More about Harry Graves

Harry Graves was just a guy I went to school with. He used to give me cigarettes behind the bike sheds ... Pall Mall Filter, in the red packet. He sometimes pulled the buttons off my shirts in fun fights that were fun for him I guess but to me were more like real fights. He was stronger than I was and liked to let me know it; he’d stop short of causing real pain but I always knew it was there, trembling just beyond the scissors, the headlock, the half Nelson.

We moved away from that town when I was ten but a few years later I ran into Harry again. He was doing a course in metal working at the Mechanics Institute in the town we lived in then. He wore blue jeans, a white t shirt with his cigarettes folded into the sleeve, Beatle boots. We stopped on the bridge and talked for a while. I was still a schoolboy but he was already a man. He was into Country music.

There was a dance at the local Leagues Hall I went to with Julie Till who was a farmer’s daughter from out of town. Harry was there with some of his mates from the Mechanics Institute. He had his eyes on Julie and she on him; but she was a good girl (as opposed to a nice girl) and anyway her father was picking her up in his car after the dance. The band was called the Sapphires; later on they changed their name to the Surfires, wore Hawaiian shirts and covered Beach Boys songs, as well as making up a few of their own. Harry reckoned they could play alright but their music was shit.

Harry finished his six week course and went back to the King Country. We didn’t keep in touch or anything like that but I bumped into him years later in Australia. It was at a gig in Sydney, at the Tivoli. This band from Melbourne called Hunters and Collectors. There were about ten of them on stage, chanting and beating on big metal drums with iron sticks, while the back projection showed rare old footage of stone age tribes picking their way across the gibber plains.

Harry was one of their roadies. He still kept his cigarettes in his sleeve but he was into drugs now. We snorted some speed backstage while the gig was still going on and later went up to Arthur’s in the Cross. Beautiful women gathered around Harry but he was more interested in talking than fucking. He was going to Berlin. He knew the guys in the Bad Seeds and reckoned he would be working with them. He was into Gospel music, white soul, all that religious shit. Preacher man don’t tell me/Heaven is under the earth/I know you don’t know/what life is really worth ... they’re lines from a Bob Marley song but reggae is faith music too.

So Harry went to Berlin, he went to São Paulo, he went to Boston, he went everywhere. I heard from a girl I knew who’d had a scene with him that he was running cocaine from Tahiti into Sydney, the mule on the last leg of a journey that started in Bogotá. One day I saw him up the Cross, he was in a bad way, trembling and paranoid. He was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase which fell open while we were talking in the street. Inside there was bottle of Johnny Walker Red and a carton of cigarettes. Gauloise. Nothing else. He said he’d made a lot of money but people were after him and he was going back to Auckland to invest in the property market.

Next time I saw him was in the corner bar at De Bretts. He had a beautiful white dog; he said she was part dingo. She sat under the table while we drank single malt whisky and smoked cigars; you could buy slim Dutch cigars for six dollars from the humidor. Harry had bought some warehouses in West Auckland. He was a developer. He was back wearing t shirt and jeans, a leather jacket, was into fitness now, swam two kilometres a day in the Olympic Pool.

He was remote from me in the old familiar way. He’d come a long way, he had a long way to go; this was just a station on his way. He talked about Nick Cave, Van Morrison, hearing Loretta Lynn live at the Ryman. He said it was important to distinguish between Johnny Cash and Johnny Paycheck. When he left the bar it was just getting on to evening. The dog got up and followed without him having to say a word or even look at her. I saw him pause on Shortland Street to re-light his cigar, in black silhouette against the yellow sky, a man and his dog. And his peculiar fate.

There’s more to Harry Graves than this.

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