After an extremely long genesis due mainly to publisher problems, my eleventh book, Suburban Songbook, is finally now out, through my own imprint GoldenTone and available to buy here or from selected good bookshops and record shops in the major Australian capital cities.
Its protraction has happily only made it a better book, and thanks to a great team numbering general manager Nick Shimmin, print wizard Murray Bennett and designer Carl Breitkreuz, it is a work of art in its own right as well as a book I’m confident will open people’s eyes to a fullness of Australian music history hitherto underappreciated.
The book was produced and manufactured with money raised through a GoFundMe campaign run by Nick, and so thanks too to the many people who signed on to pre-order copies, making the whole thing possible in the first place.
As an all-new new book in the wake of the reissue of a new expanded edition of my 1996 book Stranded earlier this year, it is designed to get me back in the ring after the “Deadly Woman Blues Fiasco” of 2018, and I trust it will be judged only on its own merits. This is the least that any convicted criminal can expect, that if you’ve done the crime and done the time, you start a fresh new re-start…
The palpable idea to write Suburban Songbook probably coalesced around the early/mid-2000teens. The manuscript just sort of built up around me, on this idea I’d long been interested in because it seemed so important yet all but undocumented. In mid-2017 I signed a deal with a new independent Australian publisher – and that was my first mistake. The original plan was to put the book out towards the end of 2018, after DWB. That that didn’t happen then was actually less a consequence of the fallout from DWB than that the publisher, now amid the rigor of actually producing a book, revealed he just wasn’t up to the task. So I had to exercise the termination clause in our contract and walk…
I flailed for a while, with a virtually complete book in hand and nowhere to take it given I’d been cancelled, blacklisted by many local publishers, and it wasn’t till my friend Nick Shimmin, aware of my trevails, approached me with the idea to do what we’ve done.
Which Nick saw as do-able after he’d met Murray Bennett, whose professional career is as a commercial printer but with a personal passion for music generally and a sideline passion for printing beautiful music books, with credits behind him like his own Product 45, Donald Robertson’s Roadrunner anthology The Big Beat and John Foy’s chronicle of Red Eye Records, Snaps Crack Pop.
Suburban Songbook completes a circle, for me, that started 40 years ago with Inner City Sound, and it carries on a tendency that’s only more recently fully emerged in my work: Using images to tell stories as readily as words.
As a work of art in its own right, a beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated book of a type that most publishers have given up on these days, Suburban Songbook is devised to capture/evoke an era, or rather track a period in time that marked a few successive eras with all their shifting moods and mores. I never wanted to illustrate the book with all the same old dodgy old photos of all the same old bands we’ve seen a million times before.
By using the sort of imagery the book does – mostly drawn from the public domain of copyright-free old advertising ephemera and commercial art; although it does include more than a few signature original artworks, with all due credit paid to and clearances obtained from their creators like Martin Sharp, Stewart MacFarlane and Glenno Smith (and myself!) – the imagery works as an ancillary to the text that opens out the associations and thus only adds breadth and depth to the book’s meaning/s.
Similarly, the accompanying chapter-by-chapter playlists on YouTube and Spotify - just search for Suburban Songbook as a playlist - are designed to further enhance the experience. My thinking always was, you can siddown and read the book to the tune of a Spotify list and then, to give it all your attention, siddown and watch the playlist of videos on YouTube, which was assembled according to one rule of thumb, which was that they must be live-action clips. I’d love to have produced an anthology album on CD or vinyl like I’ve done in the past for Inner City Sound, Buried Country and other books, but those days sadly seem to be past…
But the core remains the book, and it’s another credit I’m delighted to accord, to Carl Breitkreuz, who was both a joy to work with (especially during a time of such duress for him personally) and who delivered such a magnificent result. Onya Carl and I hope this isn’t our last collaboration!
Indulge me in hooking back to comment made in Rhythms magazine regarding the recently released new edition of Stranded (Expanded). No, not the one where Des Cowley described me/Stranded as “streaks ahead of the pack” (just had to get that in again!), but the one elsewhere where Kerrie Hickin said: “At least every few pages readers might come across a juicy snippet, whether fact or opinion, and maybe think, Hey, you can’t say that.”
Putting aside the assumption there that we live in such punitive times, the comment makes for a smooth segue to something my old pal Bruce Milne said about Suburban Songbook: “There was information on every page that I didn't know...and I thought I knew a bit about Australian music. I was blown away by what I read.”
On every page, on every corner… If you’re at all interested in Australian music and culture, if like Bruce you think you already know a bit about it, I don’t think you can afford not to check out Suburban Songbook. To reiterate, to buy a copy of the paperback, go here…