Nail paint and crotchless knickers or ‘Leaps and Bounds’: a wander through footy, music and the contemporary world.

 

by Ron Wells

 

Really Gillon. WTF: “I’m high on the hill looking over the bridge to the Springsteen G”.

 

Being the Grand Poobah of the AFL comes with a big bag of lollies. It catapulted Andrew Demetriou from a serviceable Kangaroo, most famous for being ironed out by Lethal Leigh Mathews, into a teletubbyesque multi millionaire. A lucky bloke with an over-inflated Sherrin laced up with all the lurks, perks and cosey entres and relationships, that separate the executive class from the punters. The alienating, air conditioned comfort of the corporate box at Etihad, being a long cooee away from  blokes that grew up standing on a slab of VB cans in the outer at a bog like Kardinia Park, or one of the other VFL heaps. A south-westerly wind, worth four goals,  howling off the Barwon River to the city end in August. It will never be Simonds, or Skilled stadium to me. The suits could name it after the Daily Planet massage parlor, and have the ladies do a turn on the half back flank, and it will always be Kardinia Park. Home of the Geelong Footy Club. Founded when America was on the cusp of a brutal civil war.

 

I have nothing personal against Andrew, nor his blessed heir, Gillon McLachlan; the man he hand passed the golden Sherrin to. I don’t know them. I would struggle to pick them out of a line-up. I’m sure they’re okay blokes in that toffy Melbourne Grammar, to the manor born kind of way. Not exactly cut from the Broadmeadows Tech cloth. More MCC than Whitten Oval. Perhaps I’m being unkind. As I said, I don’t know either bloke personally. That being said. I will admit to being old fashioned.

 

Old fashioned in a good way. I believe in tradition. Call me a fuddy duddy  if you will. First Saturday in October. The Gary Ayres medal. (Thank God he pissed off from Geelong, dumping the train wreck in Bombers’ capable lap.) The MRP and fines. Lime green umpires, sponsored by a spectacle manufacturer. The shirtfront. The shot clock. Knowing to the nanosecond when the siren will sound. What happened to the vagaries of time on? I’m more Brownlow medal, and don’t need to be told on Facebook week after week that it’s in the bag for Danger or Junior Ablett. I remember the famous photo of a sharpie named Robert MCGhee, having a ciggie at three quarter time. I’m World of Sport and Jack Dyer. Not Footy Show and Billy Brownless poncing around in drag, aping Michael Jackson. Pie nights before they were sportsman’s nights.

 

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, who is this VB addled, non soy Latte drinking – with a shot of espresso, Bogan. A dinosaur stuck in second gear, lamenting the good old days. Still pissing and moaning about the 1974 second division VFA grand final. The under 19’s, the reserves, meat pies and the abhorrent concept of the two can limit. You might be surprised. I’m a well traveled, somewhat eduMacated, well read, motorcycle riding, convicted felon. A divorced dad, and  carpentero,  who lives in America, and I’ve gone the Cats ever since I was an itch in my old man’s underwear. I’m also a musician, and at its core this is what this little screed is about. At an early age, I said to my mother. “Mum, when I grow up I want to be a musician.” She fixed that steely motherly gaze on me, and said. “Son, you’ll have to make a decision. You can’t do both things.”

 

Music has been the blood in my veins since I first heard Bob Dylan wheeze his meandering way through ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Elvis Presley singing  ‘Burning Love’. The late sixties and early mid-seventies were golden, but now long gone years. Being a younger brother I had the benefit of being able to absorb the music of the older siblings. Pretty soon it was off to Brash’s for Creedence, Slade, Bowie and Pink Floyd. My ears were hungry. The ABC had a new show called GTK. In the blink of an eye it changed my focus. Suddenly there were people in my paddock. Max Merritt and the Meteors. Captain Matchbox. Company Caine. Things morphed when the colour telly hit in 1974. We were living in the seventies. We weren’t ‘Laying on Arkansas grass’ we were buying dope in Carlton. The Dingoes were singing about fibro shacks in mythical faraway Western Australia. Daddy Cool (RIP Hanna.) A St Kilda supporter got a show on the ABC. God bless his little cotton socks, and he blasted the locals from Geelong to Gundagai.

 

People of my greying type in the USA often ask me who my first concert was, smug in their Led Zeppelin or Peter Frampton memories. Surely little antipodean Australia has no decent rock n roll.  The good old cultural cringe long cast aside. I casually say, AC DC in 1975. Sacred Heart College in Oakleigh. Bon had just come off the bench, bringing his Bogan swagger to the team. Within a year I was sneaking into pubs. Pub Rock. Jo Jo Zep. Sports. Sidewinder. Arty stuff like the Bleeding Hearts and the Pram Factory, Circus OZ too. Frenz of the Enz. The punch to the gut of Radio Birdman. Dave Warner from the suburbs.  Another stylistic swerve. The Angels, Cold Chisel, Rose Tattoo.  Then the punk mishmash was whacked into a vitamiser and pub rock spawned the Birthday Party, et al. The woefully fashion challenged eighties followed and the great Australian magpie of song, Paul Kelly, finally broke into the mainstream.

 

I first encountered Mr. Kelly as a High Rise Bomber. I followed his sullen journey as an underperforming Dot. When the selection committee, overseen by Michael Gudinski, delisted him from Mushroom records, I thought, too bad, off to the Ovens & Murray League son. Miraculously, like Dan Menzel recovering from four knee reconstructions, he regained fitness and was redrafted as a mature age rookie. The future recipients of the Steve Connolly medal, will always be grateful he was. Be they Rock Dog or Megahertz. Paul developed a squad. A solid back line. Jon Schofield and Mike Barclay. Drums and bass. The Rabbitohs meet the Bombers. Pete Bull playing an inside and under role on the piano.  Playing the underrated hard things, playing his role. The aforementioned Mr Connolly, brother of Rohan, effortlessly bombing riff after riff across the goal line. Captain Coach Kelly, grinning like the cat that ate the canary, punting song after song forward. Clearly winning the clearances.

And it was all pretty local. Paul tells a great story in his mongrel memoir, How to make gravy. He was at an SAFL  game. His song ‘Adelaide’, a bit of a kiss off to the city of churches, was long out. A bloke in the grandstand said. “Hey mate, I thought you were never coming back again? “ Paul, in his understated manner replied. “They pay me to come back.” Comebacks: grand and delicious things. Like Carlton in 1970. Nixon for the Presidency. Elvis in 1968.  Like a Malcolm Blight torp from 70 metres out.  The sketchy racist, Pauline Hanson. (Maybe that sleeping Dog should be left out of this conversation.). One of Paul’s  truly inspired songs, ‘Leaps and Bounds’ name checks the great sporting citadel, the MCG. If he had nothing else this would be enough.

 

The correlation between Aussie rock and footy is not a stretch. The dots are easy to connect. They both percolate extreme passions. I have long lived in exile. Strangely, it happened in the blink of an eye. Being an expatriate is a hard thing to describe. I have long resisted total immersion. However, I suppose if you are from a blighted, pox-infested place like say, Sub Saharan Africa, you jump feet first into the setting concrete slab that binds your “New Australian-ness.”  You perk up when you see kids like Majak Daw and Aliir Aliir, make the big time. Just like the Demetrious, Silvagnis, Daicos family,  and  Stynes families before them.  At my Mum’s funeral a dozen years gone, her long time friend Sai attended. Sai was a  Cambodian boat person. The sole survivor, as I would come to understand, of nine. Victims of the killing fields. It was the late seventies. The stop the Asian invasion mob were flapping their gums at any boofhead who would listen.

 

Sai opened a bakery. It struggled behind the racism. My Mum loved her baking and became a customer and friend.  One Friday evening Mum came home distressed. The business next door had graffitied Sai’s  window with vile racist tracts.  It might have been let go as ignorant, but the knob newsagent had called our sweet ma a gook loving cunt. Paul and I kicked over the bikes, rode up there, and soundly thrashed the bastard and his son. Sai’s troubles ended immediately. Thirty years later I kicked the footy among the gravestones at Frankston with her sons. Her husband was also a refugee. They have made a great life, yet English was always a struggle. They quickly embraced footy and cricket as a family. Their boys were right little, “fair dinkum, bloody oath” Ockers. “ Mate, kick it long… I’m gonna take a specky…” Sadly they had become Collingwood supporters.

 

When I was transplanted, there was no internet. Keeping up with the footy was via a short wave radio. I listened to the 95 flogging in Timbuktu, it being a particularly ornery memory. It’s probably a bit hard to digest, but being so far away has always bought me closer to home and the grand game. There’s a healthy footy club here, where I now live. The San Diego Lions. My other Cats. They play a strong hand in the USAFL. Passionate blokes who play for the love of a touch. So what does grass roots footy, rock n roll and recent immigrants have to do with the AFL, and its suits?  Plenty. Because in Australia the game still, at least for now, belongs to the supporter base and club members. At least, I like to believe it still does.

 

American professional sports are odious. Long gone from the average family man’s participation. Not too mention his Children. Superbowl Ticket? No way Jose. Parking, concessions, merchandise sales… All long beyond the battlers. Currently San Diego has a corporate gun at its head. The billionaire Spanos family wants a pot hole riven city, a city where thousands, many who are veterans  and sleep rough, to build a stadium.  A real upscale swanky joint. Proposition C, which will rise or fall alongside the choice of a Tang coloured reality TV star and the enabler in Chief come November. Some Choice. No Choice

 

In my ever humble opinion, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL: the four food groups of American sports is not a ruck contest the AFL should seek to contest. Perhaps that’s not a good analogy. Perhaps I should have written, crumb the pack, for ideas too gussy up the spectacle. Like it needs more nail paint and crotchless knickers to capture the punters hard-earned. I was at the bookstore the other day. The clerk was stacking up Bruce Springsteen’s biography – Born to Run. I liked Bruce back in the seventies. He had a great run of records. Even the steroidal, performance enhanced, Born in the USA had a moment worth cocking an ear too. I met Bruce briefly in the late 90’s at Neil Young’s annual Bridge benefit. He seemed like a top bloke. Unaffected by his iconic zillionaire status. He told me a funny joke. “Hey Charlie. Why do men give their penises pet names?” Me. “I dunno Bruce. Why?” Bruce. “Hell would you want a stranger making all your decisions for you.” He laughed that lusty,  raspy laugh, as we both cracked up.

 

I skimmed the cover and he spoke about the genesis of his book. It seems his half-time superbowl show had been the catalyst for the memoir.  The struggle to distill four hours of passion into twenty minutes for an audience of a billion people. Too quote Graham Parker: “passion is no ordinary word.” I’ve seen a few superbowls shows over the years. Janet Jackson’s tit being a highlight. Tom Petty, The Strolling Bones. Bruno Mars. Madonna. Lady Ga Ga.  About as big as it gets in popular entertainment.  The shows, like America, bombastic and big. Amoreica.

 

Little brothers always look to the elder, bigger sibling’s, record collections for ideas. I guess it comes as no surprise that Wayne Jackson, Andrew Demetriou and Gillon Mac have taken a long lingering look across the Pacific Ocean for product enhancement ideas. Why not some sort of big name shindig before, during and after the game. Because the game itself is no longer enough. The sprint is sort of provincial, and a lap of honour for retiring champs only stretches so far.

 

In the twenty first century some would find this statement shocking. I don’t watch live. I was conditioned to listen on the radio. For some reason it’s always been my thing. I usually watch it the next day. Maybe it’s a subtle nod to dear departed Dad. All the wintery Saturday arvo’s listening to 3KZ with him. The commentators conjuring the game. Often using geography to illuminate the play. “Polly Farmer handballs it ten yards to Bill Goggin. Goggin wheels onto his preferred boot, kicks long to Wade who takes a handy grab just 10 yards out at the City end.”  “Johnson, centring kick to Ablett, ball spills, toe poke from Scarlett. Shepherd. Ablett  bombs it long to the members end. Pack flies. VARCOE TO CHAPMAN!!! GOAL. GEELONG HIT THE FRONT.”

 

All the landmarks that embroider the aural experience. The Punt Road end. The Great Southern stand. The gasometer at Arden street. The outer wing at Moorabin. The Brownlow stand. Gary Ablett terrace. The lockett and Coventry/ Lloyd end at Docklands. The Meatloaf Pocket.  The fucking Meatloaf pocket… WTF. The meatloaf pocket has become  a favorite of the K-ROCK footy team.  Coined, as it was, to commemorate the odious Mr Loaf’s disastrous turn at the 2011 Grand Final. It was tripe. An unmitigated disaster. Only surpassed some months later as he serenaded Mitt Romney in Texas. At first Anthony Mithen and Bluey McGrath would raise a chuckle in my throat with the sly dig. That is until I came to understand this caterwauling has been slob, was paid $600,000 to deliver a musical black eye to the AFL and its supporters. And then had the nerve to piss and moan to the media. It raised a rash on this musician’s arse.

 

I mean, Angry and the Batmobile were pretty ordinary, but  this abomination and the huge fee paid out was truly disturbing. You’d think the suits would have slunk off and licked their wounds. Even regrouped. The roll call of big paydays for the likes of Lionel Ritchie, Bryan Adams, Tom Jones raises blisters. To be fair. Many locals have stepped up and played. Although I imagine the compensation offered was a lot slimmer, than the lavish paydays ponied up to international performers well past their expiration date. I was pleased to see that the Living End and Vance Joy were going to shoulder the burden in 2016. Then bang, on the lead from the Meatloaf pocket, marking ten metres out directly in front of Vance Joy, STING!. The former copper, and close friend of Bruce Springsteen. Oh FARK. “Can the Sting wing be far away?”  I says to my better half. Sure enough half way through the call Bluey, on K-ROCK, christens the Sting wing. It is now part of the broadcast lexicon. What is next AFL house? Exhume Michael Jackson. We could have the Michael Jackson interchange gate. (Creepy, but appropriate.)  Perhaps the original cast of HAIR. we could have the Toyota/HAIR  centre square. Gotta love some seventies bush. The cast could also streak out of the Meatloaf pocket if the game was tight at three quarter time.

 

All jokes aside. I’ve seen a lot of music across my 56 years. Australian homegrown product among the most impressive. And I guess after the recent dishevelled Richie Sambora romp, the who in the sixties and Dylan phoning it in the seventies I’m tired of the locals being unable to, for the  most part, enjoy sustainable careers. I’m sick of seeing benefit shows to help defray end of life or medical expenses for legendary Australian performers. So many recently gone. Maurice Frawley, Stevie Wright, Jim Keys, Doc Neeson, Ted Mulry, Kiwi boy Mark Hunter. Ian Rillen Pete Wells, Steve Connolly, Darryl Cotton. Jon English. Ross Hannaford, who could earn more busking since the God forsaken pokies steamrolled pub rock. These folks names come quickly to mind and there are many more for the roll call. Not to mention folks in the industry who were not front and centre.

 

Meatloaf’s  ill earned 600K sure could’ve helped a lot of these deserving folks, who have given us so much, in their last and most vulnerable days.
I know Andrew Demetriou is into music. I mean, he buggered off some years back during an AFL final series to take in an Opera way over yonder in Milan. Gillon McLachlan strikes me as an FM Gold type. Wayne Jackson, maybe more pub rock. Thorpie, suck more piss, VFL ish.  One thing I know: they know fuck all about booking a decent show on the first Saturday in October. Whoever reps the Loaf saw them thar rubes coming. Pity Laurie Richards has passed on. (I believe, at the end,  he needed a benefit too.) He could book it and it wouldn’t suck. But Hey if you must try to emulate all things American, go for broke. Hey big spenders. Book Bruce Springsteen and the house rocking, jaw dropping, Earth shaking, booty shaking, Viagra taking E street band. It would be fun to listen to the K-ROCK call and hear Mitho and Bluey hit the “Springsteen G” punchline. And you never know. You’d probably rock the house. Paul’s a professional he could adopt the lyrical bastardization. Then again, you could take a chunk of that international payday and do some real good for local musicians who’ve fallen on hard times.

Comments

  1. Chris bracher says:

    Amen to that! Love it Ron. Congratulations.

  2. That is one helluva contribution to the Almanac archives Ron. Invokes Hunter S Thompson at his best. Where does one even start… Thank you for posting such a brilliant piece, deserves a wide, wide audience.

  3. Totally agree with your assessment JD. Thanks Ron.

  4. Allan Grant says:

    Wow, I am a bit older but remember clearly watching many of the same bands in the early seventies. I even gave up the footy for a couple of years to spend Saturday arvos at the Station Hotel. Thanks for the memories and the brilliant insight. This is a truly memorable contribution to sport and music archives. Yes footy and rock are so closely linked. I can remember halfway through a Company Caine gig at the Station listening to the trannie for a half time update.then again it could have been Ayres Rock or Karvas Jute.Go Saints and thanks for the memories Ron.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Oh yes.
    Love it, Ron.
    Share this around til it’s wrinkled and creased and frail from reading.

  6. Very good contribution, including the toe poke commentary. You are being far to charitable to Andy and Gill. They have tin ears and should not be allowed to make the decision on their own. And they should move on from the pathetic cultural cringe and book only Australian acts for the GF.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Plenty to love about this Ron, but I reckon footy on the radio is up there as one of life’s great pleasures.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Great read, Ron. Enjoyed how you weaved in music and politics at the right moments. And quite pleased that Sai’s family became Pie fans.

  9. jan courtin says:

    It’s not just at grand finals where the rulers decide we need deafening music to blast our ear drums – maybe they think it calms our nerves before the bounce – we get it at the breaks in the home and away too; At the SCG we’re subjected to “Sweet Caroline” at quarter time (who thought THAT up?) and “Up Their Cazaly” during the third break. Half time’s is usually so nondescript and bad I don’t recall, and that’s without mention of before the game, right up to the siren sounding.

    I hate it all. What’s happened to a bit of silence and reflection? Or giving us a chance to actually talk to the person sitting next to us?

    Great read.

  10. Powerful read Ron. “Mum, I want to be a musician when I grow up.” “You can’t do both, son.” That’s a pearler. Will be stealing it.

  11. Just caught up with this on the train to work Charlie. Bravo.
    Great musical memories and cultural sentiments. So many great lines – Paul Kelly “the magpie of song” (glad you used a small “m”). “Tang coloured TV reality star and the enabler in chief” just about sums it up. Hobson’s choice – whoever he was.
    You didn’t leave a lot left over for seconds, but I’ll be having some whatever leftovers are rattling around.
    Thanks.

  12. ajc, ditto

    Ron

    very very very good

    sean

  13. Doug Hopkins says:

    Ron. A piece that defines the Almanac. Well done. Well done.

  14. Charlie Wells says:

    Thank you all for the good feedback. This was a labour of love. When Mitho claimed the Sting wing, my blisters rose. I guess it was also spurred by a high end business that asked me too play a benefit for an in grown toe nail. Upon inquiry it was a good cause. However, the folks doing the promo, staging rental equipment, web design were all being paid top notch by a multi billion dollar corporation. For legal reasons , lets just say, they are HQ’d in San Diego, have branded Jack Murphy Stadium, and the owner owns a Picasso. But the poor pitiful musicians will surely play for the honour and exposure. As we knocked it back i strangely felt the call too play some Rose Tattoo, and it bled out from their. RIP Pete Wells. The real rock n roll outlaw. No Australian musician, crew, industry member should have to have his mates stage a benefit to plant him/her or defray medical bills, when these yahoos rolling in the clover will spend so poorly on D grade talent. (As an aside. A friend just sent me a tone deaf article about Fairfax media soliciting panhandling muso’s to be paid in the brilliance and technicolor adulation of exposure. Tsunami… Earthquake, 911, bushfire… Who’s the first folks in the saddle? JUST SAYING. Maybe i’ll take a moment and scribble something down about San Quentin, Robert Alton Harris, and me.

  15. You have some stories to tell. And much insight.

  16. Charlie Wells says:

    @ John, have an interview scheduled with the SD Lions next week, re local history and USAFL. Let me know if you have any good questions. I run my yap, but i’m no George Negus. Gonna try to perk them up for match reports and media on their doings. About a 50/50 split. Expats and yanks. I’m pushing 60. My bones get sore just watching.

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