(Hoodoo Gurus 2022 version - photo by Christopher Ferguson)
ABOUT 40 YEARS AGO, when dinosaurs strode the earth in acrylic shirts and caught the 5.10 home from Wynyard, fancy beer came in steins delivered by buxom wenches at a Dirty Dicks restaurant, and Le Hoodoo Gurus – conceived in Perth and Sydney, sprung from cages on Oxford and Crown Streets, built to spark and move on – wrote their manifesto, it came not as a stapled-together pamphlet printed in the basement of party headquarters, or a treatise nailed to the front door of The Family Inn Rydalmere.
It came in the form of a song. A song called (Let’s All) Turn On. And it went something like this “Shake Some Action, Psychotic Reaction/No Satisfaction, Sky Pilot, Sky Saxon/That's what I like/Blitzkrieg Bop to the Jailhouse Rock/Stop Stop Stop At The Hop do the Bluejean Bop/That's what I like.”
And if that wasn’t clear enough for you, it added “I'm gonna work it on out, I'm gonna Twist & Shout/I'm gonna Ride A White Swan and Get It On/Let's all turn on!”.
Alright. Uh-huh. Yeah.
Four decades, and a year, on, the man who co-wrote and sang that song, David Jonathan – you know him as Dave – Faulkner is poised to talk about what turned him on then, and what turns him on now. Rest assured, he’s fit and ready, for this and for the 40th anniversary tour beginning next week. (Yes, it’s a year late. Covid paid as much heed to Hoodoo Guru anniversaries as it did to drinking bleach and prayer.)
“I just passed a big check-up with my doctor. He sent me to a heart specialist to see if I had to take some pills for cholesterol or something, and no I don’t. I’m very happy with that,” says Faulkner. “Playing on stage does keep your aerobic fitness going on, and I’ve been a bit deprived of that the past few years, so I’m looking forward to going back to ‘gym’.”
So, to that manifesto, that mission statement for initially the three guitars+drums Le Hoodoo Gurus (Faulkner, drummer James Baker, Roddy Radalj and Kimball Rendall) and then as the opening track of Stoneage Romeos, the 1984 debut album from the guitars/bass/drums/but no Le band of Faulkner, Baker, guitarist Brad Shepherd and bassist Clyde Bramley.
“The fact is it was only ever a sampler. It was mostly an afternoon around a flagon of wine in James Baker’s lounge room on Crown Street,” Faulkner says. “That’s why there are four names on the writing credits [Faulkner, Baker, Radalj and Darcy Condon]: we were basically tossing out names and I was there making them rhyme, making it scan. It was not meant to be definitive by any means, throwing in bubblegum songs and of course James Baker’s beloved Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders, who got two nods in the lyrics.”
Faulkner was a fan of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers too, having seen the offspring of the New York Dolls six times in New York in 1978, but the older Baker had gone to LA and New York in early ‘76, hanging out with the Max’s and CBGBs crowd around The Ramones, and then headed to London where legend has it he met members of the Pistols and auditioned for The Clash.
A lack of money meant he had to return to Australia but coming back here meant the plugged-in Baker could form The Victims in Perth with Faulkner (who was, in punk-appropriate terms, going by the name Dave Flick) in 1977, and help spread the word.
“[Baker] was like Marco Polo in Perth, bringing in the spices from the exotic world, and we were all trying to figure out what was happening by reading about it in the music magazines and by the singles and albums when they came out, which would be six weeks later,” says Faulkner. “I assimilated a lot of James’ taste because he knew, quite early on in his life. He came up through glam rock and was going to pubs in Perth when [the music] was the equivalent of [boogie rock kings] Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and all of these biker-type fans who wanted to kill [him] because he looked like a girl and had make up on and flamboyant clothing on, like the Dolls and Alice Cooper.”
“And of course the Ramones were perfect: Bay City Rollers meets the Beach Boys meets T-Rex meets whatever.”
Perfect entrees. Except of course that Faulkner’s songwriting and interest drew on even more. As the foundational song’s listing indicates (with references to bubblegum hit Sugar Sugar, Jackie DeShannon’s When You Walk In The Room, and Velvet Underground’s Waiting For My Man) there’s seemingly everything feeding in to the Gurus, from straight out pop to drugs and trash.
“I think all music is pop music, whether it’s Verdi or Patti Smith, but some people like to sneer at that. It’s a bit like pop is too enjoyable and can’t be as worthy as something that doesn’t invite you in,” says Faulkner. “It’s like comedy movies never win best picture Oscars because people enjoy comedy too much: ‘you enjoyed it, but it can’t be a great film’.
“It’s an odious comparison, but I will make it anyway, it’s a bit like pornography and rock ‘n’ roll: if pornography doesn’t stimulate a particular part of you, it’s failed, that’s bad porn; if comedy doesn’t make you laugh, that’s bad comedy, throw it away; rock ‘n’ roll the dozen make you feel energised and dance, that’s bad rock ‘n’ roll.”
And presumably, he is not interested in bad pornography/comedy/rock ‘n’ roll.
“I want to energise people with my songs and my music,” says Faulkner. “Obviously, I have things to say that I have register on an emotional level too, which is a whole different game again, but I want that visceral level, the pure physicality of that experience, whether that is from melody or obnoxious sounds or beating drums or gentle keyboards. Whatever it takes.”
Much as the Hoodoo Gurus (whose current lineup is Faulkner, Shepherd, bassist Richard Grossman and drummer Nik Rieth) have always rated as one of the best live shows in rock, this year’s Gurus album, Chariot Of The Gods, shows there is no difference in Faulkner’s interest in or ability to write a song that bristles with ideas and energy after 40-odd years.
“I’m proud of it,” he says. “It doesn’t sound tired, it doesn’t sound like someone who is following the same tracks that they’ve been walking in, like ruts. I found wrinkles that are intriguing.”
Wrinkles in song or face notwithstanding, Faulkner is still hyper-concerned about dropping his standards. Not whether we think he might be, but if he feels it. And he suggests he might have reason to fear such a drop
“A lot of my favourite artists, their later work, sorry, is a bit dull. It’s not coming from that place of passion,” says Faulkner. “So when it does happen, it’s bloody good. I mentioned Verdi before: he famously wrote three of his greatest operas in his ‘80s. Randy Newman has just done [in 2017] a great album, Dark Matter. A great record, and as good a record is he’s ever done. That song, Wandering Boy, what a gorgeous song, my goodness, what an amazing song.”
There is still stuff to add to the list then?
“When you see it [sustained passion and quality in a songwriter] it’s pretty amazing, because these are people who you really love and it’s nice to see them still on their game with something to say. Irving Berlin wrote himself out …”
Though to be fair, I say, Berlin produced more in his peak years than most people manage in two or three careers.
“Exactly, exactly. He did do Annie Get Your Gun, what an incredible musical [1946 on stage, 1950 on film] that is.”
Mentioning Randy Newman and Irving Berlin is a bit of a clue of an area of interest for Faulkner that the songwriter that hasn’t always discussed among the usual suspects.
“I’m more into theatre than I ever was, musical theatre especially. It’s an area I’ve always wanted to be involved in, since the very beginning of the band. We even talked about doing a radio play, a serial, at the beginning of the band, before we did an album, to promote ourselves:10-minute episodes with a song each week,” he says. “We loved making up harebrained story ideas, like Leilani, Hayride To Hell, but it’s something I’ve always been passionate about, all my life.”
How passionate? How serious?
“I’ve been working on something for many years now, working towards a musical theatre piece. It will obviously be more like something I do; I’m not going to turn into Steven Sondheim overnight,” Faulkner says, chuckling. “I wish I could, but I can’t.
“My love of classical music is something I’ve always had, but I must admit it’s deepened into opera the last 20 years or so. It’s such a bizarre artform, but incredible as well. As far as rock ‘n’ roll and pop music, I still am scattering it to the four winds.
“You go far as you can in every direction and you never run out of places to go. Every genre. I even go to prog at this point. Not much, but I have allowed myself to go there, to betray the punk in me. King Crimson, what a wonderful band; Jethro Tull I like. There are no ends to music, that’s the best thing about it.”
That’s what he likes? Yep, that’s what he likes.
Hoodoo Gurus (with Dandy Warhols and local supports) play:
Riverstage, Brisbane, September 13
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney September 15
Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, September 16
Hobart City Hall, September 17
Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, September 20
Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth, September 23