Sunday 9 September 2012

Teenage Snuff Film- Rowland S Howard

Glaring Omissions V

How could this LP be overlooked by both that 100 Australian Albums book and that Age list? It's unbelievable. Was there a better rock record from the '90's in Australia? I don't think so.

Rowland S came into my life somewhere around 1983/'84 when my older brother brought home Prayers On Fire by The Birthday Party from one of the commercial record shops in Mildura. Suffice to say this was no commercial record. My ears were definitely not attuned to such a cacophony. This was no INXS, Midnight Oil, The Models or even Hoodoo Gurus. That was where my head was at. I thought this LP was some kind of satanic music and it remained on the shelf for a year or two. Then someone borrowed it and in its absence I became fixated with it. Rage (an all night music show) probably got me into The Bad Seeds then The Birthday Party. I never got that record back despite many attempts. I had some z grade tape containing it and the self-titled Birthday Party LP though. Those Birthday Party records became legendary to me, well, up to and including Junkyard, anyway. I pretty much love all The Crime & City Solution records and the ones Rowland played on were fabulous, Just South Of Heaven & Room Of Lights (haven't dug those out for a while I must admit). Then there was the brilliant Marry Me film clip by These Immortal Souls on Rage followed by the underated minor classic Get Lost (Don't Lie) album. We used to think he was a bit funny because he never looked very well in any video he was in. He was fragile and looked like he would not be long for this world. Nobody ever looked so cool yet so ill at the same time. I love the way he stood when he played guitar. He was a unique and fascinating human specimen. Possibly the best white rock guitarist ever.

By the time I was living in Melbourne in 1991 I saw These Immortal Souls support Died Pretty. That was a bit arse about, I thought, but I guess Died Pretty had big major label support at the time. These Immortal Souls were good but not mind blowing, perhaps having a bad night. I don't really know what happened to him after that. There was an LP in '92 from These Immortal Souls which hardly got any airplay on Melbourne community radio. The times were a changin and he seemed to get left behind. I heard the only way he got to come back to Australia sometime in the mid '90's was because an Aussie metal band had a hit with a cover of Shivers an old Boys Next Door song he wrote and the royalties saved his life. It must have been around this time that I would often spot him, with much excitement, in the Acland St supermarket with potato salad in hand. I think it must have been around '96-'97 I saw him play a solo weeknight gig at The Public Bar in North Melbourne to about 7 people, 6 of whom didn't know who he was. It was looking like this legend was fading away and nobody cared.

Then there was this performance on ABCTV's Studio 22 which I managed to tape in 1999. He was back big time. Mick Harvey on drums and Brian Hooper on bass. Rowland was resplendent in pink shirt and the band was totally cookin. I would come home from work after being at the pub and watch this over and over again. I loved it, must have watched it at least 75 times, I reckon. Dead Radio, Exit Everything, She Cried (the old Shangri-La's tune He Cried with a switcheroo), White Wedding (yep the Billy Idol Tune) and if memory serves a version of Shivers. I never bought the record, Teenage Snuff Film, until someone, namely my cat, taped over it with golf. Anyway that made me get the album and, fuck me, there were even better tracks on there. Breakdown, I Burnt Your Clothes, Silver Chain, Sleep Alone, Undone, Autoluminescent etc. This was his most focused and consistent record ever and it was fucking brilliant. No duds here. This was a Lazarus like comeback and The record of his career. Well he said he was "bigger than Jesus Christ" and he was to me and he should have been to mainstream Australia and throughout the world. As he also said in Autoluminescent:
 "I'm White Heat! I'm White Hot Again!"
And he was vocally, lyrically and on the axe. There were pop songs, dirges, doomed loved songs and songs that were hatefully cathartic. Trash/Pop culture references like guns, Coca Cola, Cigarettes, dog nods, stolen cars, Black Holes and blood were scattered throughout. Not forgetting Hell, Jesus Christ, valium, murder, romance, self loathing, being wasted, crime, poor health, sadness, devices, hate/lust, suicide and misanthropy. On the lighter side there was hope, bragging, space travel, sarcasm and love/hate relationships. Discerning what was fiction and what wasn't was half the fun of listening to this record. A fairly sparse approach musically, some fabulous string arrangements, his best ever vocal performances and blistering guitar work all added up to the best Australian rock LP of the '90's. So for me that means he was present on the best Australian rock LP of the '80's, Prayers On Fire by the Birthday Party, and the '90's. Legend, no?

Then it was another 10 years we had to wait for his follow up LP Pop Crimes, which would be his last LP before his death and which time will show to be almost as great as this miraculous effort!

or should that be rest in guitar racket from hell?