by Larry Buttrose
Cards on the table. I was never remotely interested in Madonna or Michael Jackson, and cannot stand Elton John except perhaps for one or two early songs. I was never much impressed by Bowie’s make-up and costumery, though he did have a couple of decent songs, Sorrow being one. One of my brilliant careers was as a rock writer, but even 30 years ago the job title sounded like an oxymoron. I wrote a bit for Rolling Stone, once or twice for Interview. I wrote a lot for Roadrunner, a magazine named after the Jonathan Richman classic. I loved Jonathan’s sweet drollery in songs like Pablo Picasso and Egyptian Reggae, and I like him still for I’m Straight and I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar. I’ve always liked popular music quite a bit, but not a lot of it, and that remains pretty much the case now too. My only authentic musical regret, though it is not quite as strong as the word regret implies, is that I never listened Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby with my father, who used to describe the stuff I listened to as “jazzbo music”. I once had an R.L. Burnside tape I loved, and enjoy our Ted Hawkins CD. I panned a Midnight Oil concert in London in 1981 and felt the bad vibes frosting back a long time after. I saw Cold Chisel at the Thebarton Town Hall and loathed their dumb loudness and all that screeching, but I now like some of their songs like Flame Trees and Forever Now, and even sing along to the silly and somewhat offensive Khe Sanh. No, there were no V-Day heroes in 1973, but neither were there Australian troops at Khe Sanh. I never got the Bee Gees once they started all that mad falsetto stuff, and would listen all day to the Wiggles to avoid any random exposure to Kylie Minogue. The best concert I ever saw was Bruce Spingsteen at Wembley in 1981, three exhilarating hours, and the biggest let-down was Elvis Costello at the Apollo Stadium in Adelaide three years before that, when he begrudged the crowd half an hour in a punky huff. The last band I really liked was Nirvana. Although I occasionally hear something good on the radio or in a shop or happen to catch it on Rage, the dots don’t link up any more to an artist or artists I can admire, though of course it behoves one to remain a true believer that the kids are all right. But I cannot at all abide the corporate production line of whingy moany girl singers who need to be sat down and told to listen to Nina Simone singing Pirate Jenny and Ain’t Got No/I Got Life, and to Peggy Lee and Chrissy Hynde and Annie Lennox, and Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick. One of course might say I’m too old for pop music but I think it is the music that got old and died, with its corporate agents merely jiggling the corpse on its strings to wring the last pennies they can from us. I was too young for Buddy Holly whom I liked very much, and Elvis whom I didn’t at the time, thinking him a greaseball. I loved the Beatles, the Kinks, the Animals and The Who, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell, and of course The Loved Ones, but was more ambivalent about the Doors, and the Rolling Stones, who always appeared to be trying too hard image-wise, nice art school lads posing as bad boys. I was a mad keen fan of the Incredible String Band for years. The 70s was a long dark Eurovision night of the soul, with all-grinning sequined horrors like Abba, a decade rescued only at the death by the snarl of the Sex Pistols and the stride of the Clash. I have warbled Waterloo Sunset at sunset on Waterloo Bridge and crooned Up The Junction going up our street to Clapham Junction. I would like to find songs I can do that now. I liked Silverchair’s Straight Lines but it did not get me walking in straight lines. Bands may have songs still, but not a spirit that sweeps you up to entrust them with your faith and your belief. It is my humble opinion that the finest popular musical performers of the last hundred years were Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong.