From the first sentence in "Road Series", you’re in Hugo’s world, his past, present and by implication, future.
“Road Series” is one of the main reasons that a poor bloke like me can’t ever get history quite right: we have the dates, the events, the chronology lodged and squared away. But people like Hugo carry the emotive rationale, the anti-rationale, and the … moving finger writes inevitability of their lives locked inside them.
I suppose we could all say we have that, but few, very very few of us could write it out and get it right, express it right, show us who warn’t there just how it wuz.
We instantly inhabit Hugo’s world because, first and foremost when you’re reading a memoir, the writer is telling their story. Second, “Road Series” possesses a vividness, a real-in-colour sensation to it which so many memoirs of the punk and musical new wave period completely miss in their hurry to put down their rivals, tell juicy anecdotes and, basically, gossip.
And I’ll just say this, for an autobiographical account of a significant St Kildan musician from this rather bitchy, backstabbing period, there is an astonishing absence of tittle-tattle, knife-wielding and general spite. Hugo is remarkably matter-of-fact about things, and (again, from page one) the maelstrom continues like that whirling Tasmanian devil from the Warner Brothers cartoons.
If medals were given out to musicians who’d somehow survived to succeed in the face of horror, The Runaways would be instant recipients. Cherie Currie’s book is a damn fine read. It’s worth four out of three McGilvrays or whatever iconic ‘70s TV star The Barman uses to denote: cracking r’n’r book. Four out of three: you with me so far?
First, let it be known that we have too many books on ’60s rockers who turn out the same old wan sludge with a smirk and a wink. There are plenty of ’70s and ‘80s rockers who’ve done the same. Once you reach a certain level, you can wet-fart in your audience’s face with impunity and thousands will pay for the privilege.
Step forward and take the bouquets of flowers, Cherie Currie. Tony O’Neill has probably done the horrible typing, editing and transcribing, but Cherie’s story is told with verve, honesty and … yes, more than a tinge of bitterness. Although bitterness is not the prevailing theme; the themes are abuse, self-abuse, self-awareness and basic morality.
For all those who think The Runaways had it sweet, “Neon Angel” will disabuse you of that notion. Cherie’s story is unpleasant and horrific in many ways; and as members of the Blank Generation we can all make a few guesses. But the truth is vile (there were moments where I found myself pointlessly looking away from the page), and beneath all the glam rollercoaster of success was the greedy, ugly industry (personified by Kim Fowley, whose depiction will turn everyone’s stomach. Picture a moist tall slug in a dirty orange jumpsuit, that’s how I’ll always remember him).
Did you ever see The Decline of Western Civilization documentary? The first one?
Pretty uneven, isn’t it? And by god, there’s a lot of indifferent stuff in there. The Germs are horrible, but rather wonderful. Fear are also quite nasty, and funny, and wonderful. The rest … well, it’s kind of interesting. But Decline (Mk I) is not a film I readily return to.
Even so, because it captures a scene in a scattergun style, it’s significant. By no means was that every significant band. By no means known to man, woman or beast.
But when it first came out here in Australia (1984, I think) it made and confirmed a huge impact. The wave of US hardcore and secondary punk was finally breaking into our homes (well, not if you listened to mainstream radio and watched TV, granted. I mean, us in the alternative scene.
You remember that…) and gentle young souls with spiky hair, the right jeans and Doc Martens and leather motorcycle jackets with UK punk band names and patches all over them? (I was always reminded of my school exercise books when I was about 13; I figured I’d done that already, I didn’t need a jacket that reminded me of school.) When, in 1983, we tried to explain to these gentle souls that, you know, it was the American punk bands which were amazing, they were aggressively dismissive.
This autobiography by American pop-cum-punk-rock guitarist Frank Secich is a charmer. It’s big on warmth and doesn’t dish the dirt.
Its vignettes sometimes run to less than two pages apiece and are served canape style rather than in large chunks. Its 200 or so pages won’t suck up more than a few days for most people to consume.
Polite charm and gentle humour shine through.
You’d never guess its author spent two years touring with one of America’s most notorious punk bands.
Frank Secich cut his musical teeth in a bunch of Mid-western garage and teen hop bands in the ‘60s, almost cracked the big time with major label signings Blue Ash and was a sideman on bass for the latter-day Dead Boys, with his good mate Stiv Bators.
Secich worked with Stiv in his time as a solo artist for Bomp Records, retired and went on to a second career with Club Wow (with Jimmy Zero) and garage rockers Deadbeat Poets. He’s paid his own dues and those of several other people.
He was a BBC DJ. On the back cover there are heartfelt quotes about him from musicians as diverse as Jack White, Johnny Marr, Elton John, Robert Plant, Nick Cave and Elvis Costello.
His name was John Peel.
Here’s a comment about him from Carlton Sandercock, who runs Easy Action Records in the UK:
“John Peel was quite possibly THE most important person on the radio anywhere ever ... to find a DJ that championed new bands, unsigned bands, punk bands, bands of every genre…and encouraged growth when he was employed by one of the biggest corporations in UK is staggering to say the very least … I never met him but did have him stamping on the floor trying to get me, Annie Nightingale and Nikki Sudden to shut up…
This book completely beggars belief. Top marks and way, way beyond. It’s also utterly brilliant as well as being compelling reading. It’ll have you ranging your emotions from laughter to sorrow and is so well researched (Nina doesn’t bother much with academic references as her books come mostly from her own interviews and experience) and put together … words completely fail me.
If you’ve read any of Antonia’s other books (on the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and The Only Ones) and enjoyed her style and intelligence … The Prettiest Star is so far ahead that it may as well be the best fiction you’ve ever read, except it’s all true.
I can’t believe that you’ll recall Brett Smiley. He had one hit, “Va Va Va Voom”, in the UK in 1974, at the height of that bizarre post-6ts glam and pop period where decent songs were generally in short supply in the charts. Oh dear, much like now? Really? I’m shocked.