Bob Short on ’77 Ozzie style:
It was August and the Funhouse’s doors were closed, nailed shut and boarded
up. The publican, drunk on dreams of bistros and a better class of customer had called in a dedicated team of exorcists to salt the earth in our wake. “One buck, no trendies”: how was anyone going to make a living with that kind of a door policy?
The Funhouse [Blues] had perched over Taylor Square, an abandoned derelict space atop the Oxford Tavern. Somehow, it had become the centre of our (if not the) universe. Radio Birdman ran the place and the Saints played there along with half a handful of others. The walls crumbled to the touch, the PA picked up the sound of passing taxi radios and the floor bounced dangerously when everyone danced. And, of course, everyone danced. Come the weekend, it was the only place you wanted to be.
At least it had gone out with a bang and not a whimper. Paul Gearside, the singer with the Psycho Surgeons, had always dreamt of doing all things Iggy. A gang of Bikies had obliged by helping him re-enact the Stooge’s last stand upon his face. Finally, East Sydney really was the Michigan Palace and broken teeth tumbled out of split bloody lips. If someone thought of rolling out that old chestnut about being careful what you wish for, history failed to record it and we most certainly failed to pay it any heed.
Of course, in 1977, caution had long been cast to the wind. Faint hearts had no place at a Radio Birdman gig. The real price of admission was not one measly dollar for the band, it was the crossing of a line. It’s hard to say what that line was but you knew when you found the other side of it. The song spoke about being rearranged and we were. It was an act of faith; a testament to the power of noise.
These were times to take arms against that nasty sea of troubles and yet, here we were on a Friday night with nothing left to do besides chase the elusive ghost of Rock and Roll. We prowled the canyon of Oxford Street, trying to imagine something would happen just because we were there. The only action on the strip seemed to be coming from the still half-secret gay bars and we weren’t buying what they were selling. Famous rugby league players clad in spray on shirts and slacks sheltered in their doorways. Static electricity crackled over sweat drenched nylon. Even if you did like men, these guys were far from the best advertisement. This was proof absolute that being homosexual doesn’t guarantee a fashion sense.
Jim had found this A3 poster that mysteriously eluded to punk rock at the Heffron Hall. You might say that it got our interest peaked. Tom Verlaine’s crudely photocopied visage snarled out from front and centre amongst a collage of band names and photos. Now, the Heffron Hall had managed to host a number of underground gigs in recent months so the signs were good. We convinced ourselves that, with the recent spate of violence, there was every chance some band was playing undercover. Besides, we had our imported copies of NME. The Pistols were doing it in the UK and boys could dream, couldn’t they?
Unfortunately, reality seldom lives up to the power of an overactive teenage imagination. Following the poster’s scant instructions, we quickly discovered that someone had set up a record player and wanted to charge us a buck and a half to listen to all the records we already owned. What did this guy seriously expect? Would half a dozen spiky haired fools happily pogo in an otherwise empty meeting hall to the strains of “Psycho Killer”? There wasn’t even a bar, for God’s sake.
Unsurprisingly, levels of dissent were running high. We contemplated hanging around outside until we could muster a suitably angry mob. It was cold that winter and we thought we could keep warm by making trouble. Whilst the idea of building a bonfire upon which we could cast this heretic had some appeal, the night was still young. There was the chance that there would at least be a party somewhere and parties could lead to the opportunity for casual sex. Well, that at least was the theory. Our gangly pimple-ravaged bodies were not in great demand.
We headed up to Frenches; the shit hole of last resort. They called it a wine bar as if that would set them apart from the five o’clock beer drinking swill. Well, the vomit in the toilets certainly smelled a bit fruitier and the vague hint of dope smoke and patchouli oil hung about the darkened corners. Other than that: it was pretty much business as usual. Sure there was a live band in the basement but that didn’t get us overly excited.
One thing that Frenches did lack was a cover charge. That made up for a lot.
With a few notable exceptions, Frenches ran on a chug a lug diet of second-hand and third-rate Status Quo riffs. Our elders told us that this was real music and we didn’t like it; not one little bit (neither the music nor the fact that our elders were pretending to be our betters). The week before, the barman had smacked me in the face for loudly disapproving these near endless displays of mock virtuosity. It was a woefully aimed punch that skidded harmlessly off of the side of my face and, in response, I laughed.
He must have thought he’d gotten in a much better punch than he did because
he looked like a man who had shat in his pants. Apart from that, several girls at the bar had found his failure to punch out a ninety pound weakling equally amusing. His masculinity dented, an unspoken truce had been established. He wouldn’t hit me and I wouldn’t chuckle in his general direction. It seemed to be working well.
A smarter operator would have realised that the Funhouse had been pulling three or four hundred people a night. He could have at least tried to capitalise on another’s misfortunes by employing a band that may have in some way enticed these lost and wandering souls into his fold. Well, no such luck. The proprietor had decided to dance on his rival venue’s grave to the strains of an even more dire boogie band. They should have been called the Drizzling Shits but that would have given excrement a bad name.
I was pissed off.
Back out on the strip, the street was lined with six-sided pebble dashed garbage bins. Some architect somewhere had obviously worked hard to use design as a way of warding off urban blight. Such utopian visions were quickly amended with the realisation that six flat surfaces could provide suitable space for six semi permanent advertising plaques.
For some reason, I took offence at one of these advertisements. I can’t remember what the advertisement was for but, I was a little shit at the time and it didn’t take me much to take offence at anything. I could pretend I was going all “No Logo” on its capitalist arse but, in reality, vandalism could be fun without any added meaning. I got my fingernails under metal, gave a mighty tug and threw the offending article out into the road.
Now, of all the vehicles in all the world, which one do you suppose would have been turning out of Crown Street at that very instant? As the police wagon’s breaks squealed in the wake of collision, the night had taken on an interesting turn. I was running fast down Palmer Street, making full use of the big hill and the force of gravity. I was seeing world land speed records shattered in my wake. Cheetahs cheered me from the undergrowth. From first-floor balconies, hippies and prostitutes shouted tributes.
The worrying thing was that this fat cop was breathing down my neck so hard
that I could smell the used beer. Basic physics told me that all this momentum building up behind me was going to turn pretty ugly in the event of contact. I jumped a fence and took off through a small park. The fat cop couldn’t make the turn and had to back track to get to the stairs. With one sly move I’d gained a fifty yard gap. My internal dialogue went into overdrive. Flushed with triumph, I fantasised about pulling off the escape of the century.
Scampering into Kells Lane, I asked myself “What would Bugs Bunny do?” I had an idea about doubling back whilst these guys continued their chase in the direction of Woollomooloo or King’s Cross. All indications were that this was our intended destination so I could think of no reason for this illusion to be broken. I was dealing with cops here. How hard could it be to trick them?
Seeing an open yard, I ducked in to hide and almost immediately realised the
stupid mistake I had made. Coming on the end of a long line of stupid mistakes, it felt like the cake had been well and truly iced. With no sounds of running feet vanishing into the night to bait my pursuers, I was promptly cornered.
Spreadeagled on cold concrete, happy dancing feet tried to rearrange my insides into alphabetical order. I made no protestations of innocence and merely tried to ride the pain out. It wasn’t like I had much choice. Guns had been drawn and all bluffs called. I had come to the OK Coral unarmed and surrendered accordingly. As per instruction, I interlocked my fingers behind my neck and went down on my knees. A boot to my back helped me taste dirt and then it began.
I felt something cold and steel pressed into that little indentation you have at the base of your skull. Humour me and reach around and feel it. I felt the jolt as the hammer was pulled back. I was told that, having run, I had just made this easier. In a dark alley in Darlinghurst, I quietly prepared to kiss my arse goodbye. I knew it would be too quick to feel anything. I took comfort in that notion of being simply switched off.
Maybe that was the only reason they didn’t pull the trigger.
It took a Royal Commission to merely scratch the surface of the evil that was Darlinghurst cop shop. If you think I’m taking a little poetic licence when I describe the place as the vilest den of iniquity this side of Hades then think again. This was a rotten lilly I am forced to gild in the name of credibility. Rumours were rife of rapes, beatings, drug deals and even deaths. These were the kind of tales that didn’t come with the proviso that it happened to a friend of a friend of mine. These stories came attached to signed affidavits and sworn testimony. It was not the kind of place I wanted to spend a night.
It would have been quicker to march me straight up to the lock up but they decided to take me up to van first. I guess it gave them a chance to parade their victory through the streets. Two fat slobs managed to hunt down one skinny kid. They grinned like the High School bullies they had somehow evolved from. Thankfully, morons were yet to learn how to high five each other or I’m sure I’d have had to endure that indignity as well.
I was shoved into a box with waist high walls to await formal charging. An old black guy in the adjacent cubicle gave me some good advice. “Whatever this fucker says to you, just keep your cool.”
The officer returned with a clip board and pen and asked me what my name was. This question was augmented with whispers comparing me to a woman’s genitalia as well as casting aspersions on my sexual orientation. Taking good council, I responded politely. You might find it hard to believe but I could do that shit when I had to.
Disappointed by my failure to respond violently, the officer took a new tact. “What’s your date of birth? CUNT!!!!!” The final word was delivered nose to nose at a volume level so loud that a flock of seagulls took fright on Bondi Beach. I merely responded politely.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” the cop muttered as he did the maths. I was underage. A whole world of pain closed its doors to me. In the future, I wouldn’t get so lucky.
[Pic 1: Bob playing in a band called Filth, Sydney, 1978. Pic 2: Bob at the Palace Theatre, Sydney, 1978 (by Bruce Tinsdale).]
First posted: Saturday, June 23rd, 2007.