A life more-or-less Auden-ry


I find myself part owner of a book shop – Desire Books & Records, in Manly. How I came to own a fifth of it is a blog post for another time (I know I say that a lot, but it’s too long a story to tell now, especially as a preamble for the quick post I want to write right now).

The other day, I was behind the counter when an older gentleman came in. He was in boardies and t-shirt, and though getting on a bit, was built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Like he’d been surfing since surfing was first introduced to Australia by Duke Kahanamoku (or not, as it turns out).

However, I was taken aback by his choice of purchase – a paperback biography of the poet W. H. Auden. (I’d love to be able to tell you who the biographer was, but I didn’t pay enough attention; I was only clever enough to put it towards the end of the a’s in the poetry section, figuring someone looking for Auden’s work might also be interested in his life.)

If you’re not familiar with the work of Wystan Hugh Auden, I say you’re mistaken. You’ve most likely been exposed to one of his poems; it’s read out at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the so-called ‘Funeral Blues’ (AKA ‘Stop All the Clocks’):

If you studied him at school, particularly a generatation-and-a-half ago as I did, you would have analysed ‘Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love’, but have been told repeatedly that the fact Auden was homosexual and the love addressed would have been a same-sex partner, was not at all relevant. And then when you got to university, a lecturer would have insisted that of course the poem has a greater imperative, given it deals with ‘the love that dares not speak its name’. Even less mature school kids, nowadays, are generally much more chilled than adults a generation-and-a-half ago – even the adults whose professional duty it was to broaden the educational horizons of the children in their care.

And of course, if you did study him, you probably had a copy of a Faber & Faber anthology, the one adorned with a headshot of the poet quite late in life, where his face was so wrinkled that were you trace every contour with the tip of a fine marker, you could stretch out his skin and come up with a map of the greater London area – or something quite like it.

None of this is, strictly speaking, relevant.



However, being a chatty, interested seller, I of course couldn’t just sell the book, I had to do some ‘interesting chat’.

“Ah, Auden,” I said. “I remember studying him in high school. I can still remember my favourite poem of his, ‘The More Loving One’. It’s about unrequited love.”

I left a polite pause, in which the customer could have directed the conversation away from me; handed over cash, taken change and scarpered. Instead, he looked interested and made an ‘okay, go on’ kind of sound. So I began quoting from memory – not verbatim, because I haven’t looked at it for some 25 years, but as accurately as I could remember it:

Looking up at the stars, I know full well
That for all they care I could go to hell.
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be one be me.

Again, I left a little pause to give him time to close the transaction, or at least give me a ‘look’, to let me know that I should. Still nothing, so I continued.

Lover as I think I am
Of stars that could not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see one, say
I missed one terribly all day.

This time my only pause was a dramatic one, the first of the few that rendered the final stanza a tour de force as I grew in stature and whatever the god or patron saint of hamming it up, possessed me…


Should all stars disappear or die
I should learn to look upon an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime –
Though this might take me a little time.

Although the look on the customer’s face never quite said, “you’re clearly a freak!” it was at this point that he did feel the need to explain, “I just wanted to read about him before I read his poems!” as he literally backed away, and then escaped from the shop.

To be honest, though, he did get off lightly: I only recited a poem. Depending on the audience – ie non-older, former surfy, built like the proverbial brick shithouse – I usually prefer to share a particular anecdote about Auden. It’s one I remember Stephen Fry telling, and, as with the poem, I quote it as I remember it, so I’m almost certain it’s not verbatim.

Apparently, the artist David Hockney, tasked with sketching the poet, looked upon Auden and said, “Christ! If that’s his face, imagine what his bollocks must look like!”

But I barely had time to tweet about it before the customer returned. “What was the name of that poem?” he asked. “I’m going to go to the library and find it!”



Shock Horror: Lily Potter shagged Hagrid!

Lily Potter Hagrid

Yep, you read it right: Lily Potter and Hagrid had an affair. The kids’ll be freaking out!

Not all of them, mind. The more precocious ones who indulge in Harry Potter fanfiction will have explored that eventuality. But I can just about hear Hagrid now: "It's an outrage! It's a scandal!" Or I would, if it wasn't about Hagrid.

The evidence is there: Hagrid did seem to take quite a shine to 'young Harry' and his companions. Wouldn't it make for an interesting prequel: Lily Potter, virtually the 'Virgin Mary' of the Gen Y generation, having given birth to the their saviour, Harry…

And who could blame Lily? Hagrid, after all, was half giant. (Bet you can guess which half!)

Of course, their relationship took place quite a while ago - back when Lily Potter was DS Jane 'Panhandle' Penhaligon and Rubeus Hagrid was Dr Eddie 'Fitz' Fitzgerald.

That's what I realised when I revisited the series Cracker (the British series, not the US series later retitled Fitz for overseas consumption).


Remaindered… no joke!

… In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My … much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's … book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

Clive James, from The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

In late 2005 a friend invited me to pitch a book about comedy to the publishers for whom he worked; the book was rejected, but I was offered the opportunity to compile a joke book: Have You Heard The One About…?. I was well pleased. Although, I kidded myself that it might sell so well as to go to a second printing, if not a second edition, rather than be remaindered like every joke book I have ever bought. (Well, the ones I didn't grab for next to nothing at fetes and charity shops.) Amongst my friends in the media is one woman who is a television journalist. She gave me her card and suggested I phone and pitch for some coverage after publication – maybe ‘Kochie’ might interview me on Sunrise…

Of course, after publication, after the book launch, after I’d started doing some press – mostly community, regional and ABC radio – but before my book actually started appearing on bookshelves, it was clear that I’d never be Kochie’s guest to flog a joke book; and yet, it was unclear that I could ever sell a copy of mine. How could I stand a chance, when that same summer, Kochie was already occupying prime shelf space with a joke book of his own.

Still, Have You Heard The One About…? nearly sold its print run; I was paid, and the publishers made their money back. Everyone’s happy – except maybe the people who paid full price for the book when it first came out!

Tara Moss In Da House


The opportunity to conduct another interview with Tara Moss is one I’ll happily pursue. This time around, it was for the ‘In Da House’ column for FilmInk, in which celebs are asked about their film consumption on DVD and video.

Our conversation happened to take place during this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Tara, now based in Melbourne, was happy to report that she was thus an even busier model-turned-novelist than she was before; in addition to watching an average of four or more films a week, she was now seeing up to three stand-up shows a day. I hadn’t realised that along with horror, comedy has been her other life-long love.

Somewhere in the middle of all this comedy and cinema, Tara also had to make time for Makedde Vanderwall, the heroine forever haunted by serial killers in Moss’s novels. This was what she was trying to do when I contacted her for the interview.

“I’m in my running pants, sitting at my desk as we speak,” Tara told me over the phone. I had to fight the temptation to stop and contemplate whether she meant sleek tracky dacks or little shorts, since either fantasy would distract me from the interview, which, at the time, was distracting Tara from her writing. But the writing was the logical place to start. The transcript is much longer than what I could fit in the final ‘In Da House’ column, appearing any minute now in the June issue of FilmInk.

Demetrius Romeo: Tara, will there ever be a film based on any of your novels, and if there is, who would play Makedde Vanderwall?

TARA MOSS: There has been a lot of speculation over the years about who would be a good actress to play Makedde. There’s a whole section of my website where people have been writing in. I think Angelina Jolie is at the top of the polls at the moment just because she’s a beautiful woman and one that chooses very strong, independent and interesting roles. But she obviously did a serial killer thriller not too long ago so I don’t know if I’d be lucky enough to have her in the film of one of my novels. But one can only dream, I suppose.

It’s kind of a funny thing for novel writers because we, for the most part, write novels to be novels; we don’t write novels to be movies. It’s great that they can be translated and put into a different medium, but it’s not necessarily the most comforting thought, and I’m one of the writers out there who can honestly say I get really uneasy thinking about my books being made into films. I know it would be a great honour and it would be a really interesting experience, but it would also be a harrowing one because I like to control my little world within the books, and you lose that control when you hand over the rights.

Demetrius Romeo: When I read your novels, I can’t help but see you in the lead role.

TARA MOSS: If I could act, that would be great, but I have an aversion to acting. I’m really, really comfortable being myself and I’ve found that any time I’ve felt not quite right doing something, it’s usually because I’m having to speak someone else’s words for some reason.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you saying you don’t identify with your lead character?

TARA MOSS: I identify with her, but I’m not her. I think of her kind of as a sister. I do have a wonderful sister named Jacquie, but my fictional sister Makedde is someone I understand, and also someone who occasionally does things that I wouldn’t do myself. I think it’s important to have that separation between reality and fiction. Otherwise it would be very limiting from a writing perspective. Imagine every time you go to a keyboard thinking ‘what would I do?’ rather than ‘what would make for an interesting plot?’ I think it’s dangerous territory when you identify too closely to that character. With Makedde I did borrow a lot of autobiographical stuff; that’s clear. But I don’t think I’ve ever viewed her as me per se, rather as a character who I’d want to know, a character that I can understand intimately, which I think is a different thing.

Demetrius Romeo: Your husband Mark Pennell is a producer; doesn’t being married to a producer make getting a film made somewhat easier?

TARA MOSS: No, not really. In fact, if anything, it’s made me more wary of the film business than ever before just because I see the struggles he goes through with it. Mark is an Australian film producer and we know how the Australian film industry is at the moment. He’s worked on some international projects and he’s certainly working on some pretty incredible stuff at the moment, but again: danger zone! I already know my personality well enough to know that it would be difficult to let go of my books and let them become movies. I think it would be doubly difficult if the person making them is my own husband. Let me put it this way: I have a happy marriage at the moment and I don’t want that ever to change.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve said that you see four movies a week, on average.

TARA MOSS: Yeah, I do. Sometimes more than that.

Demetrius Romeo: Is that in the cinema, on DVD or on cable?

TARA MOSS: It’s a combination of DVDs and going to the cinema. I don’t watch television much at all. I pretty much use the TV for DVD rental. I love going through DVD shops and finding the most obscure foreign films or art house films or b-grade films and finding something delightful and surprising in them, and I see probably about 80 percent of what comes out in theatres, so I’m frequently at movie theatres checking things out. I just love film. I think it’s a wonderful story-telling medium. Obviously, I prefer books. I don’t read all the time; I read a lot of the time. And when I’m not reading, I’m probably watching a movie somewhere.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there any cinematic genres that don’t interest you?

TARA MOSS: I suppose particularly sappy, romantic films don’t interest me a lot. I have a lot of fun watching something like Notting Hill, something that’s like a romantic comedy but is a little more clever; that’s great. This is going to sound really awful, but if people aren’t gonna die and there’s no conflict, I’m not very interested in watching. I know it’s a terrible thing to say!

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve expressed these sentiments before, when talking about your novels: you’re interested in characters taking control of the darkness, and have been since you were a kid reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.

TARA MOSS: I found Edward Gorey’s kind of delightfully morbid, black humour really fascinating at that age, and I think I still enjoy that. The types of books I sometimes like, like the types of movies I sometimes like, deal with really dark issues, sometimes with humour, and I think that’s the best way to deal with things we don’t understand or are afraid of.

Demetrius Romeo: You said that you like even b-grade films…

TARA MOSS: I’m a big fan of b-grade films. I think there are some beauties out there that are so bad that they’re genius, like Ed Wood’s films, or Night of the Living Dead.

Demetrius Romeo: Give me an example of a so-bad-it’s-good treasure you’ve come across recently.

TARA MOSS: Recently I watched pretty much every zombie flick every made. I went on a zombie frenzy. I started having dreams that I was being chased by zombies, I was so immersed in them. I was watching three zombie films a day. Some of them were fantastic, but I can’t even remember the name of half of them because there were so many. But I watched all of the Night of the Living Dead series. Of course, Shaun of the Dead is fantastic fun, but that is recognized as being quite a brilliant comedy. But I think a lot of the ones that are panned as being ‘b-grade’ films are actually brilliant comedies in and of themselves. I find them quite amusing.

Demetrius Romeo: If you watch so many films, do you have time to go back and watch all the special features when you rent a DVD?

TARA MOSS: I often do look at a lot of the extras. For instance, I recently rented Anchor Man which I thought was hysterical, because I love Will Ferrell. I was on the floor laughing at all the outtakes and things like that. Sometimes I do quite enjoy the extras. But I don’t tend to listen to the directors’ commentaries because I don’t want to over-analyse stuff. Unless I’m aware that there’s a particular story behind some of the scenes, I won’t seek out the commentary as much as the documentary aspects of the extras. The documentary is more interesting to me than watching the film again with commentary over the top.

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Graduate, which is one of my favourite films, was a wonderful edition that came out and had interviews with everyone now and their views on the movie at the time. To me that’s a bit more interesting, that documentary style. I like it because they gave some behind-the-scenes information about some really classic scenes. The one at the end when they’re in the church, and Katharine Ross is getting married to her man, Dustin Hoffman’s standing above where the ceremony is taking place, and he’s tapping on the glass – because he had his arms extended, it was thought to be somehow related to Christianity. Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman are saying, ‘well, actually, it was because they told us that if I tapped in the middle of the glass, it would break’. So since 1967 they’ve been analysing the Christian references at the end of The Graduate – which I think is just a classic! Those sorts of stories are the ones I like to hear because I do think there’s too much analysis of creative work, whether it be books or film. We stop enjoying things for what they are in order to search for ‘hidden meanings’ in things that sometimes don’t even have meanings.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there particular directors that you like?

TARA MOSS: I’m a big Tim Burton fan. I like his kooky sense of humour. I like David Lynch and Burton and these directors who create completely different worlds out of their own imagination. I love Quentin Tarantino. I also love the stuff that people pan: I loved the Lara Croft movies. I love a lot of films that people think are quite superficial. I like films for different reasons, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing Angelina Jolie swinging on a rope with a gun strapped to her leg, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing a subtle film like Sideways that’s a bit more gentle and a bit deeper and has some great comedic moments in it.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you much of a collector when it comes to films? Do you have to own them, or are you just happy to see them?

TARA MOSS: I have to own stuff. I have to own a lot of films.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of stuff makes the Tara Moss collection?

TARA MOSS: The Graduate – 25th Anniversary Edition. I love Wes Anderson, so The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favourites. I love Bound with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, which I think is one of the most fabulous thrillers. A very sexy thriller!

A fabulous cheesy movie I recommend is called Ninja Killer. This is like a 70s Hong Kong action flick. If you’re used to b-grade movies, this is c-grade and it’s classic. The hair-dos, the outfits and the bad dubbing – it’s beautiful. It’s called Ninja Killer but there are no real ninja in it; it’s got a lot of people trying to pretend that they’re Bruce Lee, breaking up drug rings, with sideburns that could stop a truck.

Kill Bill Volume 1 – I don’t watch the whole thing over and over again, but I love the scenes in Japan, where Uma Thurman’s kicking butt! And I also love her short motorcycle scene in the yellow leather motorcycle suit so much that I went and had a red one made for myself. I have a red Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle and she’s riding a yellow Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle, so I thought it was very fitting. I also have films like Mystic River and The Thomas Crown Affair original, which is one of my favourite movies of all time – mostly because Steve McQueen is just a god! He’s such a ‘man’s man’ leading man. I love that really masculine leading man that we don’t see enough of these days. I also love The Getaway, even though there’s a lot of interaction between his character and that character of Ali MacGraw’s that’s now completely unacceptable. Thankfully. Feminism has come a bit further. Other than that, it’s a brilliant film, and very of it’s time. Blade Runner. Impossible to beat. It’s my favourite sci-fi genre movie.

Demetrius Romeo: Can the man’s man exist in a world where his woman isn’t so passive?

TARA MOSS: Absolutely. The man’s man can totally exist in today’s world now that women have power as well. I love powerful women. In fact, I like powerful women so much that I’m obsessed with actresses who starred in sometimes cheesy ‘powerful women’ roles. I love this current swing into female superheroes. I collect female action figures that all have a great deal of artillery and kick ass. But it doesn’t stop me from liking quite masculine characters. If a guy’s going to be a leading man, I don’t think he should spend more time looking in the mirror than I would. That should be the cut-off point right there.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you still have videos?

TARA MOSS: I do have some videos, but I don’t watch them very much, to be honest. I have The Shining, which is one of my favourite horror films, I only have on video so I’m planning on upgrading to a DVD version that hopefully has some very cool extras. The version I’ve got is a video, but it also has the documentary by Kubrick’s wife, about the making of the film, so it’s actually quite a good video. But it is a video; I’m sure they’ve got to be some updates since then. Kubrick was so before his time in terms of seeing a book like The Shining, seeing Steven King’s work, and seeing the primal way it taps into our sort of childhood fears, and treating that genre with respect. It’s one of those things I complain about often: just because something’s a horror story or a crime story or a serial killer story doesn’t mean you can’t treat it with respect and make it a really amazing piece of work, whether it be a book or a movie. I think there’s a lot of brilliance to be found in those genres, rather than just dismissing the genre because there are a lot of bad examples of it. There are a lot of brilliant examples of it, too. The Shining is one of those.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think you’ll have a film script in you at some stage?

TARA MOSS: Not until I mature a bit more to be honest. Being a control freak, I’m very wary of the screenwriting process because it’s collaborative and the more I find out about the film business, the more I really don’t want to be in that position where I’m being told what to write and where the money matters so much that you have to make those compromises. Jeffery Deaver said something brilliant. He was asked how much he had to do with the making of the films of his books, such The Bone Collector. He said, “I have a lot to do with them; I cash the cheque”. I thought he was very wise: he’s a great writer, that’s what he does well; he was saving himself the frustration of actually trying to work with a whole load of people creating a film version of what he’s already done brilliantly as a book. Until I can separate myself a little bit more from my books, it would be a lot of frustration, and not the kind of frustration that pays off in the end. As we know, with the movie industry you can’t count on something being made or being successful or any of that. It’s a very difficult industry, and so, for the moment, I’m happy to stick to my writing.

Nah, that’s bull; but this is true…


Lynne Kelly is a science teacher who would prefer to believe the truth than airy-fairy nonsense, and as far as that goes, puts together a strong case with her recently published The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal . An easy book to read written by an easy author to interview, I’d happily recommend both. The interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio some Saturdays ago, and on the subsequent Sunday as well.

Demetrius Romeo: Lynne, what led you to write A Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal?

LYNNE KELLY: I love science. I think the real world is awesome and people keep making claims saying they defy science; well that’s fine, because science doesn’t know everything, but I don’t like it when they defy the science that I teach. If people can levitate, then what I teach in Year 11 Physics is wrong, and I want to get my teaching right. It’s also that I am, by nature, gullible. I trust and believe what people tell me, starting from my big brother that fooled me constantly as a child, and so skepticism is also a protection against being exploited both emotionally and financially.

Demetrius Romeo: Who did you write this book for? I would have thought that skeptics don’t believe in the paranormal in the first place.

LYNNE KELLY: I didn’t write this book for skeptics. The skeptics have a great literature already that’s much more complex, but it tends to be very academic. I’ve written a book very much for the sort of people that I meet over the dinner table, or in schools, and that’s why it’s not heavily scientific. It’s written as an emotional person trying to understand these claims, in the hope that we’ll raise the debate. I’m sick of the extremists on either side saying you should believe everything, or, you shouldn’t believe anything, it’s all rubbish. Neither side is going to help us get towards a better understanding of what is real.

Demetrius Romeo: What’s the reaction been to your book so far?

LYNNE KELLY: I’ve been really surprised. I was very worried about putting it out that I would offend people because that’s the last thing that I want to do, but I’ve been very surprised on how many people who are firm believers in the paranormal, have been coming back to me saying, “that’s very interesting, I’m looking at it in a different way; I still believe, but you’ve raised different ways of thinking about it”. That’s been terrifically rewarding, because it wasn’t written for hardcore skeptics.

Demetrius Romeo: Has anyone taken you on, or taken issue with it?

LYNNE KELLY: Actually, the only people who have taken issue with it is a magician, and that’s because I do reveal some magic tricks – in particular, how spoon bending’s done. That was a hard decision for me, because I have a huge respect for magicians; I adore them. But I felt that, because some of them step over the line and claim they are psychic and aren’t pleased to announce that they are magicians who are professional frauds and deceivers, that they’ve crossed the line and are misrepresenting and misleading people, and therefore I felt obliged to reveal those methods. That’s the main area I’ve been criticised in and I regret it has to happen, but I made an ethical decision in that case.

Demetrius Romeo: Was there anything you learnt in the process about any of the topics you tackled?

LYNNE KELLY: A great deal, especially in cold readings and psychic readings. In order to fully understand why people believe, when a reading using, for example, astrology, numerology or just psychic abilities, why it felt so real, I not only had to experience readings, but I also had to deliver them.

Demetrius Romeo: In your book you reduce a lot of the work that psychics do down to psychology.

LYNNE KELLY: I think there’s a blurry line between what’s intuition and what is truly psychic. I use my own system, called ‘tauromancy’, because if I used tarot or astrology, people would say ‘you think you’re just using psychology, but the system is working’. So I created, using the scientific underpinnings of what psychology is involved, a complete system, and I read a tarot reader. At the end, she said it was a very successful reading. She was very impressed. And then we started talking about exactly what we do, and we came to the conclusion that we do exactly the same thing. I’m taking all the credit for myself, while she’s giving it away to the cards.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that a lot of what is perceived as ‘paranormal activity’ can be just broken down to very common sense things?

LYNNE KELLY: You use the term ‘just broken down to’; I think it’s exactly the reverse. I think the human abilities – brain, the human spirit – are things we constantly underestimate, and so we simplify the explanations. I don’t think it’s ‘just broken down’, I think what I’m doing is looking at the absolute wonder that is the human ability and saying ‘hey, let’s take the credit and let’s explore this, let’s not give it away to something unexplained; let’s start exploring it for ourselves’. So, yes, it is human ability and instinct, but it’s pretty amazing stuff.

Demetrius Romeo: But sometimes the explanation isn’t as exciting as what we’d rather believe. Like crop circles: to find out that it can be done with a length of rope and a piece of wood isn’t as exciting as even knowing that it was electrical discharge or weather.

LYNNE KELLY: True, but for me, I’d rather believe things that are true, and there is so much that is exciting in the real world. I’ve had a daughter; from the beginning, which we won’t discuss in detail, to the end when she was born and that little body came out with ten fingers and ten toes and little wrinkles in all the right places. That is so extraordinary, I don’t think making a crop circle using electrical discharges or aliens is as exciting as anything we humans do as part of nature. I want to believe in the real things and I want to understand just how great it is without having to resort to simplistic explanations.


Demetrius Romeo: One of the chapters I really enjoyed was the one on spontaneous combustion, because even when you explain what that’s about, it’s still just as eerie and as weird as all the things we might have believed about people who would just burst into flames.

LYNNE KELLY: Spontaneous human combustion was only explained in 1998 which means that for a long, long time, we had to say that science can’t explain it. That doesn’t mean accept a paranormal explanation. What happens – I’ll take the example that I described in the book of a French murder, where the murderers used Chanel No. 5 as one would in France to ignite the body. So they use an accelerant of some kind in a small area. The intense flames in that small area start to burn the body fat and what happens is the clothes act as a wick, so imagine it as a candle that is inside-out, with the wick on the outside being the clothes, and the wax being the body fat. And so what happens is, an intense flame starts, using the clothes as a wick, and burns the whole body. But it’s not spontaneous; it takes about seven hours. And it completely destroys the body – and the bones by burning the bone marrow – but leaves the surrounding areas intact. And that’s why you’ll often get a leg or an arm left, because that’s an area without body fat, and without clothes on it.

Demetrius Romeo: Because of the eeriness of that image, I find that that still is as weird and as exciting as if there was something supernatural or spooky at work.

LYNNE KELLY: Yep. It’s extremely rare, and it is eerie and spooky, but it is real.


Demetrius Romeo: Are there topics you haven’t explored yet that you would like to write about in the future?

LYNNE KELLY: So many of them! The area that I’m going to look at next is the health and medical one, and this is very, very touchy, because it would be very easy as a skeptic to destroy something – like the effect of positive thinking on health – to destroy it without questions, and that area has to be taken very, very carefully. There are a lot of exploitative methods in health, but there is also a lot that the conventional methods don’t know about.

Demetrius Romeo: So when you come to things like the copper bracelets that people believe help arthritis, and in some cases, you think that it’s more the belief than the copper that’s actually helping, where do you stand on that?

LYNNE KELLY: This is where you hit a real ethical issue. If it’s a choice between taking drugs or a copper band, and they feel better with both, I’m all for the copper band, even if the scientific evidence is that the copper band doesn’t actually make any difference. So, we’ve got to be very careful. If belief in things will help, then let’s go for it. I would rather be cured by a placebo, than take a real drug. It’s a very difficult one for me and I’m struggling with the ethics.

Demetrius Romeo: Having written a book that exposes so many things about what people believe were real and what we now know isn’t, where does that leave things like faith and religious belief?

LYNNE KELLY: That’s a really good question, because I don’t think, as a science person who is looking at tangible claims that have failed tangible tests, that religion is within my scope; I don’t think that I have the expertise. So I might look at the Shroud of Turin, which has been shown to date from the Middle Ages due to carbon dating, and therefore wasn’t… or, I don’t believe it was the burial shroud of Christ – that’s not saying that a belief in Christ isn’t legitimate. So I don’t think that using the methods I use, which is strait science, that faith is really within my gambit.

Demetrius Romeo: Lynne Kelly, thank you very much.

LYNNE KELLY: Thanks Dom.

Photo the ghost of Lynne Kelly by Damian Kelly, 2002

’Ullo Alexei! Gotta New Novel?


It seems to have been one of the best kept secrets of literature and comedy. Somewhere, some time, that loud, in-yer-face comedian Alexei Sayle left the world of comedy and became a brilliant author.

When his first anthology of short stories, Barcelona Plates, was published, it was in all the shops, but I don’t remember reading much about it. Same with his second collection, The Dog Catcher, but I must have been more cashed up by that stage, because I not only bought a hard cover copy of it for myself, but also gave a couple away as birthday gifts.

I was truly amazed at the quality of the writing – funny, clever, perceptive, with great imagination. Each one with a little twist at the end, sometimes hilarious, sometimes macabre like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. This was genuinely surprising because I was the kind of Alexei Sayle fan who had read his other, earlier books, Train to Hell and Great Bus Journeys of the World. They were like his records, in that, they were like his stand-up: drawing from that surreal, in-yer-face, absurdist vein of humour that Alexei Sayle practically copyrighted. Barcelona Plates and The Dog Catcher were so different. The short stories they contained were still funny, but they were less self-conscious in their content and execution.

Cut to the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There’s a Writer’s Festival going on at the same time, and by the time I get myself organised enough to check out the program, I discover that I’ve missed Alexei Sayle by a day. It appears that he has written his ’first’ novel (if you don’t take Train to Hell into account) and it’s called Overtaken . One day I’m walking passing the OxFam shop in the centre of Edinburgh, and notice a sign that informs me that I’ve missed Alexei Sayle by a couple of hours. I can at least buy an autographed copy of Overtaken that he’s donated to the shop. Reading it, I realise something vital: even as Sayle has graduated to writing proper, full length novels that are less like his stand-up than his original ‘zany’ attempts, there are themes and issues present throughout his work, from the stand-up to the ‘serious’ literature. Furthermore, even his stand-up had a knowing, declamatory style that was as much story-telling as it was stand-up.

Cut to the 2004 Sydney Writers’ Festival: Alexei Sayle is out here to talk about his book. I am so grateful to have been able to catch up with him for a chat. From the outset, I probably should have made more of his writing. There’s so much in it: his descriptions of architecture, the Liverpudlian underworld, music, comedy, culture, cars, philosophy and politics betray a great deal of knowledge. However, this was our first chat; we had a lot of ground to cover. Next time I’ll concentrate solely on discussing his books, rather than the themes that link what he’s doing now to everything he’s done before.

At least Alexei didn’t seem to mind about having to cover old ground. He graciously autographed my twelve-inch single of ‘Didn’t You Kill My Brother?’ that I bought as a teenager who usually saved his pocket shrapnel for Beatles and David Bowie singles. He cacked when I told him how my mother hit the roof when she first heard it, disgusted that I would spend my money on this sort of record. But that was then. This is now. If you haven’t read any of Alexei Sayle’s more recent literature, I recommend you start almost immediately with The Dog Catcher. And if you’ve never heard any of his stand-up, that’s your loss. Start with The Young Ones on DVD, and hope that Alexei Sayle’s Stuff is re-issued soon. Grab The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball on CD if you can find it, or hunt down his album Panic if you can. But do read his books.

This interview was broadcast 22 May 2004. Here’s the MP3 if you want to listen as you read.


Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: It was just another day for Raoul, the Tasmanian with the talking trousers, as he put a lizard into each top hat. Little did he realise that opportunity would soon come a-knocking in the shape of a giant Idaho potato which bore a strange resemblance to the late J. Edgar Hoover, right down to the striped spatula with the words ‘hokey kokey’ written on it in yellow ink…

‘Girlie’ Chorus: Meanwhile,
In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.

Demetrius Romeo: Alexei, before you became an author, you were famous as a stand-up comic.


Demetrius Romeo: How was it to make the transition, and why did you make it?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, I think I’d sort of personally reached the end of a stage of my life of being a comedian. I didn’t really have the commitment to the life to want to do a hundred shows a year, which I think you really have to do to refresh your material and yourself, and I couldn’t really face that. So I was casting around for something else to do and I started writing short stories. That became the sole thing that I did, really.

Demetrius Romeo: You were writing books before that – your first couple of books were closer to your comedy that to the books you’re writing now.


Demetrius Romeo: Did you make a conscious effort to reign in that side of your writing psyche?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, probably initially, writing those ‘zany’ books in the 80s was in a sense a lack of confidence in stretching myself, in a way; staying closer to my core kind of performing style, but when I started writing the short stories I really wanted to get away, to really do some serious literature. I mean, it’s still comical and satirical, but it’s aiming as high as you can – it’s ‘proper’ literature. That’s sort of, by then, what I really wanted to do, to distance myself from the ‘Coco the Clown’, the previous incarnation.

Demetrius Romeo: Was it a large stretch to go from the anthologies of short stories to the novel?

ALEXEI SAYLE: No, it was a natural progression, really, but it was one I took the time to work up to, not to force myself to do it until I was ready to do it, really.

Soundbite: ‘Ullo John, Gotta New Motor? – Part III’ – from the twelve-inch single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: What a lovely motor the Cortina is, eh? What a lovely motor. What style. What lines. What beauty. What poetry, eh? All that poetry in a motor. ’Ere. Ever see Wordsworth do anything like a Cortina, eh? ’E didn’t did ’e, eh? Tennyson? Eh? Any of that? Any of them? Any of them fellers, eh? Didn’t do anything as poetic as a Cortina.

Demetrius Romeo: I can see similar themes that have been with your work from early on. Transportation is something you seem to like to talk about at length. Where does this interest come from?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, I don’t know. I mean, it’s partly… well, probably, I think, me dad worked on the railways, so that’s maybe one of the inspirations. And also, we never had a car, so I always had a kind of slightly ‘outsider’ view of cars. They seemed like ‘miraculous’ kind of contrivances, really, so I’ve always been interested in cars. But then I’m also interested in the kind of landscape – motorways at night…

Soundbite: ‘’Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? – Part III’ – from the twelve-inch single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: Ullo John, gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?

Demetrius Romeo: I imagine in stand-up you get to fluff a lot of facts for the sake of the gag, but when I read your books, you have a very real respect for knowledge. Where does this come from?

ALEXEI SAYLE: I do, but then a lot of it is also made up. I don’t like novels that are meticulously researched, particularly; I sometimes find that tedious. A lot of writing, especially books or authors or creators have a narrow remit; before my comedy, the subject matters were incredibly narrow. Why can’t you do a stand-up comedy routine about Bertolt Brecht or architecture or electrical design. All of those things I’ve done routines about.

Soundbite: Alexei Sayle monologue from ‘Boring’, Season 1 Episode 4 of The Young Ones

Alexei Sayle: I’ve not always been mad, you know, but um... I was actually driven mad by the indifference of architects and council planners. You see, I live in a tower block, and um, the thing about those is, there’s terrible noise problems, ’cause there’s no noise insulation at all, you know, and eight floors below you, there's always some bastard who's got a Yamaha home organ, you know. You’re just about to go to sleep and you hear this “DOOT DOOT! TCH-TCH, DOOT DOOT! TCH-TCH, ROLL-OUT-THE-BARRELS! DOOT-DOOT, TCH-TCH, DOOT DOOT, TCH-TCH” And like, the people who live upstairs from me, I can’t understand what they’re doing, you know, I listen. And all I can hear is this weird noise that goes, “VOOM VOOM! BLAM BLAM! VOOM VOOM! BLAM BLAM!” It sounds, right, it sounds like two elephants on a motorbike riding round and round, while a seal bangs a kipper on the table!

Demetrius Romeo: You were brought up as a communist and I notice Eastern bloc characters peopling your work throughout your career…

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, obviously, a large part of my childhood I spent – we’d spend – in Eastern Europe and it was kind of like stepping through a curtain into fairy tale. When you’d cross the border in the train between, say, Austria and Czechoslovakia, everything was different. The trucks used to run on this sort of evil-smelling diesel and there was one brand of toothpaste in the shops, ‘toothpok’ or something. There was no advertising, there was only abstract art where the advertising billboards would normally be, and it was just this incredible kind of strange other universe that nobody else went to apart from us, really, me and me mum and dad.

Soundbite: ‘Dedicated’ – from the flipside of the ‘Didn’t You Kill My Brother?’ single.

Alexei Sayle: … and I’d also like to dedicate this song to the people of Czechoslovakia, excluding Mr and Mrs Oleg Potseg, 49 Volaches, Prague 18…

Demetrius Romeo: Who are your inspirations as a writer?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Evelyn Waugh is always someone that I cite as somebody who was kind of a social satirist, but also someone who could be very dark. I think it’s in ‘A Handful Of Dust’, the moment when the woman – she’s got this lover called John – and they tell her that her son John has been killed in a horse riding accident, but the groom says, ‘no, little John’, and she says, ‘Oh, thank God,’ and then realises what she’s said. I think that’s one of the greatest and most chilling moments in literature, that. That somebody like Waugh could write something like that, I think that’s staggering, and that was in the 30s. Amazing.

Demetrius Romeo: Having done your fair share now of comedy festivals and writers’ festivals, which do you prefer?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Oh, writing. I mean, you’re not really treated with as much respect as you should be, really, as a comic. I felt I wasn’t, which is maybe just me being antsy, but you’re always treated a bit as a simpleton when you’re a comic, even though, you know, my references would be Kierkegaard and socialism and so on, whereas, as an author, you’re treated as being much more intelligent. There’s a kind of an implied ‘maestro’ whenever anybody talks to you. And it’s a trade-off: you’re not as central to the culture anymore. You start having to start to wait longer for tables at the best restaurants, but in place of that, there’s enormous satisfaction.

Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: “Ooh la la! Ooh la la!” chanted the traffic warden, but Steve was in no mood for Swedish volleyball that day. He swore to himself that if Erica came home again dressed as a chicken, he would tell the monopolies commission who had really been putting cream cakes in the Lord Mayor of London’s underpants. Then the avocado dip would really hit the fan.

Demetrius Romeo: Alexei Sayle, thank you very much.

ALEXEI SAYLE: Thank you.

Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

‘Girlie’ Chorus: Meanwhile,
In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.

In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.


Finally A Use For Spam!

Andrew at www.dirtynerdluv.org has made a cultural breakthrough worthy of a Nobel Prize or at least an award of some sort. In his entry “Spam and the modern novel” he suggests that the names of characters in “your bad first novel” could be derived from “the names the spam mail people use to trick you into signing up for a porn site or buying Viagra online”. He offers some great examples.

Tara Moss: Facing the Fear

I’m gonna use the wedding of model and author Tara Moss, which took place March 20 2004, as an excuse to post an interview I did with her some years ago.

When I was ‘the sole dedicated comedy journalist in Australia’ – a description coined and used by comedians rather than one I devised and applied to myself – I was frequently called upon to promote Theatresports. In case you don’t know, Theatresports is essentially a series of games designed to keep actors’ improvisation muscles supple, and, ideally, should be a means to an end. However, for most Theatresports practitioners, it is an end unto itself, a kind of cult practiced by zealous fundamentalists. Every few months there is a new season with a few variations to make it different enough from the last season so as (they imagine) to be interesting to the innocent by-stander. However, by far the most exciting night for the not-so-devout is the annual ‘Celebrity Theatresports’ match, often involving genuinely famous-ish people who have never played Theatresport before, as well as people who used to play long before they were famous (and, more often than not, who can’t quite understand how they could have gotten roped into it again).

Having been asked to write a story to promote the Celebrity Theatresports match taking place May 12 2001, I cast my eye over the press release and made a simple demand: I’d write yet another story on Theatresports only on the condition that I choose the ‘celebrity’ to base the story around, and that it be Tara Moss.

I figured that I get to occupy the same rarefied atmosphere as curvaceous blonde models so infrequently that actually getting to talk to one was ample reward – particularly when writing for the sheer love it, rather than for money. (The article was for one of those free and thus exploitative ‘street’ publications that don’t pay contributors.) The publicist of this particular Theatresports event promised to check with Moss as to her availability. And within no time at all, Tara sent me an e-mail.

At the time I had a full-time publications job that, in addition to whatever other perks it offered, subsidised the writing I used to do for said free and exploitative ‘street’ publications. Thus, things like doing interviews, handing them in on time and so on were usually postponed so as to prevent them encroaching upon the day job. However, Tara Moss's e-mail informed me that she’d only be available for half an hour in two hours’ time because she had to spend the rest of her week finishing the final draft of her next novel. Clearly, there was no further discussion to enter into except “thank you; I’ll be the Allen Guinsburg-alike with the big beard and glasses”.

“Who is Allen Guinsburg?” Tara wanted to know in her next e-mail, seconds later. I so hope I wasn’t arrogant and condescending when I replied something like “Jewish beat poet who wrote Howl.” Yet, in hindsight, I can’t imagine that I behaved any different to the way Sam Seaborn behaves in that Season Two episode of The West Wing – the one in which the gorgeous blonde Republican, Ainsley Hayes, whom everyone has already dismissed on the strength of her looks and her job, proceeds to kick Sam’s butt all over the place on national television. In other words, typical ‘pride before the fall’ behaviour. “Oh, you mean Alan Ginsberg,” Tara’s next e-mail informed me. Despite the fact that Tara Moss is originally of Canadian extraction (and nowadays a naturalised Aussie!) whenever I remember that e-mail, I hear it in Ainsley Hayes’s ‘Valley Girl’ accent. I continue to remind myself, quite aptly, never, ever to judge a book by its cover.

In the couple of hours I had before the interview, I checked out Tara Moss’s homepage. A good thing, too. In addition to a photo gallery, it offered as samples of her work a couple of short stories – Psycho Magnet and Know Your ABCs – which meant that, in addition to going in somewhat less than utterly arrogant, I could go in somewhat less than utterly ignorant. Despite – or rather, irrespective of – being exceptionally beautiful, Tara Moss is a great writer. I’m happy to say I learnt some valuable lessons about myself, my prejudices and my fears, through the process of meeting and interviewing her. For the sake of balance, and because this article tends to draw accusations of ‘going in soft’, I will only add, three years later, as Tara Moss prepares to launch her books in various non English-speaking countries around the world, that she isn’t as talented a Theatresports player as she is a writer, model, MC, ambassador etc. And yet she approached it, as she does all her activities, with great gusto.

This story first appeared in Revolver in May 2001.

Facing the Fear

“I’m not afraid to make an ass of myself,” declares the rather gorgeous Tara Moss. “I’ve already moved beyond that idea of wanting to be perfect in front of people. It means nothing to me.”

The erstwhile model turned author, public speaker, light entertainment personality, MC, journalist and, most recently, celebrity Theatresports player, would have a hard time appearing as anything other than perfect before most people. That is perhaps why, when she first dared span the cross-cultural divide from catwalk to – well, virtually every other facet of the media – there was the danger of her being lumped in the same category as every soapie star who thinks it is high time to release a CD. What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it? (See below for the answer.)

“Nobody believed I could write,” Tara admits. “They had no reason to because no-one had ever read my work.” That changed after Tara won first prize in the 1998 ‘Scarlet Stiletto Young Writer’s Competition’ with the story Psycho Magnet. Having loved “doing this thing called writing,” Tara explains that she was excited that “suddenly somebody else was acknowledging I might be good at it.” At the time, Moss was already three-quarters of the way through a novel. “I was writing it in my spare time, for me,” she says, “and no-one knew about it.” Before long five publishing houses were engaged in the bidding war that led to the 1999 publication of Fetish. It became a best seller. “This is dream-world stuff,” Tara confesses. “It just blew me out of the water.”

No surprises really, though. Prior to her modeling career, Tara was a prolific schoolgirl author. In addition to ‘novelettes’ written at age ten, Tara used to amuse classmates with horror stories inspired by Stephen King novels. Apparently, her friends looked forward to reading of their own “grizzly demise”. “They would suggest things,” Moss fondly recalls: “‘Run me over with the demonic car…’” This “childhood morbidity” still informs Moss’s writing; both Fetish and its soon-to-be-published sequel Split are serial killer whodunits that, as it happens, revolve around a supermodel psycho magnet. “It’s in our nature to want to get freaked out, to want to get scared by something,” Tara reasons. “I like to provide that through a novel.”

Moss did a staggering amount of research for Fetish: visiting the FBI Academy, reading case studies, interviewing police officers, and even befriending the world’s foremost forensic psychologist. “There are endless stories about what goes on,” she says. “Some of it is very disturbing, but some of it makes for compelling stories. I try to filter that into what I’m doing, both as a cautionary tale, and as an entertaining read.”

Moss also writes articles, having earned a Diploma in Journalism and joined various Writers’ Associations. “I find life fascinating,” she says, “and as a journalist you can go out and research life and write about it.” Tara’s other great love is public speaking, the “direct opposite” to writing. Working to a live audience, she says, is much more exhilarating than working to a moving camera. That she initially found the audience terrifying is precisely the reason why Tara pursued that vocation. “I wanted to conquer the fear,” she says.

Conquering fear is a constant theme in Moss’s work and she traces it back to her childhood. One of the books Tara loved as a child is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. “The important part about that book,” she explains, “is that the child befriended the monsters and then it was okay. First they were growling and scary, and the next thing you know he’s riding them around and having a great time.” Tara’s books are about “befriending darkness” and controlling it. “By putting it in my book, I control the ending. I give it a logic and I bring resolution.” For Tara it is important to “embrace the fear: Embrace it and learn to love it because then you become truly free.”

It is an interesting paradox that a person who has spent much of her life under bright lights and intense scrutiny should seek out darkness and fear in order to conquer it and hence be free. That she does so by writing stories and novels that, thus far, have featured main characters sharing her physical attributes and interests is an observation over which some other armchair (forensic) psychologist may ruminate. More important now is Moss’s involvement with Theatresports, for which she has undergone training both here and in Canada (place of origin of both Tara Moss and Theatresports). Thus far Tara has only performed in front of fellow students. However, her love of live audiences and her need to conquer fear has her primed for stage debut.

Having spent ten years being perceived “one-dimensionally on a page,” always having to be perfect to the point where any perceived blemish must be airbrushed out, Theatresports offers Tara the perfect antidote. “You’re out there, you’re naked, you’ve got nothing to go on,” she explains. “You’re just going ‘mold me, shape me, let’s have fun, tell me what we’re doing and I’ll get going.’ It’s fun and it’s freeing.” Although she takes life seriously, Tara’s approaches herself with a different attitude. “You’re just one little person on this planet for some brief little time, so just go out and enjoy it and have some fun.”

Postscript: The answer to ‘What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it (release CDs, become authors, etc)?’ is irrelevant. A better question is ‘What makes you think you can’t?’ It’s easy. If you don’t believe me see for yourself when the likes of Tara Moss, Rove McManus, Peter Berner, Steve Bastoni, Adam Spencer, Wil Anderson and Julia Zemiro, to name but several, partake in Celebrity Theatresports at the Enmore Theatre, Saturday 12th May.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Next Year


British music mag Mojo has started re-issuing classic books about rock, and I picked up their edition of The Longest Cocktail Party by Richard di Lello. Before going on to be a screenwriter of such shows as Midnight Caller and the film Colours, Richard di Lello was the assistant to Derek Taylor, the Press Officer of Apple Records. When Apple went bust, di Lello decided to write The Longest Cocktail Party as the first ‘insider’s story’ of the end of the Beatles.

I’d actually read the book before, having picked up a cheap paperback copy for a buck in Woolies when I was a kid. I was in Year 8 when I read it. Reading it again, I realised that so many of the shorthand clichés and descriptions in rock journalese that I have been using throughout my life are things I’d pilfered from this book, in particular the off-the-cuff glib witticisms of Derek Taylor. When John Lennon started turning weird, for example, the press was utterly mystified by the behaviour of the formerly loveable moptop. Now he was gallivanting around with an eccentric Asian artist and appearing naked on album covers. Taylor staved off initial press enquiries into Lennon’s behaviour thus: “He was what he was then, he is what he is now, and he will be what he will be when the time comes for him to be whatever it is he’s going to be.”

I remember this quote in particular because I pinched it for an Year 8 English assignment in 1985. We had to devise and market a band, and in this instance, the phrase was uttered by Ricky Clothesmaker ('Ricky' being a diminutive of 'Derek' while a 'clothesmaker' was also known as a 'tailor', of course), who served as publicist to the band Psychedelic Spew.

Created in collaboration with classmates Nick O'Sullivan and Ben Reynolds, Psychedelic Spew were significant for riding the crest of that wave of late 60s ‘Summer of Love’ nostalgia from way out into the ocean. If you recall, that wave didn’t really hit until 1987 (when the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was re-released with the ‘It was twenty years ago today’ campaign, and when the Good Weekend, then an A4 glossy, was adorned with a proofsheet of Sgt Pepper cover photo outtakes.) In 1985 the Doors were starting to get big again; the previous year, they’d sold more records than they had during the entire time they were together. And remember, the Doors were the dags of psychedelia, getting into it when, even for West Coast bands in America, the Summer of Love had well and truly turned, thanks to Charlie Manson and his Family, into an horrific winter of discontent. Indeed, even Oliver Stone’s Platoon’, the first of the big ’80s ’Nam cash-ins featuring ‘music from the period’ soundtracks by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix, was still a couple of years away. So without even trying, Nick, Ben and I tapped into a major marketing bonanza before it had really hit.




Further details of Psychedelic Spew are sketchy, but I remember bandmembers included Fenderbaker Vox and Sapidus Brown. Fenderbaker Vox seemed to derive his moniker from two sources: his first name is a corrupted amalgamation of Fender and Rickenbacker, two popular makes of electric guitar (probably a mistaken attempt to name Fender's ‘stratocaster’), while his surname was inspired by Bono Vox of U2 (a stage name that roughly translates from the Latin as ‘Good Voice’). That ‘Vox’ was also a popular brand of guitar amplifier favoured by the Beatles (the Marshall stacks, that would have made the band audible above the din of screaming fans, must not have been perfected prior to the end of the Beatles’ live tours in 1966) was probably why his first name was an attempt to name a guitar. As for Sapidus Brown, he was the band’s mysterious fourth member. A shady character, his features were always occluded in band photos and performances, thanks to wide-brim hats and judicious use of lighting. The only other factoid I remember about Psychedelic Spew is that their song ‘Living in Scandinavia with David’ was wrongfully banned for the apparent ‘LSD’ reference in its title; it was clearly just a song about life on the road, having toured Scandinavia with David Bowie in the mid-'70s.

Apart from these memories, sparked by a couple of clever turns of phrase in the book, was the sudden recollection that I still had a copy of one of Psychedelic Spew’s singles, in a picture cover: ‘Across the Spewniverse’, with ‘Spewberry Fields Forever’ on the flip side. It was initially issued with a brown paper bag since, as the story goes, the quality of the music tended to lead to regurgitation. I can’t find the original paper bag. But here are some scans of the artwork.