Long Live It

Recently, to escape the digital vulgarity of the '90's, my head has fallen deep into the '30's. I've got the suits and the hats and a deco office 'downtown' and cornball big band oldies on the radio-gram. There's a bakelite phone and no TV (the sudden appearance of a 'gobbledock' commercial could blow the mood completely). Some nights the war just hasn't happened yet.

My dame won't tolerate this nonsense. I'm playing dress ups, she says. Being a pretender, she says. Exposing myself as an immature, stupid wanker, she says. Well. Perhaps we can still be friends!

Tim Rogers, guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter from You Am I, reckons I should tell her to scram.

"That's so unfair!" he fumes, genuinely concerned.
"Life is all about dress-ups. What is this obsession that modern dickheads have where we all have to stop playing dress-ups? Fucken why? It's just a real fantasy, child-like, kid thing and long live it. If you're not into that and you want to be just very contemporary, well that's fin. But I refuse! The fact that feeling comfortable about the style of a certain time is fucken great. Y'know, life's not easy - it's fucken bad som times, man - and if there's somthing, ANYTHING, that can get you through it, congratulations, you've found it! That's better than being a sad bastard."

"It's a great mindset to be in," adds drummer Rusty Hopkinson. "A lot of people lose it when they realise they've got to grow up and get serious about their lives, and some people might feel they have to but y'know, you should never be pressured into that. Also, when you're in a band, it's incredibly easy to be young and stay like that. Slightly retarded. If we had to work in 9 to 5 jobs and be normal we'd be very dull."

"Y'know, long live the genuine eccentrics of rock and roll," Rogers declares. "I don't know if they even exist in this era... everything's so blanded out - all this indie stuff in the States.
"But I wouldn't know that it's Foveaux Street out there," he says, pointing out of the window at one of Sydney's more heartbreakingly no-nonsense streets. "I prefer to believe it's Carnaby Street in 1966. That's what gets me through the day."

Getting to pop musicians is never an easy business. The way is an unhappy gaunlet of music industry personnel, who seem to want to keep the artist in some Hauseresque dungeon, far from the touch of the plain people of Earth.

It took me weeks to get to You Am I but, when I finally did - on the very eve of a tour of America which will include a stint with the notorious Lollapalooza tour - the industry buffer zone began to make sense for once.
Tim Rogers, Rusty Hopkinson and Andy Kent are so spiritually bonded that it seems a shame to expose them to another human influence at all. Listening to their 'private' conversations, one feels they have managed to create their own world of which they are the only inhabitants. You Am I might not be too fond of the comparison, but the intensity of their bond reminds me of the ironclad unity that belonged to The Sharp. It's an Alice In Wonderland ambivalence to cultural progress and it's honest form is rare in pop music.

"I think when you get a group of people and they're doing something as a whole, it's much greater than any individual thing," says bassplayer Andy Kent. "That's what people want ot look at, I think: a group of people creating something greater than their individual parts."

Tragically for lovers of art, record companies believe that the only way to repeat a certain success is to duplicate every detail of that success, right down to the clothes and the haircuts.
You Am I could've been the unhappy heirs to the throne vacated by Kurt Cobain's shotgun. They were being groomed for it - Australian ambassadors to the Seattle movement. Happily, the industry found a more workable representative in a premature '90s revival band called Silverchair.
The heat removed, You Am I have been free to explore and far from conforming to any contemporary expectation, have descended into the vaults of rock and roll, emerging not as mere educated revivalists, but unmistakably touched by the spirit of the artform.

"This band is all about us living out our fantasies in a lot of ways," says drummer Rusty Hopkinson. "I mean, we are a very generic, classic rock group really, but that's because we grew up on it and we love it and we want to emulate all of our heros, y'know? Hopefully we'll never be found lying face-down in a pool. We do it with a nod and a wink. We know the inherent ludicrousness of rock and roll, but that's also the best thing about it. The '80s chilled that off, tried to make it sensible music for sensible people. Thank God we've got bands like Oasis coming back, who are just a bunch of pillock who play half decent music and like a laugh."

Hourly, Daily, You Am I's third long-player, is not a retro album, but it glows with the romanticism of a time when rock and roll seemede propelled by something other than good business. Leaving the lazy trappings of '90s grunge far behind, You Am I sonically align themselves with '60s groups like The Creation, The Move, MC5, The Remains... bands who were almost too reckless to be heard in their own time.
But the references to such groups on Hourly, Daily is mostly vague and never direct. Most of the time, Hourly, Daily is more reminiscent of XTC, who, by singer/songwriter Andy Partridge's own admission, were a monument to "the history of rock and roll... all its wonderfullness and terribleness" and built from "...all the little pieces of other people's stuff that has entered my ears..."

It's the perfect record for one who's empathy with rock and roll is in its twilight.
"I think when you try to keep up with everything that's current," says Tim, "it all becomes too intellectual or something. Like, all these indie-rock Nazis saying that you've got to know what's happening everywhere at once. I think it's good to just obsess on something if it really moves you."

"Go and buy some Mummies records," Rusty insists, like a coach revving me up for the game. "Go backwards. There's this great band called Jackie and the Cedrics, and they do old covers and they write Apaches-style surf songs. Y'know, just listen to them do Scalping Party once and you'll believe there is a reason for all of this.

"The bands that didn't make it are always infinitely more interesting than the bands that did. Everybody knows what The Beatles sound like, but nobody knows what Fleur-de-Lyse sound like, or Fire, I think everybody should be forced to listen to those things if they don't like rock and roll. It's awesome."

To see You Am I live is like witnessing The Who in their heyday. Loud and theatrical, it's stadium stuff and it makes one wonder what the whole anti-performance cool of the '80s was about. Naturally, Tim Rogers finds himself being called a tosser for daring to put on a performance.

"Anyone who criticises anyone for bashing up drumkits or swinging their arms around when they play the guitar obviously doesn't know how much fun it is to do that stuff," he laughs."It's more for the person that's playing the instrument. I couldn't give a bollocks about the people at the back row. It's too much fun on stage to worry about the people at the back.

"We've never been in this position before, with people saying 'Oh, it used to so much fun seeing you guys play in little pubs, and now you're really arrogant and everything.' Well we're still get used to it ourselves, and as soon as we do, we'll be back playing in tiny places in front of two people 'cause our whole thing will have taken a tremendous nose-dive. And I guess that's something to look forward to."

Anybody who's seen the original 1956 version of The Fly will understand how thin the line is between pathos and bathos. The subject of the film is ludicross and thuss makes for some unintentionally comical moments but, at the same time, who hasn't felt sympathy for the man, sympathy for his desparate, suffering wife - and hell, I even manage a tear for the fly.

On Hourly, Daily, Rogers deals with some laughable mundane and sometimes ridiculous issues but in ruthlessly scrutinising the absurdities of unremarkable life, hauls the listener into his own web of concern.
The title track is told from the eyes of a skinhead's mother. Tempted to burst out laughing at the thought of a suburban mum polishing the boots of a racist goon, I am abruptly moved to ponder her plight with Rogers as he sings: "Bring me one good face into this house today..."

"I honestly feel I've got nothing at all to say to anybody," he says, "apart from... y'know, 'Do you want a drink?' I don't have an agenda. But I've become sick of writing songs about nothing, I wanted to write about. Sometimes just sitting around doing nothing made me think of the smaller things. Like, one thing I hate is people who make grandiose statements about world events or certain issues, and yet reat their sister like shit. I'm really concious of the fact that the only way anyone is going to make things better is by concentrating on the small situation, like treating people around you OK. You've got to put a lot of time into your own personal relationships."

It was early in 1993 when I last interviewed Tim Rogers. He was talking to me from a public phone at a shopping mall about his quest for the true spirit of rock and roll.
"I feel like there's some spirit or substance in music that's not obvious at first," he said. "Like, there's a message in rock and roll about a really good way to live, or a good way to be. I'm looking forward to finding it. Or just searching for it..."

Today, as I stand to leave, Tim Rogers shakes my hand.
"Oh, and Jack," he adds, as though the coming words are of critical importance. "I like your hat."


Jack Marx