Thursday, May 10, 2012

Notes On The Fortunate Country

The Fleshtones In Australia 04/18/12 -004/29/12

                      04/20/12 airport baggage trolley, Botany Bay, NSW

  Before my time, my dad was in the Merchant Service and spent time in Australia. Later, when I was a very little boy he gave me a large Australian penny with a leaping kangaroo on the back. He also brought back a '78' by Graeme Bell and His Jazz Band. It had a beautiful red, green and white 'Regal Zonophone' label.  The song was called 'The Lizard'. I can still hum a bit of it. There was lots of talk of immigration to Australia then, and to places like Alaska. But we lived in a fortunate country too, and Australia was  very far away. 

As the memories of the Fleshtones journey to Australia to be part of The Hoodoo Gurus 'Dig It Up Invitational' disappear into swirl of mind-bending jet lag, I'd like to set down just a few observations. For the most part I was too busy enjoying the moment to take many pictures or scribble notes, so forgive (or thank) me because I've left out a lot.

 04/18/12 -04/20/12 Destination: Singapore (in flight service see: BA15 en route to Sydney via 'the long way around'...
                                                                                                                                                                            Since I spent my childhood collecting stamps, the idea of stopping in Singapore really appealed to me, even it it was only a two-hour layover at Changi Airport. I somehow found my way to the Cactus Roof Garden where there was, of course, a very tropical resort-like bar, which served the city-state's 'Tiger' lager ice-cold in an appropriately steamy environment.
All that was missing was a swimming pool. At least I had made it outside of, or precisely, on top of, the terminal.
               04/21/12 The Iceburgs, Bondi Beach NSW -at least there are no sharks in the pools.

 First official duty in Australia was providing entertainment for Leanne (Maxie) Maxwell's birthday bash at The Iceburgs Club (, overlooking Bondi Beach. Much revamped since our last visit, the formerly somewhat seedy bathing club now features contemporary dining and drinks to match the fabulous views from it's many terraces. Dave Faulkner joined us for a version of The Seekers 'I Know I'll Never Find Another You' that we learned for the occasion. A good thing, Dave seems to know every song by the iconic '60s Aussie folk quartet by heart.

05/20/12 "Why The Gurus are Australian legends, mate!" -exclaimed lifeguards at Sydney's Clovelly Beach, a prime (and shark-proof!) spot to catch a bit of urban snorkeling. The water was a bit rough for me that day, but I did manage to spot a few sargent-majors and a black and white striped mado.
 Being used to touring on a shoe-string, it was refreshing to be onboard a big operation with load-in crews, drivers, 'per diem' allowances and all that professional stuff all thanks to Feel Presents, Pty Ltd (, all executed with good humor and panache. Thanks Tim Pittman! The Dig It Up Shows themselves were an embarrassment of riches (yeah, yeah we're just embarrassing, ha ha). The line up for the Enmore Theatre ( show in Newtown, Sydney featured The Hard Ons, a reunion of the hit making Sunny Boys, Dennis Tek and Rob Younger of the seminal Aussie punk-rock band Radio Birdman, Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate (accompanied by his charming and talented wife Linda Pittman on drums as well as our own Keith Streng and Ken Fox), Died Pretty, California's pop-rocking Redd Kross, who I hadn't seen since we taped them for The Cutting Edge, and (it gets even better) The, as it would be said legendary, Sonics. Topping the bill were our hosts, The Hoodoo Gurus. Each night, there were two things I was sure not to miss (besides The Fleshtones -you won't catch me missing them anymore!): Died Pretty, with whom we had toured the east coast (of Australia) upon the release of their 'Doughboy Hollow' LP in 1991, and the shear joy of being in the audience when the Hoodoo Gurus brought the Dig It Up shows to their finale. We would headline our own show with Steve Wynn at Newtown's Sandringham (The 'Sando') Hotel the next Tuesday ( What I really liked about Newtown wasn't that it's the up and coming 'hip' part of town -we get enough of that back home in Greenpoint, but it's look. Colonial -almost 'frontier' in appearance.

The Queen Victoria in Newtown is a wonderful example of the classic (and indispensable) Australian 'hotel' or pub. Of course, as the Bonzo Dog Band once said "they tend to get a bit modern these days" -even in Australia.

I spent my day off with Maxie tracking down a pair of Australian stockman's boots I had promised my son. Now that Blunstones, the archetypical Australian boot have become somewhat trendy, they've moved production from Tasmania (where they were made since 1870) to China. I bought him a pair of "Redbacks' -named for the super-poisonous Aussie spider (it seems all Australian creatures are highly poisonous, even those wacky platypus). They're just as rugged as 'Blunnies' and still made Down Under.

How many can you name?

Later, I unexpectedly joined Bill and Ken at Lord Roberts Hotel ( , East Sydney. They have great roof-top dining and drinks, but I never made it past the ground floor bar.

Brits like to poke fun at the supposedly unsophisticated (and blessedly classless) Aussies -and visa versa. We spent so much time at The Lord Roberts marveling at a bar runner depicting an oblivious upper-crust 'Pom' proclaiming Bulmer's Cider to be 'smashing with ice', that they gave me one.

Steve Wynn and a kenetic Streng play to a packed room, Palace Theatre Melbourne 04/24/12

 Anzac Day, Melbourne VIC "Lest We Forget..."
 The Melbourne Dig It Up Show took place at The Palace Theatre on Anzac Day, first established to commemorate the Australia New Zealand Army Corps ill-starred landings at Gallipoli, Turkey in WWI. There are solemn sunrise ceremonies across New Zealand, Australia and at the battlefield in Turkey. Current and returned servicemen and women don their uniforms. Afterwards everyone hits the pubs where it's just not allowed to let someone in uniform to buy their own drinks. Gambling by playing  'Two Up' is permitted across the nation using two old-fashioned 'large' pennies (see 'Wake In Fright' aka 'Outback' 1971, starring Donald Pleasence). In each city we were lodged in a local 'Medina Suites' ( Besides our own rooms (luxury!), each suite has a kitchen supplied with tea and milk for breakfast. Good thing, The low cost of food and drink that astounded me on our first trip to Australia is a thing of the past. And although not exactly the 'Norway of the Pacific' as Bill Milziher quipped, Australia has become a pricey destination for North American travelers.
04/26/12 Mornington Peninsular, VIC Montalto

 The next day, Dave has organized a field-trip to the Mornington Peninsular Wine Country, about a 90-minute drive south of the city. Joining us was mutual friend Anita Verdun of Verdon Family Meat Market, Raceland, LA and her ex-pat pal Julie who has raised a family in Melbourne. First stop was Montalto ( for tasting, then lunch in their restaurant with wonderful views of the misty, rolling vineyards. They also sponsor a sculpture trail. Forget all those outback clichés about Australian cooking, the country has gone totally foodie, and the lunch was wonderful. Streng pronounced the local reds 'thin' although I'd just say they're 'light' in a cool country sort of way -like a nice Loire red. Dave did order us a bottle of Cullen Mangan Red from Streng's favorite Australian wine region -Margaret River in Faukner's native state of Western Australia. It was satiny, well-rounded and full. Although koalas are becoming endangered in other parts of the country due to development , disease and fast moving automobiles, the lush gloves of eucalyptus trees lining the Mornington roads are supposedly infested with the cuddly (watch those razor-sharp claws) critters. There were certainly a lot of 'koala crossing' signs along the highway. Try as we could, however, we did not see any of the beloved marsupials. Tree-colored and slow moving, they are hard to spot from speeding cars. Much like deer, we were told you can also see lots of 'roos at the edge of the copses if you get up at dawn.

That evening, Ron Peno, Died Pretty's extraordinary frontman, appeared with his new band The Superstitions at Melbourne's Forum Theatre, a classic movie palace with a pseudo-Roman interior that out-Romes Rome. Borne off as if on waves of ecstasy, Ron Peno's delivery stood in stark contrast to the hyper-stationary stage demeanor of headliner Mark Lanegan, darling of the sock-hat brigade. The next day, I think we really hit our stride at our headline pub show with Steve Wynn at Yah Yah's (www.yahyahs/ in the (yes) hip Fitzroy section of town.

 Besides Montalto, we existed almost totally on (superb) Asian food when we remembered to eat. I yearned for some of the traditional British-based Aussie fare that we relied upon so much on our earlier visits. Oh, the beer was certainly still there, but remember nobody, but nobody drinks Fosters in Australia. I never even saw it on tap. I was on the lookout for inexpensive stuff like meat pies, 'chips', toasted white bread steak sandwiches with 'the lot' (steak, fried egg, slices of tomato, beet-root and pineapple, lettuce, and 'brown sauce' if they have it) and a 'lamington' -a small block of vanilla layer cake spread with raspberry jam, then covered in chocolate frosting sprinkled with shredded coconut. I had promised myself and all who would listen that I wouldn't leave Australia without treating myself to at least one lamington.
The country having gone through a food revolution, none of this was as common-place as we had assumed. I finally tracked one down in a pie shop on Melbourne's Flinder's Street. The price, no longer pocket change, had gone up to AUS$4.95. No matter, I had to have it.

04/28/12 Perth, WA
Although nowhere near the venue, our Perth 'Medina' was right downtown, a few steps from the Hay Street -Murray Street pedestrian mall which was opened by The Queen herself almost 20 years ago (talk about the 'common touch', a monarch's duties have certainly become somewhat mundane in our times). Perth's mall is like its north American counterparts, but well sprinkled with Aboriginal shoppers and leathery sorts wearing pulled-down rancher's hats or the odd 'jackaroo', giving the otherwise modern city a way out west feel.
                                            Redd Kross rock the house, Perth

 It rained a real tropical downpour into the evening, but nothing was going to keep the sell-out crowd away from the Astor Theatre and the final Dig It Up show. Now pared down to ourselves, Redd Kross and The Hoodoo Gurus, who received a hero's welcome in this, Dave's hometown. Dom Mariani of 'The Stems' fame held the fort (and Keith's guitar) while we once again demonstrated physical fitness in the audience during 'Push Up Man'. The tour ended with all of us joining The Gurus on stage for a final encore of Gary Glitter's Rock And Roll Part 2. Handed the mike by Dave, I somehow managed to forget the words.

Whenever I leave Australia I feel like I'm blasting off in some spaceship to return to my own world, sort of like our last astronauts departing from the moon, never to return in our lifetimes. Australia seems like some sort of parallel universe or planet, and just like in the movies, unlikely as it may be, this planet is oddly Earth-like. Somehow the atmosphere is a life-sustaining nitogen/oxogen mixture like ours and the inhabitants seem (as always) to speak English, although naturally with somewhat of an accent.
 Now, it's back home to Greenpoint where I belong. The Fleshtones Winter-Spring Offensive is over and once again the band has been paroled for the foreseeable future. I go back to selling off my prized record collection (and anything else of value)
Ah, Greenpoint, the perfect film location -nondescript housing stock and docile inhabitants -at least for now. In fact they're got their generators roaring outside my window right now as I write, part of the gargantuan crew for 'Blood Ties' that's commandeered seven blocks of parking in a working class neighborhood to film some movie star's double run out of the Palace Cafe. Meanwhile, the Gurus singing 'Ahhh Ahhh Ah, Ahhh Ahhh Ah, I Want You Back!' is still playing in my head.
-Peter Zaremba

 ...damn, the bastards towed away our car too.

coming soon: Los Fleshtones, our all-new, all-spanish four song vinyl on Yeproc Records (
and on 06/21/12, The Fleshtones return to the New York stage along with Steve Wynn, Ivan Julian, Palmyra and direct from the Country Of Sweden -Stupidity (

some Dig It Up press: