Interview with Jesse Fink

The more you find out about Jesse Fink, the more you discover he’s got his shit together. From an outsiders point of view, the release of his 2013 The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC appears to have lifted his standing in the non-fiction genre, but in my discussion with him it becomes clear he’s been at it for a fair while.

James: When you were a teenager, were you writing? If not, what did you get up to?

Jesse: In all honesty, my major preoccupation as a teenager, like most teenagers, was getting laid. I did writing at UTS in Sydney, which was rubbish and a complete waste of time. Far too focused on the theoretical/academic side of writing rather than the practical – like, how to get published; how to write a story that people want to read, etc. The best writing education I ever had was simply from reading great writers – people like David Lodge, Richard Russo, Christopher Koch – and I was fortunate that one of my first jobs was working at Gleebooks’ secondhand bookshop in Sydney. I read a lot of books while working there and spent virtually my entire weekly pay on books. But it was good for my soul and my writing.

James: Were you interested in running and/or soccer at the time?

Click here to read the full interview.

 

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Gearing up for the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT)

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If you click on this link you’ll be taken to the lighterpack website that shows a run down of the gear list I’m taking for the Australia Alps Walking Track.

I’ll be flying to Canberra on the 15th of Feb to start a end to end north to south hike. I’m going to get beat up. You’ll notice an over supply of electronics equipment in the gear list – I’m going to write my PHD on a iphone with a bluetooth keyboard.


Let me quote the great John Chapman to introduce the AAWT to those who have never heard of it before:

“Formerly called ‘The Alpine Walking Track’, the ‘Australian Alps Walking Track’ is a long route that passes through the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales. It is primarily a wilderness style walk as it passes through natural landscapes and there are no major facilities.

The track essentially follows the crest of the alpine range (the alps) from southern Victoria through to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). On the way it crosses all the highest mountain regions from the Baw Baw Plateau, the Mt Howitt area, the Bogong High Plains, the Cobberras then the Kosciuszko National Park and finally into the Namadgi National Park near Canberra.

In many ways, it is the grandest and most difficult of all the long distance tracks in Australia. It is not the longest but with over 27,000 metres of climbing and descending it is indeed a tough walk (equivalent to more than 3 ascents and descents of Mt Everest!). This equates to between 550m and 800m of climbing and descending each day – definitely not a flat walk! It also crosses a lot of Australia’s best alpine scenery making it a very scenic varied walk.

The official length is 650 km but most follow the route described in the guide book which in the latest edition is 659.6 km. A fair bit of planning is needed, as while there are plenty of minor roads crossing the alps, there are no towns or re-supply points along the track (see itineraries below). There are several ski resorts close to the track, which can provide a rest with a bed and a hot shower, but there are few other facilities. Most end-to-enders spend about 3 days driving and pre-placing food caches before starting the walk.”

 

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Interview with Michael Browning

In October 2014 Michael Browning published his memoir Dog Eat Dog: A story of survival, struggle and triumph by the man who put AC/DC on the world stage. The book is available here through the publisher Allen and Unwin.

I met Michael in 2013 when I was researching my book Bad Boy Boogie: The Adventures of Bon Scott.

Michael was generous with his time and I spoke with him recently about Dog Eat Dog.

James: Your book Dog Eat Dog came out in October 2014 – what was your main motivation for writing it?

Michael:
I was getting hassled by relatives and friends to share my experience.

James: There was a rush of memoirs and AC/DC related books in the last few years – in your own experience, what made you decide ‘bugger it I’m going to put one out’? Do you think it was age that prompted people to record their experiences? Or did it have more to do with the resurgence of AC/DC popularity?

Michael:
I was not particularly motivated by the ACDC books other than to more mindful of conveying the feeling of what it was like actually being there and less obsessed with facts and timelines. I conducted no interviews. My book was entirely from my memories. Not to say that the other ACDC related books ain’t good . Mostly they are but the authors also had a lot of smoke blown up their arses

James: Okay. You credit Jeff Apter in the acknowledgements section at the back of Dog Eat Dog – what was his involvement? Did the manuscript get to a stage where you needed someone’s help? Did the experience of writing put you off?

Michael:
I sent my script to Jeff and he was great at making me go further. Sometimes I would assume the reader would understand what I was saying. But Jeff would make me spell it out. He is a great writer and talent and I was very fortunate to have him bring out the best of my writing

James: Your account is actually quite personal and touching, in a good way. Did you mean for this to happen? Or did you realize half-way thru that in order for the book to work you’d need to allow yourself to be vulnerable?

Michael:
I felt that I had to put myself out there. I am now at a point in my life where I don’t give a shit. So the great thing about speaking the truth is, it sets you free.

James: Have you been able to find long lost friends through the release of Dog Eat Dog?

Michael:
Not really. I was hoping to reconnect with Malcolm. Sadly this appears to be no longer possible. I loved everything about our relationship and always longed to reconnect with him.

James: Being separated from AC/DC meant you could apply your skills and use your contacts with other bands tho, right? INXS would’ve missed out on your experience?

Michael:
It was important to my self belief, post AC/DC to achieve something positive. So I came back to Australia with a view to discover a band that could also do well internationally. I just happened to sign INXS. But I signed them to my label Deluxe Records. For the record I didn’t manage them, I was their record company. Chris Murphy, managed them and he did a great job at it.

James: In Dog Eat Dog you say you felt guilty for not serving in Vietnam, but perhaps AC/DC and INXS wouldn’t exist if you did. Do you ever feel you served your country in a different way?

Michael:
No, I always felt that it was a useless war. But my best mate was a victim. So I felt guilty for not being at his side. I was never going to be there.

James: I see. Big difference. If you were twenty-odd today, would you get involved in music?

Michael:
Yes absolutely, the live music scene that I was involved with has now be taken over by the Internet which is equally exciting. All the old business models have gone and the possibilities are endless. A big day of social media hits is now the equivalent of playing to a huge live audience.

James: Great – and thank you for your time Michael. Last question: after Dog Eat Dog was published was there anything you thought about that you wished you included? Any subjects you might have come at differently?

Michael:
No

 

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What I’ve been reading

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This fortnight I have focused on two texts – Austerlitz by Sebald and On Creaturely Life by Eric Santer. A pdf of the latter is available online.

It was my first time reading Austerlitz and I had the usual experience of all Sebald texts of drifting from pure fascination to having read a few pages and not comprehending a single word of what my eyes had passed over – only to note that they were fine words and then to retrace where I had last understood what was going on and start again. I’m not sure Austerlitz will have as great an impact on me as Rings of Saturn – but only time will tell. I don’t really have any worthwhile conclusions about Austerlitz without reading it again, and I’m sure other people have already made such points and you’ve read a lot about it already.

One thing I was looking for as I read – a point made by Sebald in an interview – is that he is constantly reminding the reader that the author, and the characters – had given their preoccupations considerable thought. This is kind of reflexive, as they wouldn’t be preoccupations unless they demanded ones attention, but I suppose the interesting thing to note is the way Sebald handles this in the text – and how these become clues to the greater questions asked in the book. Here are a few examples:

“From the first I was astonished by the way Austerlitz put his ideas together as he talked, forming perfectly balanced sentences out of whatever occurred to him, so to speak, and the way in which, in his mind, the passing on of his knowledge seemed to become a gradual approach to a kind of historical metaphysic, bringing remembered events back to life.” p14

“Histories, for instance, like those of the straw mattresses which lay, shadow-like, on the stacked plank beds and which had become thinner and shorter because the chaff in them disintegrating over the years, shrunken – and now, in writing this, I do remember that such an idea occurred to me at the time – as if they were the mortal frames of those who once lay there in that darkness.” p31

“Though I really gave up my architectural studies long ago, he said, I sometimes relapse into my old habits, even if I don’t make notes and sketches any more, but simply marvel at the strange edifices we construct.” p57

“He would always emerge from his study in the evening in a state of deep despondency, only to disappear into it again next morning. But on Sunday, when he stood up in the chapel in front of his congregation and often addressed them for a full hour, he was a changed man; he spoke with a moving eloquence which I still feel I can hear, conjuring up before the eyes of his flock the Last Judgement awaiting them all, the lurid fires of purgatory, the torments of damnation and then, with the most wonderful stellar and celestial imagery, the entry of the righteous into eternal bliss.” p64

These prompts, I think, are an interesting technique in giving the story and the characters sub-text. An issue that occupies someones thoughts doesn’t just explain events of their past but reveals, in a clever way, why they are where they are and what might motivate them into the future. This also echoes one of Stanley Kubrick’s axiom: concept as subtext.

On Creaturely Life: I thought this book might be a good segue between thinking about walking tracks and nature and the notion of Natural History in Sebald’s work. Maybe I’m stupid but the book lacks a coherent overall thread. For example, in the final chapter Santer begins discussing the references to animals in Sebald’s work – but it only lasts a few pages before switching to discussing humour and then Sebald’s use of photography. Maybe I’ll have to read the book again to gain an overall perspective but at the moment I’m seeing it all piecemeal. The piecemeal take away ideas I have identified follow.

One of the things I do when I go ‘out bush’ is think about animals and what their thinking capacity is. Seeing wild animals is what makes the wilderness wilderness, I suppose. Landscapes and their vegetation are managed, and wildlife populations are managed too, but the nature of animals and how we relate to them remains separate. Santer doesn’t discuss this in relation to wild places but some of the conversation is still relevant:

“For the animal, beings are open, but not accessible; that is to say, they are open in an inaccessibility and an opacity – that is, in some way, in a non-relation. This openness without disconcealment distinguishes the animals poverty in the world from the man forming which characterises man.” p9 from Agamben.

Santer wants to use the contrast between the way animals think and the way man thinks to develop a picture of natural history and how that plays out in various literature. To be in a natural state is to be bored. This is certainly true when you’ve been sitting in a camp somewhere for more than six hours. Boredom, Santer states, is to be in a state that obstinately refuses itself. This may explain why bushwalking is simultaneously exhilarating and utterly boring. The thrill of starting a long walk is quickly tempered by the mundanity of the act.

Somewhere in the relationship between man and animal is the notion of the creaturely, the space between real and symbolic death. Natural history tries to make sense of these forces:

“Natural history is born out of the dual possibilities that life can persist beyond death of the symbolic forms that give it meaning and that symbolic forms can persist beyond the death of the form of life that gave that human vitality.”

In the context of Natural history the universe doesn’t end when you die. The modes of understanding that make us human also exist and persist outside of us and continue on in a collective sense. The idea that “life can persist beyond death of the symbolic forms” leads to a fascination with violence and war and the decay of human orders in order to give structure to the narration of natural history. All of this leads to allegory which is a signifier of temporality. In allegory, Santer argues, the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history. (p18) The most extreme example as represented in the skull. A ruin, for example, is irresistible decay. Therefore, in allegory, as a expression of temporality, mans subjection to nature is most obvious.

When we look at the works of Sebald and some of the take away messages of Natural History – simply being there – the thereness – and grasping the changing face of history; the impact of the observation of death and decay, is experienced as trauma. For the characters is Sebalds work, observation is not a beholding, but recollecting traces of past lives and lost possibilities. They become a medium and photographic apparatus for communion with the dead. (p.53) Hence why we get the feeling history has a strangle-hold on these people to find out what they can.
Finally, past suffering has been absorbed into the substance of lived space, into the setting of human history. Basically, natural history is all around us, a kind of morphic resonance that lies beyond the books, but is present if you know how to read the landscape and people.

All this seems a bit dark and dreary, especially when thinking about wilderness walks and their apparent healing processes, but each track will have a story to tell, and having a sense of the natural history of a track will make the story I will try to tell more informative. Pilgrimages are predicated on the movement of people and automatically trigger within us the notion of the past and salvation. Songlines bring to us the past and carry with them the stories of the past. The Bibbulmun track, for example, has aboriginal, colonial, forestry, mining histories embedded in the landscapes that it passes through. Apparently the Wilson Inlet in Walpole is the oldest inlet in the world. The track itself has its own history and the way it developed and changes.

Bill Bryson spends a bit of time discussing the history of the Appalachian trail before the character in A Walk in the Woods sets foot on the trail. I’ll be reading that book over the next week or two to see how popular walking stories work.

 

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Photographic tour of Riverbank Detention Centre – where Bon Scott spent nine months.

In 1962/1963, aged 16, Bon Scott was sentenced to nine months at Riverbank Detention Centre. He was charged and convicted for stealing petrol, giving a false name and unlawful carnal knowledge. Below is a series of images from Riverbank in Caversham, Perth Western Australia.

For a google map of where this is, click here. Riverbank is the square courtyard building if you zoom in.

The entrance and admin building:

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The central courtyard:

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Entrance to cells:

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The cell block corridor:

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Inside a cell:

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A prisoners drawing:

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The dark cell block corridor:

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The courtyard under croft:

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Dining room entrance:

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The kitchen:

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Bathroom entrance:

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Showers:

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The metalwork shop entrance:

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The recreation room:

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The cricket nets:

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You can read about Bon Scott’s experiences at Riverbank here.

Any questions or comments? Please write below.

Bon Scott and the Blues Lyric Formula

If you’ve ever wondered how Bon Scott wrote all those excellent lyrics in  AC/DC, then you’ve come to the right place.

Provided for your enjoyment is an article exploring the tradition of Blues Lyrics and how Bon Scott used the Blues Lyric Formula to write nearly an album a year in the years 1975 to 1980.

To find out more and to access the full article please click on this link.

 

Thank you for stopping by.

Planned walks

 

Here’s a list of the walks I plan to do over the next couple of years:

Australian Alps Walking Track

Shikuko Island Pilgramage walk

Heysen Trail

Te Araroa New Zealand Thru Hike

Pacific Crest Trail

and the Bibbulmun track.

After all that I hope to have a crack at the Bibbulmun track fastest self-supported time. The fastest known supported time as at Dec 2015 is 15 days held by Bernadette Benson.

Keep a look out on this blog for posts about each of these walks.

 

Western Arthurs