Sunday, May 29, 2011

Group Hug - reading notes

These notes first appeared on the bandcamp site.


Don't know how it happened but a mini-theme emerged around mental health/illness. There's a song called 'Bipolar' and a couple of things I wrote about our friend Ian Hancock, who killed himself 25 years ago - a quarter century? That's nuts. 'December' goes back there.

Ian wasn't bipolar but in retrospect I think he was depressed. He was also an extremely chirpy, irrepressible character, with a great and eccentric record collection: Motorhead, the Clash, Madonna, Adam Ant, Husker Du, PiL, the Fall, W.A.S.P., Human League, Iron Maiden. He'd spent a year in the UK when punk was first happening and he had a fondness for bands like Crass and the UK Subs. Ian always looked great, didn't care what people thought of him.

Those hostile to difference - and there were plenty in Lower Hutt - sought out Ian for punishment. With his slight build, his dyed hair, the occasional pair of tartan trousers, English brothel creeper shoes, he was a ready target. He had good stories of being chased and beaten. He was brave and reckless. Next he bought a motorbike and took up motorcross. Surprisingly, he was a good mechanic, and a natural, fearless rider.

We'd been to school together, though he was a year younger. I used to go around to Ian's house a lot and we'd make music. He played bass a la Genesis P Orridge from Throbbing Gristle, and I'd scratch on a guitar and intone words. We also made our own tape loops by sellotaping cassette tape together. Ian owned a Korg Synth which had a small keyboard and patches, and he also had a Dr Rhythm drum machine. At one point we called ourselves The Emperor's New Clothes and we made a stencil, spray-painting our name on the platform at the Woburn railway station.

Of course we never played anywhere live. God I wish I could find those tapes we made.

Together, we interviewed the Birthday Party in 1982 for student radio - I was terrified and hardly managed to speak. It was in the bar of the Cambridge Hotel - dark and smelly at midday. I remember Mark Cubey was there too - very confident, asking about the usefulness of drugs to creativity. (Mark is now Kim Hill's producer on National Radio.) Ian was on good form and chatted happily to Tracy Pew, the bassist, who was our favourite member of the band. There was a female journalist present who asked Nick Cave what he was reading and he said Robert Pinget, the French novelist - I'd actually read Pinget but I couldn't speak. The journalist said she was reading 'Beyond Good and Evil' by Nietzsche. Was this when a wave of nausea passed over me. It felt like I was looking into the bowels of the earth such was the joyless pretension in the room. Except for Tracy Pew who told us a funny story about his first beer after being released from a 10-week jail sentence for drink/driving.
Birthday Party (July 1982): Mick Harvey - Nick Cave - Phillip Calvert - Tracy Pew - Rowland S.Howard (credit:Tom Sheehan)
Cave & Pew

New Zealand 1981-82I shouldn't be silly about it because at that time the Birthday Party were extremely exciting. They were also important in a very Antipodean way since when they'd first gone to the UK to make it they'd attended a big concert with Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes and others, and Cave, deeply underwhelmed, said in an interview that this was when he knew they could take on anyone. And they did. It was the kind of excitement we always wanted to be part of. These days I can't listen to Mr Cave. Big deal. Move on.

To give you more of a flavour of my self back then - cos it's so compelling - I was a DJ on Radio Active and once played a whole side of the LP 'Milo Goes to College' by the Descendents because I was utterly convinced that it was a work of genius. (It's still utterly alive.) After about 15 mins the unhappy station manager rang me up. (Actually, just Wiki'ed the album - 15 songs in 22 mins! In total. Side One is, like, 10 minutes, 8 songs. Oh dear my record is looking flabby. Must learn to say what I mean.) Anyway, we quickly loved US hardcore. It was very hard to respond to some pained crooner like Ian McCullough after Henry Rollins or Bob Mould or the Kirkwood brothers or D. Boon.

Back to my mini-theme . . . Early on I wrote a song called 'Lake Alice', about the notorious NZ psych hospital. One of my older cousins and her husband were nurses there in the 70s. Then later on, another cousin, Peter Finlay, was committed to Lake Alice. Last year Peter published a memoir about his time in and out of institutions. Fascinating, scary stuff - find it here:
Lake Alice Cover Art
Lake Alice Villa 12 2003

Lake Alice has an ongoing story that can be followed here:

I think of myself as, thankfully, distant from the sphere of mental illness - good luck? good genes? Don't know. Plus let's not get too cocky. However, I often imagine going crazy. I fear the loss of self and I do so with the same low level persistent apprehension that, say, I think of my hometown Wellington being flattened by a big earthquake. (Of course they say that one is comin for sure.)

I don't want to exaggerate this side of things though - on the record there are straight-ish love songs, tunes about happiness and good luck, having kids etc.

I'm dedicating  the record to my friend Ian. I'm annoyed he's not around.

The beautiful cover image is a painting by Megan J. Campbell 'Compassion'. See more of her work here:

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