Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Close Encounter With Bon Scott

Just up the road from two of the schools I attended as a kid, Burwood Heights Primary and High Schools respectively, were the Nunawading studios of Channel 10. Sir Reginald Ansett's helicopter used to buzz our playground regularly en route to his private landing pad. The dreadful soapie "Neighbours" used to be filmed there. Ramsay Street was somewhere in nearby Vermont South. Of course, prior to 1980 Channel 10 was known as Channel 0, and they used to frequently visit my Primary school to film segments for such shows as "Architecture Today", in which my 10 year old self could be seen being interviewed, babbling incoherently  about building domed cities under the sea. Channel 0 also filmed a lame station promo in our Grade 6 classroom, where the teacher is writing on the blackboard and accidentally mis-spells Melbourne with two O's. At which point, little Johnny pumps up his hand and says, "Sir, sir. There's only one O in Melbourne".
Great gag huh?
Many shows were taped live before a studio audience at Channel 0, and the security surrounding the ticketing for these events was pretty lax. Once a show had been taped, the producers would just dump hundreds of used tickets in gallon drums out the back of the building. So after school, my mates would forage them out of the bins, hand them out in class the next day, and we'd simply change the dates (which were just stamped on with a purple ink stamp) using our textas. Then we'd surreptitiously front up to the next taping of whatever show we'd scored.
Okay, so the appeal of  Fred Bear (Humphrey B. Bear's equally retarded cousin) was limited even to an eleven year old. Except for the fact that every kid who attended the taping scored a free show bag full of chocolate bars, chips, comics, lollies, and other goodies.
Anyway, this underhanded method of sneaking into live tapings was still going on a few years later when we all graduated to the nearby High School. So it was that, as a 14 year old in 1975, I found myself in the studio audience for the taping of a short-lived music show called "Rock'n'Roll Circus", where a relatively new band called AC/DC, fronted by Bon Scott, were set to play. I can't remember which song it was they performed, or more likely mimed. Though I'm guessing it must have been one of their earlier hits like their cover of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go", or maybe 'High Voltage Rock and Roll". But what I do remember is that Angus Young was already doing his schoolboy shtick, and that Bon Scott came out shirtless, but with a black leather vest and tight black leather pants, which the Sharpie girls that surrounded the stage tried their damndest to pull down.
These girls were not your shrinking violet little Roller Stroller-wearing knicker wetters that you might find collapsing in a blubbering heap in the presence of their heroes at a Bay City Rollers gig. They were full-on demented rock chicks who wanted a piece of Bon by whatever means necessary. I couldn't help thinking to myself as I watched him calmly negotiate his way through the song and their clothes-tearing fervour, "now there's a good job." 

Monday, September 26, 2011


T This one was deleted because it wandered too far from the narrative. But it would have appeared in Chapter 36, Page 245:
"The only thing that took me out of my thoughts was our weekly stoned pool competitions at the Green Cloth in Swan Street Richmond. After we'd finished playing  and the place was closing up for the night, the three of us would often smoke dope with the owner, a well-known comedic radio horse-racing identity, whose grassy nomenclature might not necessarily have been a reference to track conditions.
On one particular night though, there were a couple of changes to our routine. Firstly, Ritzy pulled a late shift at work and was unable to join us. Secondly, the Green Cloth was temporarily closed for renovations, so Shane and I decided to head to the grimy ambience of Players on Camberwell Junction instead.
Usually we would fire up a couple of joints before driving down to the pool hall. But this time, Shane insisted on us having freshly buzzing heads as we clambered up the creaky staircase to the foyer, to be greeted by the creepy mural of Eddie Charlton and Ray Reardon staring down on us judgementally.
So it was on that cold, wet and wintry night, that we found ourselves passing a joint around in the darkened Camberwell carpark, opposite the deserted lumberyard, as Shane's car filled up with thick plumes of acrid, pungent smoke. Big mistake. For just at that moment, a pair of blinding headlights flooded our car, we heard a short, sharp siren, and immediately my eyes darted to the rear view mirror, where I saw the tell-tale flashing of a blue light. "Oh No", I groaned. Futilely I stamped out the joint butt, and slipped it under the floor mat. Equally futilely, Shane rolled down his window, and tried to waft the thick blanket of fog away with several frantic sweeps of his arm. The two cops were stony-faced and emotionless as they asked us, rather rhetorically I thought, what we were doing. Then they spun us round, and subjected us to the humiliating ordeal of a frisk.
Once they were satisfied that we weren't carrying any concealed weapons, they stopped patting us down. But the one frisking me, perhaps because I was wearing a leather biker's jacket, gave me a cursory squeeze on the bum. I don't know if he was a bender and thought I was similarly inclined, or if he was trying to provoke me into taking a swing at him. In those days of "Frankie Goes To Hollywood", people made a lot of assumptions about someone wearing a leather jacket. Either way, there was no way I was going to react. If I'd been the type to resort to violence, I would have decked Shane years ago.
All the other cop found on Shane was the little gram bag of kiff, which he promptly upended into the gutter, and let the  steady rain wash it away.
'Look boys, we don't care if you have a smoke', he said in a way that suggested he might even indulge himself when he was off duty. "But next time, just do it in the privacy of your own home okay"? He said, as I glowered bullets at Shane, because that's what I'd tried  without any luck to convince him to do all along. And with that, they climbed into their divvy van and rolled slowly out of the carpark, leaving us standing bedraggled in the rain.    

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Generation X

One thing that's a key element to "Catch a Falling Star", is the fact that Nick and his friends are all members of  that lost and self-obsessed bunch known collectively as Generation X. Although there are no hard and fast rules as to exactly when one generation ends and another begins, the United States Census Bureau considers that the post-war Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Nicky Nova disputes this vigorously. Firstly, as he sees it, any soldier still returning from the war in 1961, when Nicky came into the world,would have to have crawled home from the Western Front on his hands and knees. Secondly, Nicky would be disgusted to be associated whatsoever with any generation which believed that they could, like, make the world a groovier place by wearing flowers in their hair. Nicky feels more of a kinship with Generation X, a term that was first coined in a study of British youth by Jane Deverson, who revealed a generation of teenagers who, "sleep together before they are married, were not taught to believe in God, dislike the Queen, and don't respect parents." Throw in a deep cynicism towards all politicians whether they be left or right, and you have Nicky Nova in a nutshell. As the Psychedelic Furs sang in NO TEARS,
"Don't believe in anything."   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Tree Hill

Chapter One - Page10
...Situated on the far side of Springvale Road (in Donvale), One Tree Hill's name was something of a misnomer. It was actually a whole clump of trees huddled together on a lone hill, as if in defiance of the encroaching wave of development below. A stark vista, it almost looked as if it had been pinned against the sky. There, Shane, Ritzy and I would hang out together on wintry days, when the wind ran silent fingers through the long grass, and talk about our lives and our dreams. "I want to be a famous rock'n'roll star one day", I said. "You can keep the fame", Shane replied. "Just give me the money".

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Friday On My Mind

There's nothing more thrilling for a teenager than when their pop idols manage to sneak a coded message to them past parents, teachers, radio programmers and other assorted authority figures and arbiters of good taste. I remember back in second form (or year 8), one teacher would let us play a bit of rock music in class as a reward for being well behaved. A song that was chosen one particular day was the Skyhooks track, "Smut", an ode to the joys of having one off the wrist in the darkness of a movie theatre, while using a Twisties bag as a tissue.
So there we all were, sitting around at our desks sniggering like -er- well adolescents, when the dimwitted teacher finally started to twig that something was up. "What's this song called"? He asked nobody in particular. "Surfie Joe", lied Mark King quick as a flash, amidst more stifled chuckles from his classmates.
Another prime example was David Bowie's cover of the Easybeats classic "Friday On My Mind", which used to get a lot of airplay on 3XY  when it was released in 1973. Back then, dropping the F-Bomb on the airwaves was a big no-no, and perhaps if the producers had listened to the backing vocals a little more closely after the line, "Gonna'have fun in the city", they'd have heard David singing, "Feel like Fucking you".
For the first two verses the line is buried deep in the mix, audible only to the discerning ear. But at the end of the song the profanity is pushed right to the forefront where it's heard as clear as day. It's amazing how many people missed that one. I don't know what was more thrilling to my twelve year old ears: Getting away with this bit of naughtiness, or the fact that my idol was covering an Aussie classic by Vanda and Young, and was actually aware that there was life stirring down at this end of the world. 

Monday, July 18, 2011


The blue, late Autumn moon watched me with its' impassive, unblinking eye as I shuffled my way down the dusty road, and out past the straggly orchards. Arriving at the Era School, I scrambled over the wooden gate, and made my way past the slumbering bus, towards the main buildings.
I had come to the outskirts of Donvale because my go-between Ritzy had told me that Shane, who'd been avoiding me like the plague since he'd  bravely left Jemma to break the news to me of their romance, finally wanted to talk.
Shane was already sitting on the railings of the science block, staring out into the shadowy bushland, as I clambered up onto the decking. "Hello Nick", he said sheepishly. "Listen, I just wanted to say that I'm really sorry about what happened".
"Never mind sorry. It's not too late to stop this", I insisted. "I just want her back".
"Even if I could stop it, she doesn't want you back Nick".
This much I knew. I had tried futilely to reason with Jemma, even confronting her backstage in her dressing room after her performance in an amateur production of "The Rose".
"You know, I tried to help you , and this is how you repay me"? I shouted, stepping right up into Shane's face."You're a fucking swine for doing what you did". Angered, Shane grabbed me forcefully by the scruff of the collar. As I swiped his fist away, breaking his grip, I felt the small silver chain around my neck snap. I reached out and managed to catch it before it flew over the balcony. The chain, which comprised of two little silver tragic/comic masks representing the theatre since ancient Greek times, had been a Christmas gift from Jemma. But when I looked down at the snapped chain in the palm of my hand, I noticed that the happy mask was gone.
"Now look what you did", I screamed at Shane as I vaulted down the stairs to the ground below. The two of us sifted through the grass and leaves for ages beneath the pale moonlight. But we never found that happy mask.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stop It Or You'll go Blind!

Pope John Paul II was set to visit Australia in 1986. To commemorate the event "Writers Press", a small publishing house in Diamond Creek put out a cheeky, irreverant book of cartoons titled, "101 USES FOR POPES" by 101 Australian & New Zealand cartoonists, and I was asked to contribute. My cartoon depicted a Challenger astronaut using the pontiff as a stepladder as he bowed down to kiss the surface of the moon. The book was going to be launched in Sydney by none other than that great papal impersonator himself Max Gillies, man of a thousand faces. I was really excited about going up to Sydney, and Ritzy, who had wrangled a week off work was coming with me. But first we were going to spend a few days in Queensland visiting his rellies, as well as various theme parks along the way. Naturally this necessitated scoring a couple of grams of head. It was imperative that we experience the sensation of riding the double loop de loop roller coaster at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast stoned out of our brains. Once in Queensland we stayed at Ritzy's Grampa's house, who like us, was off being a gadabout somewhere. I have to say that cleanliness wasn't high on the old fella's agenda though, because after spending the first night sleeping on his cot I woke up itchy'n'scratchy, and covered from head to toe in flea bites. From that night onwards I slept on a banana lounge, a single thin sheet providing sufficient coverage in the clammy Queensland climate. 
On the second night the high humidity finally got the better of Ritzy, who with his asthma suddenly skyrocketing from mild to chronic, had been struggling for breath the entire trip. It was frightening watching him spluttering, wheezing, and frantically drawing futilely on his ventolin pump with no relief. I remembered how a girl I'd gone to school with had died from an extreme asthma attack. Finally we had to call an ambulance, and he was rushed off to hospital for emergency treatment. He was okay by the next day though, and after doing the rounds of various uncles and aunts we were glad to finally say our goodbyes and fly down to the more temperate climes of Sydney. We did all the tourist-y stuff in the harbour city, checking out the opera house, centrepoint tower,and riding the ferries and stuff. We'd organised it so that the book launch was on the last day of our trip, then we'd fly home. But not everything went according to plan. On our last day in town we ran out of money, and we ran out of drugs. At my insistence we took my ghetto blaster to a pawn shop in King's Cross and managed to trade it for twenty dollars. It was a monster sound system with detachable sub-woofer speakers that I'd bought at JB Hi-Fi in 1983 when they'd opened their first store out of the back of a garage in Keilor. I planned to redeem it later. I suddenly felt like a real Rock'n'Roll outlaw, like I was (kind of) living that line in Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Thunders' ode to heroin addiction "Chinese Rocks" about all my best things being in hock. In a way I was right. Without knowing it, like the characters in the song, I had taken the first step towards being a slave to my drug habit. 
Our dealer radar was obviously finely tuned by then, because the first sleazy-looking character we approached in the Cross hooked us up with a gram of hash, with enough dosh left over for the eventual munchie attack that would inevitably follow. By the time the two of us lobbed at the book launch we were both flying approximately eight miles high, at nine to the Universe. Being full of bravado I sashayed straight up to "His Holiness" with book and pen in hand, gushing about what a big fan of "The Gillies Report" I was. Gillies, in costume and in character, imperiously proffered a pudgy hand adorned with what could have been a chunky Captain Marvel signet decoder ring, and said, "Kiss my ring" in a Polish accent. The double entendre sailed straight over my saluting platform in my stoned state, and I continued to nervously hold out my book and pen until he took it, scribbled "Stop it,or you'll go blind", signed his name, and returned it to my grasp. The dope paranoia kicked in. Had he simply scrawled his "Gillies Report" catchphrase? Or had he twigged the nature of my dishevelled state and made some kind of pointed comment? For the next hour or so I flitted around the room like a wild-eyed fanboy, collecting autographs from the more famous of the assembled cartoonists, like WEG,Jeff Hook and Mark Knight. We flew home the next day. I never did redeem my ghetto blaster. I figured it would have cost me far more than it was worth to fly all the way up from Melbourne to re-claim it. Things were beginning to spiral out of control. I had a little mobile suspended on a string, that dangled from my bedroom ceiling, swinging lazily in the limpid breeze that wafted occasionally through my window. It was a frowning cartoon image of the Pope by Leigh Hobbs that had adorned the cover of the book. Sometimes in the dead of a fitful night, when the moonlight flashed across its' slowly twirling arc illuminating the Pope's stern features, I found it curiously comforting in my increasingly frazzled state. It was as if a guardian Angel was somehow hovering above me, glowing re-assuringly through the dark times that were slowly descending.