Pucks, like life, can bounce randomly. Ask Rodriguez

It’s been a patchy couple of weeks, in terms of hockey. The NHL lock-out rolls endlessly on, with occasional flares of optimism that a deal will get done and hockey will be played but then, no, everybody walks off in a huff, like schoolkids fighting over marbles.

I’ve been reduced to watching documentaries about Detroit. A few weeks ago, I watched the mesmeric Detropia, and last night Chloe and I finally hit the Nova to see Searching for Sugar Man, an astonishing and moving documentary about Rodriguez, who you, like the rest of the world, had probably never heard of before this film. Strangely, I had, because of one of my more ridiculous little-known hobbies. It goes like this: sometimes, on a whim, I march into Polyester or one of my other favourite music stores, on a mission. The challenge is to choose a CD or vinyl album that I have never heard of, that purely attracts me on the day. It might be cover art or the name of the band or who knows what “Use the Force, Luke” factor that draws me to it.

I can only choose one.

I can never have heard of the band.

It’s a hobby that has clearly led to some horrible mistakes. There are definitely vinyl albums and CDs sitting on my shelf that have had only earned one or maybe two optimistic listens. (A copy of Fourtet’s “There is love in you” double vinyl album is going way cheap if anybody is interested) but not as many disasters as you’d think, and the wins can be huge. The Herbaliser’s “Same As It Never Was” CD probably remains my single greatest triumph of this game, although local artist Matt Bailey’s first album “The Three I’s” is a rival for Best Ever. (A graphic designer friend of mine, who turned out to have designed the art for a Bailey follow-up album, when I looked at the liner notes, said to me, in amazement: “How did you discover Matt Bailey??” Hopefully sales have picked up. For a down low night at home, it’s up there with Massive Attack.) Other honourable mentions go to The Two Things In One (Together Forever – The Music City Sessions; back cover pic won me) and Delta Swamp Rock (vinyl – the sheer name and the photo of two dweebs sitting awkwardly in a picnic area as the cover shot. How could I not?)

Yes, this back cover photo convinced me to buy an album. I never said the game was smart, or sophisticated. But really, how could you not want to hear this band?

So one day, playing this game, I wandered around a shop on the corner of Gertrude and George Street and stumbled upon a CD, “Cold Fact” by some guy called Rodriguez. It was clearly very old … late Sixties or Seventies old. He was pictured, cross-legged, in big dark glasses and a hat, as though floating.

Dunno. Looking at it now it’s an unremarkable cover. One track, “Sugar Man”, rang a bell but not one that I could isolate and identify. I honestly don’t know why I chose it. There’s every chance it was the title of a song more often known as “The Establishment Blues”. Its full title is: “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues”.

Yeah, actually, that would have won me for sure. Where’s my wallet?

Back in the car, I slotted the CD and Sugar Man, and The Establishment Blues justified the money on their own. Rodriguez went into rotation on my iPad and life moved along. You know, the usual … I worked, I fell in and out of love, I bought other CDs with varying degrees of success, my dog and I grew older, I started playing hockey, I finished a novel, I swam with manta rays, I went to America with my boys, I saw the Red Wings live (but not win). I fell in love again … Rodriguez was part of the soundtrack.

And then this doco came out and the story is mind-blowing. Go see it. I openly cried. If you’re a creative type, it’s the ultimate bittersweet fairytale. Which is quite an achievement for a film that explains before the opening credits that Rodriguez, a commercial musical failure, reportedly died when he poured petrol on himself, on stage, and set himself alight.

But guess where the mystery man, Rodriguez, came from? Yep, good old Detroit. Straight out of the opening credits, I’m looking at a helicopter shot of the city, and having been there a year ago, I was easily able to spot the unglamorous blocky shape of the Joe Louis Arena by the Detroit River. Even better, Chloe (who a year ago may never have heard of ice hockey) squeezed my hand when somebody walked past a shop window with a poster celebrating various Red Wing Stanley Cup championships.

Even if you’re not a Wings fan or an increasingly passionate Detroitophile like me, it’s a brilliant doco.

But that’s as close to the Red Wings as I’ve been able to get lately. Detroit stars are scattered across Europe or training listlessly at minor rinks, waiting for the lock-out to end. The 2012-13 season shrinks and is probably gone. No Datsyuk magic in the winged wheel for another year? Fuck. Although Dats is having fun, making the best players in the top professional league in Russia look like development leaguers up against Lliam Webster:

(Thanks to Zak Wookie for that link)

Luckily, half a world away, on Melbourne ice rinks, hockey is being played, and sometimes by me.

In Rec D, my team lost 7-1 but then won 2-0 over the past fortnight. I missed the loss, because I was making sandcastles at Lorne, which might possibly endanger my claims for Devoted Team Player of the Year.

In between, we had a strangely listless two hours of dev league on the Wednesday night; one of those nights where players were flat-footed, waiting for the puck to come to them, not powering up and down the ice. I was probably as guilty as anybody, it was just a night where mojo was missing, although I did wake up sore the next day, which is always a good sign I’ve skated hard, and I did manage a goal – my third in four games.

The best thing was that when I woke the next morning with my usual Thursday morning hockey hangover, I was unexpectedly aware that I had made a surprise breakthrough in my hockey learning.

I had spent the night, especially the second game, determined to “own the puck”. As in, if it was there on my wing, I was going to win it. There are many better skaters than me in dev league; many better puck-handlers or more experienced players. But that’s what is great about dev league. It’s training, it’s learning, it’s not entirely about the scoreboard, even if we pretend it is. So I  didn’t back off when I would normally think, ‘Oh, that guy’s good; he’ll beat me to it/win it,’; I better go into defensive mode early. Instead, I kept charging. And the shock was that I won a share of pucks. Not always, obviously, but enough that it reminded me all over again how much easier hockey is and how the puck comes to you, when you take this attitude, instead of feeling, in the back of your mind, that you’re somehow making up the numbers. It’s the same in footy, probably the same in most sports. Confidence and commitment leads to good results.

Maybe it’s the fact I’ve managed a few goals lately? Maybe it’s false confidence? Maybe I’m delusional?

I don’t care. It’s been working and tomorrow night, when dev league cranks up again, and this weekend, against the Ice Wolves, I’m looking for that puck.

And after that? As Rodriguez sang, I’ll slip away.

Why do I play hockey? Ask the laddergoat.

“Why do you play hockey?”

I get asked that a lot. Why hockey?

Yesterday, I walked blinking into the sun after watching the documentary, Detropia, about the death and potential rebirth of Detroit.

As I left Fed Square, still in that post-cinema zone-out, a woman crossed my path who had blood pouring from both sides of her mouth. Her skin was deathly pale. She had a severed human hand on a chain around her neck. Her partners, also with blood-stained faces, and blood-rimmed eyes, were chatting, waiting for the light to change. Cops directed traffic, not even glancing at the trio.

By Spring Street, the pedestrians had changed into the standard bridal couples near the Parliament House steps, and three people in purple and green costumes, with some kind of flower attachments, including a huge hanging flower suspended from the purple guy’s head.

At the Exhibition Buildings, dozens of the most magnificent vintage and veteran cars were queued up, waiting to hit Nicholson Street. Chargers, Holdens, Porsches, too many brands and shapes and sizes for me to know or care about, but I’d wished I’d been driving the Karmann Ghia, to be briefly among them.


In Detropia, an artist talks about moving to Detroit, because he was able to buy a loft apartment – a really good one – for $25,000, and to keep a studio nearby for his art. He and his girlfriend are pictured, wearing golden spray-painted gas masks, and he in a suit and tie, the tie with a big gold dollar sign, standing by a Detroit freeway with a sign: “Give us all your money $


Motown locals, who tend to be no-bullshit people, are shown frowning and staring out the car windows, and eventually one female passenger yells: “What the fuck? I mean what the fuck?”

It seems a fair question.

Meanwhile, a Detroit opera singer walks through the city’s empty decaying Grand Central station, practicing his vocal range.

Not a single mention of the Red Wings hockey team, which was disappointing. Opera instead of hockey as an expression of Detroit? Even more random. Or maybe just symbolic given the stupid NHL lock-out, a rich people’s game, which is depriving Detroit’s passionate fans of their team, of some escapism from their lives.

On Saturday night, my hockey team won 7-0 over an inexperienced and undermanned Sharks outfit, in Summer League Rec D. I played ok – managed to get two assists while falling back into bad habits like inside edge skating, legs too far apart, and not keeping two hands on my stick. Although, looking at Jess Hough’s pictures from the game, I might be being too harsh … my feet are moving in most shots. Anyway, that’s the great thing about team sport. It’s about something bigger than just you and your form. I walked into our locker room, where the Philadelphia Flyers’ favourite post-victory song, ‘Knock Knock (Let ‘Em In)’, was already pumping. Everybody excited, happy but without the urgency and adrenalin of our first ever game, a 4-2 win over the Ice Wolves team the week before. I felt I had lacked fluency in the game, spending too long between shifts on the bench, not getting my legs moving, but found other ways to contribute, whether delivering my now trademark passes to the slot, or upper-body duke-outs with the goalie and defenders (ended up flat on my back at one point – big defender), and providing a screen to release a teammate for a goal at one stage. Victory was good.

Whipping a pass to the slot, against the Sharks. Pic: Jess PowerHough

I was cheered off the ice by Australia’s No 1 Kylie Minogue impersonator, an unlikely Facebook friend, Red Wing fan and skating enthusiast who’d shown up to watch after reading my many hockey posts on Facebook or the blog. She told me about being in Las Vegas last year, riding a taxi through the desert to an ice rink in Las Vegas – one most of the locals wouldn’t even know existed. In the desert??? Buying skates crazy cheap and zooming around the ice in that mad city. Random.

Reading the paper overnight, two stories caught my eye. One was about a woman who was bludgeoned to death in her own home a while ago; the same house which has now been robbed and her ashes stolen. Her grieving family, not unreasonably, called a press conference to say: WTF? In New York, a cop has been charged with aiming to torture, kill and eat women of that city.

On Saturday night, Big Cat and I walked into Carlton, not known as a sea port, to hockey player and gad about town Brendan Parson’s birthday drinks at a pub with a seafaring theme. Pictures of potential Moby Dick cast members on the wall, guys posing next to massive fish. So random.

Then the next day, I found myself literally walking on street art bees scattered on the tarmac of the Fed Square car park. That night I surfed Foxtel’s random selection of shows about people hunting pigs, or killer tuna, or running a Detroit pawn broking shop (“Hardcore Pawn” – look it up. Oh boy) or being judged for their looks or dancing or singing or anything else that can potentially humiliate them for other people’s entertainment. As I channel surfed, a couple of kilometers away, at the top of Brunswick Street, in the secret, secure part of St Vincent’s hospital, reached via a tunnel, in the specialist ward for hardcore prisoners, the guy accused of killing a young Irish woman in Brunswick recently was being treated after reportedly trying to take his own life. I tried to imagine the weeks so far in his jail cell. Faced with the randomness and pointlessness and horror of the crime? Nowhere to hide. On the news, it was mentioned that a strange multi-murder in Switzerland had finally been found to have links to Saddam Hussein. Say, huh? As I type, a super storm is moving in on New York City, for the second time in two years and this one is looking to be even bigger and faster and nastier. My friend, Chelsea, having just arrived there in time to meet a hurricane.

Randomness swirling all around me. So many angles to the world.

Chloé and I ride our bikes down Brunswick Street on a Sunday night and a woman rides the other way, in a pink dress, with leaves and jewels and I can’t work out if her painted face is supposed to be fairy or Halloween, hippie or just because? On Facebook, a friend Jay is despondent because he didn’t shoot well over the weekend, dressed in full armour and charging around a semi-pro paintball arena. Fake killing anything that moved. Something he is very good at. Another random way to spend a weekend.

So many threads and interests and people doing crazy shit or following strange passions and urges and needs and thrills and causes and strands.

And I walk among it all, watching, laughing, sighing, horrified, ecstatic, unmoved and delighted.

You ask why do I play hockey, here in Melbourne, half a world away from anything resembling frozen lakes and Canadian winter?

Well, shit, it’s a random world.

Why the hell not?

(Anybody wondering what the laddergoat had to do with this post should watch the first four minutes of this video.)