Anyone who knows me knows or anyone who reads these little outbursts should have guessed that surfing, music and reading are very important life long passions of mine. Well, I guess not life long, as I had to learn how to do two of them but I couldn’t imagine my world without them. This week a publication and a person, both of whom were part of these pleasures, sadly passed away.
Apparently I learnt to read quite early. I can’t remember learning but I do remember my first picture books on dinosaurs and space and reptiles. I also read Golden Books and Enid Blyton and comics, especially WW2 comics and The Courier Mail, but it was a better newspaper then.
Later I was old enough to commandeer the radio and in those distant days before FM radio, let alone streaming, I tuned into the Top 40 and listened any time I could. I can’t remember what songs I heard first but in grade five my parents bought me a portable radio cassette recorder. Now I could do my own mixed tapes. Little did I know then that in the not too distant future mixed tapes could be used as passports into new cool gangs and as love letters to new partners and farewells to the dismissive old.
It was the early 70s so radio played a wonderfully broad range of music, a policy now totally extinct in this world of radio celebrities, seemingly endless ads and national computer programming. I can remember waiting with cassette tape ready, record and play pushed but with my finger on the pause button waiting to see what the DJ would play after the newsbreak or station announcement. It was always difficult when the song had little or no intro. It was a lot easier to get the beginning of Maggie May, The Ballroom Blitz or Riders on the Storm on tape than trying to get the entire cowbell intro on Honky Tonk Woman, let me tell you. And if the tape ran out halfway through the song? How quickly could you open the little door turn the tape over and hit record again?
Before long I bought my own music once and for the record, pardon the pun, Suzi Quatro was my first purchase. Next was ‘The Man Who Sold the World” by THE MAN - Mr D Bowie.
And how did I know who I liked? Well it was not just listening and while there was some music shows appearing on TV, Countdown hadn’t been invented. By then I was reading about music too. There were little bits and stories in the newspaper and in magazines like the TV Week and of course pin up magazines. These were mostly photos of the latest teen idols but as glam grew in popularity there was powder-puff articles on Bowie and the Sweet and of course the jaw dropping shots of Ziggy Stardust. There were no posters of Ian Chappell clubbing an off drive for four on my wall but plenty of The Spiders from Mars and The Sweet from London.
And then something happened that brought surfing into this mix in a way that was just short of perfect. My parents bought a newsagency. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry about having enough pocket money for music as well as magazines and books. Everything I wanted to read and as long as I didn’t bend the covers back or spill food on the pages, now available totally free.
I knew nothing about surfing but I had always loved beach holidays and swimming in the surf. One day I needed something new to read and I picked up a colour magazine called Surfing World and then another less fancy broadsheet called Tracks and that was that.
Those photos of perfect waves and girls in bikinis and the stories about road trips, long days riding warm waves and being a free spirit were hypnotising. I was hooked. After all why would you want to spend all weekend fixing a car or playing cricket with a bunch of blokes when you could go to the beach?
It could only have been better if the newsagency had been located at Coolum, or Burleigh or Byron. Alas it was not. It was not going to be that easy to become a surfie as my mum stills calls us forty years later.
I added those surfing magazines to my reading pile that also included music magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone, RAM, Sounds, Melody Maker and NME aka New Musical Express. If you were into music all of these magazines were vital reading during that period of 73 to 79 when rock music covered a lot of ground very quickly.
While it still lives online, sadly this week NME published its last print issue. The others with the exception of Rolling Stone are all long gone. I remember NME in particular because it championed punk and new wave with great zeal while the rest were still mainly concerned with the faltering hard rock scene i.e. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith Toto etc. who were despite their greatness on the downhill slide or pretty boring from the get go.
The first I knew of The Sex Pistols The Jam, even Brisbane’s own The Saints was from reading about them in NME. So vale NME, a pretty great read whatever decade you needed to read it.
Unfortunately whether it is surfing or music the old tabloid inky black with spot colour mags on newsprint are extinct with most titles now online only or glossy printed in cost effective A4 and quarto sizes. The immediacy, the importance, the feeling of being part of something are long gone and now they are just things to flick through while waiting for a free chair at the barbers.
Some of the less cool things I read for free in my parent’s newsagency were Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. I loved them and I have read them all. I think we are talking at least fifty books featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple solving murders in a most British and well mannered way. Even in the 70s they were pretty dated and old fashioned but she was a great writer and nobody has ever matched her skill in plotting the whodunit. If she had been writing this century she would probably have made even more money than J.K. Rowland. I never guessed the killer correctly in any of her books but what they did do is awaken my love for the detective and crime genre.
Which is a long winded segue to express my sadness at the death this week of Australian writer Peter Temple, whose four crime books featuring the character of Jack Irish are absolute crackers. His other novels Truth and The Broken Shore are also fantastic reads and among my favourite Australian books. Very contemporary, very Australian, very bloody good and very bloody sad that we will read no more from Mr Temple.
Here are two excerpts from his books to give you a taste of his wonderful, economical larrikin style.
First from “Truth”:
“Man near entrance is shot in the head at close range from behind. The other two, multiple stab wounds, genitals severed, other injuries. Also head and pubic hair ignited, shot, muzzle in mouth. Three bullets recovered, 45 calibre."
Villani: “So you can’t rule out an accident?”
And from “White Dog”
“In the mid-1980s, on a spring Sunday morning, a Volvo stationwagon parked in Brunswick Street. A young couple got out. She was trim, blonded, tanned. He was already broadening in the midsection, sockless, short and hairy legs ending in boatshoes. From a restraining chair in the back seat, he unloaded a child, complaining, flailing. They took it into a cafe.
They were going to have brunch.
The old Brunswick Street was dead, Brunchwick Street born. There was no turning back.”