Archive | October, 2012

The end of the optimistic eighties

19 Oct

We had a 3 album deal. The first one had done well, the second less so. This third album would either set us up or sink us. The good sports at our label thought a bigtime American record producer might do the trick and turn our accordion-heavy and parochial Oz Rock songs into a glittering string of international pop hits. As I said, the eighties were an optimistic decade.

I’d never been really sure how it worked. The record company paid for everything but, to use their jargon, all advances had to be recouped. Thus, if we sold enough ‘units’ to cover the cost of making the record, we’d make some cash. If not, they’d write it off as a bad punt and we’d go shopping for deals as 3-time losers. So in a final high stakes roll of the dice, we were sent to Memphis, Tennessee to make a hit record with, of all people, the wilful maverick Jim Dickinson.

Three weeks into the recording and we were conducting risky experiments. Behind the board, Jim patiently smoked a racehorse spliff and waited. This is the man who’d recently recorded ‘Pleased to meet me’ with the Replacements and so he was taking another longshot bet on what might happen if we got completely demolished on piss.
In the studio we hysterically screeched with laughter as we played a chaotic version of ‘Where do you go to, my lovely?’, making up the lyrics as we went along. Finally, I fell to the studio’s panelled floor, tangled in my headphone cord, saliva and snot and tears all over my face, gasping and hooting like an ape.

We hadn’t reckoned on the mind-bending effects of a local beverage called ‘Everclear’. I’d found it in the nearby bottle shop and impressed by the label’s flammability warning, mixed it with 2 litres of orange juice and served it warm in plastic cups from the studio coffee machine. Dickinson’s theory was that great performances sometimes occured out by the edge of madness and he was ready to roll the tape if it happened.

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Shortly, the band and producer agreed that we’d done a full day’s work and would start again tomorrow. The drummer and I had finished the ‘beds’ and it was the guitarists’ week of ‘tasty overdubs’ so I stood a good chance of not being needed the next day and kept drinking as my friend Karen had invited me to a party that night.
In the ensuing blur, a few memories remain: leaving Karen’s party with a visiting New Yorker who was in town for a funeral, being driven by her across the Mississippi into Arkansas, pashing in her rental car outside the motel where Dr Martin Luther King was killed and her constant referring to me as ‘Daddy’.
I was guilty of cheating on my girlfriend but let me tell ya, she was no saint either.

The hangover after drinking 190 proof grain alcohol is murder. I had poisoned myself and was crippled with self-loathing and bitter remorse. At least Karen kind of forgave me and took me for biscuits and milk gravy and nursed me around a rainy afternoon tour of Graceland.

Although the Memphis album proved another bad bet in the band’s career, we went on to sign with another label who behaved with even more of the carefree, hubristic and have-a-go spirit of the typical eighties record company. A set of tinted postcards featuring our grumpy dials were produced, video clips were suffered through, there was talk of the company moving to new premises where the public could observe the glamourous goings-on through glass walls from raised catwalks. People paid for records in those days. Trust me, it’s true.

The hangover was a bitch. We struggled along gamely but this new company made too many decisions based on assumptions of their own infallible genius. Perhaps they missed the wave of interest in things ‘Aussie’. A couple of years and they were gone along with the Bicentennial and the Sydney Olympics. The shrimp had been on the barby too long. It was all over.

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In the corner stands a boxer

18 Oct

In 2004 I was on the bones of my arse, busted and skint. My woman had taken the kids and shot through to W.A. leaving me to pay the rent on a 3 bedroom house. I needed to make some serious plans so I dragged my sorry arse to the Albert Hotel for a beer and a think.
The Albert was owned by Keith Ellis; a man who’d trained his brother Lester to the very heights of international boxing. Keithy also ran a gym and mentored young hopefuls through the exacting trials of the fight game.
He’d recently staged an exhibition match between two teenage fighters in a ring set up in the pub carpark by the bottle shop on a Sunday arvo. Local bignoters were outraged but Keith refused to be told. Get ’em out in the fresh air, he reckoned. I loved it. It was like living in ancient Rome.
Keith promoted fight nights and had the weigh-ins at the pub. I never missed these occasions. The M.C. looked like a disgraced former TV host who’d hit the piss, young nervy and super-fit fighters were introduced and the room crackled with potential violence.
The fighters stripped down to get weighed and gave each other showbizzy threatening glares and hissed threats. There were some dangerous looking cats but none as fearsome as the polynesian behemoth ducking and dodging in the corner, throwing whistling-fast combinations of punches, his face a stony mask of concentration.
I chainsmoked rollies while watching him, transfixed by the speed and firepower of his punches. If just one caught you, the bones in your face would shatter like a biscuit. He could batter you to death with his fists in a minute. His name was Jimmy Thunder.

On a gloomy unemployed Tuesday arvo, I bemoaned my fate to Keithy.
‘Gone missin’ he offered, ‘gone walkabout’.
I shrugged and agreed as he refilled my pot.
Keith scratched his cheek and looked up at the PubTab telly.
‘I’ve got a young fella needs a place to stay. Good kid.’
‘Oh yeah?’ I said, sounding interested but thinking no fucking way.
‘Yeah, young bloke, good kid. Jimmy Thunder’s his name.’
I soon dawned on me who he meant. The stony assassin in the corner. The angel of death. Jesus.
‘Let me have a think about it’ I said, scooped up my change and headed out the back door to the bottle shop.

Later that week, I was having a yarn with my mate International Super Hoggy, a florid white-whiskered fellow with strong opinions on most topics.
‘Keithy’s got this young bloke he wants to stick in my spare room’ I said.
Hoggy’s eyebrows shot up and he goggled at me in disbelief.
‘You didn’t promise him, did you?’
‘Nah’ I said, ‘just told him I’d think about it’
‘Have you seen him, this boxer?’
‘Fuckin’ oath’ I gasped, slowly shaking my head in recollection, ‘he’s fucking terrifying. Mr Instant Death.’
Hoggy just stared as if to make me continue talking.
‘Keith reckons he’d be OK. They’re christians too, most of that mob, gentle giant, that sort of thing..’
Hoggy spurted his breath derisively and gulped his Bundy.
‘It might be alright..’ I weakly said, unsure of why I wanted to convince him.
‘It’d be alright’ Hoggy began, flushing redder with the words pushing to bust out. ‘It’d be alright, Rockstar’ he said, ‘it’d be alright…UNTIL THE FUCKING DOORBELL RANG!!!’.