Flying by the seat of his pants: Robert Brokenmouth's punk rock war

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Adelaide-based writer, editor, and sometime-musician Robert Brokenmouth took the time, during lockdown — well, lockdown for us non-South Australians, at least — to reflect on his literary and musical trajectory. Its a curious bundle of projects and interests that Brokenmouth juggles — the war buff and the punk music-buff occupy the same territory (no military pun intended) without apparent contradiction.

Brokenmouths published achievements include his chronicling of Melbournes punk scene in the 1996 book “Nick Cave: The Birthday Party and Other Epic Adventures” as well as editing fictionalisedmilitary histories such as Australian WWII navigator Ray Olliss 101 Nights and air gunner John Bede Cusacks “They Hosed Them Out”.  

For Brokenmouth, war and punk have one thing in common, perhaps: both are opportunities for adventure, in very different shapes and forms, but adventure nevertheless.

With COVID-19 limiting opportunities to meet for an interview, Robert kindly responded to my questions via email — and though you might not getting him talking so prolifically in real life, its clear that when he puts pen to paper, or finger-pads to keyboard, hes got a lot to say, and a rollicking history all his own.

Ive pulled out some choice tidbits from Roberts life and career to give you a sense of the BoysOwn, Boys Next Door fan.

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Doing The Understanding?

ron blue tjgarvie It should be no surprise that Ron S Peno and The Superstitions have delivered their most fully realised album yet in “Do The Understanding”.

With 12 years and three previous long players behind them, they’re a crack outfit of experienced Melbourne players, fronted by a vocalist who made an indelible mark with Died Pretty.

Everyone has a COVID-19 story, and musicians are doing it harder than most.

But Ron Peno’s own experience was preceded by a diagnosis of esophageal cancer, followed by chemo and radiotherapy, and then remission. A much-delayed Died Pretty national tour in April this year was sandwiched between lockdowns.

“Do The Understanding” has a prolonged and disrupted gestation stretching back to its formative writing in 2018, but it’s a contender for best Australian album of the year.

It’s a record full of drama and delicacy; a superb collection of songs underpinned by soulful playing and (arguably) the best vocals of Ron Peno’s career.

“I really pleased with it. It's taken a while to surface but we're really pleased with the seven songs,” a dapper Peno says over a Saturday afternoon Zoom connection.

“I think it's seven wonderful songs. Nice, strong, rather than putting too many tunes on there.

“It's just an hour. It's seven songs. Nobody says you have to have 10 songs. It's a little journey…start here, you finish there, drift off into the distance, you know, and if it's  too short…play it again. Take the take the journey again.

Pat Todd throws out his rearview mirror

 rankoutsiders Michael PassmanMichael Passman photo.

Pat Todd is one of the greats of American music in recent times. I say that not just because he has one hell of a set of pipes on him, and is an incredible songwriter, but because he’s also combined elements of garage, punk and country all into one mix. I can’t think of anyone that has done that as long as he has, or has done it so well.

Todd makes music that I find hard to believe anyone could dislike. He’s one of the great American songwriters. Todd formed his latest outfit The Rankoutsiders in the mid-2000s and they pick up where his legendary group the Lazy Cowgirls left off. Their latest release “…….there’s pretty things in Palookaville” is up there with his best work, but every LP he does is brilliant and it’s hard to pick a standout “classic”.Pat spoke to me from his Los Angeles homebase via Zoom, where Rankoutsiders guitarist Nick Alexander greets me before Pat comes on.

All revved up: The Datsuns storm back

 the datsuns studio

For me, the best band to come out of the so-called garage revival of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was New Zealand’s The Datsuns. Mainly because while they had a garage sound, they actually managed to be their own thing and not sound like some lame retro rip-off band.

While it’s been a long time coming, their latest release “Eye to Eye” is the band’s first record since 2016 and finds them in full flight. It’s also possibly their best release yet. Frontman and guitarist RUDOLF "DOLF" de BORST spoke to MATT RYAN about all things Datsuns, as well as his membewrship of Nicke Andersson's  bands the Hellacopters and Imperial State Electric.

Working Class Hero

dan denton typewriterIris Berry, the ageless and hypnotic Glittery Queen Of Thee Hollyweird Underground hipped me to this remarkable, marvellous, soulful, author-poet-novelist from Toldeo, Dan Denton, whose powerfully poignant debut novel, “$100-A-Week-Hotel”, is catching fire with everyone who has been yearning for a voice of truth to arrive in these ridiculously propagandized, fictitious times.

Denton's characters are all so sensitively illustrated, it almost feels you are bellied up to the bar with them. It is startling to read the modest words of a real person because most novels, books, and records, and even "hip-hop influenced murals" painted on the side of hipster trap juice businesses are generated by rich college grads from the gentrified Julian Casablancas or Miley Cyrus upper classes. All the media professionals promote falsehoods and stereotypes and bogus narratives from the elitist perspectives of the ruling class.

Denton is a hardworking laborer from the rustbucket factory wasteland of Northern Ohio, and shares a working class sensibility and world view with people like Wayne Kramer, Zack de la Rocha, Boots Riley and Hunter S.Thompson. He has become one of my very favorite writers, alongside Chris Hedges, Falling James, Caitlin Johnstone and Frankie Delmane.

Danny Kroha's DIY blues

danny kroha bwDanny Kroha is best known as one-third of seminal Detroit garage punk band, The Gories, which he formed with fellow Detroit residents Mick Collins and Peggy O’Neill in the mid- 1980s. When The Gories’ rudimentary internal infrastructure eroded in the early ‘90s, Kroha moved on to a series of projects, most notably the more theatrically-bent Demolition Doll Rods.

In 2015, Kroha took a step sideways and back in time with his first solo record, “Angels Watch Over Me”, a collection of predominantly covers of old blues, folk and gospel recordings, laid down using an eclectic collection of DIY instruments. Initially reluctant to put the album out, Kroha has returned to the well for a follow-up, “Detroit Blues”, again mining the rich history of the American folk, blues and gospel songbook. Kroha joined PATRICK EMERY at the Bar from his hometown of Detroit to talk about the album.

You’ve spent your entire life in Detroit. What is about Detroit that keeps you there?

[Laughs] Once I saw this fortune teller and she was reading runes and Tarot cards and she said ‘Why do you still live in Detroit?’ She could tell I was doing something with music, maybe I might have mentioned it. She said ‘I’m seeing something in my cards, a place where you should move, that would be better for you and your musical career’.

I don’t know man, it’s just my home, for better or for worse. It’s an interesting place. Really hip places, like New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, are great to visit, but I don’t want to live in any of those places. I don’t like generally being a place that’s lousy with hipsters. I kind of like being the only one on the block!

Shit From Clay: Stu Spasm shows off his sculptures in "New York Hustle"

 Stuart Gray Pic By Matt Reekie

Former Lubricated Goat frontman Stu Spasm (real name Stuart Gray) is the subject of a new short documentary, which focuses on his work as a sculptor of creepy cult figurines. Part of a series called New York Hustle, which was produced by New York-based Aussie expats Angelica Von Helle and Matt Reekie, and you can watch the doco after the fold below. 

Spasm, who left Australia in the early ’90s and has been based in NYC for the best part of three decades, continues to make music with his latest outfit The Art Gray Noizz Quintet while supplementing his income by making and selling his sculptures. Sculptures shown in the film include Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Charles Manson, Rowland S. Howard and Leadbelly.

Spasm spoke with Danger Coolidge about his work as a visual artist.

Having one more drink with Streetwalkin' Cheetah Frank Meyer

AP Murray cheetahsFrank Meyer flanked by Cheetahs bandmates (from left) Bruce Duff, MIke Sessa and Dino Evertett on bass. AP Murray photo. 

In these COVID-fraught times, asking Frank Meyer what he puts on his curriculum vitae is a valid question. The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs vocalist-guitarist doesn’t skip a beat, down the line on Zoom from his home in Long Beach, California.

“Right now, I mean, I'm basically freelance film producing and directing. You know, my last full time job was at Fender as directing and producing their digital content. But at the beginning of COVID, they laid off a lot of my team, including myself. And then showbiz kind of shut down.

“But now I've essentially just been doing music and freelance editing and online production, and a lot of session work, singing and playing, recording and producing. In the last few months, digital production has picked up and I've been getting a bunch of field production gigs. And I've got some book deals happening. So things are looking good right now.”

Covering all the bases with Ash Naylor

Emma Jane Johnston evenMatthew, Ash and Wally are Even. Emma-Jane Johnson photo.

Ask any Australian fan of hooky powerpop who they rate and the answer will almost inevitably include Even, the Melbourne institution that’s been a fixture on the Oz scene since forming in 1994. Fronted by  singer-songwriter-guitarist, Ashley Naylor, with Matthew Cotter on drums and Wally Kempton (aka Wally Meanie) on bass and backing vocals, they have just released their eighth album, “Down The Shops”, and it's reviewed here.

“Down The Shops” is a beautifully presented, vinyl collection of covers Even has released down the years. Ever since working up a rocking version of Badfinger’s “No Matter What” in their early mid-‘90s days playing the pubs around Fitzroy and St Kilda,  Even have usually had a cover or two on the go. And they weren’t adverse to working up a load of them; they did "Even Jukebox" performances every year at Melbourne’s Cherry Bar.

I-94 Bar