Earlier this year David Farrier captured video footage of a man engaging in a musical performance in front of two dogs who were in the act of making love. So Farrier went in search of the New Zealand hero who played the ukulele to two horned up doggos.
In early May, I was showing a friend the sights and sounds of Piha beach. It was a tad on the windy side – but as always, it was beautiful. The black sand danced and sparkled, and the waves crashed onto the shore.
Then, from somewhere in the distance, the sound of a ukulele reached my ears. Looking up, I was presented with a man further up the beach, enthusiastically stomping his heavily booted foot while he played the ukulele. A few metres away, I noticed movement.
Two dogs were enthusiastically rooting in front of him, going for it as if their very lives depended on it.
Transfixed, it was almost too much to absorb. Why was this man playing the ukulele on a nearly empty beach? Was he playing specifically to the dogs? Whose dogs were they? And was he serenading them while they made love, or were they two separate events that had just happened to occur at the same time?
I noted this wasn’t a single, short moment of passion – it was a prolonged event. So I took out my phone, I zoomed in, and I documented the unique situation. Then I uploaded it to Instagram.
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The video quickly became popular, other people sharing my enthusiasm for this once-in-a-lifetime event. “This is the best thing I have seen on the internet!” proclaimed @malitagomez.
Others offered their own thoughts and theories about what the hell was going on: “You just know it’s an Ed Sheeran song he’s playing on that tiny little uke,” offered @tamineilsonmusic.
Then, a reply from someone called @Fatswhite, who appeared to be the serenader himself: “Wrong, I’m a my own musician, do my own stuff gee”, he said.
Excited, I sent @Fatswhite a message. I wanted to find out more about this hero.
In the meantime, the mainstream media had picked up on what was now being referred to as a “viral video”.
The Herald was the first to jump on: “It has since been viewed more than 31,000 times on his page as well as shared across multiple other Facebook groups and social media platforms,” the article proclaimed.
This is as big as fame gets in New Zealand – viral status – and I was excited. Then MTV got in touch, wanting to license the clip.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more out of control, a new email arrived in my inbox:
Someone had been driving along the road at Piha (over a month on from my incident), looked up, and spotted a man playing a ukulele to two dogs. My source started recording the sight on his phone, and as he filmed one dog mounted the other and the lovemaking began.
It looked very familiar.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. If this was just captured by a random passerby, how often was this happening? Perhaps I hadn’t witnessed some kind of unique, once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps this was as mundane as filming a guy in a dairy buying a mince and cheese pie.
And then @Fatswhite replied to me:
It wasn’t an easy message to understand, but Fats White appeared to be a fan of the video I’d posted. I’d also learnt some brand new information – that the dogs were named “Minerva” and “Ruamoko”, or just “Rua”. I assumed that because Ruamoko was referenced as “that banger boy”, he was the one on two legs.
Fats and I exchanged messages. His messages weren’t always easy to understand, but they were enthusiastic. I learnt he was looking after his friend’s parrots (an African grey and an eclectus, two of the smartest and most beautiful parrots on the planet), and he’d recently moved to Piha.
I also learnt his real name was Brent Hayward, an artist and musician with a long trail of work behind him.
Even more importantly, we set a date for me to come out and visit.
Months had passed since I’d first recorded the video of Brent, Minerva and “That banger boy” Ruamoko on the beach. It was now September, and it was a truly glorious day.
I approached the house Brent was house-sitting, and knocked on the door. He emerged, beaming, a large African grey parrot sitting on his shoulder.
Brent started talking, and for the next five hours, he didn’t stop.
Strolling into the backyard, he introduced me to Rua and Minerva, who appeared to be very much in love, or at the very least in a mutual state of adoration. Where one dog went, the other followed.
As he fed three exotic looking chickens, Brent told me how his ukulele playing once saved him from a charging pig. “The only thing I had to save me was my ukulele,” he told me. “It was huge. A tonne-and-a-half pig. And I started playing a tune and it was like, ‘Oh, woah, hey!’ and it just took off!”
Chickens fed, he took me up to the house and introduced me a variety of smaller parakeets in cages, mostly budgerigars. Jupiter, Moonlight, Sun Ra and Neptune all seemed incredibly happy. Some of them were rescues. I asked Brent if he liked animals.
“Yes,” he replied, before taking me inside and introducing me to the eclectus.
I’d come here to interview Brent Hayward about his dogs, and about the fact he’d been spotted more than once serenading them while they shared an intimate moment.
But Brent doesn’t really adhere to a strict question-and-answer style. I could ask him about the video that MTV wanted, but that didn’t mean his answer would make reference to the question I’d posed.
“When did you hear about the video that I’d taken?” I asked.
“Oh, that night” replied Brent. “Because what happened is, I got kicked off Facebook.”
“What?” I ask.
His responses were as follows:
“Insubordination, I guess. It had been going on for about six months. They said, ‘Oh dude.'”
“Because I was living over in Bethells, and I was like, “’ate, I could probably be the edgelord of the internet. I could break it. Make it konk out.’ So I was trying to do that.”
“If you notice with the social media, it’s like, ‘Oh, today was a good day, I will post something. I will leave a week go by and post something else…’ and I was like, ‘Nah. I gotta to 60 posts a minute.'”
“And I think their algorithms were like, “We’re straining to keep up with this guy. One minute he’s saying it’s really sunny, and in the same sentence he’s saying he just got shat on and he’s gonna be really rich today. What are we going to market to this guy, that’s going to satisfy him?”
Brent says his Facebook “saga” went on for six months.
Our conversation about it went on for about 20 minutes, and by then I’d totally forgotten about the dog, and the ukulele, and the sex.
I was disorientated, off my game. And I wasn’t the first person to have this experience.
“The rather extraordinary Brent Hayward greets me at a local bar with a polemic that lasts exactly one hour and 13 minutes,” wrote Gary Steel in Metro in 2006.
“During this impenetrable squall of jet-propelled information – performance art carried through to interview – I slowly understand why Hayward isn’t valued and revered the way he clearly deserves to be: He’s failed to come up with useful sound bites, just like he’s failed to capitulate to the demands of acceptable artistry,” Steel went on.
I talked to a few friends who know more about the art world than me, and they all spoke of Brent with affection and warmth. They talked of a great painter who painted from the heart. There was darkness there, and passion. They also spoke with respect.
I read more about him in a piece about another New Zealand artist, Misery, that came out last year: “You would see him back in the day playing the guitar on K Road, maybe naked with some stirrups on or something. He’s quite mad,” she said. “But he’s turned into a painter and he makes really great art.”
Over the years Brent’s written poems, made movies (starting with Mudslinging in 1984), and played guitar and sung in post-punk bands like Shoes This High. He’s also recorded plenty of music at Fats White.
To be honest, the more I learnt about Brent Hayward, the more I felt like an idiot for being here to quiz him about his dogs.
But I don’t think Brent gave a fuck. He just liked hanging out.
“Hello! Hello!” It was one of the parrots. Listening back to my recording of our conversation, it’s like there are four of us in that room, all talking over each other. It’s madness.
“Good boy!” said the eclectus. Or maybe it was the African grey.
“And then they were like, ‘Dude have you seen that thing of you on Facebook?’ and I was like …”
That was Brent talking again, and we’re briefly – for a tiny, valuable moment – back on topic.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god! Dude what are you up to. Dude, it’s up to 6,000 now!’ And then Peter from the shop was like, ‘Here he is!’ and then …”
But Brent trailed off into another story unrelated to my stupid viral video, and to be honest, that story – which involved nudity and an intruder – was much more interesting.
Somewhere during our conversation, I did learn about the origin of his name.
“I had a hard night and went to Brazil – the coffee place [formerly of K Road] – and I went in there and they said, ‘What are you having, Brent, or whatever it was …’ and I was like a filmmaker then, and I was going, ‘Don’t call me that – my name’s Fa–‘ and I meant to say ‘flat white’ and for some reason it came out all wrong and I was like, ‘I am called Fats White’ and they were like, ‘What the fuck?’ And I think it was because of what I’d had the night before, I was kinda like, ‘Woo, I think that’s a musician’s name‘, and it became that.”
I asked Fats if he thinks of himself as an artist, or a musician. “I’m a persimmon eater,” he replied.
“And also pomegranates.”
I enjoyed my time with Fats White. His enthusiasm is infectious, even when you have no idea what he’s talking about.
We ended up at the Piha RSA, and then went to someone’s birthday at the bowling club. It was 11pm, there was a DJ, and Brent immediately hit the dancefloor. He was still gripping the ukulele, even when he was spinning around on the floor.
I hadn’t really found answers as to why he played his ukulele while his dogs had sex, but maybe I didn’t need to.
Perhaps the actual reason needs to remain a mystery, somewhat undefined, like the man himself.
Gary Steel had added a footnote to that piece from his Metro article, and I found myself nodding along to all of it:
“I’m appalled by the lack of recognition Hayward has received over the years. To me, he’s one of our great multimedia artists, but I guess he’s just too edgy for arts patrons, the perpetual outsider. I remember sitting listening to Brent rave on at Alleluya cafe and then trying to understand what the fuck he was talking about when listening back to the tape, and using none of it for the story. He deserves a biography.”
He really does. Because there is so much going on with this man. As I was finishing this piece, he sent me this rather alarming message:
Shocked that he was “amping” for a foot amputation, I attempted to get more clarity.
He told me it will be good for his “inner pirate of Kororareka” phase.
I pressed him for more, and a story emerged involving a relief effort to Vanuatu, post Cyclone Pam in 2015.
He told me he found himself on a mission to deliver drone batteries, but got stuck there for three weeks. “We went into the thick of it. Open air surgery in the jungle. I provided some relief, ukulele tunes, water…”
Things had gone wrong when he fell out of a tree, which contributed to a “history of industrial mangles” including losing half a toe when he was 16.
“A group of specialist doctors have decided they are going to help. So it’s coming off,” he told me. Fats said the surgery was just weeks away.
I hope it goes well, I told him, that he gets some relief.
“I’m a persimmon eater living in the seasons of a pretty complicated world,” he replied.
Postscript: Fats wrote with some good news: “I’m not getting it [his foot] removed at this stage, I’m getting a fusion, they said this will take the pain away. The surgeon said if that doesn’t work, they may have to remove it, if things don’t work out.”
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.