Hunters Say Goodbye (The Age)
Mark Seymour writing a farewell in The Age.
Author: Mark Seymour, The Age.
Date: Friday 20th March 1998.
Original URL: N/A
Australia’s pub-rock masters took their beat to the ‘burbs. They have no regrets.
Soundcheck at Hallams Road Hotel, established 1872, “the gateway to the Gippsland”. 17th March 1998. There are five shows to go for Hunters & Collectors. We will retire this Sunday night at the Hi-Fi Bar, Melbourne.
Guitars, brass and drums are making a cacophony on stage. Then it mysteriously evolves into something musical and, without looking up from this page, I start hearing possibilities. On the brink of retirement, the boys are having fun. Ironic, yes? Old habits die hard. Several times on this “mother of all tours” we’ve started jamming again. Nobody says anything, but it’s pretty obvious we’re all going around with our personal versions of the truth, that only consensus can reconcile. Beautiful, ancient democracy; how delicate it is! The other day, in the midst of this energy, I said “oh but we can’t do this anymore, can we?” and chuckled; as John Ralston Saul says: “The conscious human holds happily on to a sure sense of his own ridiculousness!”
…but now I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. It will be a long time before I forget the look of bewilderment that passed across the face of someone I’m painfully close to.
So why are we retiring? Well there are a litany of clichÃ©d answers and I’ve used them all, usually in response to questions from hack journalists who are paid to ask the obvious. In the music business, there is an appalling lack of accurate critical discourse, especially in the print media, which is, of course, where you’d expect it to be. But you get used to a lot more than that in 17 years. You learn to focus on what you enjoy, stand your ground, write your stuff and never read your own press!
Let’s cut to the chase. We are retiring because we know how good it’s been, so good that you can still catch a glimpse of how good it could still be. But the tide of weariness has swept over us too many times, so that even the touring, which is our lifeblood, has become routine. No amount of passion can compete with routine – and, believe me, as individuals we still have passion in spades.
That’s what makes it so sad. When I look into the eyes of these men, I see the road, the endless mind-numbing hours of driving and waiting, long dark motel nights, the pain of hangovers repeated day in and out, the absence of woman and children, the absence of intimacy – and, above all, I see the brute stoicism that has made them press on. Well sometimes I have to look away before I see myself looking back.
But to get this far, what does it say about us? To have produced 10 albums and not one hit single, to have toured globally over and over with limited international success, to have kept it up for a quart of our lifetimes, something kept us going. That something happened to us in 1983. We looked out from the plains of the Ruhr while NATO crawled over the land all around us. We were in the heart of the Cold War and we made a record about Australia. It was in the making of that record that we fell in love with our culture. The love affair survived. It was the last time we looked back, until now.
Now I realize that radio, the charts, the producers and all the other little decisions don’t matter anymore. Neither do the journalists who got tired of hearing the same story of democracy, consensus and the optimistic spirit that made us what we are. In the end, we wrote the book, and we’re still writing it. We’re going out on a high like every gig we’ve ever done. The end will be as good as the beginning and there will be none of the sordid acrimony so commonly seen in the break-up of bands when the manager and songwriters walk away with most of the cash, leaving precious little for “rank and file”.
The music business is rotten with self-interest. Anyone can join in and blend with the mass of altruistic worker bees who all say: “I’m only in it for the music.” In fact very few maintain their altruism for very long. After all, “it’s the market, dummy”.
And, when the market betrays you, you very quickly run out of scapegoats. It’s not like you made a tactical error. You’re just not where the winners are, or you’re on the wrong label, or your manager doesn’t understand you or you should have used loops in the mix, or you even got a bad review in Rolling Stone. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I got a good one, but that’s another story.
In the end, all these hassles are the dumb fluff of pop stardom. None of them matter because when everyone walks away blaming forces beyond their control, the band is still there….and thank God for that! The band is the bottom line, regardless of the wisdom of outsiders – which might help to explain why we’ve simultaneously been the envy of musicians and the subject of ridicule among industry luminaries who could not understand why we kept peddling out wares around the clubs of Australia, long after we’d blown our chances internationally. Boy, we really gave that dead horse a good flogging, didn’t we? – to packed houses, full of Australians who overwhelmingly declared their loyalty year after year. How could we stop?
To say I have mixed feelings would be an understatement. One thing I am sure of is that Hunters & Collectors was a working democracy that all the players respected and in an era when it seemed as though Australian pop music was in full retreat from the suburbs, we went there.
We revelled in the heartland, if only to watch the machine at work, to see if adapt and change and to hear the band’s music survive long enough to be taken into the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians.
We took it to where they live.
Goodnight, everyone, and thanks for the years.
Mark Seymour is the lead singer of Hunters & Collectors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!