preface to the 2005 edition of inner city sound
It is with mixed feelings that I write this preface to a new edition of Inner City Sound.
It wasn’t just because I heard it was being sold on eBay and elsewhere at collector’s prices, or that bootleg copies were available at a shop in Melbourne, that I knew the book needed to get back in print. No, it was Mojo magazine that did it, when they put out a special issue on post-punk. It burned me up the same way the same thing used to burn me up back when: You always hear about all the English and American bands – but what about the Australian bands?! That’s why I did Inner City Sound in the first place, back in 1981.
I have always taken pride in the fact that Inner City Sound had an impact. For me, the book was a personal prehistory-as-it-happened of a cultural revolution, but it became something else — I have even heard it called the bible! I once met a woman who had a treasured, tattered old copy full of autographs. I like the idea of books that get passed around, used. It’s no way to make a living but it is tapping the passion.
My feelings are mixed, though, because Inner City Sound causes me embarrassment as well as pride. I cringe now at the shrillness of my prose, the sternness of my judgements back then. A few years ago when Radio Birdman first re-formed to play the Big Day Out, I read an interview in which guitarist Deniz Tek railed: “Did Clinton Walker write that Inner City Sound book? . . . He has always been biased against us and for the Saints to the point of gross journalistic dishonesty. A pitiful fellow.” I could hardly blame him. I had no concept of objectivity. Although there is an intellectual basis to Inner City Sound – that the punk conduit reinvented a future for rock, and that Australia hadn’t got due credit for its role in that process — I allowed my emotions, personal taste and allegiances, to run all over it.
At the time I put the book together, I was living in a big share house in Woomerah Avenue, Darlinghurst – Kings Cross we used to prefer to think of it. They were great days, the last sunny days, I see now, of a certain innocence in my life. On delivery of Marjorie McIntosh’s terrific finished artwork, I got the back half of my advance - $500, a fair whack - and I flew out for London a couple of weeks later, in early December 1981. I wasn’t there for the launch of the book in January 1982, when Ken West put on a special Birthday Party/Hunters & Collectors/Pel Mel show at Sydney Uni that made the social pages of the Sun-Herald!
I returned to Australia in 1983, rite of passage completed, and resumed what I’ve always thought of as my anti-career in writing. Already, Inner City Sound seemed light years away; now, it is half a life. Until now, I referred to a tattered copy belonging to my wife; and I could never remember if it was ‘Sound’ or ‘Sounds’.
It’s been a bittersweet experience preparing this new edition. It’s sobering to flick through it now and count the casualties. I don’t just mean, say, a Jeremy Oxley, who tragically succumbed to schizophrenia long before Sunnyboys songs were licensed for car ads. Drugs and bitterness took a far heavier toll, claiming their prey in equal portions.
It’s extremely gratifying, of course, that there is still interest in the book. And it’s been a pleasure to reconnect with people I haven’t talked to for many years. And to be reminded, as I pulled out some of the old records – pleasantly surprised, to be honest — just how great much of the music was: It was a period of extraordinary confluence, small in scale but very intense, and the music that exploded outwards had a sense of urgency and gameness that still rings irresistibly true. And it did change things; I can’t resist the temptation to get in at least one “I told you so.”
A new, final chapter has been added to this edition. The original book began with 1976 and ended in 1981 because that was when it was compiled. But the narrative didn’t actually end in 1981. It ended, I can now see with hindsight, around 1984/1985. By then, most of Inner City Sound’s major characters and themes had resolved themselves, whether in the way that first-generation musicians reshuffled into a third wave of bands like the Hoodoo Gurus, Died Pretty, Beasts of Bourbon and others, or second-generation bands like the Go-Betweens, Scientists and Triffids followed the Birthday Party into European exile; or in the closure of the Seaview (previously the Crystal Ballroom), the rise of the free street press and the inception of the Australian independent charts, or in Nick Cave and Ed Kuepper going solo and Rob Younger beginning his gradual return to the stage. By this time, Ken West had started promoting international tours with New Order and the Violent Femmes; by this time the big record companies were stepping beyond old hands in new wave guise (like Mi-Sex or the Eurogliders) and at least signing some younger synth-pop acts, and Mushroom bands like the Models and Hunters & Collectors were starting to cross over and meeting bands like the Mentals, the Church, InXS, the Divynils, Midnight Oil as part of a shifting mainstream; by this time RBT had been introduced; by this time a new crop of indy labels like Citadel, Waterfront etc was launching “The Last Days of the Seaview” hopefully extends the spirit of what precedes it, in reprinting a selection of my writing from the period (untouched by any revisionism) along with photos and graphics.
There’s a famous story about Sekret Sekret. The truly wonderful Sekret were approached at one point in the early 1980s by Regular Records, a label half way between an indie and a major. The band met with head honcho Martin Fabinyi and he offered them a deal, but when they walked out of his office they weren’t exchanging any high-fives — they were filled with dread, as if he’d sentenced them to death or something, and saying to one another, how are we going to get out of this? Certainly, the remnants of the band that re-emerged a decade later as the Cruel Sea were quite ready to create their own opportunities.
And so the food chain continued. Because that’s what all this became, perhaps — just another show-business story. But that was later. Inner City Sound is about the first Australian stirrings of a cultural revolution whose DIY egalitarianism and adventurous spirit is still held up as a great pop ideal, and which has given us so much great and enduring music.