Saturday, September 19, 2015

Graham Brazier: an alternative assessment

(First published in The Dominion Post and The Press, September 18.)
They farewelled Graham Brazier at St Matthew’s Church in Auckland last week.
Affectionate tributes were paid. Clearly, the former singer from the Auckland band Hello Sailor was loved and admired.

Karyn Hay of Radio with Pictures fame led the proceedings. Journalists noted the presence of Dave Dobbyn, Jordan Luck, Hammond Gamble, Susan Wood and former Auckland mayor Les Mills, who used to be Brazier’s father-in-law.
The full church was evidence that Brazier was important to a lot of people. Not all of us will be similarly honoured when we die.

But I do wonder about the media attention devoted to his death. 3 News devoted one and a half minutes to the funeral service, an honour not granted to many.
Effusive obituaries and newspaper columns were written. Some of those who paid tribute to Brazier seemed eager to show they had a personal connection with him, as if hoping that some of the glory attached to being an Auckland rock hero of the 1970s might rub off on them.

The fact that Brazier had convictions for assaulting two of his partners was barely mentioned. It was inconveniently at odds with the eulogies that described him as a gentle, polite and literate man.
This is not meant as an attack on Brazier, whom I never met. We are all imperfect human beings. Rather, I’m curious about who the media choose to honour, and why.

The established view among the New Zealand rock music priesthood is that Hello Sailor occupy a uniquely hallowed place in Kiwi pop culture. But do they?
They were world-famous in Auckland – or to be more specific, Ponsonby. They captured the spirit of a particular Auckland scene at a particular time.

I believe both their popularity and significance have been overstated. Gutter Black, their signature song, went no higher than 15 on the New Zealand pop chart – not bad, but it hardly qualifies for the anthem status bestowed on it. Blue Lady did only marginally better.
Admittedly, chart success isn’t the only determinant of a song’s greatness, but popular taste surely must count for something.

I suspect Hello Sailor were liked for a lot of reasons that didn’t necessarily have much to do with music. They personified a new urban cool that was fashionable in Auckland at the time. They had a raffish, subversive quality that made them attractive to a particular demographic.
They struck a pose that was particularly appealing because it was so markedly at variance with the politics of the conservative and autocratic Robert Muldoon, who was then at the height of his power.

But how good were they? They went to America and failed. I’ve heard it suggested that the reason they never cracked the LA scene was that they were too busy partying and doing drugs.
I don’t buy that. Plenty of rock bands have led notoriously debauched and drug-saturated lives while continuing to record hit songs. I think the truth is that Hello Sailor weren’t as good as their fans thought they were.

The members of another New Zealand band of that time, Dragon, led even wilder lives than Hello Sailor, but still managed to have a string of hits in Australia, including a No 1, and once cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
But Hello Sailor were lionised by writers, journalists, DJs and the culture commissars in a way that Dragon never were. It was a very cliquey Auckland phenomenon, and remains so.

One factor that enhanced the Hello Sailor legend was that drug use was big among New Zealand musicians at that time and the band was at the heart of that culture. Blue Lady was a drug song.
Some music journalists are strangely enthralled by dissolute rock singers and write about their flawed lives as if they are worthy of emulation. But what’s admirable about alcohol or drug addiction that wrecks people’s lives?

Only two weeks ago I saw a documentary about Amy Winehouse, in which a uniquely talented woman disintegrated in front of our eyes. Not an edifying spectacle.
Now Brazier is dead at 63. His close friend and bandmate Dave McArtney died two years ago at 62.

Both had been heroin users. In the eyes of some of their admirers, this enhanced their mystique. But you can’t help wondering whether both might still be alive if they hadn’t conformed to the archetype of the hard-living, junkie rock star that some journalists seem so keen to glamorise.


Unknown said...

This should refute everything you've just said, very it and maybe you might learn a thing or two..

Karl du Fresne said...

You seem to think the only possible explanation for my not being a member of the Hello Sailor fan club is that I don’t know about the band or haven’t heard enough of their music. But I persevered with this clip for 13 minutes and didn’t see or hear anything that I haven’t seen or heard before.
Repeating and expanding on the same familiar mythology doesn’t make it any more convincing. I guess the world just looks different away from Ponsonby Road.

Barry said...

I agree with Karl in his post and his comment.

Unknown said...

I think you are aware of them and some of their ‘hit’s' but i don’t think you really grasp or ‘get’ how groundbreaking and important they were/are..

I don't know why you equate them as 'only being big on Ponsonby Rd'..They sold out venues up and down the length of NZ, played to full houses in Australia and The States, even impressing Ray Manzarek and the surviving Door's(just Youtube Hello Sailor/Ray Manzarek to see Ray onstage with them. There were headlining slots at Sweetwaters. Playing before crowds of 60,000+ opening for Fleetwood Mac, Eurythmics, Dire Straits, The Who - the biggest bands in the world. What part of Dobbyn saying "they held up a sign to me saying this is the way" and "They changed the face of NZ Rock and Roll forever" do you not understand? They went a little further than Ponsonby Rd...

Unknown said...

That's great Barry, care to elaborate? Do you actually have thoughts on the matter?

Unknown said...

And no, I don't think you need to be a paid up member of the Hello Sailor fanclub. I realise they are not to everyone's taste(s) or liking. I'm not trying to convert you. if you don't like them, don't listen to them. That said, to deny or try and undermine a legacy that is firmly established and has lasted 40 years and counting, ESPECIALLY at a time like this is questionable and insensitive at best.

Karl du Fresne said...

Of course I understand what Dave Dobbyn was saying. I just happen to disagree.
You also mention Ray Manzarek and the Doors. It doesn't surprise me in the least that Manzarek was (reportedly) "impressed' by Hello Sailor. The two bands had quite a lot in common, not the least being that they each had a charismatic front man and a reputation that was based on a lot of stuff that didn't have much to do with music.
You might gather from this that I'm not a fan of the Doors either. But these are largely subjective arguments that go around and around in circles. All my blog/column did was present, as the headline said, an alternative assessment - a counterpoint to the mostly sycophantic stuff written in the days following Graham Brazier's death.

JC said...

When we saw the palaver on the TV my wife and I looked at each other said "who?"

After reading here I'm afraid I am still none the wiser as to the man, his group or their music and we were in our twenties and thirties back then.. perhaps we in the Wairarapa were in some sort of time warp.

My recollection of the 60s and 70s music was we enjoyed plenty of what was produced by New Zealanders, were proud of them, lionized them and I'm damn sure Hello Sailor and Brazier weren't in that group.

The thing is, to get our attention they would have had to be regulars on TV and commercial radio because otherwise they would have been world famous in Masterton like Project 7.


Unknown said...

JC - it's never too late, do some reading and listening..Unfortunatley commercial radio and TV didn't really have its finger on the pulse then, not much has changed since I'm afraid..

Karl du Fresne said...

The reason I've deleted your latest comment is that some of the points you make require a response, but I'm not prepared to continue debating with someone who doesn't identify himself. You have the nerve to call me out on my manners but don't have the fundamental courtesy to reveal who you are.
I'm happy to publish your comment in full - and to correct your errors - when and if you identify yourself. You know who I am; don't hide behind a pseudonym.
I will however respond to your comment above in reply to JC. I've seen this argument before - that the only reason songs by bands like Hello Sailor didn't do well on the charts was that New Zealand radio suffered from a cultural cringe. It may be true up to a point, but it doesn't explain No 1 hits in 1975 and 1977 by Mark Williams, two more by Jon Stevens in 1979 and 1980, two Top 10 hits by Dragon in 1978 and a string of Top 10 songs by Split Enz, including a No 1 in 1980.

Unknown said...

I didn’t realise what name i was using made any difference to my argument, my courtesy (or lack thereof), or the points i made. For what it is worth My name is Daniel, i am not a blogger and “Maharishi MY” is the only name i have linked to a gmail account which seems to be required to post comments here...Feel free to address me by Daniel if you wish. I have not brought up the issue of NZ chart positions, and feel that is irrelevant to the issues i have raised, as is my name. Bit alarmed that you would choose to censor my comments because i have the name ‘Maharishi’ attached to them (when that was not a problem before) – which is a nickname and what people call me anyway, when you can post whatever you wish and can seemingly pick and choose what people can (publically) say in response back.

Karl du Fresne said...

Sorry Daniel, but giving me your christian name doesn't cut it. Don't be gutless.
In one sense your name doesn't make any difference to your argument, but I believe that if an opinion is worth expressing, it's worth putting your name to.
More important than that, I'm entitled to know who I'm engaging with. It's no different from the principle in law that someone accused of a crime is entitled to know the identity of the accuser.
Besides, I now see that you've posted the same comment - the one I deleted - on the Dom Post website, under a different pseudonym. You're obviously completely dishonest, so bugger off.

Unknown said...

I am pleased to see The Dominion doesnt have the same level of Censorship that one of their writers employs. If you are not willing to post responses to your writing on your blog, i will post them where they are able to be publically seen (ie the same story in The Dominion). It seems like i have got under your skin for merely raising very important and relevant points . It doesn’t seem very fair or balanced having a one way conversation. If you are willing to write something you should be at least prepared to publically answer for it and reply to very valid points raised by readers. A one way conversation is not vey balanced at all. I will be rasing my concerns over this with the Dominion/Stuff. My Name is Daniel Phillips if you want to know – i have nothing to hide. I and others also call me “Dan” and as explained my Gmail account is ‘Maharishi MY’. I thought ‘Stuff’ was posted Under the name “Dan” but i’ve just looked and it is actually posted under “Pisces Fish” which is linked to my Main email, my Yahoo account. As far as im aware (correct me if im wrong) i cant post to your blog with my Yahoo account. Looking around blog sites and even your own, a vast minority of people actually use their full first and last names. Anyway. I am not gutless or cowardly. Your refusal to publish the full conversation and my comments – while instead posting your own comments in reply instead – ie having a one way conversation with your readers, i believe is. In the interests of fairness and balance please post all correspondance in full.

Daniel Phillips

Unknown said...

Karl, It is obviously not I who is the Gutless or Dishonest one here...

Karl du Fresne said...

1. No, you don't get under my skin for raising what you imagine are "valid and important points". You get under my skin because you're one of those people who expect to be able to say what they think without taking personal responsibility for their comments by identifying themselves.
2. You say you have nothing to hide, but if that were true you would have identified yourself in the first place. And I simply don't believe that you thought your comments were being published under your real name. Bullshit.
3. I have no problem publishing our "conversation", as I'm demonstrating right now. However I'm rapidly losing interest in it and may pull the plug because it's not going anywhere and I have better things to do.
4. Complain all you like to whomever you wish; you obviously have a lot of time on your hands. My own view, for what it's worth, is that the Dominion Post website should use the same rule the paper applies to correspondents who are published in print, which is that they must identify themselves. However I accept that that may be impracticable. The inevitable result, unfortunately, is that the quality of the comment posted is often dire. That's what happens when people are allowed to mouth off anonymously.
5. You're obviously not bothered about the facts, either. You're fantasising when you say in your comment on the Dom Post site that I deleted my original post about Graham Brazier's death because of the "flack" (I think you mean flak) that I copped. For the record, there was no flak. I deleted the post for my own reasons, as I explained in a post on September 6. Which part of this didn't you understand?
6. You're wasting my time. Goodbye.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting the most recent comments Karl. Are you going to post my original comment that you ‘deleted’ or refused to post however? Dominion Post have posted it and I don’t think there would be any real reason to ‘ban’ it from your site except for the fact that You obviously don’t like it...

I Identified myself as soon as you asked – first by my first name and then by my surname when that was not ‘good enough’. I honestly did not think that was a problem or would be required, afterall you were addressing me by Maharishi and never said anything prior to that to indicate it was a problem..

In all honesty, i do not post on blogs or even on very regularly at all. It is quite rigorous having to register for so many different sites, different user names/passwords etc..I think arguing about how i didn’t use my real name etc is really just ‘clouding’ or fudging the issue. Fair enough you want to know who you are talking too – I haven’t tried to hide anything and i let you know when asked. I am actually very busy, far too busy for all this but i believe it is important enough to speak out about it. Deleting Comments, telling me to “Buggar Off” or “Calling Bullshit” though is completly uncalled for. I have tried to keep a reasonably respectful tone and avoided name calling/buggar off/go to hell type comments (that you might find on etc) despite the fact we obviously disagree and have very different opinions here....

Karl du Fresne said...

I can't recover the deleted comment but if you re-send it, I'm happy to publish it.

Unknown said...

Have removed the "Flak" Part as I accept your word that it was for personal reasons,

I get that Karl, but it seems like a very clear pattern is emerging here. You wrote another article the day after Brazier's death on this blog which You have since deleted. So this one was your 2nd take on Brazier, and a similar one after Dave McArtney's death:

If these were written by different writers You could sue them for Plagiarism! One thing is very obvious, you certainly don't care much for Hello Sailor or their music. Both articles parrot the same old familiar lines: "The band was world-famous in Ponsonby but was hardly noticed outside New Zealand", "I guess the world just looks different away from Ponsonby Road", "They were world-famous in Auckland – or to be more specific, Ponsonby" and a sort of moralistic lecturing about their drug use and lifestyle choices: "Both had been heroin users. In the eyes of some of their admirers, this enhanced their mystique. But you can't help wondering whether both might still be alive if they hadn't conformed to the archetype of the hard-living, junkie rock star that some journalists seem so keen to glamorise. You almost get the impression this is something Matthews thinks we should all aspire to. Of course the fact that McArtney died as a result of his drug habit only serves to enhance his mystique in the eyes of people like Matthews"

Hello Sailor are not rammed down our throats like Justin Bieber or Gaga, or many others I can think of. The few times they make 'National News' these days is sadly when a member dies - and You seem to relish in the opportunity to question the bands legacy, lecture us all on lifestyle choices, criticising deceased people for drug habits 4 decades ago when they were in their 20's. Why? You also equate any journalist who honours or pays tribute to them as a 'giggling schoolgirl' or 'starstruck fanboy', or worse someone glamourising depravity. I don't know if all of this is musical or journalistic jealousy, but to rag on people (***cough I mean provide an alternative perspective *** Cough, cough) when they've just died, regardless of who they are or what they've done is generally considered to be in very bad taste and highly disrespectful. Didn't your mother teach you any manners?! It smacks of a sort of morbid, attention seeking, tall poppy syndrome. They were
very human and sure had flaws, but on the whole were good and giving creative people, who for the most part made a lot of people happy over a considerable amount of time...You could find a hell of a lot of worse people to rag on that genuinely deserve it is what I'm getting at.

'Thou doth protest too much'. Writing articles (essentially the same one) every time a member of Hello Sailor carks it, trying to minimise their musical legacy or importance "Outside of Ponsonby Rd" funnily enough, only validates their impact. And Whaddya know - it stretches way down, way out of the drug addled confines of Ponsonby Rd! Right to You Karl. Sometimes we don't have to "Like" things for them to affect, or even influence us...

Karl du Fresne said...

This exchange has become pointless as well as tedious. Yes, there is a clear pattern: I don't share the general adulation for Hello Sailor and I see nothing to admire in drug addiction. I'm glad you've got that. But I suggest you need to get things in perspective. Thousands of reverent words have been published or broadcast over the past few weeks in tribute to Graham Brazier and Hello Sailor. I wrote a 750-word column, the tone of which was quite restrained, presenting a different perspective. You need to ask yourself why you're so affronted by one person's mildly dissenting opinion.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do. You can carry on, but you'll be talking to yourself.

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Michael Wynd said...

Thank you for a well thought out post. I was also too wondering why he got such devoted coverage in the media.