The World Where You Live: Confessions of a Crowded House Fan

What a world we live in.  You can be minding your own business when your phone suddenly informs you one of your all-time favourite bands has released a song.  Last Friday, I awoke to discover that Crowded House had released a brand-spanking new tune called ‘Teenage Summer’.  But despite the sense of joy, I hesitated.  What if it was a pale imitation of the music I’d grown up loving? 

It’s tough work being a fan.  Some people are football fanatics; they pledge their allegiance to a team and stick with them no matter what.  It’s a devotion that transcends rationality and, at times, decorum.  I didn’t have it in me to support a football team – I lacked the faith.  I was a music fan and I pledged myself to bands, through thick and Thin Lizzy.

That said, there were a few false starts.  Some musical passions burn brightly for a moment before fizzling out.  Like KISS.  For a brief moment in the 1970s, KISS was everywhere.  And by ‘everywhere’, I mean on t-shirts, lunchboxes and collectible swap cards.  They were the biggest thing since sliced bread, which they also marketed to impressionable youth under the name, ‘Gene’s Seven-Grain Wholemeal Slice Party’.  No rock band before or since has produced a bread that comes anywhere close.

Everyone at my school worshipped KISS.  My brother and I busted open our piggy banks and blew the lot on KISS albums at K-Mart.  I bought ‘Dynasty’ – which included the rock / disco crossover smash hit ‘I Was Made for Loving You’ and my brother snaffled ‘Unmasked’, which had a cartoon strip on the cover and was home to the soft rock power ballad, ‘Shandi’.  They were the first and last KISS albums we bought.  I’d love to say we had a musical epiphany and dumped Gene, Paul, Ace and the other guy for LPs by The Clash, but it wouldn’t be true.  We just lost interest.

My brother liked Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, but it did nothing for me.  It was remote, as if it had been beamed in from another planet.  As the product of superhumans, wholly inaccessible and unreachable.  ‘Thriller’ wasn’t something you could really relate to. 

Say what you like about Crowded House, they’re a different proposition to KISS and are unlikely to be mistaken for Michael Jackson any time soon.  Formed from the ashes of Split Enz, I liked them immediately.  And Neil Finn wrote songs that mere mortals like me could understand.  A lot of them could be played on an acoustic guitar.  And whilst many an act of musical butchery has been committed by people with acoustic guitars trying to emulate their heroes, something about those kinds of songs is inherently human.

Their debut album was crammed full of catchy tunes.  It arrived at a time when some pop music had started to take itself extremely seriously and suffered from delusions of grandeur.  The first Crowded House album didn’t pretend it was saving the world; it was rooted in something far more domestic.  These were songs that could be sung in the kitchen over the sink or when hanging out the laundry.  The songs belonged to everyone.

Their second album, ‘Temple of Low Men’ was darker, less exuberant offering than their debut.  It was the perfect soundtrack to teenage life for young people of a certain disposition, and I was just such a young person.  I loved that cassette and would play it was I fell asleep.  There are times when I still hear the sound of the tape deck ‘clicking’ as the album finished.

There’s a game called ‘seven degrees of Kevin Bacon’.  The object is to connect yourself to Kev through other people.  In the early nineties, I was three degrees from Crowded House.  My uncle, Mick, worked at a private school that Neil Finn’s kids attended.  My cousins were classmates with them.  It was a tenuous connection, but it would do. 

By album three, I was out of school and at Uni.  It was a sublime record stacked with ‘bonus-Finn’ by way of older brother Tim.  For sensitive singer-songwriters everywhere, it was the gold standard.  Almost every guitar player in Melbourne has, at some or other, strummed the chords to ‘Four Season in One Day’ whilst staring plaintively out a rain-streaked window. 

The following album marked the end of ‘phase one’ of the band.  ‘Together Alone’ was more sonically daring and arty than its predecessors.  It was the sound of the band growing up.  It was the perfect soundtrack to my last year at Uni.

The band broke up and, a few years later, one of them passed away.  There would be no going back.  Or so I thought.  Years later, the unthinkable happened.  The band reformed and started to release new music.  I kept my distance at first, but things have evolved.  The most recent incarnation is a family affair, with my cousin’s former classmates now on board, improving my score on the Baconometer to ‘two’.

As it turns out, the new song ‘Teenage Summer’ is delightful.  It’s so tuneful and stuffed with melodies that it’s hard to tell which part of the song is, in fact, the chorus.  As it turns out, the band are still with me.  What a relief.  Things may change and some things that are broken can never be repaired, and while the past will remain determinedly where it is, there is always the chance of renewal and the hope that change, no matter how traumatic at the time, might actually lead to something better.  It’s true for bands and, I think, for people.  Now excuse me while I fetch my headphones…