How Bizarre and more

What a fun­ny old year this has been. Good, I mean. Very good. I turned six­ty. Who turns six­ty? Only oth­er peo­ple sure­ly. I’ve trav­elled with Brigid – at last tal­ly 2015 has seen us in Thai­land, New Zealand, Poland, Sri Lan­ka, Japan, Chi­na, Hong Kong (sev­er­al times), Hol­land, Indone­sia (more than sev­er­al times), Malaysia, Aus­tralia, France, Ger­many, Bel­gium, Cam­bo­dia and pos­si­bly 15 times in Sin­ga­pore. It sounds impres­sive but 24 hours in a coun­try is some­what less than excit­ing at times.

I have friends who have cre­at­ed mind-blow­ing works of visu­al, print­ed and audio art. My friend Alan Jans­son wrote and pro­duced an Aus­tralian coun­try num­ber one (which hap­pi­ly I co-pub­lish). The web­site I cre­at­ed has estab­lished itself as a go-to ref­er­ence point for all things New Zealand music his­to­ry and is increas­ing­ly filled with pages of phe­nom­e­nal writ­ing from a range of the best music writ­ers New Zealand has to offer. I’m very proud of it even if increas­ing­ly I think the task I set myself there four years back is done and I need my week­ends and evenings back.

I’m also proud of my won­der­ful wife and daugh­ter, both of whom also had a good year, with Bel­la hit­ting 21 and Brigid’s work appear­ing all over the planet.

And I wrote a book. Or at least I pub­lished a book I wrote in large part four and five years ago, via Awa Press.

Which may be as good an excuse as any to (slight­ly) res­ur­rect this mori­bund blog, to list some of the things peo­ple have said about this (and apolo­gies but the CSS seems imper­vi­ous to my attempts to increase the font size).

How Bizarre

The reviews of How Bizarre have been uni­ver­sal­ly pos­i­tive and some have been almost embar­rass­ing in their ful­some­ness. But, so be it – I threw myself into the open and as part of that one has to accept the response, no mat­ter the tenor, and if that tenor is good [great] I can hard­ly com­plain. One has to accept any brick­bats too, but to date, I’ve had but two – both of whom admit­ted they had not read the book and both then ques­tioned my right to pen such a book. It was, one said, not my place to tell the sto­ry. I’m unsure why I don’t have the right to tell my sto­ry? The oth­er – from a Maori politi­cian of mixed rep­u­ta­tion – said that the song belonged to the Maori peo­ple!? It [‘How Bizarre’] was co-writ­ten by a Greek/Scandinavian and a Tuhoe/Nuiean and released by me on my label. The lin­eage is per­haps cloudy but very much not one of racial singularity.

Two pos­i­tive voic­es that pleased me ear­ly on were Bill Cullen, Pauly’s man­ag­er dur­ing the whole last part of the 1990s includ­ing the messy tours, who was both sup­port­ive and gave me fur­ther sto­ries that I’m glad I was unaware of when I wrote the book; and which cast one of the pair above, who crit­i­cised, in a new rather dark light. I had no idea at all but would prob­a­bly not includ­ed this anyway.

The oth­er was broad­cast­er and activist Willie Jack­son, who told me on live radio that I had “got it right”. That mattered.

The first blast of pub­lic­i­ty came from the New Zealand Her­ald. In a mas­sive two-page spread on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing, Rus­sell Bail­lie said:

It’s pos­si­bly the first insid­er’s account of New Zealand and inter­na­tion­al pop indus­try pol­i­tics, set in an era of excess before the dig­i­tal era and the music indus­try’s contraction.

I was maybe too close and  I’d nev­er thought of it that way. It was, as I told Rus­sell, just me try­ing to tell my sto­ry. That’s all.

As Alan Jans­son said to me after he’d read the draft, “I kept on read­ing things and think­ing ‘poor bug­gers’ and then it would hit me that it was me – and it happened.”

As an amus­ing side­note to Russell’s piece, I was walk­ing down the street to get a paper on the Sat­ur­day morn­ing and saw two kids giv­ing away free papers. I asked for one and the girl said, “It’s the bizarre man!”

Gra­ham Reid, in his Else­where blog, was effu­sive, and I was both hum­bled and so grate­ful I asked him to speak at my book launch. This he did perfectly.

In the lat­ter regard it’s also a sto­ry of the inside work­ings of record com­pa­nies (Poly­Gram’s boss in New Zealand could­n’t hear a hit until he was pressed by Aus­tralians to get behind it) and how con­trol over the song — and by asso­ci­a­tion Fue­m­ana’s des­tiny — was grad­u­al­ly wres­tled from Grig­g’s control.

In this regard this is an extra­or­di­nary sto­ry, and that makes this book unique in New Zealand publishing.

Simon Sweetman’s review in his Off The Tracks blog was sim­i­lar­ly generous:

Even if you think that pop songs, this one in par­tic­u­lar – or any – arrive by fluke here’s the inner work­ings exposed to show that hard slog and thou­sands of hours, and tal­ent, are always part of the formula.

How Bizarre’, the song, still holds some strange, mag­i­cal charm. That’s what hap­pens with pop alchemy.

How Bizarre, the book, is a thrill-ride, the emo­tion­al roller­coast­er. It’s also the best book about the music indus­try to come from New Zealand.

Simon wrote more on his Stuff blog, Blog On The Tracks, and absolute­ly nailed what I was try­ing to say I think. It is not a book about Pauly and was nev­er meant to be.

It’s such a page-turn­er, such a riv­et­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry. Argue all you like that you per­son­al­ly nev­er liked the song, could­n’t see the fuss, that would just make the book even more impor­tant to read.

Grant Smithies in the Sun­day Star Times pub­lished an extend­ed inter­view with me (oh don’t you wish you could edit these things), as did Graeme Hill, who ran a one hour pre-record­ed inter­view with me on Radio Live which I was rather pleased with. I think I spoke fair­ly well and Graeme is a friend who I was able to talk eas­i­ly with.

How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World

How Bizarre: Pauly Fue­m­ana and the Song that Stormed the World is the sto­ry of the song and the man/men behind it. Graeme speaks to Huh label head, author Simon Grigg.

As is Andrew Dick­ens who was per­haps my favourite of the seem­ing count­less live radio inter­views I did on air in August and Sep­tem­ber. Of the pre-records (aside from Graeme’s) I enjoyed doing anoth­er pre­re­cord­ed inter­view with Simon Mor­ris, with whom I have a reg­u­lar slot on Radio New Zealand’s Stand­ing Room Only.

I was on Nation­al Radio sev­er­al oth­er times talk­ing about How Bizarre ­– or so I am told. I recall this next one because the host seemed to have no idea of my rela­tion­ship to the sub­ject of my book but quick­ly recov­ered from his moment of surprise.

I was asked to write about oth­er books.

The book was well reviewed in all the so-called seri­ous press and the papers. Of the music media Rip It Up gave the book 5 stars and said:

Grigg’s book is a mod­ern fable about the pit­falls of fame and celebri­ty, a riv­et­ing account of a high­ly com­plex man and a detailed expo­si­tion of the machi­na­tions at work in the music indus­try at large. Des­tined to be clas­sic, How Bizarre the book is not just for music fans, it is a sto­ry for the ages.

Rus­sell Brown (yes we’re good friends too before any­one men­tions it) said:

The nar­ra­tive rip of this book is so strong that I opened it on the day it arrived in the post and couldn’t go to bed until I’d fin­ished it.

There were a few oth­er blog reviews but my favourite was from Mike Hol­ly­wood on Everything’s Gone Green:

And so 20 years on, the full sto­ry behind ‘How Bizarre’ – the first (only?) NZ-record­ed and released song to fea­ture on Top of the Pops – final­ly gets writ­ten. It’s a sto­ry every music fan should read. Many of the key ele­ments with­in are sure­ly not unique to this par­tic­u­lar record. Or spe­cif­ic to New Zealand, for that mat­ter. More sim­ply, How Bizarre is one of those hard-to-put-down books you’ll want to fin­ish read­ing before you do any­thing else. High­ly recommended.

This review, as played on 95bFM in late August was warm­ing – and com­ing as it did from one of my favourite book­shops in Auck­land, it matters:

It’s detailed, frank and incred­i­bly com­pelling. A fan­tas­tic music biography.

I’m still stunned and stag­gered by some of these reviews and inter­views – as much because they are penned by some of the writ­ers I admire most. Dun­can Grieve is one such and he said in The Spin­off:

It might be the best book about pop music ever writ­ten by a New Zealander.


Any lin­ger­ing resent­ment which can make it slight­ly uncom­fort­able read­ing – giv­en the dif­fer­ent paths their lives took – is over­whelmed by the many out­stand­ing qual­i­ties the book pos­sess­es. It is filled with scur­rilous detail, extra­or­di­nary char­ac­ters, feats of will and extra­or­di­nary scenes. It is also one of the most hon­est and unsen­ti­men­tal books I’ve ever read about music. “There was no point in doing it,” said Simon, “unless I told the truth.”

Even NBR cov­ered it – it’s a busi­ness book I was told. I guess it is.

The emails I received in some num­bers dai­ly warmed me and I think I’ve replied to each and every one. They still arrive and indeed are now more from off­shore than New Zealand as the book spreads its glob­al reach with time. One was from Dan­ny Gold­berg who in music indus­try terms rather mat­ters. Social media has floored me some days. Peo­ple are very generous.

Off­shore – this week’s review on the wide­ly read (top 30k web­sites in the world I’m told) Pop­mat­ters, came out of the blue. I like.

How Bizarre man­ages the feat of report­ing a life’s sto­ry at a dis­tance at once respect­ful and close enough to illus­trate the deep-seat­ed emo­tions that came with Fuemana’s success.

And final­ly, the review on Ama­zon yes­ter­day which moved me to put togeth­er this page, from my old friend (as in we’ve not seen each oth­er in the flesh since we were about 19) Leo Schultz, a man of let­ters who used to inspire me at both an intel­lec­tu­al and a some­what more hedo­nis­tic lev­el in my younger years, with the two plea­sures often blur­ring together.

On Ama­zon Leo wrote:

What makes How Bizarre: Pauly Fue­m­ana and the Song That Stormed the World a good book, even a great book, rather than sim­ply an enter­tain­ment, is that it is essen­tial­ly the sto­ry of a rela­tion­ship between three very dif­fer­ent men.

It cap­tures beau­ti­ful­ly the record­ing indus­try, with its weird mix of empa­thy and acu­ity and stu­pid­i­ty and greed. It accu­rate­ly describes the para­dox­es of Auck­land, iso­lat­ed and bit­ten with cul­ture-cringe, a pres­sure-cook­er of racial and social ten­sions, but extro­vert­ed, eager to embrace new­ness, a place to dream dreams.

There’s lit­tle I can say, or that needs to said after those words – all these words – aside from a hope­ful­ly gra­cious and very heart­felt thank you.

Share your thoughts