March 29, 2005

In But Not Of (A Personal Note)...

I was mostly in but not of the Sydney post-punk scene. I met or knew many of the people involved at the time, but you could probably mention my (real) name now to most of them and not get even a flicker of recognition from anyone but a tiny handful of people on the Green/Tactics axis. I have virtually no photos of my own from that time (it never occurred to me to have a camera at that stage of my life), and precious few physical mementos (and some of those I do have turn out to be mementos of things that may never have happened anyway, which is just delicious). And I left Sydney for London (and another life that didn't seem much connected to what had gone before) in the mid 1980's, removing even the small traces of me in other people's lives that existed then.

I was a self-conscious outsider, and (a bit like John Blades, whose affecting story is on Phil T's web site) very aware that I was an engineering student rather than a musician or artist. My relationship with that group of people and the assorted ideas and music that ran through Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong at the time was mostly personal rather than musical -- I was X's lover (for a while...), Y's friend, I lived with Z., etc. (those who knew me then can fill in the names here; most of these people are still alive and would probably rather forget). Unlike almost all the people in that scene, I wasn't primarily a musician or an artist -- I was an engineering student (and, later, an engineer) who'd earlier been strongly affected by the whole punk ethos, and many of whose friends happened to be in bands like Tactics, Particles, Popular Mechanics, Thought Criminals, etc. (or who did things like photography or radio that made them part of all that -- I, of course, didn't do any of that...). I certainly never looked the part -- I never wore black or took the slightest bit of interest in my own clothing or fashions, etc. -- and after an early brush with the posturing that went on in the name of Punk (or "Punk") in Sydney, I defiantly (and pointlessly) went out of my way to look and dress like exactly the sort of person who wouldn't be seen dead at (say) SideFX or a Saints gig (yes, yes, I played the game in my own plodding way...).

I never actively sought to be part of the scene -- I just stumbled into it, mostly as a result of seeing Tactics live at my local (the Royal in Abercrombie Street) on a Saturday afternoon, and realising that I'd known Angus when we were both kids in Canberra. Over the next few months I became personal friends with most of the band. I admired David's lyrics and intentions, and I (mostly) loved the music. Tactics always seemed serious (but not humourless or earnest) in ways that marked them out from a lot of the other bands of the era (including any of my own). Tactics often seemed to be on a mission -- a mission that sometimes definitely included self-destruction -- and that could be off-putting, but it worked for me.

I did play in a few bands -- I was even in one of the least successful (but more adventurous) short-lived incarnations of Tactics, and I'd definitely been in a few punk (or "punk") bands before this time -- but again, my life at that time was never primarily about music, even as I lived in the thick of it, and even though I slowly learned to play guitar and bass competently over the years. I didn't learn music as a kid; my parents weren't musical in any obvious way, and rarely listened to anything other than classical (if that); I've never been musically well-informed; and I've never learned to read a note of music in my life (something I regretted even then). But I never stopped hearing music, whether on 2JJ or Triple-J, or live, or in the sound of the trains next to Wilson Street, or inside my head as I rode to work or the University. And I never stopped going to gigs or talking music with friends, band members, etc.; and I never stopped playing music (initially just guitar and bass, later a little more adventurous).

I was often deeply ambivalent about a lot of the music and social aspects of the scene. I was British (but I kept it well hidden...) and painfully aware of just how much of a cargo cult bits of the earlier Sydney punk movement and other Australian cultural trends had been. The post-punk movement did feel different, more original, and more aware of some of the absurdities of trying to second- or third-guess music and social movements from across the world, but I still kept a slightly skeptical distance, something that was (I suspect) often perceived as being condescending.

So bear all this in mind with later articles in this Punk (and Later) thread -- I was an outsider, and these are inevitably unreliable memoirs, and this will probably be an idiosyncratic and unrepresentative (and way too wordy) take on things....


At 3/30/2005 1:26 pm, Blogger Phil said...

nice post, sir. will link this series from my memoires section, if i may?

At 3/31/2005 7:41 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Absolutely! Thanks -- I'm flattered...


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