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…

Hall v Oates: Writs on my List

Say it isn’t so.  If further proof were needed that the world is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, it comes in the form of news that one of pop music’s most enduring and beloved duos are locked in legal disputation.  When news broke that Hall had sought and been granted a restraining order against Oates, I struggled to believe that it wasn’t some kind of cosmic hoax.  No matter the circumstances, I felt in my bones that this kind of action wasn’t something that I, in good conscience, could support.  In fact, my exact words at the time were ‘No, I can’t go for that.’

If you don’t know who ‘Hall and Oates’ are, I can only say that you’re out of touch.  Put simply, Hall and Oates are the greatest duo since sausage and sliced bread.  Other musical duos can’t hold a candle to their catalogue of superior pop and soul.  The Captain and Tenille?  Not even close.  Chas and Dave?  Don’t make me laugh.  Hall and Oates are responsible for some of the most amazing music of the 1970s and 1980s.  Their songs were part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

It’d make more sense if the restraining order was specific to John Oates’s moustache.  Large and with a reputation for unprovoked violence, it was often feared that the moustache of John Oates might one day break free from captivity and seriously injure an unsuspecting Madonna fan.  That’s why his ‘tache was often sedated and under armed guard.  It was a safety thing.  But as far as I can tell, the restraining order is against John Oates in his entirety rather than confined to an errant piece of facial hair.

Details are scant and it’s difficult not to speculate.  How did it come to this?  I’ve been in lots of bands where my musical contributions might best be described as ‘negligible’ and my personality not so much an irritant as it was a source of ongoing and severe mental anguish, and yet none of my band mates ever saw the need to get a restraining order.  Frankly, I deserved one. It might even have taught me a lesson about the importance of harmonising vaguely in key and not blaming every atonal squawk that had the misfortune to escape my mouth as advanced jazz improvisation and something that real music lovers would ‘get’.  John Oates was always in tune.

Some are born to pop stardom.  Others have stardom thrust upon them.  The road to fame for Hall and Oates was littered with great music that was broadly ignored by the record-buying public.  Their first album landed in 1973 – entitled ‘Whole Oats’, it was produced by Atlantic Records’ legendary producer, Arif Mardin and didn’t trouble the charts.  That’s despite being some to some spectacular songs like ‘Fall in Philadelphia’, ‘Waterwheel’ and ‘Goodnight and Good morning’.

Their second album, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ fared little better, although was home to the song ‘She’s Gone’ which would go on to become a hit three years later after it was covered by someone else.  Still, they stuck at it for one more record before parting ways with their label.  It wasn’t until their fifth album that they started to get some serious traction with the song ‘Rich Girl’.  But their moment truly arrived in the as one decade fell into the other.  The eighties – or the first part of the eighties – was theirs.  They had an ability to blend a disparate array of influences from soul, folk and rock into perfect slices of pop music.  They stood astride the first half of the decade like a musical colossus, notching up hit after hit until, eventually, fashions changed and they fell out of style.

   Hall and Oates were from Philadelphia.  And Philadelphia is a very important city for our family as it’s my sister in law’s hometown.  Suffice to say, ‘Go Eagles’.  Before she married my brother, a group of us spent time in Philadelphia.  More than just the city that witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were once pounded into submission so memorably by Sylvester Stallone in ‘Rocky’, Philadelphia has a rich musical history.  I was keen to experience it, first hand.

When I arrived, I was certain there would be a Hall and Oates museum.  I longed to go there.  I imagined myself being thrilled by the big drum kit from the ‘Out of Touch’ video, or learning how to do the ‘shoulder shimmy’ dance so beautifully executed by Darryl in the video to ‘Maneater’.  Perhaps they still had John Oates’ moustache in captivity.  But, sadly, there was no such place.  Bands aren’t commemorated with statues or museums.  They just tour the nostalgia circuit.

That they’ve fallen out is bad enough.  That the reason for their falling out is unknown is intolerable.  Luckily, I have family members in Philadelphia as we speak and I am assured they’re looking into it.  Hopefully we get some answers soon.

When I first learned that Hall and Oates were in some kind of unspecified dispute, it felt like part of my childhood had died.  It also made me go back to some of those glorious songs. Perhaps it’s just a misunderstanding.  Maybe they’ll find a way to put their differences aside. I hope so.  If they do manage to get over it, it’d surely make my dreams come true.