This eighteen minute music theatre performance piece is the third release from James's recently rediscovered, previously unreleased, archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
Inspired by a cartoon cut from the back page of a 1974 edition of the Nation Review magazine, the early 70's cinema popularity of the films of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, a time when art house cinemas regularly re-ran Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, when opportunity shop worlds provided approximations of the 1920s and '30s fashions of The Great Gatsby and Bonnie and Clyde, James created a cycle of song, poem and spoken word that portrays and questions the dreams forged by nostalgia for a time...any time...before the one we live in now...whenever 'now' may be.
"I really don't know where this came from exactly, from which muse. It puzzles me still. People did seem to like it though. Anyway, in '74 I lived in Brisbane for a while, the Bjelke-Peterson years, we got raided regularly by the drug squad looking for marihuana, visited by travelers on the hippy trails to Nimbin and North Queensland, and in there somewhere I found this cartoon by the film-maker, Garry Patterson, of a down-at-heel tramp staring at the moon through a window...and below the broken floor, in space, what seemed to be the earth floating below. Melancholy...romantic...other worldly...I loved it. So I cut it out, stuck it on the wall. It's fragile now but I still have that original page. Somehow it triggered the Property Master. I wrote a few lines in Brisbane, already had a poem I'd written in Canberra early that autumn, wrote the rest in Sydney later in the year, September, October, recorded it in one take in Canberra in December '74, when it was still very new. I think it was recorded in the morning because, to me, the opening movement sounds like I'm still waking up....which amuses me because I always thought of this suite as a nocturne.... a music suite written to be played early in the evening, evoking the night and nighttime things...but what it really evokes for me now are those old, soft, autumn and spring nights in inner city Sydney when I owned only one pair of shoes...."
But The Property Master and the Moon is not only a poetic meditation rooted in ideas about fashion, cultural politics and the mysteries of dreams and the imagination. It is also an evocation of the idea of the moon itself...and the ways in which poets and other artists and thinkers are drawn to its force.
In his poem, The Phases of the Moon, a meditation on the tidal power he believed the moon exerts over humanity, W.B. Yeats has the character, Robartes say:
Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,
Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
For there's no human life at the full or the dark....
Through a dialogue between two men walking a rural landscape at night Yeats explores the idea that our physical existence grows with the new moon, peaks at the full moon (the fifteenth phase) and then decreases until it disappears into the next new moon....
At the time of writing The Property Master and the Moon, James was interested in the related idea that although we may be physically, emotionally and spiritually affected by the changing moon, our lack of awareness of the moon in our lives, caused by other imposed cultural schedules: work, school, family and so-on, leaves us unaware of its potential power to significantly shape us, sometimes in a harmonious way, but often, instead, through discord and confusion which we find unknowable and therefore unsolvable.
In James's nocturne the title character welcomes a young traveler, the only audience to arrive at the box office that night, to a fading theatre company entrepreneured by the moon. But the only performance on offer is an impromtu extemporized one from the Property Master...a Beckett-like character who must stand in for the moon while she is away following her new passion for creating dystopian tableau on the real stage, the place we call 'the world'.
So the newly met companions, two stranded figures from some other, eternal theatre, sit down on broken chairs lit by abandoned footlights and the Property Master muses on the moon's vengeful creations and descent from grace, on the tides of human passions and desires, wonders if it would make any difference if a silver screen matinee star could intervene, and invites the young traveler to consider the power of such dreams, and the moon, to shape our lives.
This inspired and poetic solo music theatre performance piece was a constant part of James's live repertoire from 1974 until mid 1976. In a style usually associated with theatre, it was unusual and unexpected in the pubs, wine-bars and coffee shops of the time. And, spanning eighteen seamless minutes of speaking and singing over a variety of guitar parts, it required focus and concentration from both audience and performer...but somehow it worked....
The Property Master and the Moon is available from James's Store
The complete work is available digitally as one single 18 minute track from Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Deezer, Pandora, YouTube Music, Tidal, Groove Music (Microsoft)