Boomer conceits can't bury a good story

i ll be goneI’ll Be Gone: Mike Rudd, Spectrum and How One Song Captured a Generation

By Craig Horne (
Melbourne Books)

Craig Horne’s biography of New Zealand-born musician Mike Rudd comes with a lofty sub-titular proposition: "How One Song Captured a Generation". That song is Spectrum’s chart-topping 1971 hit, "I’ll Be Gone".

Horne’s biography is a valuable contribution to Australasian musical history. While Rudd’s trajectory as a musician and songwriter is common to many musicians, Horne’s methodical research and oral history charts the highs and lows of Rudd’s career in impressive detail.

Save for a few cursory mentions in John Dix’s chaotic history of New Zealand music, “Stranded in Paradise”, Rudd’s Christchurch r’n’b band, Chants (or Chants R’n’B), the frenetic band whose parochial popularity provided the basis for Rudd’s move across the Tasman in the late 1960s, is largely absent from the pages of musical history.

Rudd’s tenure in Ross Wilson’s Party Machine, covered previously in Horne’s biography of Daddy Cool, is recounted from a more nuanced, Rudd-oriented perspective. Spectrum rises, plateaus, recalibrates and fades away. Ariel teeters on the edge of commercial success, only for the record company to lose interest.

The Six Strings That Drew Blood

TGBTRSHThis Guitar Belongs to Rowland S. Howard
Edited by Harry Howard (Ledatape)

This is one of the best books I've bought all year.

Why do people buy books about musicians? For the sex, of course. And the glamour and excess. And to get the dirt. Or to try to understand a bit more about the tortured muse. Or because they're a completist. 

What makes a music book crap? If it's not about someone you're interested in, if it's badly written, if it's not factual, if it's (Cardinal Sin Alert) boring. 

Forget the words for the moment. "This Guitar Belongs To Rowland S. Howard" is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen (and I've worked in an antiquarian bookshop for over 20 years).

More than Gossip: Bio is a deep dive into the business - and art - of being Paul Kelly

paul kelly coupePaul Kelly: The Man, The Music And The Life In Between (Hachette Australia)

By Stuart Coupe

“I hear you like music. Do you like Paul Kelly? I’ve just been reading his autobiography, "How to Make Gravy". I love his music. Always have.”

It was an innocuous and inoffensive simple conversation starter one Sunday afternoon, uttered by a friend of my wife’s. To the extent there was question in there, it was almost opaque, and more likely rhetorical. Everyone likes Paul Kelly. How could anyone not like Paul Kelly? As it was, I fumbled around for an answer, and mumbled something about not having had the chance to listen to any of his music for a while.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t like Paul Kelly’s music. I’d first heard and seen him back in the early 1980s on Countdown with his then-band, The Dots. A few years later Kelly appeared again, this time with a new band, the Coloured Girls, and a batch of songs that would become staples of commercial radio playlists: "To Her Door", "Darling It Hurts", "From St Kilda to King’s Cross" and "Before Too Long".

Good news for zeroes as Noise for Heroes returns

nfh1Noise for Heroes Complete 1980-83 Vol 1
Noise for Heroes Complete 1988-91 Vol 2
Noise for Heroes Complete 1991-2004 Vol 3
Edited by Steve H. Gardner

Imagine a decade like the 1980s without zines. For the uninitiated (because they weren’t born then) zines were self-produced magazines, often photocopied and sometimes hand-drawn, focused on subjects that the authors were passionate about. More often than not, the topic was music. 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of zines in a pre-Internet world. Along with college radio, they  powered the American underground music circuit. In Australia, they connected underground bands, and fans across a country of disparate cities and gave insights into scenes overseas in a way mainstream music papers could never reflect. In Europe, they were oxygen for a culture considered low brow that fought to find an audience. 

Zines were lapped up by people into punk, high-energy and left-of-centre music that didn’t manage to gain exposure elsewhere. They were the epitome of DIY culture, making the passion of others tangible. You’re “consuming” the digital equivalent of one right now. 

One of the best was “Noise for Heroes” from San Diego, USA. The very lanky Steve Gardner kicked it off with some like-minded friends in 1980. It initially had a focus on punk rock. In its second life, it moved onto the Aussie and Scandinavian underground scenes with Gardner its writer rather than editor. Steve drummed in bands, ran his own record label, NKVD, and had a mail order music business. 

And those Hollywood nights

all that shinesAll That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign by Iris Berry (Punk Hostage Press)

“It appeared clear to me - partly because of the lies that filled my history textbooks - that the intent of formal education was to inculcate obedience to a social order that did not deserve my loyalty. Defiance seemed the only dignified response to the adult world.”
- Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story)

“Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody's slavery. They do not want equality because the thrill of their happiness comes from having things that others have not.”
- W.E.B. DuBois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil)

"The fortunate is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he 'deserves' it, and above all that he deserves it in comparison with others. He wishes to be allowed the belief that the less fortunate also merely experiences his due. Good fortune thus wants to be 'legitimate' fortune." - Max Weber

"A catalog of catastrophic events shaped our lives..." - Iris Berry

ALMOST GOLD...

Iris Berry is my favorite movie star. In my personal rocknroll pantheon, she will always be the queen of the Hollywood underground. Hard livin' hellion, heroine, helper, healer, auteur, essayist. She lived on 10, on full-blast, for a long time, and has written several riveting books about it, including "Daughters Of Bastards", and her latest enchanting collection of poetic reminiscing's, "All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign".

Part of the reason she is always such a big hit on the spoken word circuit is because we are all getting older and are increasingly nostalgic for our own wayward punk rock youth, and therefore, love hearing those far out and heavy, true tales from her seen it all history, but also, because something about her speaking voice is oh so very consoling and soothing, it is a tender, understanding salve for the sad and lonely, and scarred for life, all 'us last of the last, limping landmarks and leather clad convalescents. She has a comforting presence, because she emanates real deep, genuine article beauty, from the inside out. We can all recognize her as one of our kind. 

Take The Fall for one Hex-cellent read

the big midweekHave A Bleedin Guess. The Story of Hex Enduction Hour
by Paul Hanley (Route Publishing)

Straight outta ... Pontefract ... comes Route's latest (rather brilliant) publication. For what I suspect is a small publisher, Route (est. 2000) punch above their weight. This is their 10th music book - the third to deal mostly with The Fall and - gulp - the second by a Fall drummer.

You can snaffle Simon Wollstencroft's “You Can Drum But You Can't Hide” and Steve Hanley's tour de force “The Big Midweek. Life Inside The Fall” at Route's website, and Paul Hanley's “Leave The Capital” (a history of Manchester music and liberation) as well.

My copy's pink with black writing, and  signed. Though I'd like to think you'd see this one in Dymock's or JBHiFi, don't hold your breath. I ordered mine, yes from overseas, and it arrived in a timely fashion, and much better wrapped than most books you order from overseas.

Which is excellent; particularly since it anticipates Cherry Red's upcoming '"1982" Fall box, the latter of which I expect I'll get to in due course.

Now, unlike his brother Steve, Paul Hanley approaches “Hex Enduction Hour” in two minds. The bulk of the text follows the obvious pattern: what came before the album, how the songs were put together, the context of the band in their time and so on. He approaches the album as a music historian, but is also able to correct wrongly-held beliefs (such as the likely identity of King Shag Corpse) with restrained glee, while inserting footnotes which reveal the bloke you want to meet at the pub. Rather puts me in mind of Terry Edwards' book on Madness' first LP, written for the 33 1/3 series.

Speaking of which, in the foreword, Stewart Lee (no, no idea) tells his sad story of wanting to write a book on “Hex” for 33 1/3, only to be rebuffed with the old “ain't commercial enough”, a sad and common refrain to many an enthusiastic writer (if not fan).

A Big Beat that's worth every cent

the big beat bookBook launch
The Big Beat by Donald Robertson and others
The Howing Owl, Adelaide
Wednesday, October r16 2019

Can't take Her anywhere.

We've just witnessed Donald Robertson, mainspring behind Adelaide's monthly Roadrunner magazine (1978-1983) be inducted into the SA Music Hall of Fame (the 111th member) by John Schumann (of Redgum).

Preceding that was a couple of short speeches (including one from Jim Kerr of Simple Minds), a rather entertaining Q&A chaired by Suzy Ramone (of, among many other things, the Molting Vultures), and prior to that much chinwagging by a bunch of old coots who hadn't seen each other in - literally in some cases - several decades.

Go dancing with Kim Volkman

for those that dance“For Those That Dance with the Skeleton”
by Kim Volkman
(Self published)

It was George Bernard-Shaw who said: “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance” and it’s a maxim St Kilda musician-turned-author Kim Volkman has applied exceptionally well.

Kim’s first book, the autobiographical “The Devil Won’t Take Charity” (2017), was a rip-roaring Harley ride through his own back pages that hung out enough dirty laundry to keep 10 dry cleaners in work for a month.

“For Those That Dance with the Skeleton” is occasionally more of the same but in vignette form. These are short stories about OCD girlfriends, workmates, dentists, rostered days off, kicking smoking and indulging addictions (like guitars and heroin) all rendered in unique style and peppered with dry humour.

Record Play Pause: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: The Joy Division Years by Stephen Morris (Hachette Australia)

morris bookHe's the drummer chap in Joy Division and now New Order. Morris has written about how he got there, but with a rather rueful (and lucky for us, gently comic) look back at what a twat he once was. Cleverly written, sensibly contrite and a bit ashamed of himself, this is corking stuff. Even if you weren't interested in his music, in fact.

However, we're also in modern myth territory. That means the tragic suicide of frontman Ian Curtis; a death which seemed to grip the nation's rather maudlin youth and media of the day to such an extent that death of The Ruts' frontman, Malcolm Owen a couple of months later, was completely eclipsed; surely both were equally as tragic. 

But no, the Joy Division wave, which was only just rearing up, hit the UK quite hard. 

We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher and The Last Stand of a Band That Mattered by Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki (Akashic Books)

we are the clashHistory, so observers say, is written by the winners. More often than not, those observers are the victors so they would say that, wouldn’t they? Nonetheless, it’s a truism that carries weight. 

That’s why you’ll see scarce mention of The Clash’s career after Mick Jones was kicked out and it’s partly why the final studio album under the band’s name, “Cut The Crap”, has been excised from the official - read: survivor-approved - body of work. Indeed, that one’s not even available to stream on the ubiquitous Spotify and never had a hope in hell of making it to the extravagant “Sound System” box set.  With good reason, say most of us who have heard it…

Which brings us to “We Are The Clash”, an exhaustively researched and well-written book that chronicles the last Clash line-up, a back-to-punk-basics outfit whose ranks included only two “real” members in Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon.  The so-called “Clash Mk 2”. 

“We Are The Clash” is an important book in so many ways - and not just because it makes up for a lack of documentation of this period of the band. 

I-94 Bar