Tonight is the final Spinning Room, maybe forever, maybe for a long time, definitely for 2010. Next year the pub which has been the Spin’s home for the past seven years will be gutted and refitted, and a small weekly poetry reading will not be part of whatever plans they have. Somehow the building is heritage listed, but with the enormous new apartment complex going up across the street, don’t be surprised if it accidentally burns down over summer.
It’s no real surprise. The pub, ET’s, has always struggled as a venue. In the Spin’s seven years of stability, the pub itself has been through about ten changes of management, each with a different agenda. It’s been a blokey Buck Hunter pub, an after-work pub, a gay pub, a live music pub, a Thai beef salad pub, and failed every time. Somehow at 200 metres from Chapel St, it’s just that bit too far to attract passing traffic. And with its clean-cut interior of brushed aluminium and stone-coloured faux suede upholstery, it’s just too lacking in personality to make anyone really feel like it’s theirs.
We did, though, in the upstairs room. Quiet and warmly lit, the big glass door keeping the blare from downstairs to a muted level, we’ve seen so many great readers there over so many years, and had the chance to be caught up in their words, their tones, their unamplified voices. This place has always been the Spin for me. I first found it in its final two episodes at the Duke of Windsor, before that fine pub was turned into a wankfest trendoid pizzeria. I watched the first week, read at the second, then we all moved to ET’s. Thus it has been ever since.
A couple of weeks ago the Spinning Room had its tenth birthday as a Melbourne gig, after Jon Garrett had already run it for five years in London. Along the walls were vintage pictures of some of its performers. And there was me, as a young man, in that second Duke of Windsor gig back in 2004. It was the first time I’d read at the Spin, the second time I’d read in public. I was fucking terrified. In the photo I look calm, but I know my hands were shaking as they held that folder, pre-memorisation days, and I know my heart was thrumming like a bird’s wing and I wanted to throw up.
It is hard not to be nostalgic for the version of myself in that photo. I am reading an early poem, ‘Corner Swanston and La Trobe’, that I didn’t know was a performance poem until I read it out. I have only just discovered that there are poetry readings out there, that writing for them is something people do. I am only just discovering the thing that I will devote my next few years to, the thing that will become the most intrinsic part of my life and identity. I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good. I will be elated and relieved when Simon, one of the then-MCs, tells me I should come back next week and read again. I am young – impossibly young, it seems – clear-faced, optimistic. I am deeply in love, and about to decide to move to Malaysia to prove it. I am short haired and clean shaven because my girlfriend likes me that way, and I don’t even resent her for it. I am 21 years old.
The path from here to there seems barely discernible at times, though I can find it if I bash through sufficient undergrowth. The point is, after tonight, that part of the path ends. It ends here and now. After tonight, that place where I spent so many Tuesday nights, a place that gave me some sense of belonging and some sense there was a point, disappears. The Spin may be back, somewhere else, though finding a place that will host it may not be easy. Likewise, it may not be back. Either way, this version of the Spin will be gone.
And more than the place – should the Spin survive next year in greener fields, this will still be Anthony William Patrick O’Sullivan’s last stint as co-convenor. Anthony was one of the people I met on that first night in 2004, another young chap only starting to look into this poetry caper. His reaction also encouraged me to come back and try it again. He became my first good poet friend of what would eventually be many, and one of my favourite writers to hear reading. When I went to Malaysia we sent work back and forth. When I came back we kept each other going through the years to follow. Many times and many bad days and many beers at just the right moments. No-one else has made it worth leaving the house for the quality of the MCing alone. Now the man who brought it to that level is also stepping aside, and an era of my own life is firmly coming to a close.
That last gig is tonight, people. Tuesday the 14th, if you’re not clear. ET’s Hotel, which is on High Street in Prahran, a bit past Chapel. The street number is 211. Go inside. Go upstairs. Open the glass door and find yourself a seat. See a little part of all our histories.
When that photo was taken back in 2004, I still worked down at the casino as a croupier. Seems now the only thing to do is sing out the call we used to make at 4 a.m., when it came time to close the roulette tables down after just one more sling of the white marble round the wheel. Last spin, ladies and gentlemen, final spin of the night. Spinning up. Place your bets.