Voice of the exiles

stranded updated coverStranded. Australian Independent Music, 1976-1992. Revised and Expanded Edition
By Clinton Walker (The Visible Spectrum)

First issued in 1996, the brilliant “Stranded” was Clinton Walker's second "overground" success (his first being his biography of Bon Scott two years earlier), and was a more readily-available primer on how Australian music - as a whole - abruptly changed into something both credible and world-class. 

Yeah, and you disagree? Look, prior to 1978 (say) there were only a handful of bands determined, lucky, and good enough to get above the parapet and charge stark-naked and take on the world.

Around 1978, everything changed - though I'll emphasise that the world-wide impending undercurrent of change started way back. Hip young kids taking the present culture and either embracing it or pouring gasoline on it (or both), and investigating the past cultures and appropriating what they identified with. 

In his preface to this edition (with "invisibly" revised original text and very visible expansions), Walker makes several statements I vehemently disagree with. This is unremarkable, as the nature of The Life is that it is mercurial, shape-shifting. For example, where Walker is amused by Sonic Youth's title “1991: The Year Punk Broke”, I thought it insanely naff, wrong and downright stupid.

The Axeman's Story gets the book it deserves

execution days lgeExecution Days: The Life and Times of Spencer P. Jones
By Patrick Emery (Love Police)

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Melbourne writer Patrick Emery’s exhaustively researched and engrossing biography of the late Spencer P. Jones is that it found a publisher.

Thanks to the internet, book publishing is a low-margin crap shoot. But Aussie publishing houses were already renowned for their lack of imagination and reluctance to take risks on books about anyone who’s not mainstream, middle-of-the-road or, ahem, National Living Treasures. Even those imprints that are outgrowths of universities, our bastions of free thought.

If you haven’t received a formal rejection letter from a friendly Aussie publisher after shopping a musician’s autobiography, you haven’t lived. The stupidity of not keeping and framing a letter that read, in part, “there is no market for this because Radio Birdman fans can’t read” is regrettable in hindsight – it should have gone straight to the pool room - but, fuck you, anyway, self-important publisher twat. You deserve to be shot by a ball of your own shit.  

Patrick Emery suffered his share of similar fools while trying to place “Execution Days”.

Ex-Bad Seed a consummate tale teller

up above the city down beneath the starsUp Above the City, Down Beneath the Stars
By Barry Adamson (Omnibus Press)

This autobiography is so sumptuous and clean that I don't want it to end, so I'm taking it in glorious nibbles. I haven't finished it yet, but sod that. You need to know how damned good it is, so I'm filing the review now. Just order it, buy it, demand it from your music emporium. 

Barry Adamson is perhaps best known to the Australian rock 'n' roll world as a founder  member of Magazine, covering for Tracy Pew while the latter was in jail, and the first four Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds LPs (and re-joining in 2013). He is also an accomplished producer of film scores.

His own band came to Australia in September 2012 on the back of his LP “I Will Set You Free”. I have very fond memories of that magnificent night in Adelaide, not least because I only recall three other friends there: one of whom we all miss terribly.

Brace of books that celebrate Aussie blues - and rock and roll

blues portraits vol 1 and2Blues Portrait Volume 2 by Pauline Bailey 
Blues Portrait Volume 3 by Pauline Bailey

If you want to pick an argument, get into a discussion with a professional musician about what constitutes blues music.

There are those who regard themselves as “blues players” and those who do not, and never the twain shall meet.

There’s a mindset among some self-described blues players that they’re the “real deal” and everyone else is not. It must really rankle for them to have seen the annual Bluesfest evolve into a (mostly bland) celebration of the mainstream.

Punk rock therapy

snake pit therapy bookSnake Pit Therapy by Sonny Vincent (Far West Press)

Don’t let its diminutive size lull you into thinking this book is in any way insubstantial. It’s pocket-sized so you can carry it on your person - like a concealed weapon.

Punk survivor Sonny Vincent’s first formal foray into being A Published Author packs a hefty punch in its 91 pages. Is it a memoir, a collection of prose or a bunch of musings from a hyperactive, creative mind? All of the above. 

It’s not just punk rock and roll. “Snake Pit Therapy” bounces from childhood rejections of authority to tripped-out excursions around a dry-cleaning shop (‘You get $100 a day and all the cocaine you can snort,” read the note on the laundromat’s bulletin board’.) 

There’s a bizarre vignette (“My Evil Little Krishna”) arguing with itself in the finest post-modern style, an ode to formica and an impenetrable prayer. There’s a story of a doomed smalltown newspaper run scam.

New book delivers a worthy roadkill dissection, one gig at a time

on stage bookIggy & The Stooges Onstage 1967-74 by Per Nilsen (Sonic Bond Publishing)

Cutting to the chase: This is an amazing book and an essential item for any Stoogephile. Swedish author Per Nilsen has pedigree – he wrote the world’s first Iggy Pop biography, “The Wild One”, way back in 1988 – and he’s an academic, so you know it’s going to be researched to, er, within an inch of its pretty face going to hell.

The concept is simple: Nilsen divides the original lifespan of the Stooges into logical chunks, provides contextual information and then lists every show played, accompanied by as much information as is available. Yes, every show. He draws on a mix of primary sources and published interviews. He relies heavily on advertisements and reviews from local papers, underground press like The Fifth Estate and Natalie Schlossman’s fan magazine “Popped”. 

You can’t beat great research. Nilsen picks up inaccuracies published elsewhere and rules out advertised gigs that were never played. He even calls out a minor error in Paul Trynka’s definitive “Open Up and Bleed” book. I’m not sure the road crew accounts here of the alleged Goose Lake shutdown tally with the Third Man Records record of the same show, but they make fascinating reading.

The roll-call of first-hand accounts is impressive. Early manager Jimmy Silver is a big catch. James Williamson’s bad guy rap for poisoning the band is shown to be the ill-considered myth that it is, with tour manager John Adam (aka The Fellow) confirmed as the real catalyst for various members’ heroin habits.

The Decline Years of the Stooges, post-Mainman, hold a certain fascination for hardcore fans. Part of it is voyeurism – a peek into the on-the-road medicine cabinet and the approval-seeking, self-insulating excesses that it fuelled in a damaged singer – and the other part is wondering why the band kept going on its march of death.

Razor sharp punk poetry

puroPuro Pursimo by A. Razor (Punk Hostage Press)

"The words are where we worship...." (-A.Razor)

Post-Grunge, there were still at least a few little magazines, independent record labels, real record stores and big city nightclubs where cool little bands could do their thing. Now, that stuff's even mostly gone. Immediately, Post-Grunge, though, there was like, 10,000 shite bands, too. Every town had a fake Blues Explosion, a fake Sonic Youth, a fake Nirvana, a fake Chili Peppers, etc., etc. If I wasn't moved by the originals, I surely had no time for their local small pond, bad impressionist, franchise clone, cut rate imitators.

Macho bellowing metal merchants, goofy whiteboy funk and swing bands, Clash-Ramones-Thunders rip-off bands, tribute acts, but few of 'em really had their own style, statement, message, or tunes. Some of the most fondly remembered bands of that era had no memorable music, at all, you can't even sing me one of their songs if I asked you to on the curb in an unguarded moment - it was just the threads everybody seemed to like. Money and clothes, that's all they had goin'. Suits and deep cocaine pockets.

Dan Denton's one-way trip to a dead end

100 a week motel"$100-a-Week Hotel" by Dan Denton (Punk Hostage Press)

Holy Toledo! I read this book in just two sittings, even though I have awful eyesight and live in a dark trailer with crazy loud kid media blasting at me around the clock. It's that good, you won't want to put it down.

It's one of those rare books for people like me with short attention spans, it feels more like a movie or record, because his masterful and observant descriptions of everyday people struggling to survive under the boot of oligarchs and jackbooted Gestapo in the shadows of the dying empire's corporatized police state, where most wounded, helpless people are born into extreme poverty, abused, neglected, abandoned, and instructed to piss-test and compete for bottom-feeder, no future jobs that never pay a living wage.

Most of us never really stand a chance. It's refreshingly blunt and real, and does not suck-up to booj college standards of asskiss phoniness. It's the real story of plain-spoken, midwestern, working class heroes and heroines struggling to medicate their pain and find some sort of redeeming intimacies, grace and dignity, any consolation or impression of consolation, before passing out and waking up to a shrill clock radio.

People cannot stop themselves from dreaming, from seeking redemption in the arms of a gypsy-queen of the highway, and from sometimes, losing their cool and freaking the fuck out. All these characters are searching for some kind of higher power, divine intervention, warmth of home, even though they are mostly helpless, cursed, traumatized and all tragically ill prepared to meet the demands of rent and still have coins left over for some malt liquor and gas station food.

Greasy Psalms

everything is radiantEverything is Radiant Between The Hates
By Rich Ferguson
(Moon Tide Press)

Rich Ferguson is the best poet in the world, if you ask me. All his words have medicinal properties; they are magic spells and healing incantations. If you love John Cooper Clarke or Lydia Lunch, Exene, Nikki Giovanni, John Trudell or Tupac, you'll probably love Rich Ferguson, too.

If you are lonesome, isolated, alienated, suffering, worried, exiled, dry-drunk, evicted, locked-down, locked-out, tripled masked and permanently veiled in black lace mourning, abandoned, back-stabbed, betrayed, robbed, in grief, forlorn or melancholy, remember there is power in the word.

"Everything Is Radiant Between The Hates" is my newest sidekick, imaginary friend, silver bullet, rosary, garlic and crucifix, force field and holy water, pepper spray and hip-flask, trusty shank and pimp-stick, Marlboro Reds, harmonica, Roy Rogers holster, double secret fan club only secret decoder ring, 45 spindle, miniature spy camera, flashlight, utility-knife and I-phone. Flash Gordon spacegun. Secret scrolls, wobbly jukebox at the last greasy spoon in town. It's probably the most rocknroll artifact I've unearthed since the Humpers from Long Beach released that CD, "Positively Sick On Fourth Street", like 25 years ago.

If you're like me, you’re used to carryin' nothin, mighta spent most of your life empty pocketed, no watch, no wallet, no keys, no credit card, no proper identification, or name-tag, or money-clip, but once you get this book in your hands, you'll probably keep carrying it around with you. It's become essential to my sense of wellbeing, like a guitar slide, or bottle opener, Brill Cream and unbreakable comb. You won't leave home without it.

It's a Greyhound ticket to another time. Drinks for free. Mirrored sunglasses. Feather earring. The gospel truth confirming all the good ghosts you got floatin' around inside your traumatized skull. Like a rhinestone horseshoe, a Best Western ashtray, a universal remote, or black cat bone. It's like Pete Seeger's Wobblies songbooks. You better get a copy, now. Also look for "8th & Agony" (Punk Hostage Press).

three mcgarrett

Buy it 

Young Nick stripped

boy on fireBoy on Fire. The Young Nick Cave
By Mark Mordue
(Harper Collins)

Lou Reed famously used the phrase "Growing Up in Public", but it's seriously arguable that he ever grew up at all. As represented in "Boy on Fire", Nick Cave grew up in public, and it's that Odyssean journey which we want to follow. 'Cause success, well, that's over-rated. It's nice that you're not poor anymore, but boy, if you had problems before, you could easily have a worse time dealing with them.

So author Mark Mordue begins with some of what he already knew, and of what we already know, before plunging down a rabbit-hole beset on all sides with imminent spiteful criticism, fact-checkers, poor-memory merchants and "it wasn't that way at all" keyboard numptys.

That he suspects what he's in for is quite clear from his early observation of the bond between Nick and his mum before Cave heads off to accept an ARIA Award in 2007. To his credit, although he was only nominated himself, Cave also inducted the other members of The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds on the night. (Most annoyingly, he forgot to mention the band's original drummer, Phill Calvert).

Like I said, brave or damned foolish; it's hard to be a writer, not a hack, and make any money (Mordue has a day job, he's no fool). "Boy on Fire" deserves to be purchased for yourself, your friends and anyone you know interested in music. Period.

One reason is that, if you know enough about Cave, you'll also know that any decent book about him should always have a modicum of humour. I found myself chuckling out loud on the bus within minutes of beginning and, while it's not written with laughter in mind, you will find the several threads which Mark sets up quite early, vividly rewarding. Cave himself, an adventurous mischief-maker, possesses a savage and spontaneous wit, and his company can be addictive. Small wonder that so many who have encountered him either don't comprehend him, or find him boorish, or jaw-droppingly fascinating.

I-94 Bar