When Memory Lane Is An Eight-lane Freeway

Getting older is a strange business.  Last month, I tripped over whilst jogging and crashed into the footpath with all the grace of the Hindenburg.  As I lay there, writhing in a mix of embarrassment and pain, I realized it was the first time I’d fallen without being able to get up.  It’s one of many less attractive aspects of ageing.  Hair disappears from the places you want it and sprouts from previously unexpected locations.  The idea of waiting to see a band whose gig starts at eleven o’clock (at night!) is not so much an inconvenience as it is unbridled insanity.

Worst of all, I regularly forget my age.  By which I don’t mean that I’m incapable of answering the question ‘how old are you?’ but that when spending time with younger people, I think of myself as their peer as opposed to their elder.  It’s a tragic case of self-deception.  One that disintegrates the moment I mention anything that happened before 1990 and I am left staring into a sea of blank faces.  When you make a reference to ‘Holiday’ by Madonna and no one else knows what you’re talking about, you know you’ve reached a turning point. 

It saddens me to think that there’s an entire generation who’ve no idea who Hector the Safety Cat is.  Last week, we spent a night in Guilford and our cabin had a cassette deck.  The ten year old was, in turns, bewildered and fascinated.  I found myself explaining the art of rewinding a tape to an enraptured audience who then proceeded to rewind every cassette he could find.  As I bathed in the whirring sound of a TDK C-90, I was flooded with thoughts of demo tapes and afternoons spent in cramped rehearsal rooms.  And then it came to me in a rush: Cam Rogers had died.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been at a memorial service.  The room was a mix of lost friends and strangers with a picture of Cam looking over all of us.  The message had come as a shock.  It had been a simple email with the heading ‘About Cam (Maybe read after work)’.  Of course, I couldn’t wait and read the message almost immediately, but I struggled to understand what it was saying.  Maybe I was in shock.  Perhaps the truth of it seemed impossible for me.

I’d met Cam Rogers at Uni.  He was older, cooler and effortless.  In stark contrast, I was clueless, naïve and trying far too hard.  We didn’t have much to do with each other that first year but, inevitably, we fell into playing music together.  At first it was covers, playing other people’s songs for anyone willing to pay us to do so.  Some songs we performed with gusto.  Others we butchered.  But it was enormous fun.  After a time, the band started writing it’s own music.

There were five of us.  Having met at Uni, we ended up living together in a gigantic share house in St Kilda.  We thought we were bohemian and hip.  We were sorely mistaken.  Our house had seven bedrooms and psychedelic wallpaper and it was there that we wrote our songs.  Cam Rogers played bass.  When we started, his playing was rudimentary.  By the time it ended, he was extraordinary.

Being in a band may sounds trivial but it’s a big deal.  You experience a lot of highs and lows together with a group of people.  No matter how difficult things were, I don’t think I ever saw him lose his composure.  To say that about a housemate, much less a band-mate, is nothing short of remarkable.

There are plenty of things I could tell you about Cameron Rogers.  Such as the time that he stayed up too late drinking beer but decided that the best way to ensure he wasn’t late for work the next day was to connect his alarm clock to a one hundred watt bass amplifier.  The resulting din the next morning sent everyone within an eight hundred-metre radius shooting bolt upright, except for Cam who remained stubbornly asleep.  He was rarely rattled.

There was a consensus at the memorial – that as young men in our twenties we’d been (for want of a better term) idiots.  To some degree, that’s what being young is about.  For a brief period of time, you get to try and fail before moving on.  And, eventually, that’s what we all did.  Now we were all in the same room, dressed in suits like a long-forgotten boy-band making some last ditched-attempt at credibility. 

Eventually, the band broke up.  Which is exactly what most bands do.  Not long after, we all vacated that big, rambling share house in St Kilda.  I didn’t know it then, but it was the end of an era.  The other band members kept working together and, over time, I lost touch.  The last time I saw Cam, he’d performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival as ‘Alexander Downer’ in a production called ‘Keating’.  The show and Cam’s performance were a total sensation.  It was a moment of exultant triumph.  That’s how I’ll remember him.

The worst thing about getting older is that people start to leave you.  At the front of the room was a table of memorabilia including photos.  Of him at school, at work and, of course, in the band.  It’s strange that you don’t see someone for years and then miss them when they’re gone.  But I do.  I’m grateful that I knew Cameron Rogers.  Rest in peace.