“Clinton Walker is our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture”
- John Clare, SUN-HERALD
I am an art school dropout and recovering rock critic who, since 1981, has published ten books on Australian music and popular culture, plus worked extensively in television and as a freelance journalist. I’ve produced and/or annotated a score of CDs, and DJ’d in clubs and bars - and then cooked in the kitchens out the back! I'm too old to still be called an enfant terrible, but if that great old Australian tag 'stirrer' was slapped on me, I'd wear it with pride.
For more than 40 years I’ve run my own race somewhere between the barricades and the out-house. I consider myself an historian who finds resonances where most don’t even bother to look, in our own backyard, yesterday. I’m especially interested in underclass vernacular, if you could call it that. I think my friend Toby Creswell put it well when he said, “Clinton has never been comfortable tiptoeing through the castle, preferring to hang out with the barbarians, baying at the gate.” 'Cultural anthropology' is a currently fashionable term; 'showpony' is the one my wife likes. 'Heavyweight champion' is the one I'm coming to like, even despite some recent travails I can't deny have damaged my reputation. Because I mean, who else is game enough to even try and give it a shake?
Putting together a site like this I found weirdly narcissistic, even for all I've come to accept - to paraphrase the Mothers of Invention - Help, I'm a brand! Still I figured, as I'm wont, that if I was going to do it, I may as well do it properly. And so you can find a fair bit on everything here. I’ve lived the Life, daresay the lowlife, such that I feel lucky now to be alive at all. In retrospect I think I can say I’ve been blessed, and also say that for a long time I’ve been driven simply by a bloody-minded refusal to be either a one-trick pony or beaten down, to submit to mediocrity. I've also been driven by a need – perhaps above all – to keep myself interested. Hopefully you'll find something of interest here too.
Scroll down to READ MORE, CV followed by a Narrative Biography....
2018 - The Suburban Songlines (Starman) COMING SOON
2018 - Deadly Woman Blues (New South) - WITHDRAWN
2016 - Highway to Hell (Updated edition, Pan)
2015 - Buried Country (Expanded edition, Verse Chorus Press)
2013 - The Wizard of Oz (Wakefield Press)
2012 - History is Made at Night (Currency House)
2010 - Highway to Hell (Italian edition, Boogaloo Productions)
2009 - Golden Miles (Updated edition, Wakefield Press)
2009 - Highway to Hell (Bulgarian edition, Addix)
2009 - Highway to Hell (French edition, Camion Blanc)
2007 - Highway to Hell (Expanded edition; Picador/Verse Chorus Press, US)
2005 - Golden Miles (Lothian)
2005 - Inner City Sound (Expanded edition; Verse Chorus)
2001 - Highway to Hell (US edition, Verse Chorus)
2000 - Buried Country (Pluto Press)
1998 - Football Life (Pan)
1997 - Stranded (Macmillan)
1994 - Highway to Hell (Sun/Sidgwick & Jackson, UK)
1984 - The Next Thing (Kangaroo Press) [as Editor]
1981 - Inner City Sound (Wild & Woolley) [as Editor]
DOCUMENTARY FILM/SERIES (as Co-Writer/Music Consultant):
2003 - Love is in the Air (ABC)
2001 - Long Way to the Top (ABC)
2000 - Buried Country (Film Australia/SBS)
TELEVISION SERIES (as Writer/Presenter):
2003 - Rare Grooves (ABC Fly TV)
1999-2003 - Studio 22 (ABC)
CDs (as Producer/Annotator):
2015 - Buried Country 1.5 (Warners)
2013 - Silver Roads (Warners)
2005 - Inner City Soundtrack (Laughing Outlaw)
2002 - Studio 22 (ABC)
2001 - Long Way to the Top (ABC)
2000 - Buried Country (Larrikin-Festival)
2016/'018 - Buried Country: Live in Concert (as Writer/Director)
2015 - Painted Ladies (as MC)
ANTHOLOGIES (as Contributor):
2018 - Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats, edited by Iain McIntyre and
Andrew Nette (PM Press)
2013/'14 - Rock Country/Best Australian Music Writing Under the Sun, edited by
Christian Ryan (Hardie Grant)
2012 - Meanjin Anthology, edited by Sally Heath (MUP)
2009 - Cultural Seeds: New Perspectives on the Work of Nick Cave, edited by
Tanya Dalziell and Karen Welberry (Ashgate, UK)
2008 - Car Lovers, edited by John Dale (ABC Books)
2006 - Sociology: Place, Time and Division, edited by Peter Beilharz and Trevor
Hogan (Oxford University Press)
2002 - Footy’s Greatest Coaches, edited by Stephanie Holt and Garrie
Hutchinson (Coulomb Communications)
1997 - Great Australian Bites, edited by Dave Warner (Fremantle AC Press)
1996 - Best Australian Sports Stories 1995 (Reed)
1996 - This I Believe, edited by John Marsden (Random House)
1995 - Men-Love-Sex, edited by Alan Close (Random House)
1989 - 1989 Australian Almanac (Angus & Robertson)
1988 - 1988 Australian Almanac (Angus & Robertson)
1985 - Big Australian Rock Book, edited by Ed St.John (Megabooks)
1981 - Australian Music Directory, edited by Peter Beilby (AMD PL)
1985-'87 - KIller Sheep
1987 - Holden Brothers (US)
1988 - Clinton Walker's Wild Oats
1989-'90 - Rocque Pigg
(SELECTED) FREELANCE JOURNALISM:
1980-1996 - Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone
1988-1992 - Bulletin, pop columnist
1991 - Features Editor, Playboy
1990 - Features Editor, The Edge
1990 - Inside Sport
1989 - Exposure (US)
1988-’91 - Music Editor, New Woman
1988-’91 - The Australian Colour Magazine
1983-’88 - Music Editor, Stiletto
1984-’88 - Follow Me
1985/’88 - Age/Sydney Morning Herald
1985 - Film Editor, Countdown Magazine
1982 - Fast Forward
1980-’81 - Adelaide Advertiser
1980-’87 - RAM
1978-’81 - Roadrunner
1977-’78 - Semper
TELEVISION DOCUMENTARIES (as Researcher/Writer):
1989 - Sing It in the Music (ABC)
1987 - Notes from Home (ABC)
DVDs (as Writer)
2005 - Triple-J Archive Collection: 1975, the Year it all Began (ABC)
2005 - Triple-J Archive Collection: Into the 80s (ABC)
ALBUMS (as Annotator):
1986 - Dogs in Space: Original Soundtrack (Chase Records)
1988 - Complete Studio Recordings, Whirlywirld (Missing Link)
1989 - Scarce Saints, Saints (Raven)
1989 - Magic Box, Loved Ones (Raven)
1993 - What Goes On, Velvet Underground (Raven)
1996 - Quiet Girl with a Credit Card, Lisa Miller (W. Minc)
1996 - Birth of Australian Rock’n’Roll, Johnny O’Keefe (Festival)
1997 - Complete Recording Sessions, Fraternity (Raven)
2001 - Wild About You, Saints (Raven)
2004 - A Kind of Love-In, Julie Driscoll (Raven)
2008 - Pilgrim’s Progress, Harem Scarem (Aztec)
2009 - Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under (Aztec)
2011 - Ode to Nothing, Lighthouse Keepers (Feel)
2011 - Shonky, Christa Hughes (ABC)
2012 - Family from Cuba, Ian Rilen (MGM)
2014 - The Painted Ladies Play Selections from The Loner (Plus One)
2014 - 'G' Stands for GoBetweens (Domino)
2015 - In My Dreams, Sunday Painters (Terminal)
2015 - Charcoal Lane, Archie Roach (Warners)
2015 - Warumpi Band 4 Ever (Warners)
1995 - ‘Real Wild Child’, Powerhouse Museum
1997 - ‘Punkulture’, Victorian Museum of the Performing Arts
2010 - ‘Signal to Noise’, Sydney Festival
ART EXHIBITIONS (GROUP SHOWS):
2015 - 'In the Loop', Macquarie University Art Gallery, Sydney
2016 - 'Motown to the Mekong', the Exchange, Phnom Penh
2017 - 'Night of the Iguana', Newsagency Gallery, Sydney
I was born in Bendigo in 1957, named after Elvis and/or Robert Mitchum, both of whom played cowboys called ‘Clint’ in films from 1956. It’s true that the American TV western Cheyenne, staring my exact namesake Clint Walker, was first broadcast as early as 1955 in the US, but we in Australia generally and my family particularly didn’t get TV till much later than that; by which time Rawhide was making a bigger star out of Clint Eastwood anyway. I grew up in Melbourne in the 60s and all I ever wanted to do was draw and play football. (If you're at all interested, you can read a long narrative version of my Family History here; it's long because I am a fifth-generation whitefella Australian.)
I spent my teen years, the 70s, in Brisbane, with the whole world shifting under my feet. At Corinda High School in 1974, I fell in with a gaggle of antisocial longhairs in art class, and we fell in thrall of the new young neighbourhood band that everybody else hated, the Saints. This is pre-punk history 101: The Saints went on to change the course of Australian music; and they inspired me - with a head full of music, art and girls - well, I just ran that bit quicker off the rails...
By 1977 I’d dropped out of Brisbane Art College to concentrate on the new punk rock revolution that was so consuming me I was already putting its central DIY ethic into practice and starting to write about it; proselytise is probably a better word. I started doing record reviews for the University of Queensland student newspaper Semper, and I started putting out a fanzine with (the late) Andrew McMillan that I always blamed him for calling Suicide Alley.
After the Saints left Brisbane to go to London and Andrew went to Sydney to take up a job with RAM magazine, I saw the first gig the GoBetweens ever played at the start of 1978, and then I jumped in my car and moved to Melbourne, where I’d connected with Bruce Milne and was already working with him on our new ‘national’ punkzine, Pulp. Got to Melbourne, started doing a show with Bruce called Know Your Product on the then-fledgling 3RRR, then Bruce went off to Adelaide to help Stuart Coupe and Donald Robertson get up a new actual national rock magazine called Roadrunner. To read more about this formative period, go to my Fanzines page here. So Pulp just got overtaken, I went solo on mid-dawns at 3RRR, and I served as Roadrunner’s ‘Melbourne editor’.
I moved on to Sydney in 1980. I followed my then-girlfriend there, and that’s when I started writing professionally, if you could call it that. Started writing for the two other national rock rags, RAM and Rolling Stone, and also started stringing, writing previews on touring bands, for the Adelaide Advertiser. All of a sudden, I found myself functioning as a freelance journalist – something I would continue to do, and almost make a living off, for the next 15 years.
My first book, Inner City Sound: Punk/Post-Punk Music in Australia, 1976-’81, was a cut-and-paste polemic, a personal pre-history as it happened of a cultural revolution, published by Wild & Woolley in 1982. It was such a seminal cult classic that it became a collectors’ item on a par with the all the very DIY records it documented, and it finally returned to print, through US publisher Verse Chorus Press, in 2005, not least of all with an accompanying Inner City Soundtrack 2CD set that I produced for Stuart Coupe’s Laughing Outlaw Records label. Inner City Sound set a fiery, cutting-edge tone that’s been a blessing and a curse for me ever since.
Even before Inner City Sound was launched with a gig that future Big Day Out promoter Ken West put on at Sydney University starring the Birthday Party and Hunters & Collectors, I’d already left Australia for London, and it was there that I spent the next couple of years working at the legendary Record & Tape Exchange, and occasionally sending back to Australia interviews for Bruce Milne’s groundbreaking cassette-zine Fast Forward. The RTE, as shop folklore has it, gave Nick Hornby part of the inspiration to write High Fidelity after he was knocked back for a job there. Not cool enough.
Returning to Australia I picked up where I left off, and for the remainder of the decade and beyond, I thrashed away on the precarious treadmill of freelance journalism. In 1984, I published my second book, The Next Thing, through Kangaroo Press. Most people forget that one; it’s not that bad. It was launched with a party at the Chevron that again starred the cream of new Australian acts like Tex Deadly and the Triffids.
In the 80s, I could barely keep up with demand for my journalism, even if I was still learning to write. I wrote for everybody. Well, not everybody – only those that paid! – and now that I look back on it, really only the top-shelf publications, whether RAM or Rolling Stone, the Age or the Sydney Morning Herald, Stiletto, Follow Me, the Bulletin, New Woman, Playboy, Inside Sport. I churned out millions of words on a range of topics, and in so doing learnt to write on my feet. Non-music stuff I wrote included features on then-Brisbane art dealer Ray Hughes and his stable of brilliant expressionist painters like William Robinson, Davida Allen, and Joe Furlonger; I wrote about other artists like Imants Tillers and Noel McKenna, and Bill Henson before he became a pariah; about film-maker Ian Pringle before he did time at Riker’s Island in New York; I wrote about the still-underappreciated Australian author Georgia Savage, and Australia’s first female world surfing champion, Pam Burridge. I wrote about Surfers Paradise, and Tamworth, and Holden cars and the advertising business. I wrote about Aboriginal footballers. I wrote about writing, especially the new American stars I was smitten by, whether Raymond Carver, Brett Easton Ellis, or the neo-noir of James Ellroy.
In the mid-80s I also worked as publicist for Ken West on his first forays into touring international acts, like New Order, Lou Reed, the Violent Femmes, John Cale and Jonathan Richman and others. It still stands as one of my one of my anti-career highlights to have been fired by Lou Reed! And crashing the Violent Femmes' van!
When my hillbilly-grunge band with erstwhile Craven Fops’ guitarist James A. Scanlon, the Killer Sheep, played the Tamworth country music festival in 1987, the words “They’re not cowboys, they’re poofters” were heard to emanate from one pub doorway. A posthumous Sheep single “Wild Down Home” was released by
Au-Go-Go Records in 1988.
I failed an audition to play bass in Died Pretty, and I even briefly (mis)managed angelic soul singer Peter Blakeley before he recorded the 1991 ARIA Song of the Year “Crying in the Chapel.” I made cameo appearances in a number of music videos including "When Daddy Blows HIs Top," "To Her Door," "Pumping Ugly Muscle" and "Easy Come, Easy Go." I wrote a couple of documentaries for ABC-TV, Notes from Home, a pocket history of Australian music, and Sing it in the Music, a compendium of contemporary Aboriginal music, in which I was becoming increasingly interested through acts like the Warumpi Band and Roger Knox.
In fact, in league with my erstwhile sparring partner Andrew McMillan, we were the first writers to take a particular interest in black Australian music. Allow me to quote at some small length from a story by Nicolas Rothwell in the Australian in 2001, called “Black-Lit Goes Gonzo,” not least because it’s not all about me. In fact, it’s mostly about Andrew and his then-new book An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land, and how he started out at RAM in the late 70s. But it does go on to say how “the rough and ready mastheads of RAM and Rolling Stone bear the names of some of today’s best-known writers on indigenous affairs. Clinton Walker, author of a pioneering genre history of Aboriginal country music, Buried Country, has this pedigree: indeed, by no great coincidence, he was a co-founder (with McMillan) of Australia’s first punk fanzine. There is Richard Guilliatt; there is the Australian’s Darwin correspondent, Paul Toohey…
“The contrast with more conventional literary circles is clear. A mood of cloying reverence has long mantled the treatment of Aboriginal people in the mainstream world. Established fiction authors are increasingly of the view that indigenous issues should be left to the new breed of indigenous writers. In this vacuum, the vigour and commitment of the gonzo school – novelists and journalists whose first breaks came in rock’s back pages – shine out.”
It’s only now I can see I was never content as a critic to simply respond to what was dished up to me. It was only recently that I read Bernard Smith (one of my heroes or role models) musing in a letter, on the eve of founding the Antipodean movement, "Better to make history than just write about it." I was similarly presumptuous (egomaniacal) and informed and game enough to intuitively try and help shape what might be dished up to me in the future too. If I could claim I've sometimes had that pro-active kind of impact, I'd also have to confess I'm not sure whether it's always been for the good or ill.
Late in 1987, I made my first trip to America, and over the next couple of years went back and forth several times, travelling extensively throughout the country and making all the requisite music-mecca pilgrimages. In LA, I played a few gigs with Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour and former Samurai Trash guitarist Geoffrey Datson under the name the Holden Brothers. In New York, I met Rick Rubin and Darryl Simmonds at Def Jam, and saw a whole other future right there.
Back in Australia, at the turn into the 90s I got married, to my still-beloved Debbie Auchinachie, and I think I must have tried to go straight. The only couple of actual staff jobs I ever had – as Features Editor with Playboy, then Features Editor with the short-lived Edge, a sort of lad’s mag before lad’s mags – were both short-lived and not terribly happy. It was seeming that the higher I climbed the journalistic career ladder, the less control I had over what I wrote, the more crap I was having to turn out.
I was naïve enough to think that with more than a decade’s experience in which I’d established myself as an expert in my field, I might get given a bit of rope even as I stepped up to the more mainstream outlets. But no way. I wrote more than a few major stories around this time for the Australian’s weekend colour magazine, but I was working for hacks and they wanted to turn me into a hack like them. The last straw came when, upon the death of Miles Davis in 1992, I proposed to the Bulletin’s Arts Editor a tribute to the great trumpeter, and was waved off to go and do a story on James Blundell! I was fired shortly after that. Actually, I was pleased to go. And so apart from continuing to do the odd thing for Rolling Stone and/or Juice into the later 90s, I’ve never again actively pursued freelance journalism. Even as I’m often still described as a rock journalist, I’ve not done any sustained journalism, rock or otherwise, for nearly 20 years now.
I’ve always done different things along the way anyway, to supplement whatever meagre earnings I could make out of writing. I was never an academic, or had any real professional-career aspirations. Nick Kent is one of three rockniks I can't deny has inspired and influenced me (the other two are Nik Cohn and Nick Tosches) and when I read him quoted in 2009 saying, "When I joined the NME, I didn't think, If I play my cards right, three years down the line i'm going to become the wine correspondent of the Daily Telegraph," I thought, exactly! I just seemed to lurch from one happy accident to disaster and back again. In 1991, I was part of the original team that launched the Big Day Out in Sydney. I was the catering manager, having previously worked in a good few kitchens. It was in this capacity that I cooked a chilli for the Ramones that they said was the best they’d ever eaten outside the USA; that Urge Overkill asked me for fashion tips!
I stepped up my DJing, joining forces with friends Toby Creswell and Francine McDougall to run a clubnight at the Picadilly Hotel/Site in Kings Cross called TCB (“Takin’ Care of Business,” after Elvis’s motto, which, for sake of a story a few years earlier, I’d had tattooed on my right shoulder). TCB specialised in acoustic blues and country. We put on ‘unplugged’ performances by some of Australia’s leading artists whether Dave Graney, Tex Perkins, Don Walker, Chris Bailey or Steve Kilbey, and I spun the discs from Larry Jon Wilson to John Lee Hooker.
I’m privileged to have met so many of my heroes and idols. I’ve shared a (sound) stage with Bert Newton. I broke bread with Bo Diddley, was pursued by Nico, extracted more than a couple of words out of John Lee Hooker, and had Lucinda Williams singing my praises. I took Guy Clarke to a test match at the SCG with my good friend the late Grant McLennan. Guy wasn’t sure about the game, but he seemed to like the beer and pies. I served as driver to touring Japanese all-girl rockabilly trio the 5-6-7-8's, and they were impressed because a) I looked like Link Wray (apparently), b) I had a nice car (a 1966 HR Holden), and c) I didn't crash it. I helped out Robert Forster when he returned to Brisbane to live after the demise of the GoBetweens, and together we formed Lagoona Records to release his second and third solo CDs, 1993’s Calling from a Country Phone and 1994’s covers album I Had a New York Girlfriend. Eventually Robert even had me walk through the GoBetweens’ 2008 song “Darlinghurst Nights.”
In 1994, Pan Macmillan published my biography of Bon Scott, Highway to Hell. The book was a hit, critically as well as commercially, and was subsequently published, for the rest of the world, by Verse Chorus Press in the US, inaugurating a relationship that continues strongly to this day. In 2007, Highway to Hell was published in an expanded third Picador edition in Australia, and in an expanded second VCP edition, and it has subsequently been translated into French, Italian, Bulgarian and Finnish and continues to sell all round the world, and in yet another Australian edition.
My association with Verse Chorus Press is loaded with bittersweet ironies. It's ironic I had to go offshore to find a publisher with whom I feel at home in a way I never have in Australia, but that's what VCP's redoubtable Steve Connell's done for so long. It's ironic that what I'd consider some of the best Australian music and crime writing is coming out of not a local publisher but this an American one run by an expatriate Englishman; if that makes me a proverbial prophet in my own land, I'm happy to belong to a family that includes more than a couple of others, like David Nichols, Peter Doyle, Greg Manson and Iain McIntyre.
I went on in the 90s on to write two more books for Pan Macmillan, Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music (1996), and Football Life (1998), before taking over the Sydney Kill City Crime Books shop, which had been started in Melbourne by old friends Bruce Milne and Peter Lawrance. I like to say that between us in the 1990s my wife and I birthed three books, two kids and one law degree. Not bad eh?
Along the way I contributed to literary anthologies like Alan Close’s best-selling Men-Love-Sex, John Marsden’s This I Believe, Dave Warner’s Great Australian Bites, and I wrote liner notes for such CD anthologies as Raven Records’ lavish Velvet Underground box-set What Goes On, and Festival’s Johnny O’Keefe box-set The Birth of Australian Rock’n’Roll. Thinly disguised I walked through John Birmingham’s He Died with a Felafel in his Hand.
Towards the end of 1998, Kill City closed down and as was seeming to become a pattern, I somehow managed to land on my feet once again. I was hired as principal interviewer on a proposed ABC-TV documentary on the history of Australian rock’n’roll eventually called Long Way to the Top. For Long Way..., I conducted over 140 interviews that formed the backbone of the six-hour series, and I helped co-write it, and when it was broadcast in 2001, it became a water-cooler hit, and the year’s biggest-selling local DVD. I produced and annotated the show’s Top 10 2CD soundtrack.
For much of the late 90s I was also working on a book about Aboriginal country music, and in 2000, the Buried Country juggernaut, as it had become, was unleashed, with the book published by Pluto Press, the Film Australia documentary premiering at the Sydney Film Festival and broadcast by SBS, and the CD I produced released by Larrikin-Festival. If Highway to Hell was a step-up for me, Buried Country was a giant leap. If nothing else, it gave me the opportunity to meet – and share a joint with! – one of my great boyhood heroes, boxer Lionel Rose! But seriously, it was a humbling experience, a rare privilege and enormous pleasure to meet and get to know and understand the people who made up Buried Country’s cast of characters, many of whom including Jimmy Little, Bobby McLeod, Bob Randall and Herb Laughton have subsequently died. I know that music can build bridges because it’s done it for me.
In 1999, I stepped in front of the cameras to co-host, with Annette Shun Wah, Studio 22, the show that brought live music back to ABC-TV. Studio 22 eventually ran to 69 episodes by 2003, and I produced its soundtrack CD.
After serving again as principle interviewer/co-writer on the ABC’s ill-conceived follow-up to Long Way…, 2003’s Love is in the Air – my last gasp with the ABC, next to a very short-lived show for record collectors called Rare Grooves – I started work on my seventh book, Golden Miles. Golden Miles was published by Lothian in 2005, the same time the new Inner City Sound and the Inner City Soundtrack both came out.
Inner City Sound and I eventually took starring roles - as you can see in the clip below - in the cult YouTube video series The Seventh Note, which was a mash-up of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal with the contested story of the so-called Brisbane Sound, a concept I invented. I am flattered to have been cast as Death!
And yet again, if the door to TV seemed to be squeezing back shut on me in the mid-2000s (for reasons I still can’t understand; I thought I’d done everything right! and then the ABC completely fucked me over, broke the chain of title and morphed Golden Miles into joke called Wide Open Road!), another door opened when I found myself falling into the same halls of academe that I’d run screaming from thirty years earlier. I started serving as an honorary research fellow at the Thesis Eleven Centre for Critical Theory and Historical Sociology at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, and I replaced my mate Fiona McGregor as a tutor in non-fiction writing courses at Macquarie University in Sydney. I had two Peters the Great, Peter Beilharz in Melbourne and Peter Doyle in Sydney, who helped facilitate what felt like a springboard into a whole new world for me.
In 2007, I prepared the fully revised and updated edition of Highway to Hell. In 2009, after the first edition of Golden Miles had sold out of its print run but the publisher, Lothian, had gone bust, I got the rights back and through Wakefield Press, put out an expanded new edition, which is still in print and still selling.
In 2012, I published a standalone extended essay in the Currency Press’s prestigious Platform Papers series called History is Made at Night, a polemic arguing the case for not allowing Australia’s once-thriving live music circuit to get killed off. And while the war may have been won in Melbourne - Melbourne being now one of the world's great (live) music towns - the book remains more relevant than ever in 2016 with the implementation of lock-out laws, yet another in the long line of insults to injury, in Sydney and Brisbane.
In 2013, along with commencing a PhD candidature at Macquarie University writing a cultural history of Saturday Night Fever called either Reverse Crossover or Blood & Money, my ninth book Wizard of Oz was published by Wakefield, and Warners released the CD anthology of 70s Australian country-rock that I co-produced with Dave Laing, called Silver Roads.
I also started working on a book that is a companion piece or sister volume to Buried Country, called Deadly Women Blues, about the great black women of Australian music. The work I started doing was very different to my previous publications, in that Deadly Woman Blues is a graphic history, in which after the models of Robert Crumb and Rock Dreams I am first and foremost illustrating the story, with fully 100 portraits I’ve done of mainly singers that add up to a discontinuous narrative of two centuries of musical evolution, from traditional songs and ceremonies through gospel, vaudeville, jazz and blues, to country, rock, soul and hip-hop. It was extremely exciting to be returning to the drawing I gave up thirty years ago to concentrate on writing, fusing it with the storytelling skills I've learnt as a writer to hopefully open up a whole new medium and lease on life for me. So far, I’ve started researching at least two more 'comic books' I hope to live long enough to complete, one a sort of professional biography of Lionel Rose called 53 Fights, the other about Australia’s great lost white witch Leila Waddell, called God’s Whore.
In 2015, in addition to the release of yet another new Australian edition of Highway to Hell, Buried Country came back to life, with the release of new editions of the book, for the world market, through Verse Chorus Press, and of the CD, Buried Country 1.5, through Warner Music in Australia. Such was the overwhelming response to this rebirth – with the book, for example, going from cult classic to a “masterwork,” as the Australian Book Review called it in its 2015 Books of the Year list – the idea of a stage adaptation was proposed. And so, forming a partnership in 2016 with a team from Melbourne comprising Mary Mihelakos and Michael Lynch, I threw myself so completely into the pre-production of Buried Country: Live in Concert that it derailed a lot of everything else I was doing, except trying to finish Deadly Woman Blues, a number of the artworks from which have enjoyed exhibition in group shows in Sydney in 2015 and Phnom Penh in 2016 (this is another first I’ve been stoked to finally be able pull off: exhibiting my art in a gallery, at the advanced age of nearly 60!)
Buried Country: Live in Concert had its first rehearsals at Tamworth during the festival there in January 2016, and later in the year in August it made its world premiere in Newcastle, at the Playhouse Theatre. It has continued to play on the festival circuit throughout 2017 and '018, and given this momentum, Buried Country has graduated to its own standalone website that you can check out here. And while I might always have dreamed of being an exhibiting artist, I never imagined I would be the director of a show in the legitimate theatre. But then I never imagined I could be a record producer either, and maybe I should have. With a role model in Hal Wilner, the experience is already fueling wild ideas of turning God’s Whore into a stage musical too, and the format finally providing a vehicle for my long-standing interest in Australia’s Other Ned Kelly, the ill-starred rebel hillbilly singer who died on stage in 1970 before Mick Jagger, off the back of playing the real-life outlaw on the screen, could sign him to Rolling Stones Records and get him due recognition for the cosmic alt.country-rock pioneer he was...
In 2017, I undertook to deliver for publication starting in 2018 three new books - Deadly Woman Blues, Empire of Cheese (the former Blood & Money) and The Suburban Songlines.
I always used to think, it was one of the rites of passage that made for a real writer, to be remaindered. It happened to Stranded, with a small amount of stock towards the end of its run. But never in my wildest dreams or rather nightmares could I have imagined I would be pulped! But that’s precisely what happened with Deadly Woman Blues. After it was released at the start of February in 2018, it was withdrawn from sale within just a couple of weeks, due to the protests of just a handful of the more than 100 women portrayed in its pages. I think the whole thing was blown way out of proportion, and that to pulp the book did even more damage, but that’s what happened, and the event will doubtless continue to be a talking point in the history of Australian literature/publishing, race relations and identity politics. For me I can only hope that, aside from whether or not the book might ever return to print, if I’ve done the crime and I’ve done the time – and the whole affair was extremely traumatic with all its abuse and vilification of me on social media, and it did undoubted damage to my reputation – I will be allowed the liberty of moving on and rebuilding my good name.
The Suburban Songlines will be published by Starman Books in the winter, with Empire of Cheese to follow through Pan Macmillan in 2019.
Click on to the below pdf icon to read an extensive 2012 interview with the Thesis 11 journal: