Tagged: TISM

(I want my) music on TV back

For two hours on Sunday night, it felt like a good proportion of Australia was gathered around a gigantic campfire. That campfire was burning on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, where Paul Kelly and his band were holding court – not just for the tens of thousands of people lucky enough to be there, but for hundreds of thousands more tuning in around the country, watching the ABC livestream and tweeting simultaneously.

Some say it’s rude to talk at gigs, but for me, watching from home, the excited chatter about what we were seeing added to the communal feel as #PaulKellyLive became the top-trending hashtag in the country. There was a collective awareness that we were witnessing a celebrated songwriter at the top of his game, and at a peak of popularity – at the age of 62, Kelly’s most recent album Life Is Fine was his first No. 1, a richly deserved success for a recording that’s up there with his best work.

Then someone said on Twitter: “We should have live music on the ABC every Sunday night.” Funny he should mention it: only two hours earlier, the ABC had screened its latest instalment of Classic Countdown, a restored best-of the vintage program which has also been a big hit for the national broadcaster. Cannily, it screened in Countdown’s original time slot of 6pm Sunday, adding to the nostalgia of a sizeable audience who grew up on the show between 1974 and 1987.

Of course, the music on Countdown wasn’t strictly live, and the warm glow of nostalgia helps us forget the reality: at the time, great Countdown moments (last night’s highlight was Divine performing You Think You’re A Man) could sometimes be a bit like finding diamonds in dog turds. Such moments, though, were miracles of Australian television that probably wouldn’t be allowed to happen today.

So it’s reasonable to ask why we don’t have a dedicated live music program, the endless parade of canned karaoke quests aside. If we did, perhaps we wouldn’t be wallowing in nostalgia for shows like Countdown and Recovery, at least not to the same degree. Australia has a rich history of music on television going back to TV Disc Jockey in 1957, which evolved into Australia’s version of the American program Bandstand.

In other words, Australia has had rock & roll on television pretty much as long as we’ve had both television (which launched in this country in 1956) and rock & roll.

After Bandstand, we had Six O’Clock Rock hosted by Johnny O’Keefe, The Go!! Show, GTK (Get To Know), and the Seven network’s Sounds, on to Rock Arena, SBS’s Rock Around the World (whose host Basia Bonkowski was the subject of a memorable tribute by Melbourne’s Painters & Dockers), Beatbox, The Noise, Studio 22 and Nomad – the show which introduced us to a trio of teenagers called Silverchair.

Variety shows gave priceless additional exposure to Australian artists. Even Hey Hey It’s Saturday had its moments: other than that time Iggy Pop greeted Molly Meldrum with “Hiya Dogface!” before terrorising innocent teenagers with a microphone stand, not even Countdown threw up anything to match TISM’s performance of Saturday Night Palsy, the like of which has not been seen before or since.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Even mimed performances on live television carried that tantalising possibility of a few minutes of anarchy. All it took was a performer, or group of performers, willing to break the format’s fourth wall and strip the carefully constructed reality of television away – at which point things perhaps got a bit too real for executive producers to handle.

Which brings me to the events of 2 November 1988.

On that evening, a Sydney noise-rock group called Lubricated Goat, led by one Stu Spasm, performed the lead track from their just-released album Paddock Of Love on Andrew Denton’s program Blah Blah Blah. The song was called In The Raw, and in the raw was exactly how the group played it – much to the horror of sensitive viewers who jammed the ABC switchboard, not to mention tabloid editors and talkback radio hosts.

Eleven years after punk, it was Australia’s version of “The filth and the fury” – that Daily Mirror headline that followed the Sex Pistols’ infamous appearance on Bill Grundy’s Today program in December 1976. Tim Bowden, the genial host of the ABC’s popular feedback program Backchat, responded to the moral panic by appearing shirtless behind his desk while reading outraged letters to Aunty aloud.

An ABC spokesperson told Guardian Australia the network hoped to build on the success of the AusMusic Month broadcasts: Paul Kelly last night and Crowded House last year. They said music programming, including live concerts, “is something we continue to be very committed to … the upcoming reorganisation of our content teams will provide more opportunities for our music and entertainment teams to work closely together”.

I hope they’re right. It has been far too long since live music was a regular part of our Sunday evenings, not to mention our Monday water-cooler discussions. Sure, it carries an element of risk – but as Paul Kelly showed, it has the potential for joy as well. And without the risks, we’d have none of those classic moments that we continue to celebrate today.

First published in The Guardian, 20 November 2017

Jimmy Stynes

Jimmy Stynes was an amazing footballer. More impressive than the fact that he won a Brownlow medal in 1991 – Australian Rules’ highest individual honour – was the fact that, in a senior career with the Melbourne Football Club lasting 11 years, from 1987 to 1998, he played 244 of his total 264 games in succession. It’s a benchmark for durability that’s yet to be beaten, and probably won’t be.

It’s also a benchmark for bravery, at times reckless bravery. In 1993, Stynes – a ruckman, the most physically demanding position in the game – had the cartilage of his breastbone severed in an on-field collision with a teammate, leaving his chest looking like a tent. Amazingly, and quite possibly stupidly, he fronted up the next week to play after passing a fitness test in which his coach, Neil Balme, pitted him against a few of the Demons’ hard men, one of whom was Rod Grinter.

Grinter was a known sniper, suspended so often for acts of on-field malice that satirical Melbourne band TISM (This Is Serious Mum) once namechecked him in the following lyric: “I’ve mixed heroin, cocaine and angel dust / I’ve played on Rodney Grinter, and been concussed”.

Balme put Stynes through his paces with Grinter knowing he’d face similar treatment (or worse) against the next week’s opposition. The session apparently ended with punches being thrown, although I find it hard to imagine Stynes hurling them, certainly not throwing the first. He was a scrupulously fair player.

All of this is impressive in itself. Now imagine this: Stynes arrived in Australia as an 18-year-old from Dublin in late 1984, having never played a game of Australian Rules in his life. He was in the vanguard of what’s become known in the game as the Irish Experiment, wherein young Gaelic footballers were imported to Australia on spec to play a different game.

It took until 1987 for Stynes to break in as a regular to the Melbourne side. The Demons, a former powerhouse of the competition, had been impotent for decades, but they were surging, and that year they made the finals. They would have made the Grand Final, too, had Stynes not given away a free kick in the dying seconds of the preliminary final – a technical rule breach of which he was unaware – that gifted Hawthorn a match-winning goal.

Stynes would never escape, or be allowed to forget his error. His side actually made the Grand Final the following year, only to be smashed again (by a then-record 96-point margin) by Hawthorn. Stynes was Melbourne’s best player on that day, but they never challenged for the premiership again in his career. Life is about taking your opportunities, and learning from your mistakes.

And that’s the lesson Stynes went on to prove, over and over again, after his playing career ended. In fact, it’s where his legend grows almost to the stature of myth.

A few years before his retirement, Stynes set up the Reach foundation. Broadly, it was aimed at teaching life skills to young people, particularly disadvantaged youth. This work, it transpired, was his real calling. He was a firm believer in the power of each individual to realise his or her gifts – but also recognised that often, they need someone else’s belief and love to help them unlock that potential. Here lay Stynes’ profound sense of social justice. Martin Flanagan recounted this quote in his obituary today: “What’s happening in this society is scary … We’re splitting into the haves and have-nots. A growing number of kids are getting caught in dark places.”

In 1997 he joined the board of Victoria’s Youth Suicide Task Force. He also took up a position as an anti-racism officer with the AFL, not long after Michael Long had brought the issue within the sport to a head. He resolved not to return to Ireland.

He became increasingly celebrated. He was named Victorian of the Year in 2001, and again in 2003. He was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2007.

Then, in mid-2009, he was diagnosed with cancer.

By that point, he had returned to his beloved, ailing football club as chairman. The Demons were $5 million in the red. Stynes, with his charisma, organisational skills and sheer bloody-mindedness, wiped that debt within three years, but his team continued to take a beating on field. After a horrible loss to Geelong in 2011 that saw the sacking of coach Dean Bailey, the toll on Stynes’ faltering health was clear.

What Jim Stynes did better than anything – better than his ability to run, kick, mark and jump – was connect. The football community and Australia is a lesser place without him, but we’re all better for the lessons and the legacy he leaves.