‘Stranded’, Clinton Walker’s overview of the early days of Australian independent music , gets a reboot.
An updated version of the classic 1996 text that tells the story from the early stirrings of punk through to triple j, the big day out and beyond, Stranded: Australian Independent Music 1976-1992, Revised & Expanded Edition by Clinton Walker is published by The Visible Spectrum, February 26, 2021.
Featuring the Saints, Radio Birdman, Boys Next Door/Birthday Party, Leftovers, Go-Betweens, Whirlywirld, X, Victims, Spk, Lipstick Killers, Scientists, Laughing Clowns, Severed Heads, Moodists, Triffids, Celibate Rifles, Hard-Ons, Died Pretty, Beasts Of Bourbon, New Christs, God, Ratcat, Spiderbait, You Am I, Magic Dirt, The Dirty 3 and many more!
On February 26, music writer Clinton Walker, acclaimed as “our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture” by the Sun-Herald and the author of such classics as Inner City Sound, Highway to Hell and Buried Country, publishes the first of two books planned for 2021 – a new, expanded edition of Stranded, his definitive account of Australia’s 1980s’ post-punk/independent rock scene.
Stranded ruffled a few feathers on its initial publication in 1996 by Pan Macmillan but was nevertheless widely praised; in the intervening quarter century its boldness and prescience – not to mention its unavailability! – have garnered it an international cult following, comparable with books like England’s Dreaming and Please Kill Me. Now it is finally available again via The Visible Spectrum, a new, internationally distributed imprint of Verse Chorus Press, publisher of several major works of Australian music history, including reissues of Walker’s earlier classics.
This new edition, available in both print and e-book versions, is significantly expanded – the author calls it Stranded (Expanded)! – with a lengthy new foreword and afterword, many additional illustrations, and extensive footnotes that, the author laughs, “now actually tell the whole truth!”
Walker’s eleventh book, Deadly Woman Blues, was the subject of considerable controversy in 2018. A graphic history written and drawn by Walker (inspired by Robert Crumb’s famous Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country), it was conceived as a companion piece to his universally acclaimed Buried Country (2000), which brought national and international attention to under-recognized indigenous musicians but was withdrawn and pulped following allegations of factual error and cultural insensitivity. Walker apologised for the errors and the hurt the book had caused, and only after a long period of reflection has he returned to the publishing scene.
Stranded, as Pig City author Andrew Stafford notes on the back cover of this new edition, is “one part stoned memoir, nine parts hard-boiled history.” Walker was no mere passive observer of the scene Stranded portrays, but a full participant. He defied Lester Bangs’ advice and became a friend and confidante of all the dark stars. He was there in Brisbane hanging with Kid Galahad and the Eternals even before they became the Saints and recorded ‘Stranded’; he saw the Go-Betweens play their first-ever gig as an acoustic duo; he was there in Melbourne every Tuesday night at the Tiger Lounge in the winter of 1978 when the Boys Next Door served their apprenticeship; he put out the fanzine Pulp and presented the 3RRR radio show Know Your Product with Bruce Milne; he wasn’t there in early 1982 when the Birthday Party played at the launch Ken West organised for his first book Inner City Sound, because he was in London, where he saw the Party, the Go-Betweens and the Laughing Clowns make their first international inroads; he was back in Sydney for the halcyon days of the Trade Union Club and the Strawberry Hills Hotel, living those ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ with the Triffids, the Moodists, Beasts of Bourbon, X, the Craven Fops and Died Pretty; he failed an audition to play bass with the Pretties, but did form his own bands the Killer Sheep and (with Primitive Calculator Stuart Grant) the Wild Oats; he was part of the team that launched the Big Day Out in 1991. Along the way he churned out what felt like millions of words on all this for RAM, Roadrunner, Rolling Stone, the Age, Stiletto, the Bulletin, Juice and other media.
Stranded plots this musical course over nearly two decades from punk through to grunge, with the author sharing digs, secrets and needles with his quarry, a generation of post-punk musicians who were so far ahead of the curve for the conservative Australian music mainstream that most of them had to go into exile in the UK before they could return home to (eventually) a hero’s welcome.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted – it remains as provocative and compulsive as it was a quarter-century ago. Fast-paced, plain-speaking, incisive, evocative, sometimes even poignant, it tells the story of an important, almost shamefully neglected chapter in Australian music history that has tended to be forgotten as its most successful protagonists have gradually, finally, been integrated into the larger official history.
It was a time before the term ‘alternative’ entered the lexicon, let alone became meaningless; before the music industry could see ‘niche markets’, so that if you weren’t on Countdown or going down the (middle of the) pub rock road, you were actively resisted; when if you were a female musician, the boys’ club laughed at you or worse, pulled the plug; when there were gigs on every corner in the inner city, and record shops were like salons around which the scenes revolved and out of which grew seminal indy labels like Missing Link, Phantom, Au-Go-Go, Waterfront, Hot, Red Eye and Half-a-Cow, which are as much a part of the story as the bands themselves; it was before grunge ‘legitimized’ fifteen years of obscurity in the wake of the punk/DIY revolution, when the risk-taking went way beyond just musical risks, and drugs, AIDS and the road claimed many; when a generation of Australian bands spurned in their homeland first got taken seriously overseas, and then played prominent roles in laying the foundations for the global grunge/alt-rock revolution to follow…
Many years later, these artists are belatedly getting the Hall of Fame-style accolades they always warranted, and it seems quite natural that their spiritual heirs – from Courtney Barnett and her Milk Records label to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and their Flightless empire – find ready acceptance. Clinton Walker was there at the beginning forty years ago, and Stranded gathers his dispatches from the trenches that lay it all bare. It’s a book about culture wars becoming history wars, a glimpse into a lost world that remains a cautionary tale for the present day. It’s about music, people and place, and the talent and commitment it takes to reinvent an art form and to keep butting up against resistance until it’s finally overcome – and it’s also about the price, sadly, that process so often exacts.
Walker’s twelfth book, the all-new Suburban Songbook, is due out later in 2021, but meanwhile Stranded serves as a reminder of Clinton Walker’s pre-eminent status.
Stranded: Australian Independent Music 1976-1992, Revised & Expanded Edition’, by Clinton Walker, is published by The Visible Spectrum, February 26 2021.