“Stranded (Expanded) is the story of a couple of generations of music and musicians who were ahead of their time but refused to be contained, and eventually, for their trouble … got their due.” Clinton Walker
[Cover design is Clinton Walker’s portrait of the young Nick Cave.]
Clinton Walker is the author of ten books and has worked as a journalist, writing for RAM, Rolling Stone, Roadrunner, the Age, Stiletto, the Bulletin, New Woman and Playboy. His books include Inner City Sound (1981), Highway to Hell (1994), Buried Country (2000), Golden Miles (2005) and History Is Made at Night (2012). He has worked in television, produced and/or annotated a score of CDs, and DJ’d in clubs and bars and now finds himself interested in food and publishing. He says he is especially interested in ‘underclass vernacular’.
Stranded was first published by Pan Macmillan in 1996; now, in 2021, it is republished by The Visible Spectrum (an imprint of Verse Chorus Press) with a new Preface and Afterword, many additional images and extensive footnotes. In 1995 Walker was well-qualified to write a book about independent music in Australia, from the struggles of early punk rock in the seventies and eighties through to the successes of ‘global grunge’, festivals and The Big Day Out in the nineties. He was friends with many of the musicians – the Saints, the Go-Betweens, the Birthday Party, Radio Birdman, the Scientists, the Triffids, Nick Cave and more. From the time he discovered the world of the Saints and inner-city garage bands in Brisbane he was with them for much of the time, so his personal narrative and viewpoint are valuable; obviously he wrote more about the bands he followed and this caused a lot of controversy when the book was first published. His choices and judgements were questioned and he was accused of ‘hijacking the narrative’ – for many readers, Stranded was a ‘personal’ history, a memoir.
Writing about his discovery of the Saints and garage bands he says:
I had effectively joined a club no-one else wanted to join, which, of course, was part of the appeal. As a way of asserting my individuality, I cut off all my hair when everyone else still wore it long.
The battle lines were by now clearly drawn. In possession of this secret knowledge, I felt an absolute certainty that eventually the hippy world would be overturned, that all the squares and naysayers would be shown up for what they were and real rock’n’roll would prevail.
Iggy’s words ‘I am the world’s forgotten boy/The one who’s searching to destroy’ were taken as a battle cry.
For Walker, Stranded was about ‘grass roots, independent initiatives’ that challenged the establishment with a ‘new sound or aesthtetic’. When he wrote the book in 1995 there was only a handful of books on Australian rock and a few press clippings; in 2021 there are scores of books and a number of documentary films, academic theses, journal articles and papers, ‘not to mention all the union tours and tribute shows, Hall of Fame admissions, museum exhibitions, public monuments, benefits and memorial wakes and dedicated websites and Facebook groups’.
Walker presents the story chronologically, beginning with the Saints’ debut single I’m Stranded, released on their own label in September 1976. He seems to have recognised then the significance of the Saints’s music and, sure enough, the following year they were in London where they gradually built up a following despite the difficulties they faced. Others such as the Go-Betweens, Radio Birdman, Birthday Party and the Moodists were to follow a similar pattern of going abroad to achieve recognition before being acknowledged in Australia.
The titles of the chapters give an idea of the trajectory of the story- PART I: PREHISTORIC SOUNDS (the ’70s): 1 Nights in Venice; 2 Radios Appear (1977-78); 3 Dogs in Space (1979; PART II: B-SIDE (the ’80s): 4 Release the Bats (1980-81, 5 Wide Open Road (1982); 6 Sedition (1983); 7 The Sound of Young Australia (1984): 8 White Train (1985-86): 9 Wild Down Home (1987): 10 The Mercy Seat (1988-89); PART III: PULP (the ’90s): 11 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1990-91); 12 Alternative Nation. These are followed by a new After word, Acknowledgements and Additional Sources.
The formatting of the 2021 edition of Stranded is explained in the new Preface, written by the author himself – to distinguish between his narrative and the oral history (updated by some of the leading musicians), different typefaces are used and long quotes are indented. To further distinguish between present-day quotes and quotes from ‘back in the day’, italics are used. Some of the original narrative is also italicised and there are, as mentioned above, extensive footnotes, used by the author in order to
address the ways in which I feel so differently now about so many things. It would have been wrong not to correct the factual errors in the original book, at least as far as I can identify them, but it would also have short-changed the reader if I had failed to offer an adjustment of the perspectives to the extent that I can now see them, or see different perspectives much more clearly.
Added to this mix are the images and the sub-headings-so there’s a lot going on, which is why some readers and reviewers have referred to Stranded as a kind of ‘scrapbook’. The reader may feel surprised or disappointed when the author rushes from one subject to another, particularly if he has just described something poignant or even, tragic, but the scrapbook effect does not detract from the value of what might be described as ‘cultural anthropology’. Stranded is a source of information not only about the groups and the musicians of the punk rock era, but it also gives a wealth of information (and gossip) about the venues, the record labels, the promoters, the community radio stations, the record stores, all of whom pulled together to create a place where these independent bands could be heard. They too are an integral part of the story.
Walker says the book ‘had to be written because there were great songs that didn’t make it at the time’. He wants people to know about them and to know that several generations of Australian musicians overcame ‘not only isolation but active hostility’. He goes on to write: ‘it is fitting that their struggles are acknowledged and understood, and their achievements celebrated, both here in Australia and all round the world’. Not all of them survived, but musicians like Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper, Robert Forster, Kim Salmon and Tex Perkins did and ‘have been absorbed into the larger flow of the history of Australian music’.
In the Preface to the new edition, and also in the Afterward, Walker talks openly about his prejudices, partly apologising for omitting some groups from the first edition but always justifying his approach: ‘I feel quite differently now about much of the music from that period’. He goes on to say that he now hears ‘a lot to like’ in Cold Chisel – but ‘the Oils or the Angels … still leave me cold’. He tells us that his book ‘has to be read with an awareness that it was written not in 2020 but in 1995, a quarter-century ago, its point of view that of a thirty-something recovering addict reflecting on what was then [his]very recent history’. In the Afterword he presents his friend Peter Milton-Walsh as emblematic of a number of musicians from the punk rock period who should be better known.
Don’t skip the new Preface and be sure to have the playlist ready as you read. Stranded playlists can be found on both YouTube and Spotify. Listening to the tracks on Spotify and watching the videos on YouTube as the various bands are mentioned will take you back and add to Walker’s lively observations. To set the atmosphere at the very beginning, go to Stranded, performed by the Saints in late 1976: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-GueNOKolo&list=RDQ-GueNOKolo&index=1 .There are also some more extra features on Walker’s website <clintonwalker.com.au>.
Maybe Stranded is not the definitive history of Australian rock, from punk to grunge, and maybe it is a personal reminiscence, but Walker happened to be in Brisbane when the Saints began their career and he ‘followed the music’, thus giving himself a unique opportunity to record, and to bring back to life, the alternative rock music scene in Australia from the late seventies to the early nineties. Stranded is an important contribution to Australia’s musical and cultural history. Walker’s twelfth book, Suburban Songbook, is due out later in 2021.