... Goin’ faster mile an hour…" It was one of the greatest-ever monster hits that never was, clarion call to more than just a whole new musical order – and so when Bruce Milne and me in Melbourne, struggling in 1978 to keep putting out our fanzine Pulp, heard about this mob in Adelaide launching a magazine named after one of our favourite songs by one of our favourite groups Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, we headed straight over there to find out what was going on… and we got involved – and it turned out that Roadrunner became a pretty significant thing – which is why the University of Woollongong has just posted up online here, as part of its Historical & Cultural Collections portal, a complete set of the magazine, every page of all 48 issues published between 1978 and ’83, and why I’m here now like this suggesting you check it out…
As an adjunct to which, Donald Robertson, Roadrunner’s guiding light, has also posted up his own personal history of the magazine here on his fantastic Roadrunner Twice site, and it’s a great read, not so much a cautionary tale on the perils of independent publishing because publishing is a different world now and the old rules no longer apply, but rather a glimpse into those last wild days of ink still when it still ruled, and how wide open it was if you were just prepared to give it a shake...
This is what I remember: Making two trips to Adelaide during that period. No, actually what I remember is two transits, one going back to Melbourne with Bruce on the train, and another time, I remember hitch-hiking over to Adelaide from Melbourne and getting caught up in Ballarat with the people giving me a ride. Talk about ‘roadrunner’! I guess I was living it. (It’s hard to believe in retrospect that I hitch-hiked as much as I did around the country in the late 70s, often armed with little more than a toothbrush, a notebook and spare pair of underpants stuffed in my jacket pocket, but those were the times and that’s what I did. Anyway.) Bruce and I connected over in Adelaide with these people there starting this magazine, Donald Robertson and Stuart Coupe among others, and Roadrunner became sorely important on the Australian scene at that crucial turn out of the 70s into the 80s. It was a golden age for underground press, inspired to such a large extent by the DIY ethic of punk. Australia already had three national rock magazines at the time, RAM, Juke and Rolling Stone. Juke was weekly out of Melbourne and RAM fortnightly out of Sydney, and Rolling Stone, well, now I think of it, was it fortnightly too in the 70s? I think it was. That’s how fertile the market was – it could sustain this sort of saturation. There was an explosion of fanzines going on, out of which Roadrunner itself grew, and then after that there was another new wave of new magazines in the early 80s, especially art/fashion/music crossovers like Virgin Press and Vox coming out of Melbourne, and Stiletto starting up in Sydney; before all the free street press came along, but that’s another story…
Roadrunner was bold and showed what was possible even from the remote regional origins of Adelaide, and it completed the troika, I’ve always thought, of Australia’s Big 3 Rs of rock media, along with RAM and Rolling Stone. No doubt though Roadrunner was always the poor sister, even – especially! – after it moved to Sydney in 1982, the rearguard action that rather than resuscitating the magazine, finally killed it off. But the Roadrunner legacy is terrific, and that’s why it’s so good to see it archived here now as it has been. They’ve got something going on down in the ’Gong, it’s great: The uni there is to be hugely commended for getting busy in a field that’s too often overlooked by our august institutions of learning. Archiving Oz as they recently did here is just an amazing resource that’s to be treasured and the Roadrunner backpages are just another addition to this fantastic act of cultural recovery. See the full collection here, it's fantastic.
For me to flick through it now, every page is familiar, these things when they’re old and rare we find imprinted on our mind already anyway. But I’ve got to confess, I’d completely forgotten my first-ever contribution to RR, and when I came across it I was shocked it was a live review of Status Quo at Melbourne Festival Hall! The Quo! in 1978! OMG! How did they coerce me to go along and do that?! Anyway, I went on to write on and off for the magazine over the next couple of years, starting under the title of Melbourne Editor, as listed on the mast-head as I’m reminded now, and still using my nom-de-punque ‘Cee Walker’. Which was all really just a front to make it a bit easier to blag free records and get on the door at gigs.
Bruce Milne actually threw his lot in with RR, chucked in his uni course and fully moved over to Adelaide. Where, when Stuart Coupe jumped ship at the next best offer, a paying gig on staff at RAM in Sydney, he felt somewhat left in the lurch. So Bruce soon enough returned to Melbourne, and took over the editor’s role from me – me, as usual, or so it appears, too much the loose cannon even for a loose cannon enterprise like RR!
I wrote quite a few biggish stories on new music, the first stories on the GoBetweens, the Laughing Clowns and others like Whirlywirld and the Primitive Calculators; post-punk elektronika was a big part of my agenda. I did a July 1979 co-cover story (shared with the Angels and XTC) on the subject called "The Future is in the Flesh" (click through the pages below to read); it was such a vital movement/idea, Rolling Stone got me to repeat/update it a few years later. Consequenty when I wrote a live review of the Lipstick Killers it was a panning that, well, became notorious and really just maintained my marked-man status in Sydney’s post-Birdman Detroit scene. In retrospect, the Killers’ then-single “Hindu Gods of Love” was an absolute killer. But then Peter Nelson followed it up with his legendary decimation of Birdman spin-off band the Comrades of War, and I was off the hook, at least momentarily.
I tapered off on my contributions after I left Melbourne at the start of 1980 and moved to Sydney, where straight away I started writing for RAM and Rolling Stone, and getting paid for it. And so I had little space left in my diary for writing anything for free. So I dropped off, did a few bits and pieces. But the magazine remained a force. Flicking back through it now I’m reminded of a few good writers like Craig N. Pearce just for one. Bruce faded away from it too, went on to start Fast Forward. Then Adrian Ryan, a fine writer and a fine fellow, took over as Melbourne Editor and did a good job. But maybe it was indeed a mistake to try and compete with the other two Rs on their own terms. Maybe Roadrunner should have more clearly delineated its brand identity as ‘alternative’ and not covered the mainstream acts like the Angels. This was a question symptomatic of a bigger question that caused much wrist-wringing at the time. But then both the Virgin Press and Vox, who did identify as anti-mainstream, didn’t survive either, so who knows?
Donald moved himself and the magazine to Sydney in 1982, when I was on sojourn overseas, and he tried to keep it alive but couldn’t. Rolling Stone went monthly and became much more locally abreast, and so the real battle became between Stone and RAM. For me, Roadrunner was more than just a learning experience, I did some good coverage that I think added to the general edge of the magazine. Roadrunner went on to one last glossy issue out of Sydney in early 1983 and then went down. Donald eventually got a gig editing the then-newly-convened Countdown magazine, to which I contributed when I got back from the UK. But the Countdown mag was never a patch on Smash Hits – this was what the 80s were becoming, glossy in every way – and Donald and I moved on to the respective rest of our lives. For a while, Donald worked, with distinction, for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. He takes rightful pride in Roadrunner and its legacy, and if you have a look at the material – again, the archive here, Donald’s reminiscences here – you’ll understand why.
You can read more of my own related reminiscences here (on local punk fanzines and their feeding in to magazines like RR) and here (on the history of the literature of Australian music generally in the era of ink).