Great Victorian Bike Ride
Echuca football ground, 1988
Someone has a new set of batteries. Probably six or eight of those big, huffin’ C-sized numbers. And they’ve got a ghetto blaster. It’s big too, although I can’t see it. I can hear it though. Loud. And clear.
The ghetto blaster is in a tent not far from ours in a makeshift camping ground stuffed full of tired cyclists. My friend James and I are just two of 4,200 riders on the Great Victorian Bike Ride. We are snaking our way down from Swan Hill on the banks of the mellifluous Murray River and riding through inland Victoria toward the centre of Melbourne. At the end of a particularly tough day of riding, we’ve pitched our tents on a rural football oval – saddle-sore, smelly and hanging out for a good night’s rest.
As James and I quietly reflect on the day’s pedalling, we are interrupted by the sound of something akin to a squealing, stuttering dentist’s drill a few thin tent walls away from us. A rhythmic, digital keyboard starts its high, staccato jitter before being joined by the sound of a 1980’s drum kit, compressed and reverbed to buggery, unambiguously clumping its way into the sonic picture. Before you can say, ‘Hand me my hair gel’, Jon Bon Jovi and his Jersey boys are bellowing the song’s chorus, sixteen seconds in, no beg pardons.
Your love is like bad medicine
Bad medicine is what I need
Shake it up, just like bad medicine
There ain’t no doctor that can cure my disease
As if this song’s production was not already big enough, the lads with the blaster are primed to help Jon, Richie, Tico, Dave and Alec with backing vocals. And they do so, with gusto. All this is fine, so far. I mean, it’s good to unwind with mates after a long day on the road.
But it doesn’t stop there. The tape is rewound and replayed. Again and again. And again. Repeatedly. The lead singer’s faux pleadings at song’s end – (I gotta go, I gotta, I gotta go, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta I gotta do it again, wait a minute, wait a minute, Hold on, I’m not done, One more time, with feeling, come on, Alright, help me out now) – are being taken way too seriously by our exuberant neighbours. Invaded by this motley band of immature, manic mulletheads, our pristine place of peace and restoration has morphed into a boisterous Boganville. All I want to do is sleep. All they want to do is party. As darkness closes I start to feel physically ill from too much bad medicine.
I wasn’t just nursing a sore body that night. Part of my reason for registering for this week-long bike ride was to attempt to mend a broken heart brought on by a particularly bruising and longwinded breakup. The fresh air and exercise was going to do me good. Instead, I get The Massed Bicycle Boys Choir singing, That’s what you get for falling in love, on high rotation.
Eventually the lads grow hoarse, tired and quiet, and sweet sleep descends upon us all. We will ride on without them tomorrow.
Whenever I hear Bad Medicine these days, I am transported back to that temporary city of canvas, and to those stunning vistas of central Victoria that unfolded day after day as I travelled through my country in a new way. I also recall a festering dismissal of Bon Jovi that developed within me that warm November night and stayed with me for years.
But if I listen now without this last association I can hear a brilliantly crafted slice of powerpop. Its production is breathless, bombastic, pile-driven and unrelenting (the song title is mentioned at least 26 times across its six choruses!). The medical metaphor is ridiculous and endearing. Who can resist a grin, or a grimace, when JBJ sings I need a respirator ‘cause I’m running out of breath / You’re an all-night generator wrapped in stockings and a dress)? It’s clever in a dumb kind of way and as endearingly daggy as one of those big white bike helmets and a pair of ill-fitting bike shorts.
The trip was curative. My heart was fitter in more ways than one upon my return to Melbourne. After all, as we are told, When you find your medicine you take what you can get / ‘Cause if there’s something better baby, well, they haven’t found it yet. Bad Medicine? It’s what I need.
Many more Stereo Stories by Stephen Andrew – punk, country, disco, jazz…