shake some coupe cvrShake Some Action: My Life in Music (and other stuff)
By Stuart Coupe
Penguin Books

“You’re talking to Stuart Coupe?” remarked my wife excitedly, after I told her I’d catching up with Stuart at the tail end of an impending work trip to Sydney. “Tell him I used to read his column in ‘Dolly’ all the time! We all did!”

To thousands of teenagers – especially teenage girls – in the 1980s, Stuart Coupe was the guy who wrote that column in Dolly, championing music he liked, dissing commercial dross he didn’t, and offering various observations and advice on various non-music topics, including kissing and the art of romance.

Not being a reader of the magazine, I wasn’t familiar with Coupe’s work with “Dolly”, though his by-line did appear in regular dispatches in music magazines and newspapers. Decades later I interviewed Coupe for my Spencer P Jones biography; one thing led to another, and he became instrumental – in fact, was the critical force – in my obtaining a publishing deal. So, full disclosure, I consider Stuart Coupe a friend and sincere supporter of all the best things in music. 

“Shake Some Action” tells Coupe’s story, from his childhood in Launceston, to his formative years in Adelaide as a music writer, to syndicated columns (and "Dolly"!), the chaotic world of band management, the heady, drug and alcohol fuelled world of music industry largesse and the harsh economic reality of tour promotion and label ownership. 

Coupe writes in an engaging, endearing almost folksy tone. He’s done all of this stuff, would you believe it, a kid from Launceston? The anecdotes come thick and fast, some featuring named protagonists, others anonymised to protect the innocent and keep the lawyers at bay. And given the sociological peculiarities of the music industry, one senses there are 10 alternative versions of the same story floating around.

We get a glimpse into the seedy reality of the music industry, with its Faustian pacts between musicians, managers and industry types. How much of the hype is real and how much is confected? Given how much cocaine is in the air, nobody will ever know.

Along the way there are star-struck encounters with Springsteen, Dylan, Jagger and Iggy, financial arm wrestles with Mushroom Records legend Michael Gudinski, life-changing live concerts, manic international travel schedules and, almost tragically, an inextricable mix of alcohol abuse and psychological distress. 

And therein lies the paradox of Coupe’s story – and it’s not unique to him – that someone whose existence was characterised by regular and vibrant social intercourse would find themselves crippled by anxiety. In an environment characterised by substance-stained back-slapping, superficial alliances, barely suppressed egos and pretensions of infallibility, relationships are hard to keep, be they romantic or platonic. And when the façade shatters, sometimes there’s nothing left.

With the help of his now partner Susan, Coupe pulled himself out of the abyss of alcohol abuse and returned to where he started almost 50 years ago – writing about and spruiking the music and personalities that excite him. Coupe isn’t shy about his failings and what he missed along the way, with the occasional subtle references to the damage caused to his personal and familial relationships. 

Coupe is still active as a publicist, broadcaster and writer and, unlike so many others of a certain age, eschews the temptation to deride the latest release as not nearly as good as that amazing album he first heard in 1973 (which, really, wasn’t as seminal as that other cult album released on a Belgium independent label in 1968) or that recent show as not nearly being as impressive as that 2am gig he saw back in the ‘80s, in an audience of four drunk punters, a stray dog and the cleaner.

Ultimately Stuart Coupe is still the same kid from Launceston who dived headlong into music all those years ago. He’s just older, wiser but no less enthusiastic. But, Stuart, I reckon it’s time to give “Girls on Film” another listen. It’s actually a pretty good pop song…


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