To mark two years since the release of my childhood memoir, I’ve made there be a soundtrack album on Bandcamp. For bonus amusement, here are some beside the scenes tales of nostalgic and emotional interest.
In primary school I clocked my transition into maturity as switching over from ABC cartoons (repeating Wizard of Oz for the 10th time) to the Southern Cross antics of Monty the weatherman and Roscoe the newsreader. The Today Show with Steve Lieberman and Liz Hayes had a clock in the corner which helped me track my timing to leave for school. I had a game where if it read 7:47 I’d sing the line ‘riding along in a 747’ in my head. It was from some country song Uncle Ken must have played when I visited his place in Canberra in grade four.
I wanted to include this detail in my book (I’ve probably been singing the line ever since). As you can imagine, I was pretty keen to hear the song again – the first time in 30 years. Thing is, I had no way of tracking it. I googled the lyric in many variations but there were no matches! (Not you Beatles 909! I’d be late for school.) I wasn’t in touch with my Uncle, so asking him was moot.
Over the time spent writing, this was the white whale of nostalgia trips, which is saying something considering the most obscure Commodore 64 games are on YouTube these days (you mean Trapdoor did have gameplay, you didn’t just wander around aimlessly opening and closing the door?)
Late in the piece I had another cheeky search ‘riding along on a 747’ and found a hit! It seems the Australian singer/songwriter Kevin Johnson (no, not the Phoenix Suns point guard) had launched a new website which included the lyrics to Man of the 20th Century. He was a bit of an unsung Australian JJ Cale type best known for Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of my Life. The song and album are fantastic. Do yourself a favour.
Deep Deep Trouble
My favourite moment of ‘constructive procrastination’ was listening to one of my many tape recordings from the 1992/93 childhood season. In the one marked SLIDES with NIGEL POP JUSTIN – Pop, Uncle Nigel and I (funnily enough) spent an evening in the summer before grade seven clicking through the family slide collection. We’re up late being silly and eventually wake up Nan! Uh-oh. Uncle Nigel is pretty funny and pins the blame on the infamously placid Pop. “We might be able to get away with it, with a few swingin’ words,” he jokes, “but not you pal, you’re in big trouble.”
You then hear squeaky lil’ me sing “you’re in Deep Deep Trouble.” When I searched I was pleasantly reminded that The Simpsons put out the single in 1991. Do The Bartman gets the attention and reruns on r a g e (it was written by Michael Jackson you know?) but I’d completely forgotten about the difficult second single. From this discovery I was able to reference the ‘Bart in hell’ scenes as a reference point for my childhood understanding of the afterlife. So, within that session you could surmise that twelve year old me was helping with the writing of his own story. Coolness!
My Friend Jenna
At the Fitzroy Writers Festival launch of Get Up Mum in 2019 I met a fellow only child with a Mother with schizophrenia. This ultra rare combo match twin was exciting for a lonely Gemini. Consider that until this point I was only friends with about two other only-children (we’re quite rare in my generation) and I knew of only two other people who had a Mum with a mental illness. Between striking up a friendship with Jenna and the several other mental health organisations such as Satellite Foundation who reached out to me (all of which I wasn’t previously aware of), Get Up Mum really did act as a distress paper firework of light and hope.
The Kid and the Whip
I liked the Sydney book launch because not only was the effervescent Benjamin Law hosting but a lady came up afterwards and said that Jon Faine was really unfair to me during the notorious Funemployed interview from 2014, which was one of the nicest (and most accurate) things anyone had said to me in a while.
It was one of the few launches where small children were present. These weren’t just small kids but restless ADHD-ish youngsters. Towards the end they were running around getting glasses of water and being a bit nuisance. I drew them in by holding up a blank tape and describing in detail how magical it was that this brown ribbon could trap magnetic particles and turn them into sound. The kid had a good look before peering up and asking “could you use it as a whip?”
In a troubling snapshot of the post-Fortnight generation’s mindset, the kid had managed to weaponise a TDK 90 cassette. Ha ha! A whip, I dunno mate, maybe torture someone to death with Michael Bolton.
Amanda Palmer’s Post
[Now, just because I am preternaturally conscientious and self-aware doesn’t mean I’m not immune to some straight up ego-shooting and name-dropping, as I am well within my rights to do as my jaded friend Jo accused me of in 2005 after returning from tour with Tripod and daring to refer to them by name in answer to the question ‘so how did the tour go?’ No sheepishness present from the presence of excommunicated friends at this juncture, just an alarmingly unguarded and unsolicited outburst of conscious rationalising, for which you can assume a psychologist would be all like ‘you go girl.’]
[[Think what you like but as Kurt Rambis said ‘you miss 100% of the shots you never take.’ Kurt, Kurt he’s our boy, if he can’t do it no one….will.]]
[[[Rest assured that being me, I will still manage to self-deprecate my social standing to its lowest possible ebb. Cover up that light people – COVER!]]]
Amanda Palmer posted out of the gates early, having been given an advanced copy. It was a rather confronting time as I contemplated sharing my secret life story with the cosmos. From my furtive glances betwixt the slits in my pillow case, I noted there were what seemed like hundreds of comments below her post which almost entirely consisted of impassioned confessions of American experiences of mental illness. The only comment mentioning me said that my promo photo (sans glasses) made me look like Paul Dano (which is true). This was mildly exciting in that it was the first time I had been assigned a famous person I look like without glasses. (For the record I used to like to think I had a Christian Slatery vibe.) Oh, I have been assigned about (last count) 102 people I look like with glasses. Austin Powers anyone?
NOTE: Paul Dano’s 2012 film Ruby Sparks is pretty close to a documentary on me. Although I’d attest that if I was ever invited to Annette Bening’s house and had a hot girlfriend like Zoe Kazan there, there’s no way I’d just sit around reading a book while everyone played in the pool. NO WAY!
Being such an intensely personal book, I was shaky about the thought of doing interviews. To assist me with this my publisher Affirm set about preparing me. (Cue Rocky style montage with More Than This and me pushing myself on a swing at Burnie Park laughing and crying.) This was the first time I’d been given any kind of media training in my life. My publicist Laura transmitted me a set of practise questions to cut my heart on. I found the support helpful.
There was an eclectic spectrum of emotional niceness from journalists. “You should have expected being asked about that,” was fired at me accusatorily a couple of times. Journalists desensitise themselves as an upskill. It sure was weird being trapped in my favourite restaurant on a blind date digesting invading personal questions about my Nan. (Did you know I have a secret conspiracy theory that media goes harder on me because I’m a comedian and because I’m a boy but there’s no way to prove this until the next life?)
Others like Myf Warhurst were especially warm. This approach coaxed no lesser potency of frankness out of me. Arguably more. “Warmth will get you further than shock” as Charlie Pickering once told me. Would I do it all again? Shit no. Justin 2.0 I’m going straight into advertising and learning to drive.
Read my Age Lunch Feature interview about Get Up Mum if you like candidness to the apeshit.
We were trying to get permission for using lyrics to popular songs included in the manuscript. I was actually sending an email to Metallica’s management at one stage (unforgiven_2@hotmail), which is a pretty rock and roll thing to do on a Wednesday. I was trying to imagine James Hetfield flicking through my book about caravan trips and Nan going on about the mossies. In the end there wasn’t really much time or budget so we just did a bit of paraphrasing.
Funfact: The song Unforgiven is h e a – v y.
Everyone (everyone) wanted to know what Mum thought of the book.
So what does your Mum think of the book?
“I’m not sure what Mum thinks about anything” was the preferred reply (come up with months after the event.) Thanks media training! Look at me go like a swimmer at the Olympics just taking it one lap at a time.
Mum read the book, which was a lot for her considering she may not have read a whole book since Mozart’s biography. (To which I found her in her room laughing more than anyone in history over the reference to his brisk walking style as ‘old scissor legs.’) Laughter is contagious and the memory is beautiful.
Mum thinks my book was well written. Of course there was a pause when we finally met up and spoke about it. She said, in as many words as she was comfortable with, that she was happy if the book was going to help others. You may want a neat little answer to put in your compartment (sorry ‘you’, I know you’re a card-carrying individual with rights to a separate autonomy, I was just amalgamating the last few women and Auntie staff I’ve met), but almost nothing in my life works that way. Please assemble pieces into an esoteric hexagon.
To be honest I’d say that there was a little guy inside me secretly disappointed that not a single person thought to ask ‘so what do you think about the book’ but that would be saying a lot more about me than it would about the audience which is beside the point and out of bounds on the full.
Izzy from Art School
Way back in the day Mum was friends with Izzy from Art School. They lived together in a sharehouse in Hobart when Mum was working in the Miss Fitz & Co shop (at Fitzgeralds, a Tasmanian department store) and training to be a Mothercraft nurse. They used to push each other around in shopping trolleys and have paper sailboat races along the sodden streets. In the chapter in the book which gives an overview of Mum’s history I made sure to name drop Izzy.
The two had long since lost touch and Mum wasn’t even sure of her surname so there was no way of tracking her down. Izzy ended up reading Get Up Mum and reached out to me by email. It was from there that I was able to set up a reunion lunch between the two in Burnie. Paper firework to the rescue! Seriously, write a book – it’ll do cool things.
There’s an iconic bit of graffiti along the beige cement walls as you head to Wynyard after passing Burnie Park (the best way to see Burnie haha). During my childhood the thick paint always read 1981 ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE with a peace sign.
For NYE 2001 Someone ‘updated’ it artfully (not) turning the 1981 into a 2001. Disastrously, this only drew untoward attention towards the freshly complicated missive triggering the wrath of the local council who covered it up like a streaker at the football.
The unnecessariness of this maneuver was matched only by its lack of execution. The graffiti wasn’t hidden. All they did was leave a scar of the love, a lighter shade of beige. I referenced the message in my book, going to the trouble of using Windows 95 Paint spray can feature to render the original as authentically as I could. (Thanks Mr Badcock.)
A few months after the release of Get Up Mum someone spray painted over the words in white paint! I chose to assume that my book, which had been received surprisingly passionately and positively in Burnie, had somehow shone a light on the cultural significance of the artefact. All you need is John Lennon.
There’s no year this time. The message is timeless. Love is for all ages.
- Check out the Google Map reference to the graffiti pre-2019 makeover.
Get Up Mum is available from Booktopia.
Check out the RN radio series and freshly minted soundtrack.
You can hear some more tape samples and promotional videos here, here & here.
BONUS: Man of the 20th Century (or 7:47 as it can be known) was released in 1976 and came during a very cool era for smooth rock dudes penning songs about air travel. See also JJ Cale’s Travelling Light (1975) and Steve Miller Band’s Jet Airliner (1977).