By STEVE MASCORD
ONE of the enduring platitudes we have heard since Doc Neeson’s death a week ago is “his music will live on”.
It’s a common refrain upon the passing of an entertainer, artist or writer; the nature of their work is that it outlives them. You could say the same for an architect or builder.
But inherent in the statement as it relates to Neeson – the former vocalist of The Angels who passed away from a brain tumour aged 67 – is that his band’s form of rock music is endemic in Australian popular culture and therefore there will be regular reminders of his life for the foreseeable future.
And if that’s what we really think, we are kidding ourselves.
Last Saturday (wearing a Rock For Doc t-shirt), your correspondent attended a gig in Brisbane by Hell City Glamours, a ragged, soulful, diverse and glorious Sydney band that has been occupying the same rough musical patch as Aerosmith and Guns N’Roses since 2002.
The band’s self-titled debut in 2008 is as good as any Australian rock release, full stop. There is intelligence in the lyrics, enormous diversity and swagger in the song-writing and powerful emotion and skill in the playing.
Hell City Glamours are giving up.
Their current tour and recently released second album are their last. Guitarist Mo Mayhem said the members just don’t have time to stay good at what they do, squeezing in rehearsals and tours between day jobs. They never made it out of the bars, their music didn’t reach enough ears – probably including yours.
I could name others, like DoomFoxx, formed by the late Rose Tattoo guitarist Mick Cocks. I bought their one record from a giant cardboard display presentation on Boulevard St Michel in Paris. The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins wore their t-shirt at a Luna Park show eight years ago, thinking it would spark recognition from an Australian crowd.
But unlike in Paris, no-one in the Sydney crowd had heard of them. They don’t play anymore.
Then there’s Melbourne’s the Casanovas. Their songs were on a cable TV music channel I switched on one day in Boston. But when their singer had to take a break because of illness, you didn’t miss them because you didn’t know they existed to start with.
In November I saw Airbourne’s Joel O’Keeffe cause pandemonium in Leeds when he was carried, drenched in sweat, from the stage to the mixing desk on the shoulders of a roadie to play a solo during a riotous sold-out theatre show which the Warrnambool band was headlining.
In Australia they can’t, as the old saying goes, get arrested. Their songs, unidentified as such, feature mainly in sports broadcasts. They return home perhaps every 18 months, play clubs, and blow people away.
The mainstream media cares not one iota. There is a disconnect between rock and popular culture, here in the country that gave AC/DC to the world and introduced rockers to tattoos and bikes, thanks to Rose Tattoo.
AC/DC is far more prevalent in everyday life in America than here. They are on the radio more than in their homeland, where some people actually believe INXS and Midnight Oil were just as big when in fact the band named after a Sydney vacuum cleaner sits just below the Beatles and the Stones in the all-time global rock pantheon.
My point here is that an artist’s work won’t “live on” if his art form is forgotten or, worse, dead. An artist’s passport into immortality is the wider community of which he was part.
With the dubious exception of Rupert Murdoch, AC/DC is Australia’s number one cultural export. They have more influence on more people in more countries than Errol Flynn or Mel Gibson or Dame Nellie Melba or Kate Blanchett or Don Bradman ever will.
Yet there are is no longer any framework for celebrating, nurturing, communicating or funding the canon which did so much for Australia.
It has to change. We have to reconnect with a part of our culture that has done so much to define us, both internally and to the wider world.
As things stand, when the final 1970s and 1980s pub rocker follows Doc off this mortal coil, 20 years from now, only TV talent show starlets and auto-tuned YouTube sensations will be there to replace him or her.
And if there’s no more rock, then who’s going to remember Doc?