The Party Show & Paul
It was a two-month stay in a well-known psychiatric hospital that prompted the first major paradigm shift in my music listening habits. Up until then I had been a fairly strict Triple M listener with a record collection that in the most part reflected that (i.e. Cold Chisel*, Billy Joel**, Bryan Adams, etc).
When I came out of hospital I found myself searching out albums by David Bowie, Lou Reed, The Smiths and The Cure as well as switching on Triple R for the first time. This was mainly down to the interactions I’d had with fellow patients many of whom seemed to be plugged into a different cultural matrix than I was. The first thing that struck me about Triple R was that the presenters were just that; they were presenting music and information that they had a personal relationship with. And it was far from slick; some of the music was unutterably awful, there were regular technical glitches with interviews often played off old cassette tapes, there were circular and pointlessly rambling monologues, there was bad language. In short it resembled humanity in all its glory and catastrophe. This was in stark contrast to the impersonal machine of commercial radio where pre-programmed, market tested slickness was king.
I ended up becoming a regular listener to four programs. I never missed an edition of Fast Fictions on a Monday night with James ‘The Hound Dog’ and David ‘The Body’ where they dissected popular culture in a way that resembled a pub conversation you might have with your smartest friend whilst you both got drunk. It was on Fast Fictions that I first heard lifelong favourite artists such as Matthew Sweet and the sublime Jellyfish, not to mention Nirvana.
There was Off The Record with Brian Wise (still going today) that played music by, and lengthy interviews with, artists from the rootsier side of the tracks. I loved the comedy show Danger: Low Brow with Leaping Larry L, Double A, Dennis Twilight and Brett Duck which was best summed up as people of high intelligence discussing things of little or no significance. Still the best radio show I’ve ever heard. And then there was Headley Gritter and his legendary talkback/interview show at midnight on Saturday nights called The Party Show.
A self-styled mystery man (not even other station presenters seemed to know what he looked like), Headley had a dedicated army of regular callers who would call in and discuss the topics of the day (mostly the footy) in a no-holds-barred way that I’d never heard before. He also had guests from an array of vocations. One week it would be the half of the cast of The Late Show, the next it would be Sam Newman and Dermott Brereton discussing things in such an unguarded manner that it was like you were being let in on private conversations that could never be aired on commercial outlets.
One of the main differences between commercial radio and Triple R was their respective attitudes towards ‘work’. On commercial radio the overriding background assumption seemed to be that all of their listeners worked 9-5 and hated their jobs. There regular time checks, for instance, were always framed in relation to how long there was until the end of the working day. Afternoon radio was always referred to as ‘drive’. Triple R was much different in this regard. At least half of the interviews that went to air on the Party Show for instance were with people who seemed vitally interested in their chosen vocations; the lawyers, the scientists, social workers, and doctors, their jobs seemed inseparable from their lives and who they were.
The assumption on commercial radio was that work was a necessary evil, an act that was completely disassociated from one’s true self. Whilst I didn’t find in hospital the psychological paradigm shift that I hoped would occur (I continued to wash my hands 50-100 times a day after I got out), the cultural paradigm shift outlined above did end having a profound impact nonetheless. I slowly began to formulate the goal of assimilating my working life into my actual life. I eventually became a musician. And on Saturday night I feel like things will come full circle as my band Summon The Birds will be Headley’s musical guest on The Party Show. I wonder what he’ll look like… * I still love Chisel. ** Same goes for Billy.