“I wake up every morning with no-one beside me/I wake up every morning my mother will chide me/I’m just a suburban boy, just a suburban boy.” Dave Warner From The Suburbs.
We are city people, yes, but more than that we are culturally, emotionally, philosophically, suburban people. We live close, we think close, we gravitate to the similar, and our art and our lives reflect that.
Australian music makes that clear just as much in 2019 as it did in 1979.
When I started going to gigs 40 years ago, there were a couple of things so obvious it would not have warranted comment even if I had been switched on enough to notice – which I wasn’t.
Almost everyone went to gigs, whether you were particularly interested in music or not and whether you looked like the people on stage or not – and almost everyone did. Whether you felt safe or not – and those of us who didn’t look like everyone else, often didn’t.
It’s where you went to drink and talk and meet and hook up and drink. Or, for some of us, drink, talk and not hook up. Sigh. It was pretty much the only place you could go at night: nothing else stayed open, nothing else was as easy to get to when public transport ended early evening.
And if your suburb didn’t have a pub or RSL that put on bands, there would be one 10 minutes away in any direction, any of them putting on the kind of artists you might have seen on Sounds or Countdown, or one of those “weirdo” bands who would never get played on TV or radio.
After all, there were seven nights to fill, and some of those weirdos – hello Jimmy & The Boys! – pulled a good size crowd who still drank.
Here’s the thing: the music and the people and the venues and the charts and the industry were a circular organism. The crowds were almost exclusively white as were the bands as were the suburbs the pubs were in. The loudest voices if not the largest contingent in the room were men, and almost everyone on the stage was a man. The music was almost exclusively rock, or variations thereof, as made famous by white men. The drinks were almost exclusively beer, as drunk by white men in the suburban pubs.
R&B? For wogs. Dance music? For girls. Art music? For droobs who went to the tiny pubs in town. Hip hop? What?
We still live in the suburbs, but look around and there are brown faces, black faces, West Asian, East Asian and South American faces alongside the white. The pubs are filled with food rooms and family groups, open spaces and social groups. The charts and the few TV shows are filled with female artists, and male artists who would have been beaten up and eaten up on stages 40 years ago.
Violence is down, racist abuse is down, beer use is down. Now hardly anyone goes to gigs and if they do those are in the city or inner suburbs, unless you want a cover band, and rock music is but one strand you’ll hear from cars or houses or radios.
But music has thrived. R&B and hip hop? Everywhere. Dance music? Standard. Art music? Yeah, well, still for droobs who go into town. And daggy boys who can’t get dates are still daggy boys who can’t get dates. Sigh.
“I’m just a suburban boy, and I know what it’s like to be rejected every night/And I’m sure that it must be, easier for boys, from the city.”