We were both drenched and slightly staggering. Grinning like brothers reunited after some death-or-glory campaign. “I know your face, mate,” was what he said as he crossed the band room and grabbed my slippery hand.
This could have gone badly. The closest I’d come to Matt Moffitt before tonight was the Short Note cassette I’d flogged in my Sony portable. God knows what possessed me to leap the forbidding lip of the Tivoli stage and follow the band backstage after the encore (‘Fade Away’, I think).
Sometime in the previous hour of air-pounding euphoria, high on piss and vinegar and who can remember what else, I’d convinced myself that I’d bonded with the frontman of Matt Finish right there at the foldback frontier.
The big guy with the laminate must have seen it too. He waved me under his arm and there I was, cross-legged on the nylon carpet, stealing the singer’s undivided attention from a gaggle of far more alluring and dangerous rock ‘n’ roll companions.
I told him I’d been busking his songs in the Devonshire Street underpass; I hadn’t quite nailed the words. ‘Mancini Shuffle’ and ‘Short Note’ were the hits, but it was ‘Younger Days’ that spoke to me. 19 and lost, I could feel them slipping away. It seemed vital to make contact with the guy who had crystallised the feeling.
He ripped a Winfield Red pack at the seams and carefully pencilled the lyrics in square capitals. The smudge here on the side might be ash from the long jazz cigarette we shared as the world turned.
OUT ON THE BLUE THEY HAUL AWAY. TAKING THINGS THE SEA GIVES UP. IT HAUNTS YOU…
I never saw Matt Finish again. RAM magazine reported illness and demons; a second album made in Europe. Moffitt bounced back later, made a third album back home, but we never crossed paths when I started ticking off my old heroes as a music writer.
He died too soon after that. In his sleep, said the obit in the Herald in September ’03. Tortured, reckless, dark, edgy, impulsive, it said. “High-risk” for the suits.
It’s not how I remember him when ‘Short Note’ comes up on some supermarket playlist.
I keep his grey-lead words safe from fading.
‘Ghosts in the Machine’ is a regular column dealing with the unique and intimate ways that artists become iconic figures in our life. We are open to submissions of 200-300 words.