Friday, May 22, 2015

more from the unpublished 'first version' of Pop Life

What surprised me when I delved a little further into this stuff was that there was actually a chapter in this 'book' called 'Pop Life'. I remember how we laboured over what to call the book which became Pop Life (though I don't remember what the other options considered were...!). But in fact I had actually used this phrase already... bizarre. 

I have cut out the libellous bits. Just as I would have if the book had actually been published in this form.

In life, some things just don’t fit into a coherent narrative. I know the only reason you started reading this memoir was for dirt on the stars. I have bugger all dirt on the stars, but I do have some neatish anecdotes that might impress the other people at the nursing home when I’m a hundred. I’ll jot them down here so I won’t forget them.

1. The Singing Budgie

Kylie Minogue’s success as a singer in mid-1987 onwards took us by surprise at Smash Hits as much as it did anyone (including herself I bet). She had not really impacted on us until she started making records; then came the press backlash against her everywhere except in the pop papers. I interviewed her once – a boring affair – she got grumpy with me when I suggested she hadn’t made it big in the US (she thought she had, with ‘Locomotion’.) I do remember her budgie-like enthusiasm, though, about the spectacular view from her Sydney hotel suite.

2. Michael and Kylie

Everyone said Michael and Kylie were an item. I thought this was the most risible thing I’d ever heard. I had to interview Michael about the Max Q album and I had a whole swag of questions to ask him about how such an absurd rumour had come about. When I showed up at the recording studio, there were Michael and Kylie, together, kissing in front of me… she said ‘hi’ to me… he gave her the keys to his car, made some joke about giving her some pocket money, like he was her dad or something, and she left.


4. Red Hot Chili Peppers

I interviewed Anthony Kiedis in April, 1990. He was very funny – only thinking with the outside of his brain. From my transcript I see I asked him if he had an indian penis. He replied that ‘primarily I’m Lithuanian’. If memory serves me correctly he also told me that Stevie Nicks had a coke roadie to blow cocaine up her arse with a straw, a rumour that later got a lot of currency. From my point of view it wouldn’t have made it to print in anything except Extra, if Lesley mistook it for a sexual act.

5. Ross Wilson

‘The thing that annoys me the most, I get this thing about “You’re the big survivor” and “You’re the godfather of Australian rock ‘n’ roll” which annoys me because all I’m interested in doing is continuing… fuck the industry, I’m not really interested in the industry.’ At this time –1987 – Mondo Rock were still amongst us, but had long ceased to produce big hits. It must have given Ross the complete shits that, where his version of an obscure Stones cover – ‘I’m Free’ – failed to chart, the Soup Dragons’ inferior version was a big hit three years later.

6. Glenn Shorrock

I had the pleasure of meeting Glenn Shorrock at the time he rejoined LRB for two thoroughly turgid albums in 1988. ‘People, especially young people, put too much emphasis on success and failure, or they see things on a success or failure level,’ was his message to the 10 year olds who read Smash Hits. He did, however, see youth rebellion as valid, particularly when he applied it to himself: ‘Anyone over twenty was old hat [in the 60s]. They didn’t listen to rock ‘n’ roll music, of course that has changed.’ Ho hum, it sure has, Glenn.

7. Wendy James

I could spin this story out to a thousand words but why bother. I interviewed Wendy James at the offices of WEA records. She was lying on a couch, her wrists were all bandaged up, she didn’t get up. I asked her what had happened and she told me she had got a wrist infection from a microphone stand, and mimed how she rubbed the mike stand with her wrists. Too weird. Transvision Vamp were a terrible group but I loved Wendy James’ solo album; every time I see Matthew Hall I ask him if he’s heard it.

8. James Reyne

I truly have great admiration for James Reyne. He was always getting bagged for his acting performance in Return to Eden, so I asked him once if he was going to do more acting. He said he would like to appear in the first five minutes of a movie as someone who lights a stick of dynamite and kills some people and himself. This sounds like the response of someone who knew what the Smash Hits readers wanted to hear, and it had everything: sex, death, movies, instant gratification. ‘Hammerhead’ and ‘Fall of Rome’ were great singles, too.

9. Simon Day

Simon Day of Ratcat worked as a graphic designer on Playboy, part time. We used to chew the fat. I asked him if he had an ambition to work on Playboy full time. He said ‘I think I’ll see if this rock ‘n’ roll thing works out first’. I liked Ratcat but I thought, jesus christ, mate, you’d be fucken lucky. In six months Ratcat were number one. We were doing articles on Ratcat while Day was still working down the corridor. He used to come in and read over our shoulders what we were writing about him. 

10. Marcus

Everyone must remember Marcus. Billboards all around Sydney for a long time said ‘Marcus is Coming’ and a picture of a handsome Johnny Diesel, Johnny Depp type boy. Finally Marcus did come and it was amongst the biggest letdowns of the decade. His independent single was one of those generic Memphis studio’s country and western songs with Marcus karaokeing over the top. The rumour I heard was that Marcus was the son of a Canberra grocer family who not unreasonably thought image was everything in the pop business. This is why everyone remembers Marcus but no-one remembers his record.

11. Bros and Gayness

Readers were always perturbed, distressed and perhaps excited by the idea that such-and-such a star might be gay. ‘Tell me it’s not true!’ they would write to us. One reader wrote in with a new twist on the old sperm ingestion-stage collapse story a la Marc Almond, Rod Stewart, etc, that ‘the singing Bros’ had collapsed on stage from an overdose of the ‘drumming Bros’s sperms’. The reader was flabbergasted, though not from the overdose story exactly. Her question was: ‘can a brother gay a brother?’ She may still be wondering, because we didn’t publish the letter.

12. Slash

Marc Andrews had to go out to lunch with Collette. He said to me, ‘I’ve set up this phone interview with this stupid rock band, Guns en Roses. They won’t call but if they do, here’s some questions.’ Slash called. Marc had written all these questions about whether G’n’R hated Poison, and so on. Slash stopped me after about question ten and said ‘These are questions people were asking us a year ago.’ He kept putting the phone down to answer his door, he was having a party. Two months later they were the hottest band on earth.

13. Dannii at Wonderland

I thought Dannii Minogue was adorable. Her lack of artifice concealed what I suppose was really a hideous, Young Talent Time-inspired professionalism. Once I went to Wonderland with her (to do a story) and kids everywhere were coming up and saying ‘Hi, Dannii!’ to her. She would stop, seemingly surprised, and study their faces then, realising that she actually didn’t know them, said ‘hi’. If only the world was made up entirely of people so lacking in pretension. I’m serious, she was genuinely checking each kid to make sure she didn’t actually know them. So perfect!

14. Wa Wa Nee

I thought Wa Wa Nee’s second album So Good was a complete ripper, and I still play it a lot. They were utterly the victims of the boring old fart FM revolution of the late 80s. Word had it that So Good sold less than 1000 copies. If this is true, then the Cannanes sold more records… than that album. Wa Wa Nee played the first and last Smash Hits Dance Party at Sydney Town Hall, filmed by the ABC. Almost no-one came. The ABC said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll make it look like there’s an audience.’


16. James Freud’s Step into the Heat

Mushroom spent a fortune on this 1989 James Freud album. I asked him why anyone would want to step into the heat. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, then proved it: ‘I never really analysed it that much, y’know. My stuff, even though I write it, and so obviously there’s a reason for everything I do, at the same time I prefer not to analyse anything I do… and just take it on face value, you know, here’s the song, here’s the title, if you don’t like it, fuck off, who cares.’ The album stiffed.

17. Giving away The Tribe

An early lesson in rock journalism. I was on the train one day, having come from the Smash Hits office where James had given me an album by a band called The Tribe to review. Some schoolboys were sitting opposite me, and one of them was engrossed in writing ‘The Tribe’ on his schoolbag in biro. His friend said, ‘Have you got their album?’, and he said nah. I couldn’t resist: ‘Do you want it?’ My review was extremely positive; nothing I’d heard of The Tribe’s album made me dislike them or their music.

18. Madonna’s virginity

You knew Madonna was onto something with that ‘Like a Virgin’ record because everyone in the industry went on about it. It got so depressing when the umpteenth photographer or manager or whatever would say ‘Madonna? She’s no virgin!’ (the kids would write in with this kind of comment too, but they were kids). The word ‘virgin’ must have stood out in 100-foot high letters in those days because no-one seemed to realise that the song was not called ‘I’m a virgin’ but ‘Like a Virgin’. Maybe everyone around me was just confirming they understood. ‘She’s no virgin!’

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