Finished Behind Dark Eyes by Jeff Apter last night – LATE last night coz I couldn’t stop reading.
This is a cracking good read for a number of reasons.
Jon English was a fascinating bloke. A Sydney westie who carved a career in rock & pop, theatre and TV out of a powerful voice and striking looks. And a lot of sweat. A passionate man who didn’t always make the best decisions but became an icon for a generation or more of Australian pop culture.
Jeff Apter is an excellent writer, who knows how to let a story tell itself (or makes it look that way). You get a great sense of the flow of English’s life, cleverly bookended by the revelatory breakthrough of Jesus Christ Superstar and his doomed efforts to stage his own rock musical. It’s amazing how much of 40 years is packed into 250 pages.
It’s intimate. The book is filled with nuanced and aware observations by his colleagues, friends and family members. Everyone acknowledges the man’s unique talents and no-one ignores his flaws. Where his family talks about him are the most poignant, revealing parts of the book. There’s no need for the author to philosophise, all the characters do that for him, including English himself.
The setting. The 1960s migrant experience, pub rock and Countdown: three massive influences that shaped our pop culture and whose influence continues. In this case, you can add Jesus Christ Superstar – it seems like half our pop royalty went through that show. And for those keeping count, the three Aussie rock bio touchstones of George Young, Michael Gudinski and Philip Mortlock all crop up.
I admit that I’m a sucker for a rock bio and I hoover up anything that helps me to put my own life into context – there’s so much in this book that resonates strongly with me, and that won’t be true for everyone. But if you grew up in Australia in the 60s and 70s and you know the guy who went from leotards as Judas to purple tights as The Pirate King – this is a book for you.