Sydney: Hachette Australia, 2014. 324 pages
ISBN 978 0 7336 3023 1 (pbk)
Reviewed by John Clare, November 1st, 2015
“Eclectic” is surely a key word in the story of Kate Ceberano. In case you are unaware, she has achieved success singing rock, pop, jazz, funk, dance, the role of Mary Magdalene in a highly successful production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and more. Success and even stardom. In pop and rock she has sung with bands, such as I’m Talking and The Models, that have had their time in the sun and retain a significant place in Australian popular music history. Of interest, to me anyway, is that popular ABC broadcaster James Valentine played tenor saxophone in The Models, while in the jazz area she has sung with the famous – Paul Grabowsky for instance – and the highly regarded within the idiom such as Jex Sarehlart. Her antecedents have included colourful, ordinary, brilliant and sometimes dubious characters from Hawaii, the Philippines, Sweden, Tasmania and rural Australia generally.
For all that it is hard not to identify her with Melbourne. Indeed, many would see her as part of hip inner city Melbourne – with both its pop culture and high art and intellectual side – but shehas lived in many places and her childhood memories are largely of North Balwyn about 15 kilometres out of Melbourne. Ceberano’s father was a world renowned karate teacher and player (whose private and domestic life was not always ruled by discipline and spritual balance, but had its dark side.) Her mother was her manager for some time. Her grandparents had cupboards full of books – mostly those recognised as essential within the great canon. At one point they became Scientologists – for life. Kate and her mother followed the creed. Having worked in my late teens and early twenties on an advertorially oriented architectural magazine owned by two Scientologists, I can tell you much more about Scientology than is disclosed here – but the term “power of positive thinking” is used and takes you more or less in the right direction. “Havingness levels high” is a catch cry. It’s stranger than that. No further comment from me.
Her grandfather was, incidentally a water diviner of some fame!
Phew! There’s quite a bit more. Including winning Dancing With The Stars!
Oh, and posing, busty, voluptuous and almost nude as I recall, for the annual Archibald Portrait Prize. This painting, unsurprisingly, was the choice of the gallery packers. Ceberano does not mention this, unless I went blank at that point. It was certainly in the Sydney papers, with a photo of the painting.
While on this touchy (no pun intended) subject, Ceberano writes that she never liked her curves. The imaginary woman she would like to have been sounds somewhat like Brigitte Bardot. In 1988 some idiot wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, “Ms Ceberano is now wrapping her sizeable assets around sultry jazz tunes.” No idea who that was. This is the first time I have seen it.As it happens Ceberano’s passion for jazz goes far back beyond this date.
Anyone who has seen Ceberano perform, in whatever idiom, will surely have felt that she was meant to be up there on stage looking pretty much like herself. She is of course very musical, ebullient and very confident it would appear. Not always so! Her book reveals a galaxy of doubt and self-recrimination (over ill-judged liaisons for a start). Many of the horrors lurking in the background of the music business are revealed.
This is all told in uncluttered prose, with maybe six irritating cliches, which is an impressive score. These, incidentally, are cliches that still hang around from the latter stages of hippiedom. I hate them I hate them, I….I, er,beg your pardon. Forgot myself completely there. “Cool” will of course never go away. I had begun to hate it too by the end of the 1950s, and it did briefly go away, only to return in triumphant profusion. This matters to no one probably but me.
Assisting Kate is talented author Tom Gilling, who for some time was one of my sub-editors on the Sydney Morning Herald. Pick this book up and read a few paragraphs and I am pretty confident you will buy it.