[Bob Short playing with Filth, Australia, 1978]
I knew Bob Short back in the early 80s: he was a real character who stood out in a scene — the London squatting milieu — choked with characters. He would pop up in an enigmatic fashion to dispense one-liners of wit and wisdom delivered in his trademark sardonic sneer.
It’s a sassy style of delivery that he’s retained for this book, his second, which traces a circular journey from the greasy, nihilistic bonhomie of hometown mid-1970s Sydney, Australia, to a down-and-not-quite-out existence in the hinterlands of London’s baddest squats circa ‘79 — and back again. It’s quite a trip.
[Bob Short, left, with Blood & Roses, London, early 80s.]
At its best, Filth contains some of the most compelling writing about punk to be found anywhere. Eschewing tepid tales about his favourite bands, Bob accurately describes how life was really lived — and death really died — in extreme conditions of debauch and poverty underpinned by a sense of overwhelming stare-at-the-wall-drooling boredom, punctuated only by outbursts of violence and furore, usually fuelled by whatever substances came to hand — including poisonous mushrooms on one disastrous, yet amusingly depicted, occasion. It’s an underworld of alienation, loneliness, hopelessness and anger. Well, it was either that or get a job…
Short’s London, a kind of punk annex to Dante’s inferno, is a nether place peopled in the main by “dole bludgers, charlatans, delinquents, drug addicts, petty thieves and musicians”. The worst, of course, are the musicians and therein lies the link between squalor and glamour, I suppose.
Since Bob was the prime mover as far as self-prescribed psychosis was concerned, I can only compliment him on being able to recall so much gritty detail. Although the sight of, for instance, the dead body of a punk being used as a goal post by a policeman kicking a stone around might be a little hard to forget no matter how many drugs you had ingested. I also applaud Bob for getting out, a few years later, while the going was bad.
Short is now back in Sydney and seemingly something of a curmudgeonly guru figure among all the young punks. For Bob, who is clean, if not entirely serene, the past really is another country. His overlong musings on the current state of Australian rock and roll (surprise: it’s mostly rubbish) lack the pungent intensity of the London sections — and I’m not sure anyone needs yet another rock-crit appreciation of the New York Dolls — but the sense of personal redemption here is palpable. And in that respect, the book is an inspiration. This isn’t a literary exercise; it’s the real thing.
Filth is available for download from Independence Jones.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Richard Cabut’s fiction and poetry has appeared in various magazines and books, including The Edgier Waters (Snowbooks, 2006). He has also written for several newspapers and media organisations, including the Daily Telegraph and the BBC. In the past, he played bass and did the propaganda for the punk group Brigandage, published the fanzine Kick and wrote for the NME under the pen name Richard North. He lives in south east London, and works as a writer and ghostwriter.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 12th, 2009.