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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 35 - 08/26/99

Toby Creswell & Martin Fabinyi
The Real Thing: Adventures In Australian Rock & Roll 1957 - NOW
Random House

Not Quite The Real Thing

The last few years have seen something of a boom in the numbers of books published about Australian popular music. As usual, when there is a rush on to exploit a niche in any market, quality is often a casualty. Cresswell & Fabinyi are exploiters extraordinaire, both having cut their teeth in the market place already. Cresswell with his Jimmy Barnes bio, Too Much Ain't Enough, in 1993, and his roles as editor of both Rolling Stone (Australian Edition) & Juice magazines is an established voice in the local industry. Fabinyi also has flashy credentials - as editor of FMG magazine and as the person responsible for the establishment of Regular Records and later of Mushroom Pictures.

Together, they have produced a beautifully presented book covering, anecdotally, the history of Australian popular music over the last 40 years. The book boasts a number of terrific photographs, many which I have never seen before, which add to the aesthetic charm of the book. Annoyingly though many of the photographs are placed pages away from any text reference to their subjects. Some illustrations are not referred to in the text at all, making their inclusion seem irrelevant. The overall visual impression though is one of quality graphic design and layout. It is easy to be lulled by the cosmetic qualities of the presentation though.

The text is easily readable, and put together by two guys experienced in the quick throwaway journalism of pop culture mags you would expect it to be, but it lacks depth and insight into the subject matter it covers. Too often there lurks a sense of self importance on the part of the authors, taking the opportunity to feather their own nests at the expense of details on their subjects. The autobiography and the memoir were two genres invented for this purpose and the writers should save such indulgences for the time when they write theirs. That would mean we could get rid of photos of the non-entity Surfside 6 (Cresswell's crack at rock star status), their gig posters and the unforgivable inclusion of one of their tracks on the accompanying CD.

There is a chronological approach taken throughout and it is hard to complain about the way they have broken up the four decade period of coverage into trends and movements - it all seems very logical and allows for as broad a coverage as possible. Little critical appraisal of the artists featured is made - the authors seem to be a little wide-eyed and awestruck in this regard, too careful not to offend, and keep the pace constant by covering the basic facts only.

Overall, this book would satisfy the casual browser and would make an elegant addition to anyone's bookshelf. The reader who is looking for a close detailed analysis of the emergence of a distinctly Australian version of popular music should avoid this (browse through someone else's copy) and go back to the seemingly endless wait for such a book to materialise!

Copyright © 1999 Ken Grady e-mail address

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