Ben Mastwyk is the Liberace of the Australian indie-country scene. He brings the flash and the style but backs it up too with brilliant songwriting and psych tinged arrangements. Sean has a chat to Ben over his dining table about power animals and the inspirational power of flâneuring, among other things. Ben's latest album, Winning Streak, was nominated for Best Country Album in the 2018 Age Music Victoria Awards.
Sean begins the show by reading his poem, Suicide Is Never Funny Unless You Dead.
Suicide is Never Funny Unless You’re Dead.
I wrote this. I wrote this in chalk on the pavement outside the church at the end of my street.
I started at the front door of the church and I worked my around the block.
I didn’t know how much chalk I would need so I took a whole bucket with me.
I’m not stupid.
This is the first lie I have told in this poem.
I’m writing this. I’m in present tense now.
I’m intensely present now.
My script is cursive and considerate across the sidewalk down Rucker’s Hill towards Merri Creek. I’m writing a letter asking the author to respond.
There is so much to be explained.
My flow is slow but steady.
The air is cold and as sharp as a box.
I like this weather. It reminds me of red lampshades, warm kitchens and the comfort in being sad.
I’m writing all this from the front door of the church at the end of my street and I’ll go as long as I have to.
I have many questions but I have never enjoyed the closing credits of answers.
While writing this letter on the footpath I pass many mailboxes.
At each mailbox I pause to feel if the heat of a love letter is burning inside.
I hold out my hands at a safe distance and feel… nothing.
Nobody writes love letters anymore.
I remember a letter I wrote once to which I have received no response.
A high school crush.
Her name was blank blank.
It was the last day of high school and it was a now or never situation.
I cut my heart out and squeezed it all over the page like a red lemon. Email would have been easier but we didn’t have it in those days.
I gave the letter to a friend and asked him to place it in her hand because I knew if I attempted such a thing, I would surely catch fire.
She has never responded.
But I remain hopeful.
When Nick Cave sings ‘Bukowski was a jerk! Berryman was best!’ he’s referring to the two American poets, Charles Bukowski and John Berryman.
In 1972 Berryman jumped off a Minneapolis bridge to look at life from a completely different angle.
He missed the water, landed in the mud and died from slow suffocation. Take note from this and always check your flight path in advance. The mud sucked the life out of him through underground tunnels and drew it all back into the core of the earth.
Suicide is never funny unless you’re dead.
And then the core of the earth is a wonderful place to laugh, sit on a box and warm your hands in front of the eternal pile of burning love letters.
I’m writing all this on the pavement from the front door of the church around my block and now it’s taken me to the Westgarth Bridge under which I stand.
I’ve written several more lies in this poem now but they’re all wearing tuxedos and have the best intentions.
I come across Berryman and Bukowski, two serial liars like me, standing under the bridge.
I think they live there. I think they’re friends now. I think maybe they haven’t been accepted at the campfire circle surrounding the burning love letters in the core of the earth. And that’s why they’re hanging out in my neighbourhood.
I call upon the authors to explain.
Bukowski just waltzes over and simply pisses on my chalk written letter on the pavement. This somewhat dilutes the intensity of my presence.
Berryman looks at me and says “I feel like getting confessional. I’m scared, but I’m willing. I’m sure this is a preposterous attitude, but I’m not ashamed of it.”
By the time I finish writing his quote I’m a block away from them.
I look up, I’ve gone full circle. I’m outside my door.
I stand beside my letterbox.
I’m intensely present.
I hold out my hands, in search of the heat.
There’s something coming off the letterbox, like a tiny slow burning star.
I reach for the envelope and I’m dizzy with the possibilities of it all.
Is it her?
Sean and Ben chat about the benefits of staying busy to stop yourself from going crazy. They talk about Ben's process of songwriting and his constant muse, a beautiful golden retriever called Bea. See the More Than A Whelan Instagram or the More Than A Whelan Facebook page to see a photo of Ben's four legged co-writer.
Ben performs a piece of micro fiction inspired by the creative prompt 'Pomade' by Kim Jeffs.
And then inspired by the creative prompt 'Silent Songs' by Ian Gostelow, Ben performs an original song especially written for More Than A Whelan.
Finally Ben Mastwyk honours MTAW with one more original composition! Inspired by the prompt Love Spy, supplied by a previous guest on MTAW, Malcolm Hill.
Thank you so much to our Muses of the Week and their creative prompts for Episode 22, Kim Jeffs (Pomade), Ian Gostelow (Silent Songs) and Malcolm Hill ( Love Spy).
Finally Sean closes the show with a poem inspired by the prompt Confession Booth for Dogs by regular prompt contributor George Dunford. Thank you George for being our final Muse of The Week for Season 1!
Confession Booth For Dogs (inspired by MTAW Muse of the Week George Dunford)
They line up around the block.
To get it off their shoulders.
That heavy heavy burden.
The crimes are plenty.
From dry humping the neighbours cat into a state of trauma, to rolling around in shit in the backyard and then spreading out and sleeping on the good couch, to digging that hole in the back fence to freedom and then once having escaped realising that at home you get fed every day so you come back in a few hours while everybody has been trawling the neighbourhood for you and you’re like ‘what’s up guys, you miss me?’
At the Confession Booth For Dogs they enter one by one and address the shadowy figure behind the screen.
Every breed, every size.
I’m no scientist but to the best of my knowledge dogs are the only animals that exhibit shame.
Think about that moment.
When you come home to find that Charlie the cocker spaniel has managed to tip the bin over and spread its entire contents throughout the whole house.
You turn to him to say ‘what the fuck Charlie?’
But he already knows he’s in trouble.
His chin is touching the floor.
And his little chocolate eyes are rolled up to you.
And his whole face reeks of shame and he pleads you to forgive him.
It will never happen again, his face says to you.
And who can stay mad at that face.
When I was a kid we had a dog called Max.
He hated wheels. Not me. He loved me. He hated actual wheels.
He especially hated the wheels on the lawnmower,but even more problematic was that he hated the wheels on cars and when he escaped, which was often, he would chase cars and try to nip at their tyres.
One of his sins that a typical dog might go to confession for was that he would dig up the garden all the time which drove my parents crazy.
So when I got home from school one night and I entered the back gate and Max’s face was dripping with shame I knew he had done something wrong and I assumed he had gotten into the garden again, so I walked around trying to find where, he meekly followed me, head as low as it can get.
But I couldn’t find any evidence of garden destruction.
We had stopped by the Hills Hoist clothes line.
And I turned to Max and I said ‘what did you do?’
And it was only then I noticed that all this time his mouth had been firmly closed.
He looked up at me, slowly opened his mouth and suddenly a bird flew out of his mouth.
And even though it was covered with dog spit. It somehow managed to still take flight and disappeared over the fence. Stunned I looked back to Max. He looked back at me.
And I heard his inner thoughts saying ‘I finally caught a bird with my mouth, but once it was in there, I just didn’t know what to do with it.”