Declan Greene: The Hessians and I

 In Podcast transcripts, Queerstories

Transcript:

Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. If you’re new to Queerstories, welcome. Please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Head out to your local bookseller to buy the Queerstories book, and enjoy listening to this incredible archive of stories by LGBTQI+ Australians.

Declan Greene is a theatre-maker and Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company. He was previously the Resident Artist at Malthouse Theatre. He’s a prolific playwright whose work has been produced across Australia, Europe, the US, and the UK, and he’s won countless awards for his writing. He’s also a director and dramaturg, and alongside Ash Flanders, Declan co-runs queer independent theatre company, Sisters Grimm. He performed this story in Melbourne in February 2019.

 

So, I think doing inspirational coming of age stories in the context of a night like this are quite gauche, so I decided instead I’d do a really uninspirational queer coming of age story, which I’m genuinely blushing at the idea of telling you. So, here we go. 

*Audience laughs* 

I’m from the country. I moved from South-East Gippsland to Melbourne at the age of 18, and pretty much all my expectations of city living came from the book He Died With A Felafel In His Hand. 

*Audience laughs* 

I imagined this very glamorous life ahead of me, all piss-stained mattresses and heroin overdoses, and just unbridled punk faggotry. And, I could not wait. But, in reality, I had no idea where to find any of these things. And soon found myself living in the residences at Melbourne University. Ormond College. I’m so sorry.

*Audience laughs* 

It’s a halfway house for rich bored jocks, and one of the steps between Scotch College and a job at their father’s law firm, which they retire with, and a few mil’ of super at the age of 32. I hated them, and they hated me. I left at the age of 20, very prematurely embittered, and determined to find my people in this city. This moment came sooner than I thought. I was on the dancefloor a club called Pony at 3 A.M. when the music cut out and there was a loud cheer. Someone gripped my arm, “Oh, my god! It’s Endless!” I said, “Who’s Endless?” “You don’t know Endless? Oh, my god. Watch.”

A greasy-looking man with a bowl-cut, around my age, took to the stage in pair of stained overall-shorts. Without saying a word, he started shaking a maraca and, with no other accompaniment, sang a 30-second song about his own body odour. 

My pits are crusty,” he sang, “Live for my stench!” 

I was embarrassed for him, watching this car-crash through my fingers, but then it ended and the crowd went wild. Hitting a drum, Endless started what I assumed to be the next… song? “Boys… Boys… Boys. Boys-boys-boys-boys-boys-boys-boys-boys. Boys.” It ended to another huge round of applause. ‘Thanks,” he said. “That song was called Boys.” 

*Audience laughs* 

That same person gripped my arm again, “Isn’t he amazing?!I did not think that he was amazing. I was a highly emotional poetry-writing 20-year-old homosexual from Warragul. By my understanding of music, nothing short of Tori Amos was amazing. 

*Audience laughs* 

If you weren’t writhing on a piano stool in a red-fright wig, I wasn’t interested. But all these people – these cool, cool people – were was in raptures over this sweaty, untalented homosexual. Why?After the show, I saw him at the bar, and before I knew what I was doing I’d sidled up beside him and, bristling with fury, the words exploded out of my mouth: “Oh, my god. That was amazing.” 

*Audience laughs* 

I soon found that Endless had a Myspace page, and delved into the world of his Myspace Top Eight, clicking through profile after profile. And by a slow process of investigation, I built a detailed, forensic portrait of he and his friends; this group of people I apparently loathed.  There were about 20 of them who had met at the VCA, all studying Fine Arts. Some of them still made art, but more of them were in weird half joke-bands, playing instruments such as loop pedal, clapping stick, and opening and closing an umbrella. They all dressed the same as him: Op-shop cast-offs with a thin layer of slime.

My best friend Ash christened them The Hessians, and, finding them just as ridiculous as I, he started accompanying me to Hessian shows. I would stand, sipping a beer, studiously not-talking to them while secretly desperate that they would talk to me, which, of course, they never did. Ash would ask me repeatedly, “Okay, but what do you actually want from them?” And, in truth, I really didn’t know. 

Months passed of this stand-off. I should add that this stand-off was entirely one-sided. And then I met David, an extremely beautiful, balding Hessian, with an ironic mohawk that was also a combover. 

*Audience laughs* 

He was to be my In to their world. As David’s date, I went to dinner parties at the centre of the Hessian World; an enormous warehouse squat in Brunswick. We ate the finest dumpster-dived cuisine; sautéed vegetables and a cloudy bag of flat-bread, fermented in the heat of the bin. 

*Audience laughs and groans* 

“And people throw this stuff out!” I would laugh, hoping it would endear me to them, as we bit into pieces of soft, yellowing broccoli. It was all so awful. I hated these people, but I was in absolute heaven. My acceptance as David’s boyfriend was begrudging. By now, I’d dyed my hair black and curated an inch of sad, brown regrowth. I’d started wearing supermarket runners and stopped wearing deodorant. But the Hessians knew I wasn’t like them, and they knew I knew I wasn’t like them, and somehow, this made me even crazier. I’d rant about them all the time. All the time. Pulling apart and eviscerating David’s friendship group to anyone who listened. My friends, my family, David. 

He’d be giving me a handjob and I’d find myself monologuing about his best friend James’ latest gig-

*Audience laughs*

… and how the music was, “Like, okay, I guess, but actually, if you’re going to rip-off Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, like, just rip-off Teenage Jesus and the Jerks! Like, don’t do covers of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, like, not this watered-down Neau Wave bullshit with a bad Flock of Seagulls with no talent, like, no talent! These are covered in a thin layer of slime and… “ Never realising that in the meantime he’d jerked himself off, rolled over and gone to sleep.

*Audience laughs*

Within a few weeks, he had broken up with me, and really it was remarkable he lasted that long, given I was very clearly a psychopath.

There was perhaps another year of this nonsense before I decided, for some reason, it was time to get my… revenge on the Hessians. 

*Audience laughs*

Though, really, what did revenge look like when you’re talking about people who literally eat garbage? They had nothing to lose. But I decided I was going to lay it all on the line, like, really let them know what I thought of them once and for all. And the medium I chose for this declaration of war was student theatre. 

*Audience laughs*

To my mind, this was the perfect approach. The Hessians hated theatre. They would never be so gauche as to see a play, no mind a student one. I could rant and rant about them all I liked without the risk of them actually hearing it or seeing it. So, I set to work on my De Profundis; a two-act, two-hour fictionalisation of their lives. No detail was spared: Their inane catchphrases, their terrible music, their stupid, ironic fashion. The actors in the show loved hearing about the Hessians. Unlike my friends, they didn’t roll their eyes and groan in boredom every time I mentioned them. They wanted to hear about these people. After all, they had to build their character histories. The actor playing Endless would pull me aside, “Hey, what should I do with my facial hair?” 

“Well, Endless did have an ironic soul-patch for two months around mid-July 2005, but he didn’t play that many shows around that time, so it might not really resonate as a classic Endless look, you know?” 

*Audience laughs*

Incredibly, the show was a triumph. It sold out and people turned up in droves to scream with laughter at these hipsters on stage; me amongst them laughing the loudest. Then, one night, just before the end of the season, I got a message from a Hessian, named Amy: “Hey! Coming to your show tonight, bringing some friends! See you there honeybunch, mwah!”

My vision fuzzed-out and my throat closed over. I had the taste of hot shit in my mouth. 

*Audience laughs*

I wrote back with trembling hands, “Oohhhh! Coool!!!”

In my bedroom at home, I watched as the clock reached 7:30. The show was starting. They were sitting that audience, watching it. I wondered, what form of reprisal would the Hessians enact? Would it be a text message? A vicious Livejournal entry? Would they put my photo in MS Paint and spray-paint dicks around it, like current blogging sensation Perez Hilton?

*Audience laughs*

The show ended. And I heard nothing from Amy, not that day or the day after, or the day after. On the fourth day, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I wrote to Amy to see how she liked the show. The reply: “Ahh sorry, we didn’t make it. Lol.”

*Audience laughs*

Relief flooded through my body. Relief, and then… anger? Like, what? They were just going to blow off my work like that? Did they think they were better than me? How fucking dare they?

*Audience laughs*

I wish I could say this was a moment of epiphany or self-awareness but it wasn’t. I kept watching their Myspace profiles, I kept listening to their music on Bandcamp, and boring people with my opinions on it. But then I moved to London to become a successful playwright and got a job at the illustrious Dominion Theatre… as an usher on We Will Rock You. 

*Audience laughs*

And over a year, tens of thousands of miles away, the Hessians faded from my imagination. I hadn’t thought of them for a long time until recently I went to do a trial with a personal trainer in Brunswick, and realised that the gym was in the shell of an old warehouse that used to be the Hessian squat. 

I mentioned this to a friend who knew the Hessians as well, and they told me that it was never actually a squat. Apparently it was owned by one of the Hessians’ fathers. They were all just living there rent-free. Even later, I found out that the guy David, the one I’d dated, his father lived in a yacht. And it was incredible, because for all my obsession, all my deep, deep craziness over the Hessians, in truth, they were the same as the kids I’d lived with for two years at the halls of Ormond College. Only those rich kids had the decency not to pretend they were poor and greasy and eating garbage. And, in that moment, I felt it, the answer to Ash’s question from all those years ago, finally. The thing that I actually wanted from the Hessians all along, the thing I never realised I wanted… I felt a sense of goddamn superiority. 

*Audience laughs*

Thank you.

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