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).
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 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.
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.