The sweet taste of failure (1/2)


  1. Writing an adventure story
  2. My seventh form art folio
  3. Being a rock star
  4. Looking cool
  5. Being a poet
  6. Being a playwright
  7. Being an academic
  8. Writing a novel
  9. Having a wildly successful blog
Where’s Wally?

I wrote this in January, 2009

Paraparaumu didn’t look like much to a teenage boy circling around the streets on his bicycle. It was mainly lawns and one-storey family homes with a scattering of kids’ trikes and rubber beach balls on the drive. School was school and the shops were boring, and because I was boring or unappreciative or something I didn’t like beaches, or swimming, or all the things people actually drove to Paraparaumu to do. Of course it was like any other place, and the waves, and the roads late at night, and the fields on the weekend, and the garages, and the bedrooms were full of teenagers acting out their dreams.

Corran’s bedroom always had the curtains drawn. When I remember his room it is always half dark, with an unmade bed, and balled up rugby socks and tops tossed into the corners. Corran himself used to sit on his low bed and huddle over his electric guitar. He was a good guitar player. Down the road was Steve. He was also a good guitar player. I spent less time at Steve’s place, but the rooms there were bright and full of light, and the house felt modern and ordered. I probably felt more at home in Steve’s house, but I think I only went there twice. I must have spent hundreds of days at Corran’s on the weekends in the late 1980s in Paraparaumu.

The way that I am going to separate Steve and Corran in this story is a little arbitrary. There were plenty of times when their musical tastes coincided, but my memory has sharpened the story this way so this is how it will be told. We also need to keep in mind that this was a time and a place where it really was not acceptable to try and be cool and not like rock music. While I went home and devoured A-ha, and Prince, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, my public self paid homage to rock bands. Which rock bands you wrote on your school bag, and the type of school bag you had were very important. The coolest kids had little canvas satchels with AC/DC, Iron Maiden and ZZ Top on them. I wasn’t cool. I had a Gino Borelli bag.

If I had to pick a track to represent Steve at this point in the 1980s it would be Satch Boogie, by Joe Satriani. I have the album this track is from: Surfing with the Alien. I don’t like it much, but I still like Satch Boogie. Satriani’s sound was very clean. The distortion on this album is light. He is a real technician, and there is always going to be a part in each song where he shows us how well he can do finger-tapping triplets. Eddie Van Halen was the popular master of this kind of solo.

For Corran I would choose a track that he never actually played me, but it somehow perfectly represents him: Wings of Steel by Stonehenge. American “heavy metal” bands had fancy clothes and big hair. The British version had smelly clothes, lank hair, and quite often beards or dodgy moustaches. Their music was often feral, sweaty, weighed down by stodgy British food and warm ale. Wings of Steel sounds like all that. It rumbles. It’s not quite perfect. It thunders and collapses into its changes, and then suddenly soars in a brief, beautiful arc. Corran listened to plenty of bands like this even if they weren’t all actually British. Man O’ War, Iron Maiden, earlier Def Leppard, Motorhead, Yngwie Malmsteen.

I should say that I never really felt at home in either camp though I enjoyed both for awhile. There were exceptions. I did like Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen on the one hand, and I did like AC/DC and Guns ‘n’ Roses on the other. I was wowed by technique and sprezzatura in one case, and fascinated by the darkness, and blunted emotions in the other. I suppose that all three of us were busy learning who we were by trying things on for size. Because everyone else did, I wore stone washed black jeans, and long T-shirts, and basketball boots. Because my friends did I listened to WASP and Motley Crue and Skid Row, and even though I didn’t like them much, I didn’t know why, and so I kept listening to them.

In the end all three of us ended up in a band together. It wasn’t much of a band, and it only played one song at one gig, but it was something better than pedalling around the summer streets of Paraparaumu with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  As it turned out that one taste of being in a band, and the heady failure of it was enough to inspire me to persevere with music for decades to come.

It’s time to talk about the 1990 Coca Cola Rockquest.

5 thoughts on “The sweet taste of failure (1/2)”

  1. I played in an electric blues band called Skid Row in the 1970s. We were sort of mean, well, sort of. We toured Nelson one time and a motel manager said that we were the best behaved band they’d ever had stay – sort of killed the ‘bad boy’ image. I left the band to play jazz.

  2. Steve – You and me both, bro.

    Richard (of RBB) – You should get the guys back together and do the reunion tour in America. You’ll sell out everywhere. Of course, the stage will also get rushed and you’ll all be killed by angry fans when they realise that you’re not the American Skid Row of the 80s. A small price to pay for fame.

    Gruntled – Definitely a good song, but overall I find most of his stuff a bit too technical, and not enough soul for me. I admire the technique though.

    I have just discovered that Stonehenge were a heavy metal band from… Waikato. I’m putting the link to the song Wings of Steel here:

    I know you probably won’t like it, but I love this track for the reasons I give in the post.

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