EULOGY FOR SHANNON [
Michael Nelson: Shannon's husband, 1971 - 1986 ]
Firstly thank you all for coming. It means more to our family than can be expressed in words, and I'm sure you all know that already.
We're here today to express our love and respect for Shannon, and I'd like to share with you the part of her story that I was priveliged to know. Before I do that, I'd like to make special mention of 3 people.
The first is Anne Toovey, Shannon's mum. Anne has been a tower of strength through this and I can only marvel at the Irish steel in her spine. She has endured what no parent should ever have to go through. I love you mum.
The second is Danny Cahill, Shannon's brother. Danny has been a wonderful father, brother and son and enormously supportive of his family in these difficult times. He is a good man and I'm proud to know him.
Before I speak of the 3rd person I have in mind, I'd like to talk a little about the bond of love and friendship that Shannon and I shared for 40 years, from the moment I saw her to the day that she left us and now for the rest of my life. For 16 glorious years I was married to Shannon. The love never faded but the pressures of two controling personalities sharing the life of an itinerant musician, always on the move , always short of money, eventually took its toll. On the few occasions we clashed, my immaturity came up against the wall of her intelligence and impeccable ethics. Eventually it was clear that we could no longer live together as a married couple and we seperated and divorced.
When I met my wife Janice, who is the 3rd person I want to speak of, she became quickly aware that, regardless of the divorce, the bond between Shannon and I would never be broken. It took a woman of enormous confidence, love, maturity and understanding to marry a man like me under those circumstances. She and Shannon became such friends that they considered each other sisters. Shannon was God mother and mentor to our children and we visited each other many times. When I say to Janice that the way she treated Shannon is one of the many things I love about her, she just says "I didn't do anything, it took no effort. She's a beautiful person." I love Janice in her own right because of who she is but I'm infinitely grateful for the love she felt for Shannon.
And now to Shannon.
Shannon and I met in 1970 when we were barely 20 years old. I had just started working in the band at the Red Garter night club. Not long after I started, she walked in. I was captivated by her and not long after, I managed to manipulate my way into her presence. We were immediately attracted to each other. The first night I drove her home we sat outside her house in my old Kombi van and talked until the sun came up. We spoke of all the things we wished to do with our lives.
When I met her she was working as a veterinary assistant during the day. Typical of Shannon's 'roll the sleeves up and just do it' approach, the work she did there really constituted veterinary nursing and anything that needed doing, she did. She had also done a fair amount of bar work in nightclubs. Her eyesight was never good and she wore contact lenses. One night she was tending bar at the Pink Panther night club and one of her lenses either slipped off the pupil or fell out of her eye. To test this she started closing each eye in turn and looking out of the open eye. When she got it sorted out, she saw a drunk guy the other side of the bar contorting his face winking at her. She burst out laughing so I don't know what that did to his ego.
We got engaged, got married and while waiting for a 6 month contract in Singapore to come through, had a 4 day honeymoon at the Dianella hotel. I had a gastro bug for most of that time so Shannon spent a lot of time sitting on the front step having a smoke. 24 hours before the honeymoon ended the contract came through so at least we knew we had a place to go to after the honeymoon, albeit overseas. In the photo of us at the Perth airport on our way to Singapore she's standing looking beautiful in a long green coat with her hand resting on her stomach and we're looking into each other's eyes. She was actually whispering to me "tell him to take the bloody photo. I've caught your stomach bug and I can't hold it together much longer."
After Singapore, we came back to unemployment. An opportunity for a gig in Gove NT came up and I asked Shannon how she would feel about singing in the band. She said she'd give it a go and on the day of the audition dressed herself up to the 9's, sang beautifully and we got the gig. Now Gove in those days was a frontier bauxite mining town on the northern tip of Australia with 2,500 men living under canvas and 250 women employed there. The men came from all over, many of them on the run from the law and they were a pretty tough bunch but the ones that met Shannon were captivated by her and treated her like the nurturing sister / wife / mother that deep down they craved. She never lowered her standards or changed to 'blend in' but the beautiful, sincere and elegant way that she would talk to these men when they sought her counsel had the healing effect they needed. These rough blokes were always totally repectful to her and, as her husband, to me, but I have no doubt that if I was the type of man who mistreated his wife, I would have been quickly turned into rainforest fertilizer. When we met I had a pronounced Aussie accent and sometimes I would ask her what she saw in a 'Freo scumbag' like me. She would answer "you're not a Freo scumbag, Anzac." She called me Anzac as a reference to my colloquial dialect. I would get my revenge by asking her to say 'Beaufort Street' which she pronounced with a charming Irish lilt as 'Borfort Street.'
We came back to Perth and moved into a flat on the corner of Bulwer and Williams Streets. One night after a gig we came home and found what looked like a white mouse on our doorstep. It was a kitten and Shannon, always a passionate saint towards injured animals, picked him up and carried him inside then spent ages removing the ticks from him then fed him with an eye dropper. 'B.B' (short for Bielzibub because of his devilish nature) grew up into a real character and was just one of many stray cats she nurtured.
I was living the life of the muso stereotype: get to bed at 5am, sleep till 1pm, get up put a smoke in my mouth, drink too much etc. One day, she handed me a book by Ayn Rand called 'The Fountainhead' and said "I think you'll like this." After this, everything had to be done according to the dictates of rational logic. I started practising hours every day, gave up smoking, reduced my drinking, and took up jogging. When I began to lecture Shannon on philosophy, she listened patiently for a while then quietly reminded me that it was she who had given me the book. When I started working on her to come jogging with me, that took some doing. Eventually she relented and we would put on our track suits and at 1 a.m. or later, after I came home from the gig, we would go jogging around Hyde Park. Of course B.B. had to come too, and would bound ahead like a hyperactive furry arch, sharpen his claws on a tree, look around, see us then bound off to the next tree. One night a cop car came over the grass with its spotllight trained on us and one of the cops leaned out of his window and asked: "What are you doing?" "Jogging," we replied. "Why are you doing that at 1 a.m.," he asked. "To get fit," we replied. "What's with the cat," he asked. "He's jogging too," we replied. He mumbled something along the lines of 'I'm too old for this,' and drove off.
Work was hard to come by for a while so I left for Port Hedland to work in a band with Greg Wynne and some forgettable drummer who was skimming the money. And all the musos here today said, "Uh huh." Shannon flew up to be with me not long before I was fired for wanting to see the books. Ever patient, she packed up and we loaded up the old Holden panel van with our belongings and headed south. There was nothing in Perth to go back to workwise, so we decided to look for work on the journey south then, after spending a few days in Perth, we would set off for Melbourne and try our luck there. We got to Carnarvon early afternoon and I went into the Carnarvon hotel to look for work. I managed to score a gig then went back to the car and told Shannon: "Good news is I got the gig. Bad news is it doesn't start for 2 days and the accomodation goes with the gig but the guy said we can sleep in his Kombi parked out the back in the meantime. For the next 2 nights we slept in the Kombi breathing the fumes of a pest strip to stop us getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and she never complained once (well, maybe once). Now for those of you who have known Shannon over the last say, 20 years or so, you would know her as the antithesis of the pioneering or 'rough it' kinda gal but I'm telling you this so you can get an idea of her determination to 'see things through.' I know her friends from E-Plus would have seen that true grit beneath her beautifully cultured manner over the years.
When she put her mind to it, she was capable of anything. She decided to be 'handy' so learned to crochet and proceeded to crochet me a woollen singlet, the type we'd wear over a shirt in the '70's. She only ever did it once. She said: "I've done it, why do it again?" In the days when arrangers prepared hand written music scores then sent them off to a copiest who would then copy out the individual parts for the musicians for a recording session, a couple of times I got a call from the studio: "There were so many mistakes it took us twice the time to record. Don't use that copiest again!" I asked her if she would like to learn how to do it and in typical Shannon fashion she said: "Sure, just show me how." After that, she did all my copying, I would check it then send it off and I never got complaints after that!
When we got back to Perth we stayed at my sister Rachel's place and prepared to head off to Melbourne in the car. A letter came from an Aussie muso (Rick Kent) in London telling us there was a flat available in a condemned building in Notting Hill that we could have rent free. We scrapped our Melbourne plans, sold everything and headed off to London. After a time the owner of the building wanted to sell up so Shannon said: "after you get home from the gig tonight we'll go up to the newsagent's on the corner and check out the accomodation notices in the window." I got home round 1 a.m., we walked up to the corner with a flashlight and stood in the doorway of the newsagent, writing down the details of flats and bedsits. While we were doing this I noticed a London Bobby on the corner talking into his radio but thought nothing of it. A few minutes later, screeches of tyres, we're surrounded by half a dozen cops and several cars. "What are you doing?" they ask. "Looking for accomodation," we answer. "At 1 a.m.?" they ask. "He doesn't finish work till midnight," Shannon answers indignantly. One of the cops mutters something along the lines of: 'I'm too old for this.'
One of Shannon's great joys was to compose song lyrics. She had written a lot of beautiful poetry and learned the art of condensing a poets approach down to a more economic style needed for song lyrics. At the end of the service you'll hear a Gospel song called "Thank You Jesus." Shannon penned the joyful lyric to this song.
I went away on tour to South Africa for 3 months and arranged for Shannon to join me for the last few weeks on the tour. Now you have to understand that Shannon was reluctant, as an agorophibic, to change or move so it's a measure of her love for me that she was prepared to follow me all over the world living out of a suitcase and only buying things that we were prepared to walk away from. She organised her connecting flights from London, thru Portugal, Kenya then South Africa. When I got back to the hotel she was waiting for me. She had her makeup on and glasses off and, after we greeted each other, the first thing she said to me was: "Michael, why did you buy so many small statues, all the same, half one colour and half the other," pointing to the collection of African soapstone statuettes on the floor. "Put your glasses on, love," I said. "It's a chess set."
No one could match Shannon when it came to repartee. Any man who dared to condescend to her found himself cut down by her acid tongue. Few tried to go the verbal toe-to-toe with her a second time. A drummer I worked with in London tried to banter with her but she just kept coming back, with a smile on her face until he slid his hands up over his ears like a roller door making a sound like: "shiiiing" indicating he was giving up. She burst out laughing and after that, whenever she would turn her irony on me, I would cover up my ears and say: "shiiing". We had some firey moments but were never mad at each other for long and we never let the sun go down on our anger, always making up the same day.
She had a air of gentle dignity that never left her because it was not affected - it was her. Once in Pinnochios, I was on stage and she was sitting talking with a female friend. A guy came up and asked her to dance. She declined in her polite but regal manner then turned back to talk to her friend. Several minutes later she turned around to see that the guy was still there. "Yes?" she enquired. "Can I leave now?" he answered. Of course she burst out laughing and he smiled, knowing that he had delighted her with his wit.
When we came back from London we had 5 mostly beautiful years together before finally, we seperated and divorced in the mid 80's.
Then I met Janice. The following insights are from [Janice / Jenny / Jen] and myself.
Janice was in the Sondheim musical "Company" and one night she saw Shannon after the performance. Shannon smiled and waved and Janice went over to talk to her and the relationship was born. The women suggested to me that we get together at a restaurant and just get to know each other.
One day we decided to see a movie together and Shannon suggested the 'Dead Poet's Society' as she had heard it was a most uplifting film. The 3 of us went to the Astor cinema. Somehow I ended up sitting in the middle like an Arab with his 2 wives. All the way thru Jen thought 'this is wrist slashing stuff.' Right to the end she was thinking 'and this is supposed to be uplifting?' Of course, anybody who has seen the film knows that it is uplifting right at the end and all 3 of us were quite overcome. We sat there till the last credit went up. People must have thought we were very arty farty but in fact we were all 3 of us just trying to dry our eyes so that we wouldn't walk out and have someone recognise us and see Mike and his 2 women all crying disgracefully.
Going back a bit, her love of animals is best illustrated by the story of 'Dirty Harry', the feral tom cat that arrived on our doorstep in Embleton in the last years of my marriage to Shannon. He was getting old and while still dangerous, his teeth were going. He slinked up the drive and I saw him through the kitchen window. He was the biggest cat I had ever seen with a bull neck and tattered ears. We had 6 mad, overindulged domestic cats including an insane, small black female called Ninja. As Harry crept cautiously up the drive, Ninja confronted him and hissed. At that point I thought I was about to witness her slaughter but Harry, without ever losing eye contact, rolled slowly over and assumed the submissive position. Ninja gave one more hiss, slapped him with her pathetic paw and strolled away feeling very good about herself. Harry slowly rose to his feet and proceeded carefully around the back of the house. He'd had the good sense to realise that he was on her turf. Our other 5 cats had more sense than Ninja and scattered to all corners of the yard. Harry had something to eat then left. Over time, Shannon managed the relationship to the point that Harry would let her stroke him. I thought, 'he's all front, just looks tough.' Then another tom tried the same trick and Harry went at him like a completely wild animal, chased him down the street, attacking him from behind like a lion on a zebra. In all the time he came calling he never attacked our cats. At a point in time, Shannon knew he was on his last legs, his teeth were going, couldn't defend himself or feed himself and one day he turned up badly mauled. He allowed her to cradle him in her lap. When he was relaxed she injected him and he went to sleep in her arms. Janice said to me: "Not only have we lost a much loved family member but the animals have lost a passionate advocate."
About 2 years ago, Shannon was visiting. She was pottering on her laptop on the kitchen table. Timothy started playing some Joni Mitchell sounding chords on his guitar, Jenny started singing a rough melody and Shannon started typing on her laptop. We moved into the lounge and I sat down at the keyboard then Jen began describing a "sprong" type melody note here and a "ching" type chord there and before we knew it we had a finished song called 'Safe In Your Love Again; written by the 4 Nelsons.
We will never forget how Shannon came over to babysit the kids so Janice would be with her mother when she passed away.
When Katherine our daughter announced to Shannon that she wanted to make a career as a body piercing artist, Shannon seemed very supportive then casually asked: "How do you feel about a 'Prince Albert'?" She then proceeded to describe a Prince Albert as a penis piercing. The next day, Katherine announced that she wanted to be a sound engineer.
When I asked Timothy to supply a memory of Aunt Shannon, he said: "I loved the movie marathons at her place and I could talk to her without her going straight to my parents."
Shannon, I miss you, we all miss you. You will live on in our hearts and minds and all who have known you are enriched by your memory. "When you left, day turned into night. Then, in the darkness, I saw your reflection in the eyes of the people whose lives you had touched."