Student hostel, West Geelong 1982
“Waiting for the countdown / In the summer of ‘81”, sings Ross Wilson, “Sign up or go underground / In the summer of ‘81”. I am 19. My first year out of home. Student hostel. Bachelor of Arts. The summer of ’81 stretches on and out – hot, expansive, heady and mysterious. Girls and alcohol. Skipped classes at first year uni. Car pool trips to the surf coast. The summer of ’81 crashes into 1982. Late nights. Late mornings. I didn’t sign up. I went underground.
My soundtrack to this time emerged from a student bungalow in West Geelong. I shared these digs with two punks. One of these, Steve, had just emigrated from the UK with suitcases full of late-seventies sounds from his old home. It was pop, but it wasn’t popular. It was rock, but it was a long way from Mondo Rock.
It was called punk, apparently, and it bristled with fuzz, snot and a pissed-off attitude. It felt desperately new and anti-historical. No More Heroes declared the cover of one of the albums in Steve’s stack. The music was rough hewed, jaggered and held together with lumps of gob and glue. It was both infected and affecting. I’ve never been a joiner, but I felt compelled to become a member of SPAC, the Sex Pistols Appreciation Club which the other punk, Pete, had started. Beer, cheap and smelly, flowed. At the local pub a cruddy P.A. was set up and the over-driven speakers delivered perfectly shredded tracks of the lads’ LPs. I loved the sound, the DIY attitude, and what I understood of the politics. I was on the dole, poor, but a long way from poverty stricken. I didn’t get a Mohawk, nor cut up and safety pin my clothes. I kept my phlegm to myself. I was a part-time punk.
Somehow I heard, or heard of, Fuck Art, Let’s Dance, a seven inch single from Sydney band 5:15. I can’t be sure, but I think I spotted it in the rack at Missing Link Records in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, and thought I’d take a gamble on the disc. I had already purchased the Dead Kennedys’ Too Drunk To Fuck, which was a rude hoot, and this looked like it might be more of the same.
It wasn’t. Where the DKs were sharp as a buzz saw, 5:15 were rough and ungainly. They lurched around their record. This Sydney three-piece sounded like this was the first time they had hit the studio. The guitar solo sways and stumbles around, in and (perfectly) out of time. The cymbals, like pot lids, peak and distort. There’s a bass, but no bottom end. Special effects extend no further than handclaps. The singer begins by intoning desperately, “Here’s a little song we want you to dance to.” He, and the rest of the band, clearly need to get us moving. A killer riff weaves around the lyric. The drums bounce and spring. There’s a joyful nihilism to the lyrics and the performance. It does matter, but it doesn’t matter and I ricochet from one stance to the other. There is definitive resolution and answer in the chorus: “If…blitz…gives….you the shits – Fuck art, let’s dance.” It’s like Louie Louie, with swear words.
Well before the chorus, I am up and pogoing, pirouetting and pouting. So are all my friends from in and around the hostel. The single is played and played and played to death at uncountable gatherings and spontaneous parties in and around the hostel for more than a year. I also assail my friends in Melbourne with the single. It’s a hit, (if ‘hit’ is the word), up in the big smoke too. If 5:15 had received royalties for every time the disc was spun, they might have moved beyond their obscure status.
Over time, as people graduated or dropped out, they also moved out. Geelong was not a place where 19 and 20 year olds stayed put. Old loves and dull lectures were forgotten, and those spacious days became regulated by jobs or further study. Things got more serious. Couples coupled. Pakington St became trendy. And I never lived in a group house again.
The walls of where I lived all those years ago will never again resonate with the roar of a mob of drunken, bouncing teenagers chanting, Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. The bungalow is now a child care centre.
© Stephen Andrew.