Acknowledged as the world’s first female roadie, Douglas scored a chapter to herself in Stuart Coupe’s excellent 2018 book Roadies, which told just enough of her story to leave me and I’m sure a lot of others wanting to know more.
And here it is.
Douglas was indeed a roadie but her backstage role changed and grew as her skills and experience increased through the 70, 80s and 90s and the nature of her work evolved. That, for me, is a central fascination, watching live rock music production grow from pub stages to giant arenas with massive lighting and sound rigs. Douglas is in the thick of it, working on some of the loudest, brightest, biggest tours in the world.
She describes the physical mechanics of setting up rock shows very well and, while you don’t have to know a Fresnel from a followspot, some of the descriptions get into some fascinating detail.
The cast of characters is astounding and Douglas provides some interesting insights that bust a few myths and might change a few minds. There are, as you might expect, plenty of outrageous and very funny anecdotes, often involving inflated artistic egos being deflated.
In fact, we get three perspectives for the price of one: that of the practical techie without whom the artist couldn’t go on, the strong woman rising to the top in a male-dominated field of a male-run industry, and the Australian larrikin at work and play around the world’s top rock stars.
There’s actually another perspective, which I found very moving even though it wasn’t articulated. Douglas is frank and open about her disastrously broken family life, and the reader can’t help but contrast that with the warmth, comfort and respect she finds in the world of rock music, onstage and off. Not unfamiliar, but in this case heightened by the extremeness and starkness of the contrast.
And it’s not just rock or pop. Douglas recounts her brushes with rap, punk and grunge, which is a refreshing change.
All in all, I enjoyed Loud a great deal, an easy to read first person narrative that draws the reader happily along with the narrator along a straightforward chronology. A great story.
I noticed that the book’s HarperCollins publisher was Jude McGee, founding member of outstanding Newcastle 80s band Pel Mel (and more recent interesting projects). It can’t hurt to have that kind of experience helping shape a book like this.
The end of the book snuck up on me. Suddenly, it was over. And I decided that’s fitting. There’s no pat, nice, happy ending, no resolution. There’s just the story of the life of Tana Douglas. To be continued, I hope.