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Three Chords And The Truth

Chapter Text

All I got is a red guitar
Three chords and the truth…

All Along The Watchtower – U2


May 2017

The song that had been playing ended, and I wedged my headphones further down over my hair. On either side of me, Zac and Isaac were doing much the same thing. The DJ gave us a smile before resuming her broadcast.

“And that was Sheppard with Keep Me Crazy from their forthcoming second album, here on Ash London Live. If you’re just tuning in, tonight I’ve got Hanson in the studio. You had Sheppard as the opener for your regional Queensland tour back in 2013, right?”

“We did, yeah,” Isaac replied. “They’re amazing musicians – it’s great to see that they’ve done so well for themselves over the last few years.”

“I could say the same of the three of you!” Ash said, and the three of us all grinned. “This year you’re celebrating two milestones – twenty-five years as a band, and twenty years since the release of Middle Of Nowhere. A lot’s happened in the last couple of decades, hasn’t it?”

“‘A lot’ is probably a major understatement,” Zac replied. “We’ve travelled all over Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, and next year we plan to visit North America, the United Kingdom and Europe for the first time. We’ve all gotten married, and both Isaac and I have started families.” He glanced over at me, and I shrugged a little. “And of course there was a bit of a crisis between 2002 and 2005 that resulted in an unplanned hiatus.” I bit back a laugh at this – ‘a bit of a crisis’ was putting it lightly. “I like to think that the crisis we experienced strengthened us not only as bandmates but also as brothers.”

“And next week you’re celebrating the release of your sixth studio album, which you’ve christened Anthem, with a concert at the Sydney Opera House.”

“We are, yep,” I said. “We’ll be playing the new album in its entirety from start to finish. The show’s on the second of June and will kick off our national tour.”

Ash gave the three of us another smile. “Let’s look back for a moment to 1996, which many of our listeners tonight will know as the year the three of you were signed to Mushroom Records. Can you walk us through what happened back then?”

“Definitely,” Zac replied. “It was maybe a month after that year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest. We’d come home from playing a show that weekend to the news that, well…it changed all our lives forever.”

Chapter Text

It got dark early these days.

The wooden boards that made up the porch of the cabin creaked under my feet as I stepped out the front door. I slid the door closed behind me and went over to the railing that ran the length of the porch, leaning on it with my arms crossed. Through the half-dark I could see the beach – someone had lit a campfire down near the rock wall somewhere to my right, the orange glow of the flames standing out against the dark sky, and ahead of me I could just make out waves crashing on the sand. A quick glance at the glowing green hands of my watch showed that it was only half past six.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

I looked back over my shoulder to see that Mum had followed me outside. She gave me a smile as she joined me at the railing.

“Hi Mum,” I said with a small smile before returning my focus to the beach. “It’s noisy in there,” I added with a half-shrug. “I just wanted a bit of quiet before tomorrow.”

“Ah.” As she said this, I felt Mum start playing with my rat-tail. I couldn’t see what she was doing to it, being as I couldn’t see out of the back of my own head, but it felt almost as if she was winding it around a finger. “I’ll see if I can talk your brothers into giving up the back seat of the van for the drive home. Give you a little bit of space. Sound good?”

I considered this for a little while. “Yeah, sounds good,” I replied.

“All right. I’ll have a chat to them after dinner. Speaking of, your dad’s making chicken burgers if you’re hungry. Better get back in there before your brothers eat the lot.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mum give me a mischievous smile, and she patted my shoulder a couple of times before heading back inside. I stayed out on the porch for a little while longer, listening to the waves breaking on the sand and watching the distant campfire, before straightening up and following her.

Back inside the cabin, it was the usual madness that accompanied the Hanson family whenever we travelled to Byron Bay for the Easter long weekend. Dad held court in the cabin’s kitchenette, an egg flip in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. Mum sat at the tiny dining table with my youngest brother on her knee, feeding him his dinner. And sitting on the lounge across the room from the kitchenette were Isaac and Zac – Zac was talking at top speed as he watched TV, and Isaac was leafing one-handed through what looked like a guitar magazine with a finger shoved into one of his ears. I bit back a smirk at this – if I had to listen to Zac jabbering on at the top of his voice in close quarters, I’d end up sticking a finger in my ear too.

“Zac, pipe down and come get your dinner,” Dad said without turning away from the stove. “You too Isaac, put that magazine away before it all goes stone motherless cold.” He finally looked up from flipping chicken and frying bacon and sunnyside-up eggs as I stepped up beside him and picked up a dinner plate. “Hey Tay,” he said with a smile, one I returned. “Hungry?”

“Yeah, a bit.” I grabbed a couple of rolls off the nearby breadboard just in time for Dad to start piling chicken strips on them. A couple of slices apiece of bacon, tomato, pineapple, beetroot and cheese along with a squirt of barbecue sauce on each roll later I had my dinner, and I joined Mum and Joshua at the dining table. Joshua grabbed onto my hair and yanked hard almost as soon as I sat down. “Ow, ow, ow,” I said as I worked to extract my hair from Joshua’s little fist. “Hands off the hair Joshie, okay?”

“Either tie it back or get it cut,” Mum said, as she’d done many times over the last couple of years. She sounded more amused than anything else. “Otherwise Josh is going to latch on whenever he gets within cooee of that hair of yours. You should know that by now.”

“I’m not cutting it,” I said as I finally freed the last few strands from Joshua’s grip.

“Even though it makes you look like a girl,” Isaac jibed as he walked past.

“Yeah and yours makes you look like the Paddle Pop Lion,” I shot back.

“That’s enough, boys,” Dad said, his stern tone forestalling any further insults between Isaac and I. “At least wait until we get back to Newcastle tomorrow. I’m not having the two of you fighting in the back of the van the whole way home.”

“On that topic, we need to have a chat after dinner,” Mum said. She got out of her seat and shifted Joshua up onto her shoulder. “I’m going to put Josh to bed. We’ll talk when you’ve all eaten.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Isaac said.

“It’s nothing bad,” I said as I went to bite into the first of my burgers.

“I’ll decide that, thanks.” Isaac flicked a bit of bread roll at me as he walked back to the lounge. I gave him the finger back over my shoulder and went back to my dinner.

Once we’d all eaten, and after the dinner dishes had been piled in the sink ready to be washed, I joined my brothers on the lounge. For one reason or another we always ended up arranging ourselves in age order, and tonight was no exception – I was in the middle, with Isaac at my right and Zac at my left. I fidgeted a little while I waited for Mum and Dad to start talking – I knew roughly what was going to be discussed, but I was still a little nervous.

“You all did well this weekend,” Dad said at last, at which I grinned. Out of the corners of my eyes I could see Isaac and Zac both doing the same. The East Coast Blues Festival was one of my favourite places to play a show, so it was nice to know that we hadn’t completely stuffed up our sets on Friday and Saturday. “Joel is interested in booking you a spot at the Festival of Darwin next month, if you think you’re up for the trip. Your mum and I said we’d give you a chance to think it over during the drive home tomorrow.”

“Speaking of the drive home,” Mum said, “would the two of you” here she indicated my brothers “be all right with letting Tay have the backseat of the van to himself tomorrow? Even if it’s just until we get to Grafton. Your dad and I will have Josh in the front with us, so you’ll still be able to stretch out a little bit.”

I shifted backward a little so I could see my brothers’ reactions to this request. Zac looked like he wanted to argue with Mum about it – Isaac, on the other hand, looked thoughtful. “Just until Grafton?” he asked.

“You’ll have to decide that between the three of you,” Dad said. “And you all have to agree on it.” Here he skewered Zac with a fierce look. “That means no arguments, Zachary. At all. Otherwise you’ll be the one riding up front with me and your mother.”

This seemed to be all it took to stop Zac from getting too riled up, and he nodded.

“Good.” Mum glanced down at her watch. “We have an early start tomorrow, so I want the three of you to head to bed soon. I want us to be on the road no later than six-thirty.”

“That’s way too early,” Isaac grumbled.

“Yeah,” Zac piped up.

“You can sleep all you like in the car,” Dad said. “But we are leaving early whether you like it or not. Make sure you’ve got everything packed before you go to bed.”

It didn’t take me long to pack everything I’d brought to Byron Bay back into my backpack and duffle bag – my clothes from the last few days, the Rowan Of Rin book that had been one of my birthday presents a few weeks earlier, a notebook and a pen, my Walkman, my headphones and the handful of tapes I’d brought from home, my torch, and my sketchbook and pencils. Once my backpack was zipped closed I took my pyjamas from under my pillow and headed into the bathroom to get changed.

Mum was just finishing up with the dishes when I wandered out of the bathroom, the shorts and T-shirt I’d worn that day tossed over my shoulder. I could see her watching me as I went to the fridge and took out the carton of milk from the door.

“Don’t drink all of that,” she said. “And use a glass, please.”

“I’m not gonna drink it out of the carton,” I said. “Isaac’s the one that does that.” I opened one of the cupboards under the stove and took out a glass. “Mum?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I go over Sophie’s tomorrow arvo?”

Mum seemed to consider this for a little while. “It’s going to be a little late for that by the time we get home, Tay,” she said, sounding apologetic. “But I’ll tell you what – if you help your dad and I pack the van tomorrow morning, you can go to Sophie’s first thing after breakfast on Tuesday. You’ll have to get up earlier than your brothers, though.”

“I can live with that. I’ll just sleep in the van on the way home.”

“All right. I’ll come and wake you up at about five or so.” She drew me in for a quick hug and pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “Get some sleep.”

The room I was sharing with Isaac and Zac was lit by torchlight when I wandered in a few minutes later. I stepped carefully over the end of the air mattress that Zac was sleeping on as I headed over to the bunk beds. “I reckon we should go to Darwin,” Isaac said from somewhere above my head. “If Joel wants to book us to play there it can’t be too bad.”

“It’d be scorching hot though,” I said, sitting down on the bottom bunk as I spoke. “And I hate hot weather.”

“Two words Tay – air conditioning.”

“I want to go to Darwin too,” Zac piped up from the floor.

“You just want to go looking for salties,” I said as I reached for my backpack. I took out Rowan and the Travellers and my own torch, flicking it on once it was away from Zac’s face so I didn’t blind him, and opened my book to my bookmark. “You can see those when you go to the zoo next.”

“I still want to go.” I looked over to my left just in time to see Zac’s head pop up from the air mattress. “And I don’t just want to go looking for salties! I want to go looking for jellyfish too.”

“Boys, stop talking and go to sleep,” Dad said, and I looked over at the doorway. He stood there silhouetted by the light from the cabin’s main room. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow, remember? You can talk all you like in the car.”

“Aww, Dad!

“Don’t ‘aww, Dad’ me, Zachary. Torches off, now.”

“‘Night Dad,” Isaac and I chorused. I closed my book again and flicked my torch off, with Zac and Isaac switching their own torches off a few seconds later. It wasn’t long until I drifted off, the sound of waves breaking on the nearby beach sending me off to sleep.

The next morning, as it always was at the end of every Easter weekend, was just slightly more frantic than a typical school morning. And as promised, Mum woke me up before the sun had even started to peek over the horizon.

“Your dad’s made you some toast,” Mum said softly as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. “We’ll start packing the van once you’ve eaten. Okay?”

“Okay,” I mumbled. Through the dark, backlit by the light coming from the main room of the cabin, I could just see Mum give me a smile. She ruffled my hair a little before leaving the room.

It didn’t take me long to dig by torchlight through my duffle bag in search of something to wear. I dressed quickly, shoving my pyjamas deep into my duffle before zipping it closed, and headed out of the room, tying my hair back as I went.

“Good morning Taylor,” Dad said as I wandered into the main room. He gave me a smile and jerked a thumb at the dining table – as Mum had promised, waiting for me was a plate with two slices of buttered toast, with a glass of milk and a jar of peanut butter that had a butter knife sitting on top next to it. “Get that into you, and we’ll get started on packing the van.”

I didn’t need to be told twice. Almost as soon as Dad had finished speaking I was sitting down at the table and unscrewing the lid off the peanut butter. “Hey Dad?”

“Yeah mate?”

I spread a thick layer of peanut butter on one of the slices of toast and tore it in half. “You and Mum are okay with this, right? Us doing music?”

“Believe me Taylor, if your mum and I weren’t okay with it we’d have said something a long time ago,” Dad said. He sat down next to me with his own plate of toast. “As long as you keep up with your schoolwork, you can play your music as much as you like.”

“Even if we get signed?”

“Even then.” He studied me for a little while. “What’s brought this on?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. Thought maybe now that Isaac and I are both in high school it wouldn’t be a great idea for us to keep doing it.”

“Tay, all your mum and I ever wanted for the three of you was for you to be happy,” Dad said. “And it just so happens that music is what makes the three of you the happiest. We would never take that away from you.”

I smiled a little. “Thanks Dad.”

It didn’t take me long to demolish my breakfast. Almost as soon as I’d washed my plate and glass and put them back in their cupboard, I pulled my school hoodie on over my T-shirt and headed outside with my duffle bag and my backpack. The early morning cold hit me as I stepped out onto the cabin’s porch, biting at my hands, my ears and my nose, and I shivered a little before heading down the porch steps. Sitting in the driveway of the cabin was my parents’ white and dark green Volkswagen Kombi van, with the trailer that held Zac’s drums hitched to the back. The Kombi was almost as old as Isaac, Zac and I put together, and in the half-joking words of my Uncle Rhys was held together with duct tape, baling wire, and a whole lot of curses and prayers. Its rear hatch and side doors were open, and Dad was loading duffle bags into the back from a pile clustered near one of the rear wheels. He looked over at me just as I added my duffle bag to the pile. “All packed?” he asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “D’you want me to go see if they’re up yet?”

“Your mum’s probably doing that right now,” Dad said as he bent down to the pile and picked up my duffle bag. “You can go and grab their gear for me, though.”

“Yeah, all right.”

Dad gave me a smile, and I managed to duck out of the way before he could undo my ponytail and ruffle my hair. “Go on, off you go.”

It didn’t take much longer for the van to be packed, with the last bits and pieces being Joshua’s stroller and the backpacks belonging to Isaac, Zac and I. Soon enough the cabin was being locked up – with Mum’s reminder that if we’d left anything behind it was lost forever ringing in all of our ears – the engine of the Kombi was roaring to life, and we were on the road once again. The sun had risen above the horizon while Dad and I had been packing the Kombi, painting the early morning sky shades of pink and orange, and I found myself wishing I had film for my camera. I settled instead of watching the sky out of the window of the van, committing the scene to memory for later. It wasn’t long until I drifted off, the rhythm of the wheels on the road and the rumble of the engine sending me back off to sleep.

Our first stop after leaving Byron Bay, as it always was, was Grafton, a couple of hours’ drive down the Pacific Highway. After a quick stop at a bakery in South Grafton, Dad had driven the van up to Jacaranda Park so that we could all stretch our legs and work off the energy that came from spending a full two hours cooped up in the Kombi without a break.

At least, that was the plan in theory.

“We’re not covering bloody Silverchair in Darwin,” Isaac said almost as soon as Mum and Dad had taken Joshua over to the playground, leaving the three of us to our own devices. The current topic of discussion was the set that we would be playing in Darwin the next month. At some point between Ballina and the turn-off to Evans Head we’d decided that we definitely wanted to make the trek up north. Right now we were sitting at a picnic table not far from the Kombi, with our notebooks, my Walkman and Isaac’s Discman set up within reach.

“What’s wrong with Silverchair?” I asked.

“How long a list do you want?”

I bit back a sigh and resisted the temptation to start pulling on my rat-tail. Equally strong was the temptation to go running to Mum and Dad, but I pushed that back into the far recesses of my mind. We had decided ages ago that we would only involve our parents in any of our band disputes if we couldn’t resolve them ourselves. And seeing as this wasn’t a full-blown argument just yet, there was no point in involving Mum and Dad.

“Okay, so no Silverchair then,” I said. I was secretly just a bit disappointed – I’d been teaching myself how to play Tomorrow on the piano for an assignment for Music class at school, and I’d very nearly learned it off by heart. Being able to play it in Darwin would have given me an excellent reason to finally get it down pat. “What else?”

“I was thinking either Billy Joel or John Farnham,” Isaac suggested. “We know how much Mum likes Billy Joel, and she likes hearing us play his music. I know she probably won’t come to Darwin, but Dad will and he’ll end up taping our set for Mum to watch later.” He tore a piece off his cheese and tomato toastie. “Same with John Farnham.”

“John Farnham,” I said automatically. “We know You’re The Voice pretty well. We’d just have to practice it a bit.” I thought for a moment or two. “But we also know The Longest Time really well. And we did it for choir at the Mattara Eisteddfod last year, so I’d only need to practice the piano part.” I traced a pattern someone had gouged in the wood of the table with one of my fingers. “One of you got a coin?”

“Yep,” Zac replied. He started digging in the pockets of his jeans, finally coming up with a fifty cent piece, and held it out across the table to me.

“So heads we do John Farnham, tails we do Billy Joel?” Isaac suggested as I took the coin from Zac.

“Sounds good to me,” I replied, and I flipped the coin. It landed on the table and spun around a few times before settling with its heads side up. “John Farnham it is.”

“So do we stick with You’re The Voice?” Isaac asked as Zac pocketed his money again. “Or do we dig through all Mum’s CDs and find something else to learn? Because we’ve got a bit of time before school goes back if we want to learn something new.”

“It can’t hurt to learn something new,” I said. “We’d have to get the sheet music from somewhere though, and I don’t think Mum has any of it.”

“The library at school might,” Isaac hedged. “Or even the State Library.” He finished his toastie and scrunched its paper bag up into a ball. “But we should probably pick what song we’re doing before we go looking for any sheet music.”

“Ready to get going?” I heard Dad say from behind me, and I twisted around to see Mum, Dad and Joshua coming up to the picnic table. Joshua was riding on Dad’s shoulders, with Mum and Dad walking hand in hand. “Still a long drive ahead of us.”

“Yeah,” I said, and I gathered up my Walkman and my notebook, not wanting to leave them behind. It would be a very long trip back if I left without them. “Hey Mum?”

“Yes?”

“Can we get pizza for dinner tonight?”

I could have sworn I saw Mum hide a smile at this. “I’ll ask your dad. But as long as the three of you keep behaving yourselves for the rest of the drive home, I don’t see why not.”

“Sweet! Thanks Mum.”

Mum let out a quiet laugh. “Come on, back in the van with you.”

The rest of the long drive home wasn’t all that different from those we’d done in the last couple of years. Playing I Spy, spotting car numberplates from the different states and territories (with Isaac and Zac hitting each other anytime one of them was too slow spotting a particular state or territory’s numberplate), a picnic lunch at Bellwood Park in Nambucca Heads, and running around on the sand and in the shallows at Flynn’s Beach in Port Macquarie and Forster’s Main Beach. We’d even managed to fit in a couple of karaoke sessions between stops.

I had somehow managed to fall asleep not long after we’d left Forster, the long day taking its toll on me, but as soon as Dad drove onto the bridge that spanned the Hunter River I woke up, somehow knowing that we were nearly home. Dad caught my eye in the rearview mirror as I scrubbed a hand over my eyes. “It awakes,” he joked. “Have a good sleep?”

“Yeah,” I replied, giving Dad a smile, and turned my gaze to the view from my van window. Soon we had left the river behind us, Dad merging off the highway and into the traffic that flowed along Maitland Road a minute or so later. The industrial area of Hexham soon gave way to the houses and greenery of Sandgate, with Dad hanging a right onto the Inner City Bypass just north of Sandgate Cemetery. As Dad drove I watched the scenery flash past my window, managing to pick out a few familiar landmarks through the trees that lined the road – Sandgate train station, the Shortland and Hunter Wetlands, and the University of Newcastle. The sun was getting steadily lower in the sky the closer to the city we got, with the streetlights spaced out along Newcastle Road flickering on as Dad merged into its traffic.

The long trip home from Byron Bay finally ended in Broadmeadow, near the end of the laneway that separated the houses on Denney Street from those on Broadmeadow Road. Dad pulled the Kombi into the parking space in front of the garage and cut the engine, and I stretched as the overhead light switched on. Not for the first time I was glad we only did this trip twice a year.

“Can you get Josh inside for me, Tay?” Mum asked as I climbed down out of the van. She was unbuckling Joshua from his car seat, careful not to wake him as she worked.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “Want me to put him to bed?”

“That would be wonderful, Tay. Thank you.” Mum lifted Joshua out of the car seat and passed him to me. I ran a hand over the blonde curls that covered my brother’s head before heading through the back gate into the yard. The security light that was mounted next to the back door switched on as I stepped onto the path that led up to the back deck, and I found it hard to bite back a grin.

Home. I was finally home.