For a self-described “bludge”, Dave Graney is something of an overachiever: performer, songwriter, musician, producer, broadcaster, poet, author.
What’s more, real bludges eventually get caught out – but Dave Graney has endured. You don’t last as long as he has in the music business if you’re trading on talent alone. It takes practice, craft, determination and perserverance as well.
Dave Graney says his first book, 1001 Nights, was about how he “got his tone”, while his third book, Workshy: My Life as a Bludge. is “more about my pitch”. It’s also a casual and eminently enjoyable wander through his life and career.
Along the way he’s had some ‘real jobs’ such as pumping petrol, working in a timber mill, and even market research. By-and-large, however, he has been able to focus on his passion for music and performance.
His ability to avoid a nine-to-five job leads him to ask the question “what is work?”, and it’s this theme which (very loosely) ties the book together.
The theme – and that question – is more prescient now that Dave Graney could have imagined when he was writing the book. The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the performing arts sector, and people who rely on income from live music have seen their livelihoods disappear overnight.
Unlike many other workers, however, performing artists have not been able to call on the new safety net of JobKeeper. Treasurer Josh Frydenburg said the Federal Government had to “draw the line somewhere” when deciding what was a job (and what wasn’t a job), and being a musician fell on the wrong side of the line.
So the idea that being a musician is a ‘bludge’, or at least not real work, is now having serious economic consequences for many Australians.
Music Can Take You Places
For the player, music can be a career that takes you to places around the world.
The narrative arc of his book takes Dave from the schoolyards and footy grounds of Mt Gambier, to Adelaide share-houses, the Bohemian streets of early 80s St Kilda, London squats and Darlinghurst terraces.
While the book doesn’t come to Lismore, Dave Graney and Clare Moore did come to Lismore last year. They played at The Dusty Attic, that much-loved but sadly short-lived venue in Woodlark Street.
There would have been about 30 or so people there, I guess. Dave Graney on guitar and Clare Moore on drums, both squashed into a corner of the cafe just inside the entrance.
At the half-time break they came back out to mingle with the audience. Dave sat down at the table with us, chatted amiably about ten minutes and drank a cup of tea.
That’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby!
The show was great, and the intimate performance-in-your-living-room vibe made it feel quite special.
Live music is like that. For the listener, music can take you to places in your minds.
The sound of a favourite song or a familiar refrain can remind you of long-past moments, feelings, places and people.
Dave Graney’s classic Night of the Wolverine is one of those songs for me. When I hear it, I’m taken back to Hobart in the mid 90s on a cold winter’s night, drinking red wine with a dear friend, playing the Night of the Wolverine album on repeat.
That friend passed away a few years ago, so now Night of the Wolverine is laden with memories, and I listen to it even more.
That’s the thing about music. It’s a powerful form of communication, and it’s deeply personal. It becomes part of our own stories – our own individual soundtracks.
Another theme of the book is the rapid pace of change in the music biz, especially over the past 25 years.
There’s the way people consume the product, for a start. Dave Graney recalls being driven around local record stores with record company “pluggers” to promote his albums.
Figures would be fudged to make it look like your album was selling more copies than it really was, to build some buzz in the charts.
Then the pluggers disappeared, and record stores were gobbled up by chains. Then the chain stores were gobbled up by all-purpose electrical retailers.
Now we don’t even go to a store to buy our music, we just access it from a global internet giant via a subscription service.
Lismore’s fabled live music scene has changed too. I lived in Tasmania until 2004, but I knew of high-profile Lismore bands like Skunkhour and Grinspoon. The Simpletons (and then Darren Hanlon) were a favourite too.
More recently I’ve learned about the halcyon days of Lismore’s live music scene through the Facebook Group Lismore Bands of the 80s and 90s.
By the time I landed in Lismore at the back end of 2015, however, those days had long gone. The main music venue was The Tatts Hotel, and now that has gone too.
The Dusty Attic kept the flame burning, for a while …
The net, baby, the net
Of course, Lismore and the Northern Rivers are still home to many talented musicians – young and old.
With the decline of the live music scene, and now the coronavirus pandemic, local musos have had to find new ways of showcasing their talents. and so many have turned to the internet.
In May, for example, talented local singer songwriter Mykaela Jay live streamed the launch of her single Three Cities in Day straight from her bedroom over Facebook.
Watching a gig on your computer might not have the same sense of drama and excitement as being there in the flesh, but at least it’s convenient.
Now it seems like everyone is streaming gigs, and anyone can tune in from anywhere.
If there’s a silver lining to this COVID-mess, then perhaps it’s forcing all of us to do things differently, and in the process we’re making discoveries that we may not have made otherwise.
So yeah, it’s work
Dave Graney writes:
My cousin Michael once asked me what I did after, or outside of, work. I couldn’t answer. It was all work, but it wasn’t actually.
Being a rock and roll star may seem like a getting “your money for nothin”, but the real work of producing is not just a legitimate form of labour, it’s a vital contribution to our society.
I will add this one qualification though: being able to do something that you love and get paid for it is a wonderful privilege, and one that most people don’t get to enjoy.
The downside of that privilege, for musicians, is the unpredictability and precariousness of their working conditions. Right now many musicians are without an income, and without a safety net.
We shouldn’t take music, or musicians, for granted. We need them, and they need our support during these crazy, scary days.
Workshy: My Life as a Bludge is available at booktopia and your local bookstore.