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.


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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