Earl O’Neill
Beverly Hills 2209, New South Wales, 1982

1982: the local teledramas were done by 10:30, my folks were long to bed, I was left in the loungeroom to watch the ten to fifteen years old late movies that were little but timefiller to the network.

But not to the programmers. They wouldn’t be working there if they didn’t have an interest in the cinematic arts – why else would I have seen Five Easy Pieces, McCabe And Mrs Miller, Bonnie And Clyde and Vanishing Point?

I didn’t understand Vanishing Point, then. I loved it, nonetheless. I was 16 years old, at school the next day I said “Did you see that movie last night?” No, they hadn’t.

Everyone caught the T&A on 0/28. Only I caught Nashville.

I listened to JJJ, late night shows on university stations, heard sounds that expanded my mind, I watched late night movies that ignited my brain and sent it in directions unimagined by the strictly religious environment I’d grown up in and rejected when I was nine.

Late 1982, a Monday night, I watched a movie, walked into my bedroom and flicked on the ghetto blaster. JJJ ran a programme, Midnight To Neon, live tapes from the JJ vaults, I heard a voice yelling “The greatest rock and roll band in the world, RADIO BIRDMAN!”

The sheer sound of the band shoved me back against the wall. My teenage brain was utterly f—ing blitzed, beyond the beyond.

Next morning at school, I kept asking “Did you hear Radio Birdman on Triple Jay last night?” No-one had. No-one heard it, no-one GOT IT.

I did. I felt something rare and special and unique, something that lifted me above the world around me. I had a direct line into the rare chances that rock and roll might gift me. Radio Birdman to The Clovers, Kinks, MC5, to the best friends I’ve ever known, to acid-soaked sunrises over sleazy bars and late mornings in young ladies’ bedrooms, all the drugs and sex and rock and roll and ill-judged lunacy, to travels in remote and dangerous places, to dinnerparties of wine and laughter and brilliant conversation, to books and history and literature, to money flowing fast through my fingers, to love and heartbreak, to long fast motorcycle rides and the epiphany of space, all the way to the joy and bliss of finally waking up next to a woman who makes me smile every morning.

Everything that has ever happened in my life since that Monday night is directly related to it.

Descent Into The Maelstrom is art, life-changing art. It transcends the normal rules of rock and roll. There’s no chorus, no hook, just a driving rhythm, words inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and that fantastic breakdown after each verse, when everyone plays a solo. Like most Radio Birdman songs, Warwick and Ron keep it moving, smooth, fast, melodic bass guitar lines and punchy fills on a swinging drum pattern. Chris chops out a cross-rhythm, Deniz flies high on solos, Rob growls, howls, surfs the wave of rock and roll electricity and every element meshes together in a psychodrama unmatched by anything recorded by an Australian rock and roll band.

Bloody hell, it weren’t just any band or song that was gonna change my life – it had to be earth-shatteringly great. It still is.

 

Rock and roll changed my life.