DEAD STARS are visible to the mortal eye for millions of years after they've vanished from the universe. When you look at the night sky, you're looking into the past. Plenty of those twinkly little guys are fully long gone but they still glow brighter than anything you'll ever see down here. Think about that for a while and all kinds of crazy shit starts to make sense.
It was during a school excursion to the new planetarium that I first suspected my dad was attempting re-entry. Looking back, I guess he'd been monitoring construction from afar like me, counting down the months as the dome slowly unfurled like a fat little finger to infinity in the wasteland under the Westgate Bridge.
Inside was womblike as. Each reclining chair was a cupped hand in a padded glove, palm open to a slow-spinning simulation of the southern night sky.
It was only when the music started that things got personal.
As my eyelids got heavy I started to hear this tune wafting on the thrum of the virtual universe. I tilted my head, willed my ears to tune to the frequency of the chorus. Eventually I was sure. The song that trickled almost inaudibly from the planetarium PA was Marty Young's signature tune.
Yeah yeah, I know. It was probably playing in a hundred supermarkets from Wagga Wagga to Wichita at that very moment. But for a sixteen-year-old kid fully pumped with fruit jubes and cosmic wonder, this was the only parcel of space-time that counted. There I was, a supine supplicant in this repository of ultimate questions, and of all the questions orbiting all the suns, these ones came whispered on my father's breath.
"Can you heeeear me? Can you feeeeeel me?"
I inched up on one tingling elbow, stole a peek around my stultified Year 11 science class. Alan Balzary was surreptitiously chewing somebody's lunch, frowning in the general direction of the Vela constellation. Tamara Donovan was applying lip-gloss from a tiny blue tin. Nebulae refracted off her John Lennon glasses. Even CJ Po, the kid who spoke music and played the guitar like he was texting the gods, was outwardly oblivious to any coded message from the great beyond.
I was the only one the Starman could have been talking to. Maybe the only one who could hear him. There we both were, mutually adrift in Eternity. It's actually not such a big place, is my call. Once you get your bearings.
MY OLD MAN was nowhere and everywhere when I was a kid. Mum was never one to play his records, though of course we had them all filed away downstairs where she and her brother, my uncle Nicky, the slightly famous rock journalist, would sit and reminisce over beers and wine and spliffs and long silences spiked with the crackle and pop of amplified vinyl.
I'd lie in the beanbag with my toes in the shagpile, drinking it all in, hypnotised by their Countdown memories and the lava lamp on the matchstick table.
Marty 'Starman' Young was the black hole in our little universe. Mum was adept at avoiding its gravity. She'd change the subject, make snappy disclaimers like, 'He was always from another planet', or 'Mate, he was made of different stuff to you and me'.
She told me straight that my zygotic existence was never a blip on his radar, quite reasonably assuming her last letter had gone the way of a million other scented envelopes, tossed in the shit-storm of a rock star's sordid departure from this world.
But as those late summer weeks dissolved into my final year of school, with my senses awake and singing after that close encounter at the Planetarium, I began to entertain my own theories.
Exhibit A: the Starman's secret last song. It had docked in our post box at 8 Hubble Street when I was only weeks old. The two verses were scribbled in his own hand, on a single sheet of Nova Hotel stationery dated the night he died, smudged with a sample of wine or blood apparently undiscovered by the NYPD forensics clowns and mailed by parties unknown.
'Son of Starman' was typed on front. No return address.
In a canny variation on his theme song, this little baby was titled Starlight, and it went a little like this:
The day before you came
I hid myself away
Deep in my loneliness
Bm G D
Was as close as we could get
Before you came
I didn't know your face
But I was holding an empty space
In a circle made of arms
I could hold a million stars
One was you
I say 'a little like this' because my old man wasn't the demisemiquaver type. Some crafty chord diagrams were scribbled in the margin, but what I read for the thousandth time on the afternoon I got home from the Planetarium was really just the flesh and bones of a song. The soul of it—the melody—had slipped away on the Starman's last breath.
Don't think I never went chasing it. Sometimes when I fingered the chords late at night I could almost hear it. The tune was lurking in there like a ghost, whispering between the changes, giggling around every corner. Then it would slip between my fingers and dissolve like a dream.
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