Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Tote

I've been google-ing stories about the Tote and found a beautifully written piece by Marieke Hardy entitled 'The Slow Death of Sticky Carpet'.

Comedian Jimeoin once joked that being in the delivery room and watching, agog, as his wife gave birth to their first child, was 'like seeing my favourite pub burned to the ground.' It's the funniest thing he's ever said and therefore quite possibly plagiarised but he's certainly captured the horror of one thing at least - how deeply one feels the loss of a treasured watering hole.


More often than not these days local pubs are limping to their deaths via a series of turgid back 'n' forths in windowless government meeting rooms as opposed to exploding into flames, though the sentiment remains. Our locals define a neighbourhood, steeped as they are in liquor and lingo. When they've also played an important role in our musical history it only makes the bereavement more devastating.


And yet another one has left us, another solid little perfect corner shop of splintered music and barmaids with spectacular bosoms and dangerous sneers.

The glorious Tote hotel in Collingwood, Victoria has closed its doors for the last time, with beleaguered nominee Bruce Milne bowing out with shrugs and sighs. This time it's not even some po-faced inner city resident shaking a fist from their well-manicured balcony and complaining about the noise (move out of the f*cking city then, you twit) that has crippled the place, but a government helpless to control that pulsating, seething morass of testosterone Australian capital cities fondly refer to as 'Saturday night'.

As ruddy men in Ed Hardy t-shirts while away languid weekend evenings in the CBD merrily shattering pint glasses into each others' faces, those in charge are responding the only way they know how: by penalising live music venues whose crowds consist mostly of sticky-limbed music nerds and one local drooling barfly who knows all the words to Dylan's 'Hurricane'.

It's a quick fix, and an idiotic one, like trying to reign in Japanese whalers by marching down to St. Kilda wharf and punching a fisherman in the face. I do hope Victorian Premier John Brumby feels as though justice has been served at last with such a particularly butch and vacuous solution. Perhaps he could celebrate with a mince tart and a nice cold glass of Ribena, the chump.

The Tote hotel was never the prettiest of venues - in fact for the most part it was a stinking, sweaty bitch mistress, luring blinking punters in off Johnston Street with the promise of grubby sex in the toilets and twelve-minute guitar solos, and propelling them back out into the night with bleeding ear drums and the sort of blossoming liver problems once enjoyed by a young and wild-eyed Oliver Reed.

I loved it, helplessly, and was inextricably linked to the place through myriad channels - deep-set family connections, an abode I once resided in three doors down where late at night you could hear the speed metal bands rehearsing, and a long and involved music-obsessed adolescence spent variously staring up at the stage or dodging a lead singer's erratic strands of saliva.

I fell in love while the jukebox played Television's 'Marquee Moon', staggered around the speaker stack wearing a moth-eaten showgirl outfit, and watched the future husband of my best friend projectile vomit in front of an oddly impressed crowd.

Like anywhere that serves as a regular meeting place in one's early twenties it was the joint where we all got happily pissed and manhandled each other on the sticky carpet. And now it has been dragged to its death by tepid bureaucracy and a few rather dull scuffles over money. Nobody ever pulled out knives at the Tote, nobody pawed intrusively at passing women - AFL players weren't usually allowed in, anyway.

There will be recriminations on both sides of course, and finger pointing, and lengthy, smarmy form letters from local MP's who are 'deeply sorry' and 'aware of disappointment' and 'relaying my views, your concerns, and the concerns of the many others who have written to me today, to my colleague Tony Robinson MP, Minister for Consumer Affairs'.

In the end, does it do any good? Young men will continue to be knocked down to their deaths on cigarette-stained footpaths outside lairy nightclubs and one by one the damp, dark, unassuming live music venues where the most violent acts play out onstage between consenting adults will be quietly packed away and left behind. And eventually, state governments will no longer be able to swing their dicks around about which city has the most thriving arts scene, because there will no longer be any.

I'll miss the front bar of the Tote. The gaffa-taped barstools and the languid gazes across the pool table and that revolting, damp sensation of sodden elbows when ordering a round.

I'll miss sitting in my front window and watching the parade of beery rock 'n' roll types peacefully lurching down Wellington street on their way home.

But most of all I'll miss the chapter of time that the Tote hotel will forever possess within its walls - the piss, the pain, the boners, the lewd and bawdy celebration of a wild, musical youth.


And in years to come I suspect I will awaken from many a deep sleep with strands of those memories slipping through my fingers like the wind.

4 comments:

dam buster said...

Fingers crossed it can re-open with a new licensee and continue the good work.

Margarita Milonguita said...

For sure. We won't be going there for much longer but the generation of kids that care about music and community need those places.

dam buster said...

yep. There has to be a venue that can cater for the smaller crowds. Venues like the Northcote social club cater more for 200 than 50 punters.

Margarita Milonguita said...

Places like the NSC and The Corner already have security guards so they are fine for now. The thing is, they don't really cater for up and coming bands. We need places like the Tote and the Arty for bands to get a start.