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Stranger #13 - Nicki, The Vinyl Lounge, National Film and Sound Archive

‘You've got a friend in me

You've got a friend in me

If you've got troubles, I've got 'em too

There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you

We stick together and can see it through

Cause you've got a friend in me

You've got a friend in me’

You’ve got a friend in me, Randy Newman

In her book, Platonic, Marisa Franco details the lowest of the hierarchical loves.  She argues that romantic love is at the pinnacle of the hierarchy and is given all the time and attention from individuals to media outlets.  Platonic love, or love between friends, is not seen to be as necessary in our modern world, but it is an important part of being an adult human and a counteraction to loneliness which is at endemic proportions in the Western world.

Franco is a modern writer who has added to the pantheon on this subject started by Aristotle, added to by CS Lewis in 1960.  Based on a series of lectures given over the radio on the BBC, in his book, The Four Loves, Lewis investigates four types of love; affection (the most basic of loves), Eros (passionate but sometimes destructive desire), charity (a higher and sometimes spiritual connection with others) and friendship (the rarest and most undervalued).  He looks at why friendship is different from the other kinds of love arguing that just like art and philosophy, it is not necessary. Humans do not need this love to reproduce, therefore it is not necessary, but it is essential for us to grow into ourselves, to see others and be seen for who we are.  All loves have an element of work to them, and friendship, like Eros, has to be stoked and nurtured.


While waiting in a queue at the Vinyl Lounge in February a woman in her late 50’s barges in front of me. Her smart dress with matching short green cardigan are not the usual Target or KMart dresses; neat geometric design on the fabric and a good cut for the outline. ‘You don’t mind if I just barge in here to be with my friends.’ She blurts.  She is handed a vinyl record of Maddy Prior by one of her friends, who I now know are called Vicki and Tim.  Tim fishes the record out of a bag with a couple more records in.  

The Vinyl Lounge hosted once a month by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is a delightful evening.  For $5 you can rock up with a record of choice to have one track played on a great sound system to the gathered folk.  The record bringer gets to introduce the record with information about the singer, why it is significant to them or any other tidbits of information they have about the record.  The bar is open so there is a little coming and going but that does not detract from the music.  It has been going for years with a loyal group of followers who listen to everything from Blondie to experimental Japanese sounds, Take That to Fairground Attraction, Miriam Makeba to Taylor Swift.  The audience is attentive, respectful and interested.  There is a joy to having your musical experience widened, and listening to the passions of others.

The NFSA is located in an Art Deco building on the Acton Peninsula of Lake Burley Griffin.  The building was commissioned as the National Museum of Australian Zoology in 1924 but was allocated to the Australian Institute of Anatomy in 1928.  The main building was completed in 1930 with original plans being rejected and replaced by the Federal Capital Commission’s top architect, Walter Heywood Morris.  He designed a building that combines classic 1920s Art Deco with 20th Century Stripped Classical.  The building features a symmetrical facade, horizontal skyline, columns and a dominating central entrance.  This building has the lot.  Officially opened in 1984 as the NFSA by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the building has kept its original facade but been added to.  This allows more space for the growing and specialist collection housed by the NFSA.  Film, songs, sounds, TV and now digital collections are kept for the nation.  The building itself may have been inspired by European classical architecture but it has been made Australian by the detail: frilled neck lizards, goannas, ferns and waratahs are carved into the stone.  The platypus features through the halls and foyer and Aboriginal art has inspired the colour choice and design.  Wombat heads are sculpted above the arches in the central courtyard.

Waiting to go into the Theatrette, a steeply banked, staged theatre which holds approximately 100-150, I decide now is the time to let the woman know that Maddy Prior lived down our road in Muswell Hill, a suburb in North London where I spent my first 17 years. Maddy Prior and someone else, who I never met, shared a house that had been turned into two flats with some childhood friends of ours in the other half of the dwelling.  The woman becomes interested and asks where I lived.  I tell her.  She introduces herself as Nicki.  She tells me she was born there at the maternity home in Muswell Hill. So was I.  Here, on the other side of the world I meet someone who was born in the same place as me!  We are one year apart.  This sort of thing does not happen every day.  We spend the evening sitting next to each other passing comments on the music.  Much of it is enjoyed by both of us but we agree that AC/DC really should have kept their tracks to the standard 3 minutes for a pop song, even on live recordings.

CS Lewis describes platonic friendship as the King of relationships because it does not depend on any other prior knowledge.  Two people do not have to know where they lived, what they do for a living, how they grew up or what class they come from to be able to make a connection.  These things do come out over time and conversation but not as an imperative to the friendship, as an illustration of a story or anecdote.  At home or at work we have to be a certain person but in a friendship we are free to be the person we want.  Our friends also shape us as a person.

At the second Vinyl Lounge I attend we stand behind Tim and Vicki in the queue again.  Nicki is on her way.  Tim tells me about his time in London as a young teacher where he would go to see bands.  He tells me about seeing Joan Armatrading at Hammersmith Odeon in 1977, how she was so shy it was painful.  I was at that concert but don’t remember the shyness, just a young woman on a large stage, looking small but with the biggest voice I had ever heard in the flesh.  Nicki arrives and takes a seat behind us with Vicki.  We all enjoy the evening of music by women to mark International Women’s Day. 

The stage is set with an armchair with a record neatly placed and other records across the stage all by women: Madonna, The Staple Sisters and Jennifer Warnes..  The big speakers dominate the stage with the turntable with light above near the edge for easy access for the DJ.  The playlist tonight includes; Ricky Lee Jones, Joan Armatrading, Minnie Riperton, Adele, Enya, Margaret Roadknight, Taylor Swift and Portishead.  Near the end the DJ pulls out Dark Side of the Moon.  I was not aware there were any women in this band.  The track The Great Gig in the Sky is played.  The man who introduces it tells us that the woman singing, Clare Torry, was picked by the producer, Alan Parsons, and asked to do an improvised session to the music the band would play.  She did this for a 30 pound set fee for session musicians, in two takes.  She only became aware it was included on the album when she saw a copy in a music store and her name was credited.  In 2005 she was awarded money from a court for musical composition.

At  coffee with Nicki in Lyneham we discover we have more in common than being born in the same institution: craft and crochet, teenage sons born later in life, and an interest in language. We show off phone photos of our work; me large blankets, her quilts for children. We have a long conversation over tea and chai.  We sit outside the cafe, it is a lovely day, still cool enough to want to be outside.  Nicki chats to the person on the next table, who she knows, and to another woman on her way to the chemist, ‘She is my neighbour.’ Nicki explains.  She also tells me that Vicki is a ‘very dear friend’.  She attends the Vinyl Lounge as a way of catching up with her friends. Finding time for friendship in busy lives is hard but also necessary.  The love between friends is the one we choose but also the one that reflects ourselves.

Nicki has lived an extraordinary life, having moved from London to Canberra with her Australian parents in 1967 for her father to take up a position with ANU in the newly formed Research School. She planned to have a gap year busking with her cello before going to the Adelaide Conservatorium but went to Japan instead, living with three different families and attending school.  Nicki did not busk but did get to play music in Japan.  She returned to Australia to attend the Conservatorium before returning to Japan for a longer stint, returning to Australia in 1993.  She took up a position at University of Canberra teaching Japanese that continued until the Japanese program was cut from the University, so, ever resourceful, she retrained as a high school teacher.  In between working and reproducing she gained a Phd in linguistics. She now does teaching relief work in between caring for parents and children and being involved in a choir and other community groups. She talks of her years at UC with great affection: ‘It was fun, those years’.  Even though she is good at many things she knows that teaching is her real love.   Nicky has a full life. 


Marisa Franco investigates why it is so hard for adults to make friends.  She explains as children we have two things that make it easier to be friends with our peers: repeated unplanned interaction and a shared vulnerability.  These two things happen in schools.  The repeated unplanned interaction comes from the spaces around lessons, recess, lunchtimes.  The vulnerability comes from age and the school.  Adults can manufacture the unplanned interaction with social groups like sports clubs, crochet groups or U3A, but the vulnerability is harder to come by.  We do not all want to make ourselves vulnerable to others, we have learnt, by adulthood, how to cover those vulnerabilities.  Friendships can grow out of times of need or crisis.

The School of Life, Alain de Botton’s global organisation, has more to say on this. Under the heading; Vulnerability is the only thing that can turn a stranger into a friend the author states, ‘We may awe strangers with our strength, but it is only once we dare to present them with our frailties that we are in any position to turn them into sincere allies.’

Marisa Franco talks about the Theory of Chums, in her Ted Ed talk developed by Harry Stock Sullivan, a Psychiatrist.  He says that therapy is like talking to a chum.  With chums you share things you are ashamed of.  These are the things we push away from our thoughts but in order for us to be whole we have to assimilate them.  Personalities are built around this.  Shame is enveloping and a distraction from growing.  As we tell our chums the shameful things about our lives and personalities and they still accept us for who we are, we learn to accept ourselves.  

In the West communities have been in a social decline for a few decades.  Identified by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, (2000) he calls the retreat ‘cocooning’, we retreat from public life to feel safe in our private lives, often feeling too overwhelmed and busy to want to participate in anything outside.  The number of friends we have as individuals is in decline, the number of people we interact with each day has declined, and yet, we all lead busy lives. The Vinyl Lounge is one of many, many activities in the ACT that encourage participation in public life.  One attendee, who I know, described it to me as ‘a soft social interaction’.  Nicki uses the Vinyl Lounge as a way of catching up with her friend.  We all do better when we have friends.


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