We are rolling on a lazy two lane black top through the sweeping hills and valleys to Bowral - the town where Don Bradman first punished leather with willow.

It's a long winding ribbon thin thoroughfare with antique stores and curio shops lining the footpath and competing for the tourist dollar.

Somewhat fitting that this vaudevillian musical circus is coming ever so slowly to this hill country retreat where time has stood still.

Rarely danced to a beat stronger than nostalgia for better times.

Tranquillity may be the strong suit for the natives but not my employer who has just seen a signpost for Robertson.

"That's where they made Babe," the singing Texan crime novelist announces to the dozing denizens of Tarrago No 2, "let's find Babe before it's too late."

Kinky Richard 'Big Dick' Friedman is thinking of pigs, flying or squealing, and I'm keen to find our motel - an historic haven nestled in seclusion across the beaten track from the Bowral Country Club which boasts its own golf course.

A sound check at equally historic Empire Theatre in leafy Mittagong tops the agenda of Rob Hall from Rob Hall Promotions who fears for the health of quadruple heart by-pass contender and joint headliner Billy Joe Shaver.

High on my chart is a remote chance that we'll check in on time to catch the last half of the Geelong-Richmond pre season match on a local repeater for a big city channel.

We negotiate the delicate art of key allocation and I'm finally laid back on my heavily draped double bed as I wrestle with the remote and find a one-day cricket clash before catching Geelong captain Ben Graham celebrating as the Cats crush the Tigers.


There is a God in NSW but she doesn't bless Geelong again for another month - she's too busy ensuring the Mittagong sound check, supervised by Little Jewford, facilitates an effortless entry into the theatre that embraces the cast with delicious dexterity.

The artists - Kinkster, Jewford and partners - are gracious enough to share their love of Thai food with the chauffeur and Billy Joe who is later energised by a small dingo bag of Oriental delicacies back at the ranch.

Shaver, still running on one artery, is conserving his energy for the paying customers by living on selective takeaway treats.

Local artist Dave Debs, eager to play his originals for a hometown audience, sets the mood for a gig that is both intimate and blessed by a theatre owner, savvy enough to leave the doors open to catch the nocturnal breeze.

The international acts breeze through a show that is stress free, courtesy of promoters and culinary cobbers who provide back stage platters while the chauffeur drinks to try to forget the slow leaking back tyre.

We make it to our motel where morning brings a mammoth phone bill for this dumb country lover who thinks motels share nocturnal Sunday rates with their clientele.

They don't share or take AMEX so the flames of love are fanned by flapping of $50 bills to ensure departure to Sydney; famous Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman - former Friedman flat mate of the seventies in L. A. - has thrown open his Pittwater retreat for the Sabbath.


Everyone but the chauffeur has carefully digested the detailed road map with a direct route to Akerman's aviary where water taxis collect the entire cast, including Shaver, who breaks diets and promises to God and eats the tenderest steak and chops this side of Eden.

This is nirvana for the chauffeur where the present meets the past in a hedonistic haze - an editor, who saved his Babe more than once, emerges from the foilage where tree snakes coil and laze in the afternoon sun.

We finally retreat to reality and bed down in the same motel, now re-named, where former Liberal Opposition leader Billy Snedden died on the job with an anonymous, mysterious matron of dishonor.

Conscious of this and the mirthful means of how road mangler Phil Kauffman tried to revive a post coital smack and booze fried Gram Parsons I ensure there's plenty of ice in my fridge.

I have debated fast forwarding the ignition of my oldest flame and photographer to cut phone bill costs but we haven't yet extracted the thorns from the roses.

Artist and promoter shared anxiety about Basement bookings since the Tullamarine touchdown that seems light years ago.

Monday brings relief in Valhalla Theatre book readings where driver reverts to more familiar roles in the pre-nuptials at Glebebooks where he has bought a Carl Hiassen parodic eco-terrorism thriller, Lucky You.

Friedman, in his less well-known role as altruist, has swept up Weary Dunlop's diaries for Shaver and other tomes for friends.

Is there anything else he could purchase he asks driver?


With 38 years of heat seeking headlines strapped to my charred chest I suggest maybe a copy of two of The Puppetry Of The Penis.

A gift for all the family including Professor Tom at home in Austin, I suggest, with all the sublety of a Carey cheating chirrup.

When Noddy Holder's Sydney Confidential column - the best read personality pages in the harbor city - picks up the story the puppetry purchases have erected to a dozen recipients including roadie Ben Welch and Kinky's pardner Erin who is, of course, Ben's babe for the nightly Texas mooning.

This is the start of an impromptu publicity campaign that finds Kinky and Billy Joe embroidering the Sydney dailies for six days in succession.

That's on top of long ago organised feature stories which have all run and a swag of radio interviews that have mushroomed.

The vast galaxy of journos and musos - the moths long drawn to Kinky's fiery flame -have ignited the box office and memorabilia demand that finds all artists caught with their merchandise down.

Opening night finds the Valhalla crowd of Happening Thang duo Andy Travis and Catherine Wearne and Audrey Auld replaced by, ah well, Audrey Auld, Doug Mulray and a coven of judges, celebs and others whose names roll off Sydney tongues much easier than driver's.
Shaver, uplifted by arrival of Sydney saddletramps who chased him across borders in the U.S. and delicious duet partner Lyndsay Hammond, has worked the passing of late lamented mentor Waylon Jennings into his passion primed performances.

"I tried to talk to Waylon but he went and died on me anyway," Shaver reveals with the irreverence he wears like Dr Pussy's glove as he laconically compliments his bill sharing stars whose humour is their strong suit.

"He was a mean sucker, he'll be kicking arse now in heaven."

There's another anecdote about mineral water sipping Evian yuppies conned by San Antone Mexicans.

"Evian is naïve spelt backwards," Billy explains, "the yuppies think the water comes from the Swiss Alps but it comes from the tap and these little Mexicans down in San Antonio who put stickers on the bottles."


Then there's anecdotes about Bob Dylan who performed Shaver's Old Five & Dimers on tour.

"He said that it was an old folk song, written by old folks," Shaver, 62, drawled, "old folks wrote it. Sure, I'm older than him."

For a man, with three family fatalities and a Gruene Dance Hall heart attack in three short years ravaging him like death duties, the macabre mirth is refreshing.

Friedman, with his 84-year old DFC decorated navigator dad, Tom, fighting a seven- year battle with cancer after a heart attack, is equally wired and inspired.

Especially when he finds he has the choice of two southern photographers - a Telstra plankee and a dairy reared cowgirl from Gnotuk, west of Camperdown en route to the Shipwreck Coast.

The premature arrival of the latter finds REM sleeping re-arrangements in Rushcutters Bay and beyond.

This is the last chance to see this dynamic double bill in the unlucky radio country and enough perceptive Australians have risen to the bait when the search and destroy team take Friday off on Sydney Harbour to prepare for the finale show at a "lesbian casino" in the national capital.

It's out there, courtesy of Sydney benefactor Akerman and lawyer wife Susan, Kinky is belatedly exposed way out where the Port Jackson sharks circle.

It's a fish free Friday and the Kinkster has nothing to hide as he strips on deck into his swimming clobber - but the soft lens of a digital camera catches Kinkster's silhouette as the angle finds him exposed to the gaze of his teenage God-daughter Pia Akerman.

Not exactly Walkley Award winning stuff but a fitting entrée to the evening's frolics where the artist invites his guests to join him back at the Basement for a cigar chomp.


You see the Kinkster, actor Will Smith and former President Bill Clinton - No 42 - are set for a nocturnal foreign affairs summit.

"Just tell them you're in my entourage," Friedman confides to the brunette destined to shoot the President, "I want my entourage bigger than Will's or Bill's."

The photographer, buoyed by thrills of the chase, cracks a not-so-secret service code and bangs off 13 shots of the sax playing Maynard Ferguson protege before the polite but firm hand of a minder ends the shoot.

There's no blood - just exclusive Presidential pix which make Akerman's directive to hold the final edition of the Daily Telegraph for an extra two hours, a worthy reward.

Mission impossible enables Kinky to adorn Sydney Confidential for the fifth of six consecutive days - on the final day it's chauffeur who lights the cigar.

Panic attacks dissipate before the Canberra trip when the artists board the train with Judy Davis and the staff travel in the Tarrago with the exhaled tyre.

Everyone arrives in time for the triumphant tour closer - a capacity crowd catches one of the best bills of the young year.

The Friedman finale is safe with our ACT femme fatale promoter, replete with broken arm in plaster, embracing Shaver with gay gusto.

It's the end of the tour - but not road for Shaver - who turns in early and tucks up for the flight home to heart surgery and redemption.

Shaver's surgery in Austin is successful - he returns to Waco where he soon recovers for another lunge at performing with his heart stronger than ever.

The lost highway goes on forever and the party never ends for the sinful survivors and sweethearts of the rodeo.

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