Twelve Questions: Don McGlashan

Kiwi musician, songwriter and former Mutton Bird Don McGlashan has a new album planned for mid-year and next week performs down the road he made famous for Dominion Road Stories at Potters Park.

Don McGlashan has finished his Michael King residency, which gives writers opportunities to work fulltime on major projects. Photo / Chris Gorman
Don McGlashan has finished his Michael King residency, which gives writers opportunities to work fulltime on major projects. Photo / Chris Gorman

1. What have you been doing with the two-month Michael King residency you've just finished?

Getting up early, swimming, walking up and down Mt Victoria, gathering lots of beginnings for songs, and even finishing a few.

2. Your father seemed determined you'd be a musician, buying you old instruments to learn when you were a child. How did he know?

I had fierce maiden aunties who used to sing Donald Where's Your Troosers? at me when I was very small.

That should have led to a life-long antipathy for music - not to mention years of counselling - but despite that, I loved singing from an early age and wanted to play every instrument I could get my hands on.

My Dad adores music, and I think he was just glad I seemed to share his appetite for it.

3. Has yours been a life of only occasional penury?

I've been lucky enough to keep the wolf from the door by writing songs and doing gigs, and by writing film and TV scores when they get offered to me; but he's never more than a few streets away.

I often wondered about stopping and doing a steady job, but thankfully it's too late now.

4. At the Silver Scrolls last year you spoke of the power of musicians. What has been your most overt political act?

Having children, and somehow helping to raise them to be strong, loving people. I'm not sure how that happened.

5. You once said you'd rather have sex with a very ugly crayfish than let the National Party appropriate your music. Are you feeling fond of any politicians these days?

Not in that way. Anyway I was quoted out of context. I didn't say that, and if, in fact, it transpires that I did say that, I can't remember having done so. You'll have to talk to a member of my staff.

Seriously though, I do regret that comment slightly; not because it's not true, but because politics here does get a bit tribal, and I'd like to think that I'm capable of focusing on what's being said, rather than who's talking.

I think that outburst was an unintentional sidestep into that kind of tribalism. I certainly got a lot of hatemail from it.

6. New Zealand musicians, even the international popstar ones, seem to check their egos at the door. You play with everyone. Neil Finn sings back-up for you. How did this modern miracle come to pass?

I don't know about checking my ego at the door. I'm quite shy outside one-on-one situations, but over time I've found that the best way for me to be comfortable in a gathering is to be on stage with everybody looking at me, which you'd have to say is evidence of an industrial-grade ego.

The reason New Zealand musicians are more collaborative than our overseas counterparts is probably because it's a small place, and nobody here is so successful that they're inaccessible. It's hard to be supercilious when you're spotted at Countdown in your painting shorts.

7. Been back on your bike lately?

Ha! No. My son left my bike locked up behind a Wendy's while I was carted off to hospital [following a road crash in 2011] and when we came back a couple of weeks later it had been stripped like a bunny rabbit that had fallen into a tank of piranhas.

I haven't had the heart to get a new one yet, and when I do I'll stick to cycleways I think.

8. What is it about Dominion Rd that makes it such an iconic Auckland road?

It's long and straight, and the name has a sort of frock-coated 19th century optimism about it.

You can imagine a city father with hat, beard and fob-watch making a flowery speech full of classical allusions about the road's future importance to the colony.

I like the way it pretty much bisects the isthmus, picking up where Queen St leaves off, then heading all the way down through Mt Roskill, then almost making it (via its "extension") to Waikowhai Bay on the Manukau.

9. What do you think of its latest incarnations?

It's just so full of vivid life: from the halal butcheries by Mt Albert Rd, up through Balmoral's hurly burly of noodle houses, to Valley Rd, with the smiling, robed ladies at Blue Bird vegetarian restaurant and the ultra cool staff at Videon. To paraphrase Dr Johnson: if you're tired of Dominion Rd, you should check that you still have a pulse.

10. Does Anchor Me sometimes play in your nightmares?

No. Donald Where's Your Troosers? sometimes does.

11. What did you write in your journal today?

For some reason I described the Pelion olive tin that I keep my pens and pencils in. I wondered who designed it all those years ago, and complimented whoever it was on what a great job he or she did.

I'm spending a lot of time with my dad at the moment. He was a civil engineer, and though he's now 89 and frail, he still sees everything as a series of challenges, that can be easily surmountable if you have your slide rule and some graph paper to hand. That's probably where that journal entry came from. I don't know whether it'll turn into a song.

12. What have you learned about love?

That it's an unstable and dangerous element, but it's the fuel the world runs on, and trying to understand it has to be our life's work.

- NZ Herald

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