuses to leave before 6:30. He tells me not to worry, I won’t miss my flight. I’m okay with this, I just wanna meet the guy, tell him he’s awesome, and then – in a moment of extreme precognition – use the tale at a night of autobiographical storytelling at the Old Fitz Theatre on December 11, 2011.
Mama in the backseat kicks up a fuss, because she doesn’t want to miss her flight (… which is an hour after mine.) so she says “I’ll have a word with him”. Ulrich and I try to stop her, but she’s already out of the car and knocking on his door. There’s some yelling.
I hear echoes of “Shut up, I’ll come when I’m ready”, and there’s a little argument, and she comes back and tells us he’s a prick. Ulrich says “Don’t do that, Mama Felicia. Let’s just wait.” She says okay, but that we should call her Mama.
I totally understand, It’s 6am, he thought he wasn’t leaving til 6:30… and this guy has been around the world with some of the greatest musicians ever, playing massive crowds, but here he is being woken up half an hour earlier, to get in a rusty hatchback with a toothless hippie and a Dance Therapist. I haven’t seen him yet, but I do see a flash of a woman peeking out the window at our car. He’s used to being treated like, well, maybe not like a king, but I’m pretty sure he was snorting something off a pair of something in that hotel room, probably with Arrested Development cheering him on.
Mama can’t help waiting. 30 seconds have gone by, and she doesn’t understand why she isn’t already on the plane. She’s got a nervous twitch and she’s impatient, and she wants to have a smoke, so she’s out of the car… but instead she walks up to the Bernard’s door.
He tells her to fuck off. Which is fine – because why wouldn’t you? She comes back and says he’s a prick, and how she doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. We’re trying to calm her down, I just want to catch my flight and have a shower.
Again, she storms out of the car, and barges into his room and screams about using the bathroom, offering to help him pack, why there were naked chicks in there – there’s shouting and awfulness and a few “I can’t believe this”, the driver gets out to try and calm things down. I sit in the car, and quickly look for something to get signed.
They all come back, and lo and behold it’s Bernard Fowler, I’ve got a big smile on my face cause I can’t wait to meet him, I say “Hi,” and shrug, holding out my hand, trying to say “Please ignore her, we’ll get through this, I love you, I have everything by you, with you, what’s Yoko like? What’s going on? I can’t believe this. Of all the people in the world, we’re sharing a ride, this is Heaven. Aaah, I’m so happy.”
Bernard Fowler, stands over me, 7 foot tall, points his finger and yells, “CONTROL YOUR BITCH, YOU FUCK!” thrusting his finger at me the way you treat a vending machine that doesn’t respond to your first press of the Pepsi button. I’m stunned, so he decides to get his point across by screaming it 3 more times. “Control your bitch, control you bitch, control your bitch”. I try to say I’m not involved with her, that she’s not actually my mother. I do this by opening my mouth at which point he spits on the ground and screams at the sky. “YARH.” He calls her a cow, she calls him a prick, I stand there, awkwardly, and slip into the car and put on a hat. He sticks his head through my window and yells in my face “I AM NOT GETTING IN THE CAR WITH THAT BITCH.”
Then, to his ladyfriend who has helped carry his luggage out to the car, says, “This is why I only ever travel alone, you get dicks and bitches, this whole place is FUCKED.” My faith in this man is just starting to dwindle, so I get out of the front seat so I can sit in the back with Mama.
He still refuses to get in but Ulrich The Driver helps the situation with his calming glottal German syllables. We get in the car. We drive in silence.
Bernard pulls out a smoke and Mama screams “YOU SAID YOU DIDN’T HAVE A SMOKE”, he says “FUCK YOU, I DO WHAT I WANT”. Silence.
The driver lightens the mood and starts talking about how he just watched Lord of the Rings 3 and how good it was, so I tell a short story about how when I saw it I accidentally pissed myself in the last half an hour, the driver laughs, and Mama leans over and says to Bernard, “You have a dark heart.” Nice one.
His well-tempered response is, I kid you not, “Did you just call me a nigga?” – and he spins around, which freaks her out and she flinches, and there’s some kafuffle and Bernard’s nose is now bleeding.
She starts poking him, he starts hitting her leg from in front, it’s a bit crazy, the German driver pulls over at the next service station, and when the car comes to a halt, Bernard Fowler takes his seatbelt off, turns around and says “IF YOU TOUCH ME ONE MORE TIME I WILL LITERALLY KILL YOU.” Mama says “I’LL KILL YOU FIRST” and pokes him. He grabs her by the throat and lifts his fist to punch her in the face. By now, I figure I should probably do something, so I say “Whoa whoa whoa, guys, fucking relax, this is insane, get out, one of you” etc etc. He gets out, I follow him, he says “If you had touched me by now, you would be dead, Dance Therapist. And what are you going to do about it?”
I say, “I can recommend you some breathing exercises?” He cracks his knuckles. I’m about to explain that I’m a musician, that I know him, that I’m probably the one of the only people for miles and miles who recognises and appreciates him… but Mama gets out of the car, and screams at him, he screams at her, I’m in between, they lunge at each other with me in the middle, I get pushed out, she pushes him, he swings to punch her in the face but she’s already swaying so it just nips her nose, so he instead gives her a shove, and she hovers in mid-air for a moment, before landing four metres back, while he screams “I’LL KILL YOU, COW.”
It’s a bit awkward. Both of them are screaming “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM”, when I’m heading into the BP to call the police and a cab.
Leaving them alone, I’m with the driver, secretly hoping they actually kill each other. Big Man Bernard comes in and saying he’s willing to let it pass and not to tell anyone, but Ulrich tells him to leave, that he’s only saying it because both Mama and I have missed our plane, and he’s left it just long enough not to miss his. The driver says we’re not going anywhere, the BP staff are asking him to leave, he’s saying “DON’T YOU FUCKING TALK TO ME, WOMAN!” and how he’s going to kill them, the police are being called again, my cab turns up, I shake the driver’s hand, I give him my phone number for the police, we wish each other luck, and I leave.
Phew. It’s all well and good. The festival will hopefully cover the $110 cab fare, and the replacement plane ticket. I’m on the next available flight, so some time has passed now. It’s completely over.
I take my seat on the plane. Right next to Bernard freaking Fowler. He doesn’t see me. He’s on something now, totally dead to the world. It’s an hour and a half of me facing the other way, except when the plane turns and he tips over resting on my shoulder at which point I push him off and his head rests on the seat in front of him. The plane lands, he doesn’t wake up, and the airport staff can’t wake him, so I just clamber over him. There’s a line of people behind us waiting to get off. I get my bag out of the overhead locker which falls on his head, but he doesn’t even stir. The hostess says, “Watch it,” – at which point they see the dried blood on his nose and the drool down his throat. I say to the hostess, “His name is Bernard. He’s fucked. He just punched Mama in the face at a petrol station. He’s probably dead.” And I leave.
Kill your idols.
… I checked. He’s alive.
– Scott Sandwich