I have written an extended review of the book here.
In fact, it was this extension of one of the few rules the Velvet Underground had—as Lou Reed recounted many times: ‘No blues licks’—it was this abandonment of the last shreds of the blues that so distinguished punk rock, that and the fact that its song lyrics avoided opulence and riddles of the Dylan type in favour of the spare gutter poetry of the aforementioned Reed or Iggy. So there, by default, is a definition of punk as a genre.
This is in the nature of history, or rather historiography: it is an ongoing enquiry, and at every step of the way, it goes or should go beyond the previous step, even if sometimes it has to take a step back or sideways for every two forward. This is what has happened in the further investigation of this field via the flood of books, films and other documents I mentioned earlier.
Stranded is, for better or worse, simply my version of a history.
It’s hard to convey now just how hard it was to hear a lot of this type of music at that time. Bob Farrell rang everybody up to announce the news, and I went round to his place to hear it, as did Ed Kuepper. I think it was one of the Tate brothers who first turned up a copy of Funhouse. The Velvets’ Verve albums and Loaded were actually still readily available on import in the early ’70s; I’ve still got my peelable-banana copy of the first album and black-on-black embossed copy of White Light/White Heat. But everything else was all but impossible to get your hands on. It was only when I hitchhiked to Melbourne in 1975—saw Lou Reed there on his second Australian tour (now with natural dark, curly short hair)—that my mate Russell and I found a little cache of buried treasure at Batman’s record store, multiple copies and so we both got the first copies we’d ever even seen of the Velvets’ third album (a UK copy on MGM) and the MC5’s Back in the USA (still-shrinkwrapped American Atlantic cutouts). I also picked up a copy of Love Revisited. I’d never heard of Love but quickly fell in love with them. Russell picked up a couple of the Pretty Things’ mid-’60s albums on Philips. I was dead jealous. When I cottoned on to buying records by international mail-order, the first delivery I got from San Francisco included copies of the first Stooges album, Kick Out the Jams, and one of the early Flamin’ Groovies’ albums, must have been Teenage Head. They weren’t even expensive, because no-one wanted them at the time. Subsequently got the other Groovies’ albums, and other records, like Troutmask Replica, I remember having an impact on me. Others I can’t remember because they had less impact. But that’s how much you had to scrabble around back then to just hear this music that went against the grain, before punk incited an explosion of reissues.
Pioneers get arrows in their back—never was that cliché more apposite.
The rise of alternative radio in the ’80s went hand in hand with the emergence of independent music. FM radio was first called for in Australia in the late ’60s. In 1971, the ABC introduced Chris Winter’s ‘Intelligent non-commercial pop’ show Room to Move, a response to scattered commercial stations’ forays into ‘album music’. This sowed the seeds of 2JJ. At the same time, Rod Muir programmed 2SM in the tighter format of US radio. This sowed the seeds of commercial FM radio. The commercial AM stations had hoped to step straight over to the FM band. But Australian classical music lovers, aware that in America FM radio was as much the province of public stations as commercial, formed Music Broadcasting Societies in both Melbourne and Sydney to lobby for space. 2MBS and 3MBS were granted the first FM licences in 1974, and went to air just a few weeks after 2JJ was launched in Sydney in January 1975.
Robert Forster: The climate changed to suit me. I was interested in songs, I was interested in impact, I was interested in energy, just a concept, which wasn’t based on how much gear you had or how big your lightshow was. It was ideas based.
Michael Gudinski has admitted that two of the gaffs he regrets most in his long career lording it over the Australian music industry were that he didn’t sign either Cold Chisel or Men At Work. But surely it was a greater gaff—and a more costly one in the long term—to have signed Nick Cave but then to have let him go! Gudinski is one of the sacred cows of Australian music and there is no doubt he did an enormous amount to make the industry what it became, but like his good mate Molly Meldrum, he was also a prohibiting force—he stymied a lot of music, too.
Putting on and taking off blinkers is a perpetual process.
They say that if you remember the ’60s you can’t have been there. So much about the ’80s I can’t remember either. My journalism brings a lot back; I can’t help wondering if the rest isn’t best forgotten.
Drugs, I can say, fucked up that band, they’ve fucked up every band I’ve ever been in actually. Every single one. Still fucking them up. Anyway, so the Bush Oysters dissolved, and that’s when I got Thug together.
In contrast to Nick Cave’s growing up in public, Dave Graney is a self-made myth. Talk about media manipulation; Dave cunningly co-opted the media into playing the game the way he wanted by feeding it headlines and appellations it finds irresistible: ‘The Golden Wolverine’. ‘The Son of the Morning Star’. ‘As Dave Graney as I wanna be’. . . Dave’s monologues became infamous. On TV talk show appearances, his musings far too far out for the masses, he was often cut short.
It took time before my analysis of grunge came together, before I could see what had been under my nose all along—that its roots were Australian as much as anything! That’s perhaps why it never did much for me, because I’d sort of heard it all already. Grunge, the defining Sub Pop/Seattle Sound of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, was basically the sound of Australia’s ’80s underground—the Scientists, the Cosmic Psychos, even the Birthday Party, and bands like Feedtime, Grong Grong, Lubricated Goat and Bloodloss—mixed up with classic early metal, classic early punk and, I’d now add, AC/DC and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.
In music, as in so much else in life, we are perhaps forever trying to recapture that feeling, that exhilaration of the first time. Which is, of course, a futile pursuit. But for me, a new band like the Dirty Three that sounds like no other came close.
Stranded doesn’t offer much by way of critique or analysis of the music itself: because anyone can do that, it’s just opinion. I see that quite clearly now, but even then I must have intuited that I could offer something much more valuable, because I was in a (privileged) position to do so—I could tell the backstories behind the creation of that legacy. Because I suppose I assumed that the legacy would eventually get its due. When I wrote the book in the mid-’90s, when the jury was to an extent still out on this legacy (one reason for the book’s partly hostile reception back then), I still believed strongly in the worth of this sidelined music that had started twenty years earlier in the late ’70s. I was convinced that the world would sooner or later catch up . . .