A lot of the stories I write for this blog are funny. This isn’t one of them.
Back in 2000 or so I was recording on the debut Berzerker album. I did guitar and bass. For those who know the story, Ed and Jay were brought in while I was off on holidays to re-record one side of the guitar because Luke wanted two different guitar tones on the album. I was also doing vocals for the debut, the deep vocals. I had absolutely no technique whatsoever. I’d simply try to go as mental as possible. It was all about doing a passionate performance, trying to tap a bunch of savagery and pain, and blurting it out into the microphone with as much evil as I could muster. These days everyone has a good grasp of phrasing, pitching, and so on, but there were no Melissa Cross training videos back then so we just went for it.
One of the songs on the debut album was called ‘Pain’. The lyrics were about a news story Luke had read where a woman working on a farm got her hair caught in some machinery. The machine didn’t simply rip her hair out, scalp her, or pull her into the machinery. The machine pulled off her face AND her scalp AND her hair, almost like an obstinate glove being yanked off. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she was conscious throughout the ordeal. This blew our minds. We couldn’t comprehend that much pain, what it would be like.
I think sometimes about the fascination I have for dark and terrible events. I know such a fascination is weird to a lot of people. To me, it always seemed astonishing that we have life and sentience but also these frail bodies that can have the most terrible things inflicted on them, and that there’s no-one to step in and make those terrible things stop – to hit rewind, to make pain go away, to say “sorry, you get another go, don’t worry”. People are fragile and life is fragile, and to me and others it’s really clear how close these terrible events are…a twist of the steering wheel, the wrong bottle from the laundry, just walking along without even not really looking, and suddenly either your life is gone or you are crippled with pain. I’d explore these outcomes in my mind, or read about ones that had happened, and I’d keep turning it over and over like a puzzle I couldn’t quite work out: how did people experience these things, how would I handle it, how could such things happen. Normal people who don’t think on these things seem to get along in a happy little bubble oblivious to everything, and I wondered how they did that as well.
I always worked a corporate job while doing Berzerker. On the days I had to record, I would be in Melbourne’s city center in my suit and tie with a work bag and a guitar case. At the end of the day I would walk to the train station in Spencer Street and get a train out to Nunawading, then walk a few kilometres to Luke’s place. Then we’d record guitar, or vocals, or sometimes I’d even just fall asleep while Luke played with his various application plug-ins or screamed at Windows to start working.
I forget which year this was in, I suspect it was back in 2000. Australia had some qualifying match to play for the World Cup and the match itself was in Melbourne so there were quite a few people about in town. We were playing Iraq, I think. I’m not sure. I walked down Flinders Lane to Spencer Street and then headed up the street to the station. When I was almost at the station, I noticed some strange things.
The first thing I saw was vomit on the pavement. There were various patches of it. It seemed that a few different people had been vomiting, because the patches were different colours. These patches stretched up the footpath a bit. I saw a few people sitting down crying. Then I realized that a few people were hugging. I mention these things and it takes a few seconds to read, but it felt like I was blundering around for a minute or so, being slow on the uptake. The last thing I noticed was that most of the people were looking out at the road. I turned around and looked at the road.
What struck me was how normal everything was trying to be. The sun was shining, people were walking around on the other pavements, the traffic lights were changing. There was a tram that had parked in the middle of the road however. That wasn’t normal. A car was parked jaggedly across the tracks in front of it, that wasn’t normal either. Each detail I saw, my brain tried framing it as something explainable – maybe there is a tram stop at that point, maybe that car is meant to be there. I saw the tram driver sitting down on the steps of his tram with his head in his hands. Then I saw police cars parked on the road. Finally, I saw the body on the road with the blanket over it.
That wasn’t the worst part. There was a pool of blood underneath the body and one hand was out from underneath the blanket. It was a woman, and the bit of visible dress meant that she was probably elderly. That wasn’t the worst part either. That all kind of made sense. The part which really stuck with me was when I noticed another blanket about ten metres away and it was over a much smaller shape, something long and thin. The blanket didn’t cover all of it. I saw a leg in a stocking with a shoe on the end of it, and more blood.
And in one flash, everything that had happened came together in my mind. An elderly woman had been crossing the road and didn’t notice a tram turning into the street. The tram driver didn’t see her either. She was hit by the uncaring tram and dragged for around fifty metres. A motorist saw it, and thinking quickly sped in front of the tram and parked on the tracks. By the time they stopped the tram and fetched the woman out from underneath it, her leg had already come off and if she wasn’t dead then, she was dead shortly after. This had happened minutes before I turned up.
I spoke to some of the people there who had seen it, and it turns out it happened that way. I looked for a bit but didn’t want to idle around being a vulture at a scene like that, so I headed up to the station. That’s when I experienced a moment of real horror; as I approached the entrance tunnel, I heard a lot of children’s voices. I realized that school had been let out, and that school groups were probably on their way to the World Cup qualifier match right now. Very soon, lots of kids would come up the tunnel, turn the corner, and see a dismembered old lady on the road. I ran to the guards at the entrance to get them to close it and reroute people to the other exits.
I arrived out at Nunawading a little later than normal that night. I took my tie off, told Luke what I had seen, then did the vocals for ‘Pain’. There were lots of computer problems while recording that first album, and we actually lost a lot of the vocal takes at various stages. The vocals from that night weren’t lost however, and made it onto the album.