January 31, 2009

Peter Anthony is Leaving

Allow me to reminisce about my friend Peter Anthony, on the cusp of his departure for his homeland of Australia.

I met Peter back around 1990. Coming off a separation, I had started to venture out to an open mike in Bristol, held at a charming dive called "The Common Ground". Sunday nght was folk night (I saw folks like Dar Williams, The Nields, and Aztec Two Step) and Monday nights, Jon Lewis ran an open mike. I'd show up, perform a few songs (mostly covers, although I wrote a couple myself), drink a few pints, and play pool on a ridiculous bar table (small, with all sorts of walls and poles to interfere with shots) as I listened to the other musicians. It was a friendly place albeit a bit rough around the edges; we musicians all came to know each other and watch out for each other amidst the regulars. One of the other musicians was Peter Anthony.

Never could quite figure out Peter. When he first started, he played a beat up guitar held together with duct tape. Perhaps I imagined this but it often seemed to be missing a string or two. His playing did not seem to suffer - Peter could drag more emotion and energy out of a single guitar string than anyone I've met. He'd wander around the stage and one worried he might fall off the stage in a bit of instrumental reverie. If he was sans guitar, he would borrow one, and I occasionally worried about my guitar coming back to me in one piece (it always did).

Peter was Australian, and would occasionally be introduced as the Aussie Bob Dylan. In truth, he was somewhere in the mold of Paul Kelly, Billy Bragg, perhaps a little Richard Thompson.

Peter wrote, or perhaps reworked, some amazing songs. I say reworked because he'd often lead in with "This is a Paul Kelly song that I changed the words, and the music, to" so one was never quite sure of a song's provenance. "One More Boring Thursday Night in Adelaide" was Peter's masterpiece - we'd call for it as a closer to his set. A rollicking anthem, (think Springsteen's Jungleland, but more colorful). "The Shots are Getting Bigger" was, to my mind, the best drinking song ever written by a person who does not imbibe. "Begger on the Street of Love" would make one weep into one's pint glass. "Reckless" was just plain beautiful. "Pouring Petrol on a Burning Man" made one want to stomp feet and play conga's on the table. I am sure there are others (newer songs, less ingrained into my head) - he had quite the canon.

Over the years, I've connected with Peter at various acoustic music venues and open mikes. The Common Ground closed, and the open mike moved down to The Chunky Tomato for a time. The late Equinox Cafe (think that was the name, it's been years) in Manchester. Klekolo's in Middletown. Roaring Brook Nature Center. There were others. Peter would disappear for a while (and I did my own share of disappearing) and then I'd get a call or an email about a gig, and I'd go and listen.

Peter was, and is, a bit of an enigma - I think he'd concur, and proudly. He's been a copy editor at Forbes (ironic, given how politically left he seems), edited the Hartford Business Journal, a chef, a waiter. He has a rainbow flag tattoo on his inner arm. He carries a somewhat rumpled, tattered affect of someone who has perhaps slept in his clothes, or maybe just could not be bothered to fold them after laundering, and is too fond of that old flannel shirt to let a bit of wear and a few holes preclude putting it on. A rogue, a poet, a wise fool, a kind heart. Peter is all those things.

Peter's heading home, to Australia. He's had the bad fortune to come down with some chronic health issues, in a country with no real safety net or health system. So he's heading back home. Ironic that in the 21st century, the folk musicians are emigrating away from this "land of opportunity" - in years gone by the tale of a young lad or lass heading to America to escape famine and poverty became the stuff of folk music.

I'm hopefully getting together with Peter tomorrow morning - one last time. Perhaps the last time I will see him; Australia is a helluva long way from Connecticut, and neither of us has a lot of traveling left in us. But you never know.....

Peter has touched my life with his music, his smile, his impish nature, his fragility. Even though I only see him now and then, I'll miss him. And though I've lost family members and friends; it has been many years since I've said goodbye. I imagine I have many good-byes ahead of me as family and friends begin to age; this seems like the opening shot in the long good-bye.

A few tears then, for an old friend.

1 comment:

Charles Gardner said...

I also knew Peter Anthony when I worked with him at a restaurant in Avon. We formed a good friendship based on a number of things including a love of music and words. You capture his essence very well, although I never saw him perform (at least on a stage.) One of my memories of him was when I went to Tarrytown to see Richard Thompson in concert and wandered into a restaurant for a pre-show meal and ran right into Peter, who was working there. That must be one of the times he disappeared from Hartford. He glowingly informed me that he had just waited on the Man himself (Peter was well aware of my near-obsession with RT). We caught up a bit and Peter stated that he had made friends with the tour bus driver and would go to the show later. All in all, a good day for me at least. An encounter with these two true originals could not have been more satisfying. I also ran into Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention days as I downed a beer before going into the show.

Charles Gardner