Sunday, January 10, 2010
I recall the first time I came to Melbourne aged 17 and being astonished to find I could see Rowland playing on a Monday night at the Public Bar in North Melbourne to 20 people, and next week opening for The Paradise Motel at The Continental. In a world where a man like Rowland was treated like an installation at a pub, what hope had anyone who was brave, gifted and humble? Why sacrifice a 'normal' existence to make incendiary music? Every gig I saw felt like a privilege. To simply watch him was to be privy to a harsher yet far cooler world, one that was galvanizing by virtue of the unaffectedness with which he did everything, so rare to see someone so real amidst so much dross and clamour.
The spirits Howard divined seemed to have hollowed out his bones and left his voice cracked and fragile with the weight of his experiences, it was a strange discomforting experience, humbling and at once relegated other acts as full of pretense. His shows at Ding Dong and the Toff in Town in recent years were two of the finest concerts either venue has ever seen. Every moment felt charged and his presence was so strong and renditions of new and older songs so powerful that it didn't seem crazy that people had flown from Tokyo to see him play. Melbourne Arts Centre's recent Nick Cave exhibition showed video of him commanding the recording process in Berlin as The Birthday Party crumbled around him, pulling an amazing performance out of Cave and appearing the ringleader, in stark contrast to the meek figure he lately cut.
Recently, his humbleness, firmly clasping handshake and easy charm had never seemed more pronounced. The shell of a man who lived our dreams and nightmares and dodged more bullets than most of us will ever see, enabling us to call Melbourne one of the world's finest cities for rock. St Kilda in all it's early 80s messy glory seems deeper in the past now. A sexy gaunt black slashing figure, a haggard white Fender Jaguar; the elf who lived to tell the tale. He will be sadly missed.