Reading List Update: December 2021

Book covers: Funny Stories, Suburban Songbook and Punk Outsider

Funny Stories, Prophets of the Absurd, by Hugh Wayland. Outstanding! Superbly put together, this account of Sydney’s Funny Stories performance troupe from the 80s is a brilliant read. For those of us who were there at the time, it brings it all back to life. For those who weren’t, it’s an insight into inner Sydney of the time and the adventures of five extremely creative individuals who together mastered a form of theatre not many others even attempted. The book is sumptuously produced and really should be up for a book design award. Which is appropriate – Funny Stories might have been bonkers in their approach to performance but they were very skilled at what they did.

Doc, by Jon Bradshaw. Very disappointing. I believe this was produced to “correct the record” on Doc Neeson’s life by family members. It’s not particularly well written (really needs some very basic editing) and is difficult to take seriously. The word hagiography comes to mind. What is unforgivable is taking whole slabs of content from Bob Yates’ band bio The Angels. If you so disparage someone’s book for being inaccurate, why would you then steal their content? Bizarre. I didn’t finish it.

Suburban Songbook, by Clinton Walker. Fantastic! Walker cleverly focuses on the emergence of Australian pop/rock songwriting from post-WWII to 1975 when Countdown started. It is packed with delightful trivia and deep insights. With gorgeous illustrations and photos, the book conveys a sense of the times in the Australian music industry. It even finally explains (for me, anyway) the notorious Radio Ban of 1970 and its impact. And Walker gets double points from me for at last acknowledging the particular influence of the Dutch on Australia’s music industry.

Now I have to interrupt my scheduled reading list for two interlopers. I’m really looking forward to Toby Zoates’ second book Punk Outsider (a follow-up to Vagabond Freak), in which our anti-hero Arthur rock’n’rolls through Sydney from the late 70s to the 90s. Toby is an icon of inner city Sydney and I know this book will be as entertaining, enlightening and horrifying as his first.

Even before that, though, I’m reading an unpublished manuscript by a major Australian music industry figure (my lips are sealed). I consider this a massive privilege. I’m not editing it, just seeing if it’s a good read.

A sidelight – I bought Funny Stories, Suburban Songbook and Punk Outsider direct from the authors, which delivered the bonus of having them signed on the flyleaf. Hazel and I have quite a little collection of signed books – some that Hazel edited or published, some by web design clients of mine, some from book signings (Hazel waited in line for ages to get Jimmy Barnes to sign Working Class Man for me), some we stumbled on at fetes or op shops (Donald Horne, Frank Hardy). Among my favourites is An Australian in America, signed by the author (“To Ricky, You’ll get there, David Dale” – he was right, I did) and the illustrator Matthew Martin (“For Ricky, For Matthew” – yup, he mucked it up) accompanied by a cartoon of a duck in water wearing a snorkel.
Signed flyleaf of David Dale book

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