Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rocking Sydney.

For what it's worth, (zero), I have 7 great passions that I live for, friends, movies, books, travel, knowledge, dance and music, and my love of music is eclectic: techno, hip hop, jazz, blues, world, classical and maybe most exhilarating of all, rock'n'roll. For the last few years there's been lots of moaning about the dearth of music venues in Sydney because they've all been given over to the dubious high of gambling on pokies. But I attended one of the last functioning rock pubs last Friday night and nobody was there, for all that there were 6 bands playing from all over Auz, they got no support, so what's all the bitching about?

My best mate's daughter is married to a hot guitarist and he asked me to come and see what I thought of the band and so on a rainy Friday night I journeyed up the long, lost highway of Parramatta Road to the Lewisham Hotel to check out his three piece band, Red Bee. With some confusion I marched into the backroom to discover a nubile girl dressed as a nun slowly stripping off her habit to reveal skimpy bondage gear all to the whistles of a small posse of horny gronks. I thought I'd stumbled into the wrong place but, no, sleaze rules, stripping and rock have always been sexy bedfellows, whatever it takes to draw a crowd, and still they didn't come.

We first had to endure a real daggy, pedestrian glam rock band, sounding like every other band in the world mulched down into one raucous rock cliche, not one word of the hot blonde mama's croaked songs being decipherable. My mate's band, Red Bee, was up next and I was expecting the same boring daggy rock but I got ecstatically surprised, they played what I'd call funky metal, actually had an original take on it. Dan, the frontman, had exciting show biz presence, sang his kooky songs well, I heard every word, his lead guitar-playing was euphoric and when he did duets with his brother on base, the electric music was transcendant, I got very high, a hot white light lit up my lizard brain, the drumming was headbanging, the trio were tighter than a nun's g-string, Dan danced about the stage like Jagger on acid, this was rock that I live for and I had despaired of ever getting turned on by it again, as these days I'm OVER IT.

But I'm glad to say, there's still hot talent out there practicing hard and zooming around the corner to smack me in my forebrain and make life a joy, for music is the background soundtrack to our lives, even the busker in the Central Tunnel earlier that night provided the ebullient beat for my stroll down Destiny Lane. While I bopped as a teenager in the '60s to many rock bands in Melbourne, it was in Sydney, where I've lived from '77 onwards, that I really drank in electric music as if it were the nectar of the gods. There were so many hot Sydney venues to satisfy one's addiction but they've nearly all gone now, just the Lewisham, the Anandale, the Hopetoun Pubs and the Metro Club on George St. remaining, and I want to take a few minutes to bow my head in fond memory of all the transcendant electric times I've had, where I rolled about on the floor in ecstatic delerium with my rock'n'roll mates and heard the best in rock artistry the world had to offer.

Young people today swagger about with their jeans sagging below their arses and their noses in the air like they invented outre clothes, electric music and krumping wild moves, but us wizened black-garbed oldies got there long ago and latterday youth can only follow in our turbulent wake. I have to admit I gave my soul to rock'n'roll, like a zombie for a religious cult, eschewing money-making, secure career and societal responsibilities, living in the white hot electric moment as if there was no tomorrow, headbanging my way to spinal damage, not even drugs got in the way of me immersing my self in the music, music was the drug! What a fool I was! For now that hard beat, like the pulse of a god, has faded and all I'm left with is a tinny ringing in my ears, (sob sob!)

(Many of my fellow travellors did get into smack/speed, supposedly to pay their dues or live fast and die young, whatever, but I never did hard drugs, not even once, as I had enough handicaps in being a bipolar pothead poof from the gutters of the Olympic Village in West Heidelberg, i.e. the wrong side of the tracks.)

The Hard-Ons
As a child I was impressed by that animated cartoon of an Aesop fable, "The Grasshopper and the Ants" where a jolly grasshopper lazes away the halcyon days of summer enjoying his music while the ants work industriously stashing food for a rainy day. And when the harsh cold of winter sets in he's out in the snow starving whilst the ants are cozy underground feasting it up, tho all ends happily with the ants inviting him in to share their banquet as long as he plays his music for them to help move the celebrations along. Back in the real world, the ants eat the grasshopper, and here I am at the end of days leaning into a cold wind, scratching my arse like I'm being eaten alive, still I have no regrets, I've got my memories of rock'n'roll so exilarating my soul remains nourished, my heart remains warm.

I was one of the teenagers who rocked out at the Ourimbah Festival outside Sydney in '68 to Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Wendy Saddington and Chain etc etc, (I hitched all the way from Melbourne) and then again at Narrarah in '84(?), not far from Ourimbah, with the Pretenders, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, Def Leopard and INXS et al, possibly the best rock festival in Auz ever, and I epileptically flipped as if at a religious revivalist gathering and possibly never came down from my seventh heaven.

But it was the Sydney suburban pub venues that gave me my weekly hit and of all the happening venues my favourite was Sellina's at the Coogee Bay Hotel on the beach. What a rock'n'roll gladiator arena it was, the mosh pit fully thrashing, grappling, smashing, punching, stomping black-eyed, bloody-nosed joy to the Cramps, the Divinyls, Primus, Iggy Pop, Screaming Jay Hawkins, the Butthole Surfers, New Order, Ministry and sooo many more I forget them in my head-spinning brain sloshed memory loss. (Divinyls was my favourite band, I chased them all over Sydney, Chrissie Amphlet is a goddess!)

I hit the ceiling at the Tivoli, now the Metro, to Johnny Lydon and his Public Image on New Year's Eve, (1986?) pogoing on goldtop mushrooms, maybe the best delerium rock tremens I've ever experienced. And it was me who gave Tex Perkins his first goldtop mushroom at the Evil Star Pub on Elizabeth Street so long ago, ('89?), he'd disown me now but we've all got to have one small claim to fame, and we splattered ourselves on his grunge rock tripping off our faces. (I know, I know, I said I didn't get into drugs but there were rare pagan hotspots like the mid-winter's solstice where sacred fungi helped kick the elation to greater heights.)

I can go on and on about my rocky psychosis but will just mention clubs of old that frayed the edges of my soul, the Trade Union Club with Hunters and Collectors, the Graphic Arts Club with Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls, The Grand Hotel with Suicide Squad and The Rejex, Bedhogs at the Vulcan in Pyrmont, Rose Tattoo at the Stagedoor Tavern near Central and Cold Chisel doing their first ever Sydney gig at French's Tavern on Oxford Street, (maybe the wildest, grungiest venue in all Sydney rock history, oh fuck, those were the days!) I also got titillated by the Mu Mesons at the Anandale Pub with Go Go dancers up on the bar and at the old Mandolin Cinema in the city with Box the Jesuit and soft porn up on the movie screen behind them.

There was the Boys Next Door (whatever Nick Cave's early band was called?) at Rags on Goulbourn Street when the disco redneck's next door tried to beat up us punks, and the Phoenix Club on Broadway when Nirvana played and Kurt got his stomach pumped, Secret Secret at the Rock Garden on William Street (the old Whiskey A Go Go), Beasts of Bourban at the Paddington RSL, The Slugfuckers at the Landsdowne Pub in Chippendale, and the Cure at the Bondi Tram way back in the early eighties when all of us were young and naive and hoping we could all be rock stars and not just rock-hard arses.

Those were the days when every street corner in Sydney had a rock band banging away on it, one's footsteps fell to a thumping beat while walking the tight-wire of a highly strung guitar, it's wail matching the existential cry, "I'm here, I'm alive, I'm living it to the max!" It was AC/DC with Bon Scott giving a free concert at the Haymarket on New Year's Eve '77 that actually got me sucked into Sydney in the first place, as if it were a quicksand pit, and I never left, such was the rock orgasm they flung me into, and I don't regret a moment of it, for all this city's whiplash cruelty.

I bet when the convicts first arrived here circa 1800 there was some cool soul who twanged away on a banjo or fiddle in a wattle and mud rum-bar down at the cove to lift the hearts of the dispossessed and weary, and his ghost can be heard yet by the campfire deep in my heart, Sydney you rocked me.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.