Remembering Jeff

It’s been a strange week. I finished assignments for the end of another university unit, happily getting back into the swing of music teaching for the year, was generally feeling pretty wired and as a result, hadn’t been sleeping well.

Wednesday morning I woke in the pre-dawn glow, thinking of a friend who has been very ill. I was probably dreaming about Jeff, he’s been popping up a lot lately. Anyway, I found out a couple of hours later that he passed away peacefully in his sleep around the time I was waking.

Jeff Weston was bigger than life itself and the world is a much duller and quieter place for his passing.

He was, like all of us, a mass of contradictions. Cantankerous, incredibly generous, brash, opinionated, thoughtful, loud, gregarious and possessed a truly wicked sense of humour. And he influenced so many people he met in his very long and full life.

There are many stories I could tell, in fact I think it would make a great book! As a very young man he walked the rugged south west of Tasmania, was a teacher, farmer, one of the original members of the United Tasmania Group, which gave rise to the Tasmanian Greens, he travelled overseas, married and had four beautiful and talented sons, he opened his farm and home to travellers and loved (and actively supported) creative arts and especially live music.

Last year, when things started to look bad, Jeff decided to have a “living wake”, so he could see his friends and say goodbye on his own terms. We had passed messages but hadn’t seen each other for a decade and typically, picked up pretty much where we left off. It was one helluva party and it was so good to see him.

But the story I’ve been thinking about most the last few days I wasn’t there to witness, but it touched me very deeply and gives at least an idea of the kindness of the man.

My elderly mother lived in South Australia and had recently moved into a nursing home as she was no longer able to look after herself properly. Jeff was travelling from Tasmania up to a block he leased in the Kimberly, in remote north western Western Australia, where he could spend winter in a more comfortable climate. He knew I was worried about my mum and she about me but with recent personal dramas, I simply couldn’t afford to visit her at that time.

So, without my knowledge, Jeff went out of his way to my home town, tracked down the nursing home, and not only introduced himself to my mother, but found a lovely bunch of home grown autumn roses to give her. He spent most of the afternoon with her and according to my mum, told her many things that he never said to me, but which put my mother’s mind at rest in that very difficult time.

Above all things, he was my friend and was there for me at a time when my life was very hard. For that, I will never forget him.

Vale Jeffrey Dubrelle Weston 1927-2016 ❤

Jeff, at the center of the action

Jeff, at the center of the action July 2015 

 

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday evening, while dinner was cooking on the BBQ – a wonderful Australian summer tradition – I came into the house to look at my phone, mostly to stop myself from checking the yummy things too often.

The Guardian was saying David Bowie had died. At first I thought (I hoped) it was a hoax. I walked outside and told my partner. I started to cry.

It was a surreal moment, one that I won’t forget. I’m certain there are many of you out there who will have similar memories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Bowie was dead.

For me and many of my generation, David Bowie was much, much more than an incredibly talented musician, a brilliant showman, a fabulous and insightful songwriter, a trend setter.

He was one of us – another misfit, a freak who didn’t fit into the mainstream, who kept kicking against what we were told was “right”. He gave us hope, and for many of us, gave us a reason to keep going on days when the world could look a very dark place.

I was in love with Bowie from the first time I heard Space Oddity in the very late 60’s when I was still in primary school in a small country town. By the time he released Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1972, I was on that hideous roller coaster called puberty, and my mother was (perhaps with some cause) starting to worry about me. All my school friends were into Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. A few of us were listening to The Who, Clapton, The Plastic Ono Band and The Doors (particularly L.A. Woman) but we were a minority and considered pretty weird by our fellows.

I remember we were allowed in early high school to bring posters of our favourite pop stars to decorate the classroom. I took a poster of the cover of Hunky Dory, with Bowie doing his best Lauren Bacall impersonation and the teacher asked me who “she” was. When I told her it was David Bowie, I had to take the poster home with a concerned note for my parents. For a while I tried to fit in, but who was I kidding? And there was this amazing, skinny, obviously drug addled English guy who was telling me it was okay to be different and not be a sheep.

Throughout the years, I kept coming back to Bowie and his current works. Not just for entertainment, (though that was mostly mighty fine) but for inspiration and instruction for my personal arts practice. In particular, Bowie’s interpretations of Jacques Brel and Bertold Brecht were and remain profoundly important to me. Also, it was an ongoing reassurance that it was still okay to be different. Actively embracing change and personal reinvention is an important part of my life thanks to him.

All these years later, I still come back to Bowie’s music and continually find new lessons in my craft.

Although I never met the man and sadly, never had to opportunity to see him live on stage, I feel like I’ve lost a favourite, incredibly chic, slightly disreputable uncle. You know, the one who takes you out partying when you’re still under age with a “hush, don’t tell your parents we did this” conspiratorial wink.

And when my time comes, I hope I’ll have the strength of character to make something as beautiful and powerful as Blackstar and, in particular write a song as gloriously human as Lazarus. 

Along with the rest of the planet, my thoughts are with his family and friends in these incredibly sad days.

Vale David Bowie, and thank you from the bottom of my still fiercely independent heart ❤