Music Brownlow

One of my favourite things on Twitter at present is playing Music Brownlow.

The concept is pretty simple – on paper, anyway. The man behind Music Brownlow nominates an artist or band, and you nominate your favourite, or what you believe to be that band or artist’s best three songs in order.

It’s not as easy as you might think.

While the first couple of polls were on Talking Heads and Australian Crawl, I’ve become healthily obsessed with most of the polls since: Queen, U2, Crowded House, Bruce Springsteen, INXS and Cold Chisel, to name just a few.


They’re pretty mainstream acts, no doubt, but even the most left-field music fan has, at one time or another, found themselves taking in acts like Madonna, Michael Jackson or The Beatles on their journey to their favourite music proclivities.


As someone who likes the harder edged stuff, I’d love to see nominations like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Weezer, Van Halen or KISS – which is probably likely to be as close as you could get to where my genuine tastes lie. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, I’m having a ball choosing my three best Pink Floyd tunes (for the record; Us and Them, One Slip and Run Like Hell), my three favourite David Bowie tunes (Suffragette City, Life on Mars and Heroes) and agonising over Scream in Blue or Best of Both Worlds for the last spot in my Midnight Oil (Bullroarer, Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers and Scream In Blue.

Warning: It’s that last vote that always gets you.


Cold Chisel
3. Flame Trees
2. Breakfast at Sweethearts
1. Saturday Night

“Well if ya don’t like it, whaddya standing there for 20 minutes watching?” I’d forgotten the brilliance of Ian Moss’s lead break at at 2:56 (“Remember what they say when you’re alone. Laugh or die.” And let’s talk about how far ahead of its time this video is. Mardi Gras, circa early 1980s.)

(Winner: Flame Trees with 142 votes. Next Best? Bow River on 89)


The Pixies
3. Gigantic
2. Monkey Gone To Heaven
1. Debaser

A big, big love indeed.

(Winner: Where is My Mind (36) narrowly over Debaser with 33.)


Pink Floyd
3. Run Like Hell
2. Us and Them
1. One Slip

When the hammers batter down your door, you better run.

(Winner: Comfortably Numb (only just; 84) from Wish You Were Here (81).)


3. Don’t Change
2. This Time
1. Listen Like Thieves

And if you’re thinking that the cinema looks familiar, it is indeed Northcote’s iconic Westgarth Cinema, back when it was The Valhalla, one time home of The Blues Brothers and Rocky Horror Picture Show parties.

(Winner: Don’t Change, easily. 87 votes. Next best was Never Tear Us Apart with 62.)


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Dustin Fletcher: So Long and Thanks For all the Fish


Mid-September 1993.

The early spring sun and bright blue sky surrounds me. After a typical Melbourne winter, never underestimate the way the first blue skies and warm sun of spring can lift people’s spirits. Never also underestimate the spring it can put in the step if your team is involved in the finals. After a season in which my beloved Bombers were meant to take a hit as a new generation replaced Foulds, Watson, Madden, Daniher, Anderson and Grenvold, they not only finished on top of the ladder, but are considered a red-hot chance to win the 1993 premiership. It’s true that everything’s better when it’s sunny.

I’m supposed to be studying for an Arts degree at Victoria University of Technology – known as V.U.T. I should have been in a tutorial, maybe even in the library doing some study, but instead, I’m sitting in my car, parked down near the Maribyrnong River. Behind me is Footscray Park and ubiquitous palm trees where there’s no conceivable reason for palm trees to be. Directly opposite me on the Maribyrnong is Flemington racecourse. A cyclone fence, some stables and industrial gardening equipment separates me from an uninterrupted head-on view of the straight six. You can’t quite smell the roses just yet, but there’s no doubt the track manager’s focus is well and truly fixed on that first week of November.

I’m reading the little paper; specifically a story about a young James Hird who’s in a race to be fit for the remainder of Essendon’s finals campaign. I can’t recall who wrote the article, but as well as Hird, the article talks about Sheeds’ Baby Bombers’ and how, despite losing to Carlton by a solitary point in their Qualifying final, Mercuri, Misiti, Calthorpe, Olarenshaw, Hills, Hirdy and Wanganeen continue to confound expectations. Special praise is reserved for Dustin Fletcher – at the time known mostly for being the son of former captain, Ken, and standing Ablett, Modra, Lockett, Dunstall and most famously, Stephen Kernahan all while doing his VCE at Essendon Grammar. And all this in his debut season, no less.

By contrast I’m a remarkably immature 21 years old. I have absolutely no idea what it is that I want to do. All I know is that I believe I need a University degree if I’m to get anywhere. My course – Cultural Studies – shits me to tears. To this day, the mere mention of either Stuart Hall or the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies has me reaching for a handful of Xanax and a vodka flavored vodka drink. The only study stream I truly enjoyed was Drama.

My drama studies lecturer – he was more of an MC, truth be known – was Peter Green. Peter’s experience in Australian theatre and film was pretty solid; La Mamma, The Pram Factory, a stack of films from the 70s and 80s as well as some solid TV Helper roles (non-headline parts that help make or break a show. The same exists in movies. John Cazale, for example, is the King of Movie Helper. Watch him in The Godfather films or Dog Day Afternoon if you’re still not sure what TV or Movie Helper is).

Peter knew Barry Dickins, whose work I had discovered and loved through columns in The Age newspaper and his books in VUT’s library, quite well. Dickins was the first writer I’d come across whose writing made kicking a footy on paddocks in Preston sound like pure poetry. Instead of cultural cringe, Barry’s words celebrated shirts v skins, broken bones, jumpers as ad-hoc goal posts, Mum or Dad calling you in for dinner and playing on well past twilight, even though you couldn’t see a thing. It was like Barry had been watching our games of street footy in Sandpiper Street. Peter had acted in a few of Barry’s plays and had more than a few bottles of wine with Barry. It was interesting to talk to Peter about what kind of a bloke Barry was, and it was interesting to listen to Peter talk about the ins and outs of acting. Above all he was a great teacher.

While I wasted time at Uni, my passions were directed towards music. I was playing drums (half-arsedly on reflection) in a couple of punk and power-pop indie bands. Such is the adorable innocence of quixotic youth that I believed at least one of these bands might somehow rise to the top of Melbourne’s huge punk-rock scene of the 90s and equal the feats of bands like Spiderbait, Bodyjar, Hoss, The Poppin’ Mammas, Bored! and The Hard-Ons. I was hoping to become one of the lucky few who could make a living from playing music.

Band practice took place in Abbotsford just near the brewery. The space had been converted from some kind of warehouse to rehearsal rooms. They were run by some hardcore punks with equally hardcore smack habits, and had a lot of friends and hangers-on with equally hardcore habits who’d be hanging around in the ‘office’. You’d collect your mics and cables from the office and see various human forms in the background in the throws of the nods, listening to anything from GG Allin to Rancid to Velvet Underground to Neil Young or to The Beatles (the White Album, natch.).

My weeknights at this time are spent delivering pizzas. I used to work in a McDonald’s, but I got the arse for ‘stealing’ an orange juice. It was a Saturday morning and I was hung-over after being out at the Commercial Hotel in Werribee the night before. I hid behind an ice-making machine and down the hatch went that sweet orange concentrate. I didn’t think anyone would see me. I was wrong. It didn’t help my cause that I was one of the more expensive people to roster (I was over 18, so earned about five dollars an hour more than the 15 and 16 year olds on the playing list and what was known as a ‘crew trainer’) and my disciplinary record wasn’t exactly blemish-free. (Tip for new players: it is not a good idea to get high before helping unload the truck that brought the weekly stock delivery). Strangely, my reliability at the pizza shop has seen me given a pay bump from $2.50 per delivery to three dollars. Vegas baby, Vegas.

My weekend began on a Thursday evening. Apart from the aforementioned drama workshops, VUT pretty much did the right thing by everyone and largely avoided scheduling lectures or tutorials on a Friday. I’d work Sunday night through to Friday night, so my weekends revolved around band practice and seeing gigs at The Espy, The Prince of Wales, The Arthouse, The Great Britain, The Tote or The Punters Club. You only went to the Evelyn for CD launches and the Prince Patrick, like the Dan O’Connell, had moved to a hybrid of stand-up comedy nights and folksy, blues, roots and country.

Mid-September 2015.

I don’t recognise what the Essendon Footy club is anymore. I have no idea what it stands for other than pithy membership slogans and a manufactured ‘us against them’ mentality that so far has yielded nothing. The events the last three or four years – both Essendon’s defence and the AFL’s prosecution of the club’s use of P.E.D use (or not) have left a horrid taste in my mouth. I find much more enjoyment, an undoubted spiritual boost by watching the code at grass-roots level; both in the city, and whenever the opportunity’s presented itself, in the bush. Footy’s footy. It’s been refreshing to get back to where the footy is what people care about, not the ‘optics’ of a hip and shoulder to soccer mums, where ‘match day experience’ revolves around green can(s) and pie in a camp chair in the country air, and people give a shit more about whether their team won or lost and not what the death of a coach and the resulting suspension of a game means to their fantasy team.

I think V.U.T dropped the [ofTechnology part sometime in the norties and are now simply known as Vic Uni.

I didn’t get a degree until I was in my thirties. Maturity comes to some of us later than it does others. Too much time acting my shoe size and not my age.

I haven’t touched a drumstick or tuned a drumhead in well over 10 years and more often than not, I’d rather drink radiator fluid than go and see a live band. I’ve been told that I’m coming into ‘my true self’ by a Jungian therapist. I tend to think it’s just that there’s fewer venues around and jangly acoustic songs about the trauma of being a white-middle-class young person in conservative Australia is just not my bag.

The Arthouse no longer exists. The Great Britain, The Prince Pat, The Punters Club and The Evelyn no longer exist in the fashion they did so many years ago. The Prince of Wales is for people far more attractive than I, and slick property-developing shysters with skinny suits, excessive hair product and cologne that enters a room before they do continue to circle The Espy the way hyenas’ circle crippled wildebeest on the Savannah.

I’ve worked in radio, I’ve worked in finance, I’ve worked for an international Humanitarian organisation, I’ve worked as a writer. I’m in my forties and I still have no idea what I’m going to do when I grow up.

I’ve been married twice.

I’m still as broke-arsed now as I was when Dustin Fletcher was in debut season.

And what of Fletch? In the corresponding years Dustin Fletcher has played alongside and against guys who weren’t even born when he started playing for Essendon. He’s played in two flags, been named an All-Australian twice and earned an Essendon Best and Fairest in a premiership year. He currently sits fourth on the all-time games played list. He turned 40 this year.

There are many things that separate mere mortals from the elite of anything. Be it in business, law, medicine, performing arts and especially sports there are a number of universal traits you’ll find in the best of the best; oodles of talent meshed with generous scoops of direction, focus and self-belief.

In sport, the (unscientific) average career span lasts around a decade or so. Injuries curtail many a career – Lee Walker, David Schwarz, Neale Daniher, John Coleman, John Greening to name just a few – in a much shorter time span. For others, the off-field temptations are greater than the pre-season sweat. For some, education or faith commitments may become too great and that ten year career window shuts in the blink of an eye.

Since 1993, Fletch has copped and given out plenty of hits, he’s copped suspensions, sat through endless hours of video reviews, team meetings, opposition analysis and the many other countless joys that have come to make up the 24/7 regimentation of a footballer’s life as the professional demands of AFL have increased exponentially.

He’s done this not just for five years, not just for a decade, but for 20 years. For some, that’s a lifetime.

Fletch is and always will be a marvel.

Thanks Fletch.

Enjoy your spell. You’ve earned it.

This post first appeared at The Footy Almanac: Yes, I would like to go there…

AFL Finals – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide: Respect is Earned, Not Given

I’m listening to the Dockers and Sydney on the ABC as I walk to the Paddock That Grew for the Bulldogs and the Crows.

The Swans are all over Fro like a rash, but kick themselves out of a Prelim final. As I take my seat in the MCC Members, the siren goes at Subi. The Dockers are home by nine points. There’s a lot of things about modern football that irk me. Inaccuracy in front of goals is pretty high on the list. It cost Collingwood wins against Hawthorn and Port Adelaide in rounds 14 and 15. I note the scoring shots; 19 for Freo to Sydney’s 25. Ross Lyon once said that the only metric that really matters in footy is the scoreboard. While clubs pride themselves on a lot of things – contested possession or hard running or discipline or tackling – I’m yet to hear anyone, or any team speak about their accuracy in front of goals as something they pride themselves on.

Collingwood miss the finals and Sydney, with injuries to so many key players, give away a much needed week off. Do they only have themselves to blame?

Footscray (let’s drop this Western Bulldogs shite, eh?) games at the G are as rare as rocking horse shit, yet there’s a lot of red, white and blue visible as people secure their seats. The walk-up seating tradition in the MCC is archaic to some, but I love it. There’s stillness, a calm before the storm that I love to take in. It’s my pre-game ritual, along with a visit to the MCC library and then a schooner or two in the Percy Beams bar.

As game time approaches, the crowd builds beyond my expectations. The Crows faithful have traveled east, and combined with South Australians living behind enemy lines who’ve turned up to support the lads, provide a raucous supporter base for the Pride of. After a season of significant and tragic loss, it appears that one of the few things to have meaning for the Crows players this year is footy. When lesser minds and resolve may have faltered, this playing group has found a way to overcome. They’re here, they’ve made the finals. And for Crows supporters, the possibilities are endless.

The Bulldogs fans are here also, witnessing something they likely thought impossible at the end of 2014. 12 months after sacking the coach, their captain heading to western Sydney, de-listing a Brownlow medalist and another senior player believing the grass was greener a little further north of Barkly St, Footscray have provided some of the most scintillating footy the game has seen in a while. As always, Bulldog fans seem to come in hope, not expectation. Luke Beveridge and his team, perhaps like the Bombers of 1993, continue to confound expectation, to win when others saw it as impossible. There’d be little surprise to suggest the Dogs would be the popular pick for those of us whose teams failed to make the finals.

By the time the teams run through their banners, the atmosphere at the game is palpable. Preliminary finals, Grand Finals and that classic Richmond v Carlton Elimination final in 2013 aside, I can’t recall being at a game with this kind of energy. The roar after Advance, Australia Fair is immense. 60,000 people are here looking for two of the competition’s more attacking teams to do their stuff. It is one of those moments that football fans exult in. The September air, the expectation, the standoff; the adrenaline flooding the system. Thoroughbreds as footballers about to be let off the collective reign.

Footscray start with intensity and confidence, an existential abandon rooted in youthful naivety. Mitch Wallis evokes a Sam Mitchell level of grunt in his attack on the ball. The Bont stinks of James Hird (the player, not the coach); silky smooth, charismatic, born for this kind of conflict. Will Minson, statistically overshadowed by Sam Jacobs is battering down clearing handballs like Scott Pendlebury or Jobe Watson. The Footscray midfield scrap the ball forward, forward at any cost; clean disposal or dirty, the ball must go forward.

Stewart Crameri is the big dog up forward. By design or not, Crammers looks to be drawing on his big game experience at the G from those ANZAC Day clashes. He puts himself in position to demand the ball. He takes the game on, his hands firmly around its throat, and slots through the Dogs first goal. Moments later, Footscray have four unanswered goals on the board. The Pride of don’t appear to have any answers. The Bulldog faithful at the City end can sense something, they can smell blood. Their roar is visceral.

But then, enter: stage left, Eddie Betts.

As a member, I watch a lot of footy at The Temple Down the Road. For all the excitement of their four-goal opening burst, it’s evident that the Dogs can’t play the G just yet.

On the occasions the ball makes it into attack for the Crows, the Footscray defenders are able to position themselves to take the intercept mark. But their downfall is their reliance on switching the play. They attempt to execute the switch like they’re at the Docklands.

Instead of moving the ball from a pocket to the corridor then the long kick to a hard running midfielder or lead up forward in space, they go for the long wide kick first, meaning the Crows have time to structure up further afield and stop the Dogs run.

When the Crows win the footy, the Bulldogs’ defence has pushed too far forward. Few teams can transition as quickly as the Crows. With the Bulldogs defenders sitting too high, Eduardo stays in the Adelaide forward 50 arc with 10 meters on his opponent and 10 meters is all Eddie needs. The first three of the Crows resulting four first quarter goals all come from running into an open goal, having won the footy uncontested 50-40 meters out.

If the Bullies supporters are in full voice, the response from the Adelaide faithful at the Punt Rd end with each of the Crows goals as they catch up on the Bullies gives the Tiger Army at their best a red hot run for their money. It is a sea of navy, red and yellow. The passion is evident. You’d think you were at a Premier League match. It is electrifying.

The game, as they all do, ebbs and flows. Momentum shifts on a five-cent coin. Save for a few minutes in the final quarter, the Crows though are never headed, even though the Dogs let too many chances go to waste.

Despite the narrow margin separating the teams throughout the second half, the Dogs don’t appear to be running hard enough to execute the overlap that you have to, to move the ball at pace on the expanses of the MCG. Hawthorn, Richmond (for 23 weeks anyway) and Collingwood do this to perfection. The Dogs move the ball too slowly, relying on a key forward to push up, or for Will Minson to somehow out-mark Sam Jacobs and two other Crows players in a contest. Instead, Footscray continue to handball backwards, or laterally which gives Adelaide’s defence and midfielders the time to clog up the leading space.

At the Docklands in these situations, Stringer, Wood, Macrae, Dahlhaus, Hamling, Honeychurch, Dickson and Redpath are all about surety, intent, confidence and purpose. On the vast expanses of the G, if it’s not coming down the corridor, the Dogs appear hesitant, indecisive and in an instant, the Crows pressure and discipline leaves the Dogs trying to move the ball around in a phone box.

Tex Walker struts the MCG like a Sherriff in the old West. This is his game, this is his stage. While Crameri, Grant, Jong and Bontempelli miss very gettable set shots, Tex bobs up on more than one occasion to slot a telling, settling Crows goal from distance, as if trolling the Doggies with only his right boot.

Eddie Betts is sublime and although Dale Morris has him in check during the second half, Eddie’s work is done earlier in the evening.

Patrick Dangerfield is at another level. No galloping runs, no breaking tackles, no goal haul. Danger is in and under, Danger is the guy prepared to draw three Dogs players into a tackle, then finding a way to handball off to Sloane, or Van Berlo or Thompson or Douglas.

Charlie Cameron is a precocious talent, with a frightening turn of speed reminiscent of a Golden Slipper winner. He is Adelaide’s Bel Esprit if that’s what Scott Camporeale and John Worsfold allow him to be. The Hawks won’t allow him the room to exercise his pace for attacking purposes next weekend, so why not give him the job of chasing down Cyril or Bradley Hill? He’s more than capable. And Lewis Jetta has shown before what seeing Cyril dragged down can do to the Hawks psyche.

This loss should sting the Bulldogs. It should hurt. It should make the players want to start their 2016 pre-season right away. For too long, near enough has seemingly been good enough for Footscray. The prevailing sentiment at the Whitten Oval shouldn’t be focused on the turn-around from 2014 to this season. It should be one of bitter disappointment and a determination to never let opportunities like Saturday night’s slip away. Bad kicking is bad football. Easy, bread and butter set shots inside your own 50 metre arc shouldn’t be missed in September. They were. The Dogs paid the price.

The Crows, as they have been since the loss of Phil Walsh are a study in compartmentalisation and purpose. They are the definition of a team. Like the Bulldogs, but for entirely different reasons, they too continue to win and confound the experts. Tonight they are disciplined. Tonight they stick to what they do best. For all of Tex and Eddie’s magic, for all of Danger and Talia and Laird and Thompson and Sloane’s grunt, there is still something intangible embedded in the DNA of this team.

They face the Hawks next Friday evening coming off a loss in Perth. Al Clarkson has enough worries to deal with this week if they’re to make it three premierships in a row. But one thing is certain; if the Crows’ season ends next Friday night, the Hawks will most certainly have earned their win. Some people demand respect without doing little to have earned it. Regardless of the outcome on Friday night, this Adelaide team have earned respect in spades.


WESTERN BULLDOGS:    4.6   7.10   10.16   14.18 (102)

ADELAIDE:   6.3   9.6   13.9   16.13 (109)


Western Bulldogs: Dickson 5, Crameri 2, Redpath 2, Stringer 2, Dahlhaus, Jong, Grant.

Adelaide: Betts 5, Walker 3, Knight 2, Cameron 2, Henderson, Lynch, Sloane, Thompson.

Umpires: Nicholls, Hosking, Schmitt.

Crowd: 60,782 at the MCG.


This article originally appeared at The Footy Almanac.  Yes, I would like to go there.


Seven One Four

Numbers carry amazing power.

While words have a myriad of contexts (just ask Sam Armytage), numbers are irrefutable. Yes, their context can be manipulated – as any economist will tell you – but seven per-cent unemployment is seven per-cent unemployment and two per-cent GDP growth is two percent GDP growth.

Perhaps thanks to people like Daniel Okrent – and closer to home Ted Hopkins – sports and sports fans’ pre-occupation with numbers borders on OCD. There’s an apocryphal comedic riff I’ve heard in recent times that neatly encapsulates sports fans’ obsession with numbers. I’m tempted to credit it to U.S stand-up par-excellence Bill Burr, but I can’t be completely sure this is correct (and I’m happy to be pointed to whom this work belongs to – credit where credit is due). The joke goes thus:

News Anchor: We cross to the sports desk now, and Jim, the Braves take on the Mets at Metlife stadium today, what can we expect?

Jim: Thanks Bob, and yes, the Mets should win here, looking at the numbers, they’re 62% more likely to win against left-handed starters when the wind is coming from the east, the moon is in Aquarius on a Tuesday and Bartolo Colon eats fried chicken the night before a game. Interestingly though, Atlanta’s numbers show they’re 68% against teams wearing orange with three Cubans in their starting line up, an Ol’ Miss graduate playing third baseman and a Puerto Rican reliever in the opposing bull-pen. Should be a blast! I’m going Mets to beat the Braves 3-1

Anchor: Okay Jim. Thanks for that. Turning to finance now and with the Reserve Bank set to review interest rates tomorrow, we’re joined by Chad Thurston-Howell. Chad what’s the market expecting tomorrow’s figures to show?

Chad: Well, Bob, your guess is as good as mine…

*     *     *     *     *

714 stood as one of Major League Baseball’s ‘magic numbers’ for a generation of fans and players. In a career as famous for his feats off the mound as on, George Herman Ruth smacked 714 home runs in career that spanned 21 seasons and three teams. Upon his retirement in May 1935 few believed that The Babe’s record would ever be matched, let alone surpassed.

Many tried; Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Fred Robinson and Willie Mays, to name just a few. Everyone of them – and more – failed.

Everyone failed until the until a six-foot power-hitter from Mobile Alabama by the name of Henry Louis Aaron caressed home run number 715 past the outstretched glove of L.A Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner in Atlanta on the 8th of April, 1974. A record that many thought unbreakable, a record that stood for almost 30 years had been broken. When Hank Aaron retired in 1976, the bar would be raised to 755 career home-runs.

Both men reside in Baseball’s pantheon in Cooperstown, New York. Unquestionable legends.

The debate rages among the numbers freaks; who was better? The Babe or Hank Aaron? The numbers say that Hank Aaron was 41 home runs better, but does it matter? Were Williams, Mantle, Mays, Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig or Ty Cobb chumps for not matching 714? Hardly.

Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth were undoubted masters their craft. Both men filled stadiums. Both are on Baseball’s All-Century Team – the equivalent of the AFL’s Team of the Century. Both were champions.

For over 70 years, Jock McHale’s games coached record has stood at 714. On Friday evening, Mick Malthouse coaches game number 715. Jock McHale’s record, like the Babe’s 714 is a number that few believed would ever be matched or surpassed.

Like Hank Aaron, Malthouse now goes on to set the next benchmark, to raise the bar.

There’s daylight between McHale and Malthouse on the all-time games coached list. Sheeds is the next closest on 678, with Allan Jeans and Tom Hafey next. Are Barassi (515), John Kennedy Sr (412), Norm Smith (452), David Parkin (518) and Leigh Matthews (461) mugs? Of course not.

But each of these men have coached as many (in the case of Kennedy) or more premierships than Mick.

Are they better than Mick? Who cares?

Malthouse has carved out 30 years in one of the most cut-throat, high pressure and merciless careers you could imagine undertaking. He’s adapted to – if not innovated – and mastered three different eras of Australian rules footy. That’s got to count for something.

McHale’s seven Collingwood premiership teams were undoubted powerhouses. Norm Smith coached six Melbourne sides to flags, both are immortalised in their own ways. The number of discussions I’ve heard or been involved in, over whether McHale or Smith was the better coach I could count on one finger.

Yes, Mick’s a grumpy prick at times, but picture yourself being asked the same knuckle-headed questions from three generations of journalists. There’s only so many times you can say “I wasn’t satisfied with how the team played today,” and if you’ve ever sat in on an AFL post-game presser, you’d be ready to take down Mark Stevens after 30 years of the same shit, different presser as well.

Mick’s decision to surpass McHale’s record in a game against Collingwood says more to me about his understanding of the feat he’s about to record, than it does about the ridiculous perception peddled around that this is some kind of Carlton Footy Club trolling of the arch-enemy. Imagine, even for a moment that Malthouse – who was given reign to choose Carlton’s opponent for the record-breaking achievement, don’t forget –  nominated the West Coast Eagles to break the record against. Picture the Floreat Pica being frozen out of the occasion all-together and tell me that an Eddie McGuire back-page splash citing disrespect isn’t part of that narrative.

No, Malthouse’s call for Collingwood to be involved smells like someone who understands history, smells of someone who gets the magnitude of this achievement. And while I’m not delusional enough to think that Mick would love nothing more than to get a win on Friday night, Collingwood will forever remain part of the game’s coaching longevity record narrative.

I don’t care whether The Babe is better than Hank Aaron. I don’t care if Jock McHale was a better coach than Mick or vice-versa. They’re all champions at what they did – or do when it comes to Malthouse.

It was good enough for Ted Whitten to meet Doug Hawkins and embrace as Doug took the field to break Mr Football’s Footscray games played record. Babe Ruth’s widow publicly congratulated Hank Aaron after home-run 715 went into the record books.

A little graciousness from sections of the Collingwood fan base (not the entire Magpie army, of course) and certainly from sections of the media might be in order because as Bart Cummings famously urged, “champions don’t deserve to be compared, just recognised.”

714. Numbers are funny like that…

The Audition Part Two: Iron Maiden – Paul Di’Anno or Bruce Dickinson

In today’s selection meeting, we fall deeper down the rabbit-hole as we move from the world of cock-rock to heavy metal.

Get out your battle jackets and hi-top sneakers as we look at arguably the biggest band in ‘evvy meddul’, Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden: 

IN: Bruce Dickinson (1981-1993, 1999-present*)
OUT: Paul Di’Anno (1978-1981)

There’s no bigger heavy metal act than Iron Maiden. Whether you’re a metal fan or not, you’ve got to respect a band successful enough to gut a Boeing 757, customise it to fly your band, crew and equipment around the world to play gigs in places like India, UAE, and Ecuador as well as the usual European and North American suspects – and still turn a profit. Okay, so their lead singer moonlights as a fully qualified commercial airline pilot, which certainly helps, but I’m sure you get the point.*

They’re the band that all other metal bands wish they were, and with far too many examples to specify here, in their 40 years of recording and performing, the Irons have inspired a generation of musicians to grow their hair, buy a distortion pedal, wire in some humbucker pick-ups, turn their amps up to eleven and give the world the devil’s horns.

One of the secrets – if it even is a secret – to the Iron’s success apart from their relentless work ethic is undoubtedly its principal songwriter: founding member and bassist, Steve Harris. The contributions of vocalists Paul Di’Anno and Bruce Dickinson though, have also had a massive say in the band’s success.

The legacy of Paul Di’Anno’s (1978-1981) as to Iron Maiden cannot be overlooked. Not so much a flat-earth view of the Irons as a nod to the genre they inspired, there are some who maintain that their eponymous debut album in 1980 and 1981s Killers remain two of the band’s three most creative and profound moments (the other being 1982s The Number of the Beast – more on that album in a moment).

Di’Anno was the perfect fit for a formative and burgeoning Iron Maiden. As a generation of Britons unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of the post-World War Two boom years grew increasingly marginalised through the restructuring of the British economy and the rise of Thatcherism, his unsexy, no-nonsense, pub-brawler persona and visceral-sounding vocals were the icing on a musical cake already laden with machismo, and played no small part in attracting a growing army of fans to the band like moths to a headbanging flame.

A relentless schedule of touring and recording began to take its toll and Di’Anno acquired a near-fatal love of cocaine and alcohol, which inevitibly led to his sacking/resignation (depending on your point of view) from Iron Maiden. As he cleaned out his metaphorical locker, his bequest would be co-writing the songs KillersRemember Tomorrow and Running Free with Harris – the latter of which remains an integral piece of the band’s live set to this day – and an Australia-only cover of the Skyhooks’ Women in Uniform on local pressings of the Killers LP.

Bruce Dickinson (1981-1993, 1999 –present) was hired as Di’Anno’s replacement. His debut album – 1982s The Number of the Beast – propelled Iron Maiden into the metal and pop-culture stratosphere. Gone were the raspy, aggression-tinged snarls of the Di’Anno, replaced by Dickinson’s operatic, almost bombastic approach that lit up the fantastical, mystical imagery contained within the Irons oeuvre.

The Number of the Beast broke the band internationally, thanks partly to the storm of controversy surrounding the title track and its accompanying music video. Musically though, the album is universally acknowledged as all killer, no filler. As well as the legendary title track, the album also contains numbers considered Irons classics: Run to the HillsThe Prisoner and Hallowed Be Thy Name. A pretty handy debut for Dickinson, when it’s all said and done – as good as, if not better, than Brian Johnson and AC/DC with Back In Black or Sammy Hagar and Van Halen with 5150.

Dickinson era classics alongside those already mentioned include: The TrooperStranger in a Strange Land, Two Minutes to MidnightThe Rime of the Ancient MarinerMission from ‘Arry**, RevelationsAces HighCan I Play With Madness? Wasted YearsChildren of the Damned and the live set show-stopper; Hallowed By Thy Name.

The Verdict?

Bruce Dickinson gets the nod here, and by the length of the straight six at Flemington. I have a lot of respect for Di’Anno, but if you compare the output of both singers in their first three years, Bruce has got panels on Paul. And besides, without Bruce in the line-up, we would never have got the classic live introduction to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (“this is what not to do if a bird shits on you”) and the much loved Dickinson entreat to fans between (and sometimes within) songs at concerts: to “scream for me Brazil/Costa Rica/Long Beach/Hammersmith, etc.” Paul Di’Anno isn’t licensed to pilot a 757 either, so that’s another thing.

Bruce or Paul? Who would you have up front of Iron Maiden?

*Whether you’re a fan of the Irons or not Flight 666 is an amazing behind the scenes look at how Iron Maiden Inc. goes about its business. After 40 years in the caper, they’ve certainly earned the right to do things however they damn-well please.

The Audition Part One – Van Halen: Sammy Hagar of David Lee Roth?

Changing a good thing can be tricky business.

In sport, there’s the examples of Mark Thompson and Chris Scott at Geelong and Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley at Collingwood. In recent times, we’ve seen Manchester United wrestle with the challenge of transitioning from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes and now Louis van Gaal. While Cricket Australia have managed the succession of post-Allan Border captaincies with aplomb (Taylor, to S. Waugh, to Ponting), the change from G.S Chappell to Kim Hughes was hardly a success.

The music industry is no different to the sporting world and in this post I’ll look at one of the biggest line-up changes in rock and roll.

While some changes were enforced (which undoubtedly gives you some clues as to who will be discussed in this series) and some were brought about by (ahem) ‘musical differences‘, there have been some were inspired line-up movements and some almighty cock-ups worth a look.

Grab your spandex, crack a can of hairspray, practice your pout and delve into the world of what Henry Rollins once described as “the trauma of traveling to gigs in a lear jet and staying in five-star accommodation”; the world of glam rock and Van Halen’s switch from ‘Diamond’ David Lee Roth to Sammy (van) Hagar.

Van Halen: 

IN: Sammy Hagar (1985 – 1996)
OUT: David Lee Roth (1972 – 1985)

No line-up argument polarises opposing camps more than whether DLR or Sammy Hagar was the best Van Halen frontman*. Bands are often the sum of their parts – see Paul Hester and Crowded House, INXS with Michael Hutchense or imagine U2 without one of Bono, Edge, Mullen or Clayton – so when it comes to Roth-era Van Halen versus Hagar-era Van Halen, it’s almost like you’re talking about two completely different bands in terms of sound, direction and genre.

Roth’s swagger and undeniable sex appeal, Eddie’s guitar genius, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen’s tighter-than-a-fish’s-arse rhythm section (not to mention Anthony’s distinct backing-vocals) made Van Halen one of the biggest rock bands of the ‘70s early ‘80s – becoming, perhaps, the band for whom the term ‘stadium rock’ was coined – and were characterised by an appetite for hedonistic excess arguably rivalled only by Led Zeppelin at the height of their success.

On top of the charts and the stadium rock world with their 1984 LP, the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony were ready to shiv Roth by the end of that corresponding world tour and a change had to be made. Diamond Dave was given his marching orders and into the breach stepped southern California singer-songwriter Sammy Hagar. The band dynamic changed considerably and Van Hagar was born.

Much like AC/DC though, the change in lead vocalists added an entirely new chapter to the band’s history; propelling them from stars to bona-fide-rock-n-roll-giants. With a reputation as one of the hardest-partying bands in the business, Hagar’s ‘where’s the booze, where’s the blow, where’s the hookers?’ aesthetic – not to mention the very handy fruits of his song writing partnership with Eddie – played right into the hearts and minds of Van Halen’s audience and the excessive consumption leitmotif synonymous with the 80s.

While these days Van Halen’s popularity is quite a ways off the insanity of their heyday (with Roth back on vocal duties and Michael Anthony now on the outer in favour of Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, on bass), they remain one of music’s legendary bands and a bona-fide phenomenon.

Roth-era classics include JumpPanamaRunnin’ With The DevilAint Talkin’ Bout LoveDance the Night Away and the MTV staple (for obvious reasons) Hot For Teacher (although Alex Van Halen’s dancing chops are worth a watch for the comic value alone).

Sammy Hagar meanwhile, enjoys pretty juicy royalty checks for hits like DreamsWhy Can’t This Be LoveLove Walks InWhen It’s Love (spot the trend yet?), Top Of The World and Right Now.

The Verdict?

Van Halen got it right. The commercial success of the band with Sammy Hagar up front went from ballistic to thermonuclear. Bringing on a singer who was also a very handy guitarist allowed Eddie Van Halen to experiment more with keyboards as well as added some more beef to the band’s live sound. Diamond Dave’s charisma, showmanship, irreverence and borderline ADHD, set the bar as far as cock-rock is concerned. Although there’s the argument that getting to the top is one thing, but staying there is another, Diamond Dave’s hard yards on the way up propelled the band to the top of the U.S music charts and packed stadiums to the rafters with boys who looked like girls, who liked girls who liked boys who looked like girls (as the song goes). I’m in the DLR camp, but it’s not like Sammy Hagar screwed up a good thing.

Who’s the better front man in Van Halen? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? 

*Like the punch Ali never threw at Foreman, bringing Gary Cherone (vocalist from 1996-1999) into this discussion would be quite undignified for all concerned.

Hoy Heng: Lest We Forget

Anyone who’s met me will know when it comes to relationships I’m punching well above my weight.

A beautiful, vivacious and stunningly intelligent woman from honest western-districts bloodlines, my wife was educated at an elite Melbourne public school, edited a number of Arts publications and is often less than six-degrees separated from most of Melbourne’s entertainment movers and shakers.

I tell you this because if her husband being a “sports-media” person (with the fingers doing the air-talking quotes and everything) and taking her to a footy game as part of the courtship didn’t raise enough eyebrows, that he hails from Werribee is the pièce-de-résistance in her perceived downward spiral in some quarters.

In the early days of our courtship there were two Steve’s in her life and both of us were from Werribee. In order to differentiate between us in conversation, I was simply ‘Steve’ and the other Steve became ‘Werribee Steve’ – to avoid any confusion, I’m sure (Werribee Steve and I had even been to Uni together).

In a conversation with Werribee Steve one time, my wife turned down an invitation to catch up with him for a drink one Friday night: “I’m off to Master Wok in Werribee with Steve and his parents,” she says, politely declining. “Ahhh!” says Werribee Steve knowingly, “Master Wok: The Flower Drum of Werribee…”

*   *   *   *   *

The Footscray of the 1960s and 1970s was a very different beast to what it is now. The wave of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees for which the area is now synonymous with was only just beginning to sweep through the area. Barkly, Paisley, Droop, Nicholson and Albert Streets buzzed with throngs of people rushing between one-time Footscray retail institutions like Coles, Forges and Fletcher Jones. Highpoint – that coliseum of consumption perched high above Warrs and Rosamond Roads was still a generation away from overtaking Footscray as the inner-west’s prime shopping destination.

In those days, Footscray made stuff; it made world-class ropes at Kinnears on Ballarat Road, it made bullets and bombs at the munitions factories on Gordon Street. It made tyres (the Adidas factory outlet at the Dunlop factory in West Footscray would have to have been among one of the world’s best-kept secrets), it made springs, it tanned hides and stored wool and it housed grain at the enormous Tottenham rail yards, only a drop kick away from the Western Oval. In those days, Footscray even had its own community swimming pool.

At the centre of life in Footscray was the Footscray Football Club. And at the heart of the Bulldogs were its fans, as it remains so today.

Every second Saturday, the faithful – and looking at the Dogs win-loss record of the 70s and 80s, faithful is an understatement – would gather at the Western Oval to watch the Bulldogs and hope. Hope that things would turn around. That names like Templeton, Hampshire, Edmund, Wheeler, Dempsey, Jennings and a young bloke from Braybrook by the name of Hawkins would add a new chapter the legacy left by Ted Whitten, Allan Hopkins, John Schultz, Peter Box and Charlie Sutton.

Instead they got to witness a seemingly innocuous clash which left someone a quadriplegic, numerous hidings at the hands of opposition teams and some of those names in which so much hope was invested – Dempsey and Templeton (not to mention a couple of blokes by the name of Quinlan and Round) – leave the club amid a generation of internecine warfare and administrative negligence.

Like all suburban grounds of that era, be they the Claremont Showgrounds or Glenelg Oval, there were rituals that accompanied the trek to the Western Oval for the faithful.

For some it was catching the same train to Footscray station then the rush to the jam donut trailer on Irving Street before your connecting train to West Footscray arrived.

For others, it might have been a few starters at the Rising Sun, The Plough or the Buckingham Hotel – sometimes, it was all three.

Fans would use the same gate entry at the ground, taking up the same spot on the Gordon Street wing, or the Barkly Street end, or standing in front of the Whitten Stand with the familiar faces who were there every other Saturday and observed the same ritual as part of their passage to the ground.

Certainly an integral part of the ritual for a lot of Bulldogs fans at the time – indeed right up until they moved to Docklands – was the after-match post mortems at the famous clutch of Chinese Restaurants at Barkly Street’s western end.

On Saturday evenings, long after the final siren had blown, places like Poons, Jimmy Wong’s and Hoy Heng would be bursting at the seams with the sons and daughters of the ‘Scray downing their Sweet and Sour Pork in batter, Szechuan chicken or beef, beef in black bean sauce, or combination Chow Mein and ‘special’ fried rice were all part of the Chef’s Suggestions (Singapore Noodles, for obvious reasons, took time to gain acceptance).

If the Bulldogs had a win, then the kitchen could hardly keep up with the number of tables going with banquets. When Footscray lost, diners would just go with a main course, but the demand for beer was significant.

When I think of these restaurants, I’m always taken back to a time when B.Y.O was the ‘new’ thing (“it’s what they do in fancy places”, I remember being told as a young fella), Graham Kennedy had Australia laughing along with Ugly Dave, Noelene and whatever – or whoever – ‘Cyril’ was blanking, 3XY renamed October ‘Rocktober’.

Eskys made of Styrofoam and choc-full of icy cold steel- cans could be taken into Victoria Park, Alberton, Leederville Oval and the MCG and parents’ blood pressure readings skyrocketed if their daughters’ trip to the drive-in involved being picked up in a Sandman Panel Van. Apricot Chicken was considered haute cuisine and your ordinary punter thought a Lazy Susan was an inefficient housekeeper.

These days, a visit to Poons, or Jimmy Wong’s (Hoy Heng, our family’s destination of choice sadly hung up its woks and steamers almost a decade ago) is a trip to comfort food heaven. The décor remains largely unchanged (save for the mandatory changing of the carpet), the staff still wear the (ahem) traditional uniform of black pants, six-button black waistcoat and white shirts and in some cases, still prefer that you just rattle off the menu number instead of embarrassing yourself trying to pronounce Szechuan or Pho (numbers 42, 59 and 176 if you’re playing at home).

As Footscray, Seddon and Yarraville gentrified themselves through the 90s and the early part of the 21st century, not to mention the evolution of the inner-suburban hipster, even the most cursory look at the comments section on Urbanspoon (surely the foodies equivalent of Twitter trolling?) for places like Poons and Jimmy Wong’s illustrates just how much times have changed in Footscray.

Sure, there would have people walked away disappointed in what was on offer in earlier times, but to give these places a whack is to have almost no understanding of their place in the cultural fabric of the inner-west or their contribution to the place’s community.

They’re cheap. They’re cheerful. Richard Clayderman tapes are still on continuous loops providing background muzak. They don’t purport to be the Shark Finn Inn or the Flower Drum. It’s not gluten-free (although it is, probably, #Paleo, but I digress) there’s a fair bit of fructose in the sweet and sour sauce and as for regional produce, no one’s under any illusion that the veggies weren’t sourced from anywhere beyond the Footscray market.

These places are, though, about a time when a community – both real and imagined – would come together to break bread, share a meal, celebrate or commiserate as one; to feed both the body and the soul and remind one another that there was always next week, or next year.

There are still photos on the walls of Footscray greats like E.J and Chris Grant dining at the restaurants, there are still newspaper clippings recalling the heroics of Doug Hawkins, Libba, Chocco Royal and Scotty Wynd on the walls. The pages are browning with age. Like many parts of Footscray they have and they continue changing.

The road I travelled that saw me become an Essendon supporter is another story, but on the occasions when our immediate and extended families catch up at Poons, you can see in the eyes of the ol ‘timers the joyous recollections of the long-gone rituals, the sadness of missing friends and loved ones no longer at our table as they let themselves be transported back to a time that no longer exists outside the walls of the restaurant.

It is comfort food for the souls of the sons and daughters of the ‘Scray.