Sunday, November 07, 2010

#223: Television, Drug Of The Nation

I wrote this one ages ago for another blog, but thought I'd bring it over as it fits here better. Expect a few more rants like this to come, be warned, flee now.

Export Rock Club Sat was a show so short lived that I doubt many people saw it, less would remember and there’s no trace of it on-line at all. As a concept it was interesting and frankly, it gave my career as a music researcher a serious boost, not that I really went on with it, but the thought was clearly there. So what was it and what was my involvement? That’s a fairly easy to answer set of questions.

Export Rock Club Sat boasted the simplest of concepts. The idea was that a nightclub would be booked – in this case The Bridgeway was the venue of choice – and filled with a pile of drunken idiots who’d happily dance like marionettes having a seizure on camera. In the meantime a satellite link up would beam a musician into the club itself and people could ask questions as they saw fit, which might or might not be answered, depending on how drunk the ‘interviewee’ was and how bored the ‘interviewer' became. The results would then be edited down and shown on Channel Nine at some un-Godly hour of the evening, usually around 11:30pm on a Sunday night, after the movie and after the late night news. This was back in the days, in 1989, when stations would actually ‘close’ for the evening and cease transmission because it was well known that the only people still watching television at 2am were insomniacs, serial killers, the desperately sad and lonely and manic depressives. I still fit into two of those categories, have a guess which two. You might be pleasantly surprised. I'd generally stay up to watch Bob Spaghetti and his late night show where, in between showings of such quality fare as Jesse James Meets Frankensteins Daughter and Billy The Kid Vs Dracula, he'd talk like the Godfather and insist that everyone needed to go and buy a dodgy second hand Torana or eat at his mates restaurants otherwise it could be 'bad' for you if you didn't. Bob provided a high standard of entertainment that's missed in this day and age of slick announcers and polished presentations. There was something oddly charming about Bob's approach that appealed to all who saw him. Because I was awake I accidentally managed to see the first Club Sat show which featured Alice Cooper. It was crap.

The producers had hired a local radio personality, whom I'll refer to as Blankety Blank, who was then, and probably still is now, known for having all the intelligence of an average house plant. He sounded authentic enough, but was known for making his own ‘facts’ up, stealing other people’s work (along with physical goods from members of defunct bands - yes Blankety, I was told about the acetates you 'borrowed' and never gave back to the rightful owners, acetates that you then passed onto a record company who put them out, without authorisation or payment to the rightful owner, while you took the credit and cash) and was a massive credit hog. Watching him ask the most inane questions to Cooper almost made me vomit, but, being the masochist I am, I watched the whole thing. Horrid!

The next day I wandered into work at the ABC and was button-holed by a colleague who asked if I caught the show. “Yep,” I replied, “and I wish I hadn’t.”
“Why?”
“Because it was fucking awful. Horrid show. Blankety Blank is a know nothing moron, in fact didn't he steal the credit for a book that was totally written by his 'co-author'? The questions were insipid and the whole thing was one big train wreck,” and on I babbled, pointing out all the flaws that I saw in the show. I was then asked to come and meet a man, who promptly introduced me to his brother, both of whom made up the other two thirds of the production team who were running the show. Idiot me had promptly put my foot into things. The producers suggested that, if I was so bloody clever, I should put my money where my mouth was. Another show was about to be produced and would feature Neal Schon and John Waite, so would I care to do the research and be available to provide questions to Blankety Blank, whom, I was told, would lambaste me if it all went wrong but would steal all the credit if it went right. I agreed and went to work. I shouldn’t have bothered.

I did all the required research on both Schon and Waite and dug up enough useful information to sustain a ninety minute interview. Not all of it would be used, but there needed to be a lot of material in the can. I then wandered down to the shoot, on a Saturday evening, to see the results.

Jesus Christ! It was foul. Straight up Blankety Blank got Waite off-side by asking him about songs such as ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘All By Myself', and other great tunes, as sung by Eric Carmen. I had suggested asking Waite about any possible comparison to Carmen, but that’s not what came out. I quickly suggested to the producers that perhaps they needed to tell Blankety Blank that he was speaking to the guy from The Babys who had plenty of great songs, ‘Everytime I Think Of You’ and ‘Isn’t It Time’ to no avail; Blankety Blank was on a roll and began to talk about The Raspberries instead, intent on showing just how much he knew about music, and despite Waite virtually screaming down the line that he was never in The Raspberries, that was Eric Fucking Carmen!

One interesting fact that I’d turned up was as follows: Neal Schon, a noted guitarist from Journey, and a man so good that Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana were both vying for his services when he was about 16 and who had been playing guitar since the early 1970s had invested a lot of his money into a guitar factory which made his own designed guitars. The suggested question was, “So, Neal, I understand that you own your own guitar company which makes your own line of guitars. Would you like to tell us about that?” Easy question right? Wrong. In Blankety Blank’s hands the question became,
“So, Neal, I understand you own your own guitar?”

You can guess the result. Schon uttered a few swear words and thankfully managed to talk about his own factory etc etc. I was mortified by this stage and kept drinking with the aid of a drink card that a barmaid I knew had slipped to me. By the time I skulked out Schon was having one of his legendary hissy fits, had a face that looked like he wasn't merely contemplating homicide and Waite had been reduced to verbally abusing people he couldn’t see on his monitor. Nice guys, highly talented and interesting, but they were being interviewed by a pea brained idiot.

The show duly aired and managed to get far better ratings than the Cooper show, which wouldn’t have been that difficult, considering that at one point Cooper had been shown yawning and asking someone off-camera if he could leave. The producers had managed to make the show look and sound good, all of the crap was gone and there was 45 minutes of light, breezy entertainment. Even better, there was my name, finally, scrolling past on the credits of a television show. I was credited as being the ‘Researcher’, a credit that Blankety Blank had fought against as he believed that his ‘public’ (as if such a thing existed outside of his head) would refuse to accept that he didn’t do all his own research. I wish he had done it all, and then I’d not have had such a hangover. On the strength of the ratings I was given another artist: Jimmy Barnes.

This one wouldn’t be easy as the producers wanted something new about Jimmy, almost an impossibility at the time as Jimmy had been interviewed up the wahzoo since his Cold Chisel days. Luckily for me I had something that I believed Jimmy had never been asked, so I did the research (this was pre-internet days kiddies, when you had to read, source and remember information from books and magazines), presented a folder of facts and questions, explained the contents, answered the follow-ups and then wandered down to see the results. I should have known better.

Jimmy was in fine form despite his prick of a manager insisting that all non-essential staff had to remain outside of his house (the link-up was done from Jimmy’s pool room where Jimmy's brother, John Swan, was busily playing pool and getting drunk). Normally that’d not be a problem, but this was in winter, in Bowral. Where it snows at night and the temperatures drop below freezing. The only ones allowed in were the camera guys, the sound man and the tech guy doing the feed. The rest were told to shut up and wait. They froze their tits off, poor bastards.

The show went fairly smoothly. There were lots of questions about Cold Chisel and Jimmy’s solo career, questions abut Adelaide and Elizabeth, where Jimmy grew up, and piles of drunken girls screaming, “Eye luv ewe Jimmmmmmaaaayyyyy!!” at the top of their little soused lungs. Boys doing the good old jerky white boy dance, moving their heads out of time to 'I'd Die To Be With You Tonight' and perving at the breasts of girls who didn't care in those pre-date rape drug days when booze was all you needed. People throwing up, at least one guy punching his girlfriend, on camera, glasses being thrown, a few punch-ups and a lot of swearing. Standard stuff for a (then) Sunday evening at the Bridgeway with half priced drinks on offer. Blankety Blank was, surprisingly, doing a relatively fine job and I was lulled into a false sense of security. I am an idiot.

The wheels began to fall off when Blankety Blank refused to ask my surprise question. Here’s how it all unfolded, so bear with me.

In 1985 David Lee Roth left Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen then went in search of a replacement lead singer and, naturally, asked a lot of pals if they knew someone. Oddly enough Neal Schon, who we’d already spoken to a month previously (and who’d already been asked about Jimmy on that show, Schon saying he really loved Jimmy’s voice) spoke to Eddie and suggested, you guessed it, Jimmy Barnes. Schon had met Barnes when Barnes was recording his first solo album and working with Schon's bandmate, Jonathan Cain, who also gave a glowing reference. Van Halen heard the tapes, promptly made contact, flew to Sydney and spent a few days with Barnes in an attempt to persuade him to join Van Halen. Barnes declined the offer, with graces, and Van Halen flew back to the USA and subsequently hired Sammy Hagar. That was the information placed into the research files, along with the source material. Blankety Blank wandered over with one of the producers and said, “This just isn't true.”
“But it is true," I replied, "Jimmy Barnes was asked to join Van Halen in 1985.”
“I don’t believe it ever happened.”
“Why?”
“Because Jimmy has never told me about it.” By this stage I felt like saying, ‘You ever wondered why he never told you, you twat,” but I held my breath. “How do you know all of this?” he spat. I’d had enough of both Blankety Blank and a little too much grog.
“Because I can read, dickhead. The interview quote explaining the story is there, from an interview with Eddie Van Halen, with the source of the quote. Use your eyes man!”
“I don’t want to ask this and look foolish.” To me that’d be like Hitler saying, “I don’t want to invade Poland if it might make me look bad.” The producers insisted that he ask, so he finally lined up the camera and said,
“Jimmy, I have an unconfirmed rumour here that at one stage you were asked to join Van Halen on stage.” Now that sounds like he was asked to sing a song during a concert. I seethed and thought, ‘You fucking idiot.’ But then a miracle happened. Jimmy saved me.
“No, never been asked to join them on stage,” began Jimmy. Blankety Blank turned to me with a murderous look, but Jimmy kept talking, “but back in, oh, it must have been 1985, Eddie flew over here to ask me to join his band after Roth left. We jammed for a while and he spent a few days trying to convince me, but in the end, well, you know, Cold Chisel, I wanted a solo career and I really didn’t want to relocate to America full time, so I passed.” The look from Blankety Blank this time was sheer hell. He’d been made to look foolish, for that I would suffer. Jimmy went on a bit about Van Halen and the show kept on it’s pace. By the end of the night I was hammered and did a little off camera vomiting myself in the car park, just for fun. How odd, I managed to vomit on Blankety Blank's car too.

Blankety Blank took full credit for that question later when it came up and told people that it was insider information that only he’d known about previously. This was despite him near getting into a fist-fight over the statement and the research coming from an American music magazine which could easily have been bought in 1987. The wanker. The question was re-edited for transmission, the show went out on air and the ratings, for a dead time slot, were brilliant. Word had spread. Now the Export Rock people would be flying all over the world and my job was to provide, from home (no travel for me, although I was placed on standby) research on any number of artists, from ZZ Top to Gus Dudgeon. I was ready. The producers flew out, filmed their slots, I got phone calls at 2am asking questions about any number of bands, interviews were done. The vibe was good and more shows were being line-up with some big names indeed. The sponsors loved the concept and the reaction that the first three shows had gained. We were all going to be rich and I was assured that, no matter what happened, I’d be looked after and brought along for the ride. Heady stuff indeed. They then flew back and prepared a ninety minute show, which duly aired to…no ratings at all.

I’m not sure if such a thing is possible but this show didn’t rate. I know I watched it, as did my mother, who’d watch, listen to and read anything I did, credited or not, but, for some reason, the ratings came back as zero. Even the presence of Bob Spaghetti as the follow-up didn't help it. It was almost like people turned the TV off after the news and then turned them back on when Bob wandered out to make his offers that you couldn't refuse. The sponsor withdrew faster than a fat man tears into an all you can eat buffet and the show was officially dead. I did see the last ‘special’ repeated once, but there’s been no sign of the show since it was aired back in mid 1989. Pity, as I was credited on the show, my first television credit. I was happy and waited for the money to roll in. Again, I am an idiot.

The shoe dropped. All along I’d been told that I’d be taken care of and like the idiot I am I trusted the producers to do the right thing. You’d think I’d have learnt from that first time, but nope, I never got paid at all and I still take people at their word. Others did insist on being paid as they went though, and they got rewarded handsomely. Blankety Blank cleaned up and probably still insists that he did all his own research for the show, not that anyone who knows him would believe him, the producers made a bit of cash and a shit load of contra, but me? Not a sausage.

But I did see my name on TV in a credit roll for the first time. To me, that was priceless. My mother had a party built around one of the shows where everyone had to be glued to the screen for the two second glimpse of my name. The screenshot was then freeze-framed, on video, the rest of the night. Yeesh! I’m not sure I’d do it all again and I’ve only done uncredited television work since, but it did look good on the resume and it was a lot of fun in its own way. Time tempers the memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So now you're John Logie Baird. Hmm. Wonder how many overseas guests have thought we name our tv awards the "loogies". Sammy Hagar is the benchmark for how sad the mid eighties were. While he's not bad guy himself, his turn with Van Halen defined a decade of sorrow. ~Martin