People Like Us | Cam Dang

Play your music like you mean it.

People Like Us

Cam Dang

Quasimodo’s Quasi Oboe Award


Have you ever listened to Bankrobber by The Clash? Great song. It goes something like this:


Daddy was a bankrobber

But he never hurt nobody

He just loved to live that way

And he loved to steal your money


I tried to play it on the guitar my dad bought me thirteen years ago for my twenty-third birthday, but I sounded like shit. I’m nothing like Dad when it comes to music. The man was born to be a musician but only realised his talent when he was twenty-nine. He had fans, the kind that wore the same clothes and lived under the same roof.


The thing is, my daddy was a bank robber. And he did hurt somebody.


That’s because that somebody, the bank’s security guard, tried to be Sylvester Stallone. I mean, why would you try to tackle someone with a gun? Didn’t they teach him anything at training school? Or maybe they did but he decided to be a fucking hero anyway. Took a bullet square in the chest. My dad ran off with some cash, not enough to repay Frank “Pinkie” Caputo (guess what he was famous for), but together with Mr Dumbass Hero it was enough to put Dad away for a long time. I was seven year-old. Dad’s sister took me in. Even after Frank’s loan that afforded a few expensive drug trials, dad’s little fingers chopped off, and him going away for fifteen years, my mother never made it.


And so began the years of Dad making friends with strings, making his pain stop whenever he played.


When he was released, Dad was a fourty-four year-old man with bad teeth and no skills other than the ability to make music. I told him I was happy to work for us both, but he looked at me and said: “I brought you into this world. I should be the one working for us.” He applied for jobs but there were others with clean resumes who wanted the same positions. So he turned to the streets of Melbourne. In front of a 7-Eleven store, he strummed his guitar and sang tunes written within stone walls. He sang about father and son, the lost years, my mother. People stopped and listened. They clapped and cheered and some even had tears in their eyes, but Dad was no fool. He knew that spot was for him – that was the place where others preferred him seated like a good boy that he should have been. They saw themselves for a moment in his songs, happy to watch him play, thankful for not being him, flicked a coin, and moved on. Dad’s fingers never stopped. Life goes on.


Two years ago, Dad died. Alzheimer’s.


During the final years of his life, I fantasised about robbing a bank to pay some underground scientist to pump some drug, some miracle, something into Dad’s brain to stop the shrinking and narrow the gaps – don’t ask me to repeat doc’s fancy words, I’m just a garbo still living at home with his aunt, okay? And because I am what I am, I did no such thing. I know my place, so did Dad. He took it up a notch in the name of love but look how the man ended: wound up in the same spot reserved for him, for men who make nothing out of nothing, for people like us.


Wanna hear the last bit of Bankrobber?


Someday you’ll meet your rocking chair

Cos that’s where we’re spinning

There’s no point to wanna comb your hair

When it’s grey and thinning