I’m old enough to say with my hand on my heart that I still miss him. The same way I still miss John Denver, Michael Landon, Princess Diana and Elvis. I was a kid when Elvis died but I still remember my dad telling me why the radio stations were playing his music all day long, like the river flows, surely to the sea.
When Peter Allen passed away, I was a young journalist, a radio news reporter, who moonlighted as a rock band reviewer, also with my own column in the West Australian newspaper called Distractions. I was cutting my teeth on court stories but I hadn’t done many hard hitting stories just yet.
In the near future I’d be reporting from Beijing on politics and triads and natural disasters. But, in the early 90s, I was still ploughing my way through the ins and outs of the job I’d reached for since I was ten years old (a lifelong news junkie whose only talent was the ability to write quite well and speak with a husky voice).
Loud Shirts & Liza Minnelli
So on Peter’s passing, all I really knew about him was that he was a flamboyant, incredibly talented performer, pianist, singer, songwriter, dancer – the quintessential triple threat that other artists wish to mirror. He was a fine storyteller. His lyrics were soaked with the love of his family and the great southern land. He was married the offspring of Hollywood Royalty, Liza Minnelli. He was fun loving (those loud shirts, those maracas) and he was incredibly close to his mother Marion and sister Lynne, after tragically losing his father when he was only 13.
But beyond the headlines, I didn’t know much about him. Five years later, I was working as a TV reporter for a national current affairs show – back in the days when reporters played it really rough (and some still do). Foot-in-the-door journalism and death knocks. I was never one of those.
I was happy clinging to my rung in the middle of the ladder. But my boss had noted that it was the 5th anniversary of Peter Allen’s death. The chief of staff handed me the home phone number of his sister Lynne.
“Call her,” he said. “Ask her how she feels. See if we can bring cameras over. Okay, off you go.”
I was supposed to ask how she’s feeling. Stupid question? Never fear, I didn’t ask that one.
Peter’s sister Lynne
So I agreed to phone her and what she revealed to me has shaped my career as a journalist. I’m a compassionate person by nature but this phone call made sure I would always be a compassionate journalist too.
Lynne answered my call and I quickly explained that I’m a journalist and we were wondering if we could ask her a few questions on this anniversary of Peter’s passing. Lynne was quiet for several moments. I could almost feel her eyes squeeze and blink away the tears.
“I can’t,” she said. “I just can’t.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry,” I started.
“No, you don’t understand,” said Lynne. “It’s only been five years. Five years! It sounds like a long time. But when you’ve lost somebody like Peter, somebody I loved so much, it is not a long time. I cannot even listen to his music. It just hurts so much. Do you see? I can’t listen to his music!”
Rise Above the Heartache
I gently assured her that I am so sorry. Sorry for her loss, sorry for disturbing her and assured her our cameras were not coming anywhere near her. I’ve honestly never forgotten her words.
Thank you, Peter Allen, for your deep love of Australia that gave us the song most of us cannot listen to without feeling emotional; our unofficial national anthem I Still Call Australia Home.
Thank you for your laughter, your songs, your loud shirts, your maracas, your humble nature and your ability to get yourself through tragedy as a young boy and rise above heartbreak.
Someday we’ll all be together once more, when all of the ships come back to the shore.
Images courtesy of Instagram: @robmillsymills & @newenglandhotelarmidale