I don’t know exactly when it was that I fell in love with John. I think it was sometime around 1999 – about the same moment that he met his wife who I recently fell in love with, too.
Back then, though, long before I accidentally met the love of his life at a Blues Fest show, I lived in the same place as he did. I can’t remember if I saw him on the streets of Fremantle or not. My memory says that I did, but I also am aware that my memories can be deviously deceptive and I also am prone to fits of gross exaggeration.
Whether I saw him on the street or not, it didn’t take long before I was telling everyone who would listen about him, which for someone like me was a very odd turn of events. You see, I didn’t consider myself to be a big fan of anyone. Not even my boyfriend at the time.
Over the course of my adult life, I could give and take almost anything. The All Blacks? I have to admit (I know it is sacrilege to admit this as a Kiwi) but I could never truly understand what the fuss was all about. Well unless Richie McCaw was playing but that attraction has to do with a very different set of balls. Ditto cricket or pretty much any sport whatsoever. I didn’t even have a favourite movie or author (until I was introduced to Hunter S Thompson that is) back then. And then I was introduced to John and I finally became a fan of someone other than myself.
Nearly 15 years later I still can’t put my finger on why it was him out of all the people that I had encountered in my life that turned me into a fan. I’m sure part of it was because he was rebelliously independent and I could appreciate such a mindset. I’d always been much more Sex Pistols than Duran Duran after all.
I’m also fairly confident that part of the attraction was his hair. I used to have hair like him and at that point in time I missed it very much. Back then it had only been two years since I’d chopped off my dreadlocks in a fit of weary heatstroke in north-western Western Australia and I’d regretted it almost every day since. When drunk – which was often – I used to accost dread-locked individuals and embarrassingly tell them that I also used to have dreadies, as if that exposition would somehow automatically make me part of their hippie club. It didn’t. It just made me look like a knob.
But I think the main reason why I loved John was because he sang about social justice. He sang about inequality. And, to me, that meant he sang about the truth. Back then, I was so left it really is a miracle that I didn’t perpetually walk around in anti-clockwise circles, so him singing about minority groups, mining companies and the madness of love was like a divine sign from revolution heaven that here was a man who believed in, and was worried about, the same stuff that I was.
From that moment to this, as we have both grown older and changed, my admiration for him has remained unmoved. As happens to us all, we have both mellowed over the years and we are probably not as angry as once we were. For him, he admits it was his children that made him see the world in a happier light and over recent years his music has reflected that positivity.
For me, while my social justice leanings remain as strong as ever they were, I now recognise that you can’t save everyone and all you can do is be true to yourself and give back where you can. While I wouldn’t say my days of protest are over, today I’d rather contribute in other less public ways when there is a cause I truly believe in.
Tomorrow, I will attend my 20th John Butler Trio concert (UPDATE: 24 in early 2016). From those days when he busked on the streets of Fremantle, I have bought every album and been to as many concerts as I could. I have seen him play in Brisbane and Byron Bay numerous times. I’ve caught his shows in Tasmania, Fremantle, Christchurch, and even in Dublin, too. I’ve attended by myself, with my best friend who was pregnant with my godson at the time, my brother, and once with the person who I thought was the love of life at that moment in time.
Tomorrow it will be just me and not too many other lucky souls who managed to score one of the few tickets available. Each one of us will be there because in our own way we love John and everything that he – and we – have always collectively stood for. In some people’s eyes, tomorrow might be the equivalent of a bleeding hearts club but it’s a club, even after all these years, that I’ve always understood the best, even if my love for John is now less about loins and politics, and more about musicality and perhaps just a small touch of nostalgia.