It’s been a long life, lots longer than I thought I’d make it through. I ain’t dead yet but I can smell the flowers all around me where I live–frangipani, tuberose, gardenia, night-blooming jasmine and ginger–almost like a funeral parlor in my foyer. I’m just turning 65 and start collecting the wonderful Australian pension I am entitled to, taking the time to look back on a small part of the past five years since I sold all my businesses in the music industry (save one), sold the house/office as my 17 year wife Lisa and I divorced. For those friends and acquantances of mine that don’t follow Facebook (or do) or may have lost touch, here’s a sort of progress report from Phil On The Hill.
Transitioning to a totally new life on the side of a tall hill overlooking the ocean with just a parrot for a companion has been a rebirth of me over the past half decade and been the most rewarding of my life. Unlike Byron Bay which we call ‘Darlinghurst North’, our community of Coffs Harbour is neither trendy nor hip, not attracting music biz people as they drive through. Yet it’s only a 45 minute flight or six hour drive from Sydney, though I rarely go there anymore.
My days now begin at about 4:30 am when I awaken to the wrist buzz of the Pebble watch, roll over in the dark to see what kind of dawn to expect and take my blood pressure to make sure I’m still alive. I squeeze a fresh lemon or lime from the trees out front and mount a recumbent exercise bicycle with an iPod on shuffle and a set of Bose headphones and get up to speed as a waterfall of black bats comes over The Hill from behind and cascade over the house on their way hoe. . For the next hour perched behind a bay window overlooking the town lights, ocean horizon and gradually lightening skies, I pedal against a computer and dismount only for a minute maybe three times to snap a picture of every gorgeous bit of twilight or sunrise before it’s coffee time and parrot breakfast prep.
Coffs Harbour is a large town, not a small city–halfway between Sydney and Brisbane–in an alluring microclimate on the North Coast of the Pacific where the Australian Dividing Range that starts in Queensland finally touches the water and then loops around for another 30 kilometres or so and forms a bowl that makes this a little subtropical paradise. I see high hills to the North, mountains behind me, a koala reserve directly behind me, a banana plantation adjoining, national park forest to the right down the hill with the village splayed out in front down a few acres.
It can get really windy up here, the rains can be powerful, but the lush landscape makes up for it and I have an amazing view over the town for a few kilometres before the sea shows its colours, sunrises paint the skies pastel and blues of all hues serve as the palette for clouds of all types. My nearest neighbour is 50 metres down the hill, a pair of charismatic (read nutty and bitter) Christians who seem to hate everything, especially me. The husband drives a concrete truck all week and take what little home time he has dressed in long pants and a heavy flouro shirt with goggles and and ear protectors, swaying back and forth, buzzing his weed whacker along the grass to keep it trimmed. Probably ten hours a week like Sisyphus, rolling the rock up the hill only to have it fall down to be rolled again. They’ve already mounted strenuous objections to my privacy signs which say “IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH? TRESPASS HERE AND FIND OUT!”
But I have the luxury of living out of sight from them and earshot too as I play music all day, every day. Loud up here with three linked stereo systems but only a whisper down there when the wind carries the 100,000 tunes in rotation. However they do object to my getting the property slashed five times a year by tractor probably because it’s the lazy way to manicure pastureland. He rides his mower like Sisyphus.
I moved here on my sixtieth birthday and have never looked back to the large compound we luxuriated within for over a decade in the trendy inner-west suburb of Newtown. No beggars up here in town, no squeegees chasing cars and a happy lack of hipsters with face furniture and Celtic tatts or carved beards. I was lucky back then. I sold my media interests–AustralAsian Music Industry Directory in print and online and website TheMusic.com.au as an industry portal–for a decent fortune just before the print publishing industry collapsed and online sites became penny-a-pound. I’d done my forty years in the music industry (well documented in a separate section of this site at HIStory). From early days on the road as a sound roadie for Hanley Audio, through stage managing the Who Dat of Negro artists of the 70s, tour managing for promoters, and finally emigrating to Australia to escape Ronald Reagan and Republicans, I’d carved out a niche in the media arena as a mini-mogul in the music biz. I had a small conglomerate of online data-drug dealing and information addiction that cast a wide net to both industry titans and wannabes.
They were taken over by the lovely Brothers Treweek of StreetPress Australia who already had a national network of free music newspapers and a drive or zeal that propelled them to the top of music print media. But their fortunes in that doomed sector soon lagged as print media went the way of physical recordings, newspapers became an anachronism and all eyeballs that counted were tallied online. . Over the years I watched the directory go offline, abandon its app, lose a lot of content such as the Artist section and a lot of listings go stale. Twenty years of music business news and columns disappeared in one click as they changed servers one night and wondered where all that irretrievable content and links had gone the next morning. The Music Business Books area soon died and they never tried to produce events like the AustralAsian Music Business Conference which had become an every-other-year must go affair. I wasn’t really that fussed as it was like a bike I had sold off. If the new owner didn’t know how to ride it, I couldn’t do it for them.
I let my staff go gently, giving each one an iMac or Mac Pro as tools for their future and found a job for my head-mistress of the office where she is still working today. They could all get great jobs with the references I gave them and I’m proud of having worked with them. Me, I couldn’t get a gig if my life depended on it at my age despite having survived the biz for 40 years. I decided to embrace the country lifestyle, learn how to grow things, rip a few thousand vinyl albums and CDS into my server, try not to kill too many plants up here and attract wildlife instead of living a wild life.
But I was happy to let go of the daily tizz of the music biz and wisely kept my company structure to be the Australian, New Zealand and Hawaiian representative for South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festivals & Conferences which I’d done up to that point for nearly ten years. Having previously been the Pacific Rim representative of MIDEM for a decade and New Music Seminar before that, it gave me a reason to travel each year to Austin on my way to other discoveried destinations.
When I started in 2002, the previous agent had only managed to attract five bands, no stands, no ads and 20 delegates of which 12 were comps since no one then believed in the event on this side of the Pond. Every year thereafter IMMEDIA! just about doubled the numbers of bands performing and delegates paying to attend, adding lots of stands, ads and extra value, government assistance and industry support. But we also built up the Interactive and Film components coming from so far away to the point we had 750 attendees in 2015 in Austin and 47 bands showcasing. 60% of the delegates were Interactive or Platinum (across all three shows) and SXSW was the biggest brand of overseas creative content festival or conference in our part of the world. Matter of fact, it’s the only major festival or conference that has an on-the-ground representative in Australia, of which I am quite proud and glad to be here in real time to facilitate veterans or first-timers.
But my yearly life did not revolve around SouthBy as I fondly called it. It gave me an excuse to go to the US and use Austin as my centre for a lot of side trips which was handy as I was writing a fair whack of travel article for News Ltd through my editor Peter Holmes (bless him), Rhythms Magazine and a few other publications or online sites. It also allowed me to treat my decives and technology addictions late in life.
Journey Journalism didn’t make me rich but it sure provided a superior way to trek around the globe in comfort with incredible perks. I wasn’t that ambitious so my writing tended towards the niche–music travel to various key cities, Hawaii over-easy over and over, The Big Easy of Nawlins and Cajun Country, trains, diving and islands. Part of the ride was in pursuit of the perfect pinot noir from New Zealand to various California terroirs and festivals as well as British Columbia and even Alaska. This year coming up, it’s Oregon.
With three six-week jaunts a year overseas, I naturally became a bit complacent about my health, especially when attending the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival became an annual event. From a 45 passenger private yacht cruising the Inside Passage of Alaska to the sands of Ka’anapali and Ko’Olina,I probably should have embraced more exercise as opposed to wading through the degustation menus.
I’ve embraced hammock-surfing on Tahiti, Bora Bora, Maui Kauai and the Big Island among others.
Over the years, I’ve visited the islands of Hawaii 75 times and must have been to New Orleans at least 50.
Key West is another hangout above the waves and the Gulf Stream below them.
And I’ve also researched horticultural trends in Denver though not to try them here.
But in between treks, home on The Hill became a gradually evolving farmette with my fascination with chilli peppers prompting me to plant about 20 different types. Cayenne, Thai, Jalapenos, Poblanos, Padrons, Shishitos, Anaheims, Habaneros, Scorpions, Bhut Jolokias and so many more. You can get an idea of the wide variety of chilli types at this site http://www.chilipeppermadness.com/chili-pepper-types. Right now, I’ve harvested my first ones of the season which will stretch to May and I can’t live without the chilli hit. With the variety of plants, it’s been a hit with the locals as well.
I was like a drug dealer to the local chefs and capsaicin addicts–feeding their needs with manicured peppers that were packed in shiny rows of vacuum-seal plastic bags, looking like so many multicoloured heads of dope. So much so that I was stopped by the police at an ATM when they were standing behind me and saw sleeves of what they thought was prime marijuana stuffed in my shoulder bag. Guns weren’t drawn, but I did consent to a search which bewildered and amused them before the whole thing was laughed off.
On the advice of my accountant, I had to think of ways to sell my crops other than in small lots to chefs at $40 a kilo. I couldn’t stomach the idea of having a market stall or dealing with general public so I came up with a distillate or infusion so to speak that resulted from a tsunami of four types of red peppers that all came at once–Caysun, Tabasco, Serrano, Birds Eyes and a little dash of Red Bhuts. It was a simple chilli oil made in a vat of 12 litres of rice bran oil and a few kilos of spotlessly dried crushed red chillis. Heated to 125 degrees and simmered for half an hour, the filtered result was tipped into 375 ml bottles with a single dried Cayenne, sealed and swing tagged.
Tripp’s Over The Hill Chilli Oil started out at local health food store Happy Frog, then got retail traction in Fresco, Gourmand Ingredient, IGA Stores, Mother Nature and a hipster butcher. My ex wife even sold it at her market stall in Sydney where she was vending artisanal dog treats and mutt muffins. At one point, I set up a stand myself at the local Sawtell Chilli Festival outside my butcher on Main Street and sold cases of it but couldn’t stand dealing with idiots. Once again, not ambitious enough and though sales were good, I had to stop making it for a year as I was inhaling chilli dust and aggravating an emphysema condition that I had probably contracted due to cigarette smoking.
I also had to put Austin on hold for a year as I gradually contracted a virulent allergy to a juniper which an endemic pest in South Texas, the malady known as Cedar Fever though it had nothing to do with Cedar and was more like a bad bronchitis and hacking cough. One year at SXSW, I got pneumonia, the next, I ripped a muscle in my chest from violent coughing and the final year I was bedridden for nearly a week in the hotel–no way to enjoy Austin. So last year, my medical team advised me not to go and the SXSW team understood since many of them had also contracted the ailment due to long term exposure to the pollen.
Having never had an allergy, I was knocked around badly to the point that I could barely breathe coming back on the plane to Sydney. I couldn’t make chilli oil unless I donned a double respirator maskwhich made me look like Breaking Bad’s Walter White and made the House on The Hill look suspiciously like the ideal meth lab. On top of that, I was deteriorating physically and had to do something about it.
That came on New Year’s Day US time when I noticed some funny things happening, like I couldn’t make sense talking and walked drunkenly in the house. Feeling suddenly exhausted and disoriented, I did the wrong thing and could have died from it–lay down and rest. The stroke I was experiencing put me out but I was lucky enough to be awakened by a phone call from my neighbour down the hill who sensed something wrong. Jenn came up to see me and hear my voice and deduced that I needed to go to hospital and she drove me there.
Long story short, one day in the stroke ward, scared witless but determined to get out as fast as I can and then a month of rehab. Stroke rehab, not substance. Speech therapy to regain my oral skills which included picking out individual seeds of passionfruit one at a time with my tongue and walking the beach and foreshores at dawn vocalising tongue-twisters. That walking turned into a daily hour at dawn and saw me slowly gain back mobility and balance.
It also gave me a new lease on life so I planned a reward of a trip to the US and Hawaii in late March and got the medical clearance for it. Hawaii, Phoenix/Sedona. Savannah, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco and back to Hawaii for a two month trek. I wasn’t going to let this slow me down at this time of life nor prevent me from travelling.
Miracles can happen and I am now feeling healthier and fitter than I have in ten years and it’s off for another Tripp’s trip in a few months.