I was living in a flat on Hawker Street in 1980, Louise and I had split Negative Theatre and I was looking at writing new kinds of songs – more based on reality than fantasy dramas.
My old friend Jeff needed a place to stay so he moved in with me. We had started our first high school band together back in Hamilton but since then he’d had several breakdowns and periods in psychiatric care.
I was still having epileptic fits at this time and walked the city with that shadow hanging over me. Jeff was on Lithium and seemed to have it under control, his paranoia stemmed from a normal performance anxiety and musical frustration.
The people all mock me as I walk about softly
There must be a line between mad and afraid
I walk on my tiptoes and stay off the main roads
But they seem to find me again and again
He got offered his first gig and was wildly excited about it. I encouraged him but it seemed oddly out of character and then he just shut down completely – he’d stopped taking the meds and I got to see first-hand what true paranoia is.
The light in his eyes had completely gone – he was a walking terrified waxwork that had no semblance to the Jeff I had known since childhood. Everyone and everything was out to get him and I had no way of helping him.
The man at the door says he’s trying to sell
Accident insurance but I can tell that he’s lying
The smile on his face can’t cover up the smell
He thinks that he’s fooled me but I can tell that he’s one of the Lions
One day I came home from work to find his brother-in-law there packing Jeff’s things. He said he’d been making threatening phone calls to his mother and other family members and had been carted off to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital to undergo shock treatment.
I went to visit him the next day and he was Jeff again, though totally exhausted. I made a stupid joke about how he could just have had one of my epileptic fits – it wasn’t funny but we both laughed. He said he remembered thinking that the lions had escaped from the zoo.
So I wrote the song from both our perspectives – I got that first line and riff then just ran with it. The words are slightly ham-fisted at times but the song itself rides over all that. I recorded a version as the opening track of Act Your Age but it was mainly a song I did solo in the eighties.
It’s a tune that people ask me to play again and again after all these years and it’s almost like a ditty – the most quintessentially Wellington song I’ve ever written .The current Spines line-up is well suited for playing it and I wouldn’t mind re-recording it with crackles of electric guitar and the world’s smallest violin.