Multi-awardwinning Kiwi rocker Shayne Carter, who has been in handful of bands including the Straightjacket Fits and Dimmer, has written a new book about his life in music, Dead People I have Known. In an extract below, he details why he finds it hard to believe he's a rock star and his first live performance, as a teenager at Dunedin's Kaikorai Valley High School.<
I usually forget that I'm a rock star.
It's not an honour I pull out and examine as I plod through the everyday.
I'm more likely to be measuring how much milk there is for my tea and coffee, or being annoyed by the condescension of the radio presenter who acts like he knows, and is interested in, everything.
I'm more likely to be examining a new blemish that's popped up overnight.
It's hard to believe you're a rock star when the milk's run out, and the radio drones, and there's a fresh mark on your neck.
But I am a rock star. Not the big, obvious sort projected onto the Sky Tower, or pounding my chest while swinging off its spire.
I don't sell millions. I've sold barely anything.
But people who've seen me, know.
When I do what I can do, anyone with half a brain gets it.
I don't collect groupies or speedboats, or snort cocaine, and people who do impressions of rock stars are pitiful. One of my favourite TV shows is Rock of Love, where the singer from Poison finds a new soulmate every season, and he and all the LA rock chicks who try to get to him are as desperate and oily as each other.
He plays Every Rose Has Its Thorn in a dimly lit restaurant, where there's only him and the woman, and then they have a tongue pash.
It's excellent TV.
Some rock stars appear in dingy bars or warehouses to an audience of two dozen, because they're too extreme for the malls.
What makes them great is the exact same reason they'll never be fit for popular consumption, but they have that thing you can't quite name that draws you in. It makes them, and whatever they say, compelling.
You can't pretend to be a rock star, although plenty out there have tried. It's probably why the term "tryhard" was invented. Those two blunt syllables. Tryhard.
Rock stars are born, not made. They are, in the way most people aren't. You can't fake X factor, the same way you can't plant charisma or borrow a cup of soul. You see the pretenders on those Simon Cowell TV talent shows confusing hysteria with passion, thinking that whoever shouts the loudest will be heard.
Real stars do that on the tip of a pin.
The world shifts with a lift of their pinky finger. Their softest breath is compelling. "That is all," their smallest motion says, bringing a minimalist classic to a close.
It leaves people wanting, and imagining, more.
There has never been a better way for showing off to the opposite sex than rocking particularly hard.
It makes you seem mysterious, and women wonder what you're like to talk to or f***. When you play, they'll often look at your trousers, which is base but true, like the purest rock 'n' roll.
Meantime, their partners squirm a bit in their seats.
People watch and think, "I wish I could do that."
It's an excellent head start.
It took a while to shake itself out, but this is what I was born to do — fly the flag of rockdom and bang the f****** drum.
I could fill libraries with areas I'm useless at, like relationships, science and every mechanical activity in the world. Being a rock star is one of my few areas of expertise, a topic I swotted obsessively, sorting through the chaff, discovering what it was to be moved by music.
I learned from good music and terrible music. Knowing what not to do was half of it.
I'm sure many of the melodies I've written are subconscious inversions of the shitty AM radio songs I grew up with and only half heard but that snuck into my head by osmosis, like the advertising jingles you know all the words to without knowing what they're selling.
Get the gas where you can. Preferably from places no one else will guess.
Being a rock star was never difficult like much of my life was. It was like opening my veins and watching the blood course through.
It was an essence that was always in me, so I woke up one day, and there it was.
We're standing on the same school stage that the London SS played on, behind the same green felt curtain. We can hear the crowd on the other side, bubbling and humming. I'm ready, standing at the mic, one hand on the clamp, the other holding the adjustment thread halfway up the stand. I'm wearing a black blazer and a pink shirt and my hair is messed up with Johnson's baby oil.
The rest of the band have plugged in their guitars with trembling hands. Jeff Harford does a test rattle on his snare. Jonathon Moore looks moderately worried, but then again he always does. Fraser Batts has his first chord in place, his finger a bar over fret three. Wayne Elsey is constructing his bubble of pride. Tonight, our band debuts.
The school hall is packed with hundreds of parents parked on the benches that their children use daily, the benches that, at least once a year, someone farts on to liven up an assembly.
Tonight, however, the crowd are here for more noble purposes.
It is this year's Kaikorai Valley Talent Fest — Fest, not Quest, note, for tonight there'll be no prizes for first, second or third. The children will be performing without pressure or judgement, purely for our and their own pleasure.
There have already been several delightful items. Margaret Teller's excerpts from Oklahoma! were beautifully sung.
Bruce Carver's magic show was actually rather good, although one or two fathers said they could explain how it was done.
There was appreciative applause when the First XV formed a scrum and sang their bonding song in unnaturally manly voices.
Victoria Roberts came out and tap-danced, smiling the whole time above her supple clattering feet.
Now there is to be a rock band, although the name appears to be misspelt in the programme. Bored Games? Board Games, surely! Not that it matters. These boys will do very well to equal those already done.
We plan to stick it to them from the top.
Fraser smacks down on the opening chord of I Wanna Be Your Dog before the curtain even moves, and by the time it's shovelled over he's already down to E. The rest of the band trundles in, the trailer behind his truck.
Ted, my little sister's teddy bear, is tucked beneath my arm. I'd planned to use Ted as an ironic prop, but from the opening note his days are numbered. Within the first minute he's been torn limb from limb and scattered across the stage. My 7-year-old sister looks on from her seat, horrified.
The audience now realises there will be no pleasant musical build-up as there is in Stairway to Heaven. I have my performing philosophy intact before I sing even a word, one I'll use from this moment on. I'm here. What am I going to do — break down and cry? I'm certainly not going to beg.
I have Iggy Pop to thank for the first line I ever deliver onstage: "I'm so messed up, I want you here . . ."
It's hardly what the crowd expects. It gets worse in the so-called chorus, where one line is repeated until it becomes clear that what you think is being said is actually being said.
"Now I wanna be your dog! Now I wanna be your dog!"
The parents must find it disconcerting to hear a young boy asking to be degraded while he stands below the school motto "Seek and Ye Shall Find".
There's a shifting on the benches.
When Fraser gets to his lead break, I boot Ted's dismembered torso around the stage. Then I go back to my mic stand and hang off it like Johnny Rotten. Wayne stumbles around like Sid Vicious, when Sid took all his drugs.
The hall hasn't heard this sort of abject noise before. The only other acts in the space this year have been Rob Guest, who led a rousing singalong of Any Dream Will Do, and the smiling Christian band Certain Sounds.
I glare out at the audience, as if to say, "So what?"
When our first song ends, the clapping is the same as that that is given to the other acts. The adults want to appear generous. It's like they're miming to canned applause. We don't acknowledge them. I'm mentally blowing at the hot spots on my fingers.
Jeff does his Ramones count in — "WUN—DO—DAY—DAH!" — and the twin chords of Frustration thunder forth.
Jillian Humphries is in the audience, sitting with Nicola Leyden, several rows down.
Tonight she finally sees me. Hers was the first face I saw. I take special pleasure in the "Why the f*** torment me?" line, and the fact that I am actually singing this at full volume to 500 people in my school hall.
I put a special snap of emphasis on the "f***", savouring the "c" and "k".
There is no hiding the other offensive line either, because we've signposted it, as large as the "Mind That Child" sign on the back of a Mr Whippy truck.
"You know you've got me ..."
Jeff does a tom build, as if he's swinging off a stripper.
"... crawling up your a***"
That's an a**** too far for our principal Dave Rathbone, who makes a great show of getting up and trudging towards the exit.
The only thing missing is a crown, a cross, and seven dozen lashes. Several parents nod towards him, like supportive parishioners, their lips pursed in common protest. The rear door bounces behind Rathbone as Frustration comes to a close.
The identical robo-clapping from the audience slaps in again, like seals performing for food.
Despite this ovation, it's clear that the people have had enough.
But we're not finished yet. We'd like to do one more song. I.H. 4 Me is a new variation on our favourite theme, this time from a more compassionate angle.
People put me down, people always look around I know I may look funny but don't treat me as a clown I'm retarded so I'm told and Mummy being bold Says Daddy threw me down some stairs when I was two years old Ooooh-ooooh-ooooh
No one apart from a few friends and my family is here to hear this, and the general air is one of shock or resignation.
I'm crouched down like Chris Knox now, drawing little mental circles around my temple with a finger.
The dutiful applause comes in again anyway, the same amount of rice grains rustling through the same-sized can.
We leave the stage as a helper brushes up Ted with a broom and shovel.
Well, that went all right. Wayne's lead had tangled around his legs during Frustration and my mic stand had started slipping, but all that aside, we'd remembered our parts, and I.H. 4 Me, our newest song, held together. It had been a blur of heads in silhouette, and the giddy empowerment of being the one voice in the room.
It was a thrilling but also vaguely empty feeling, like you've really risked a lot.
No one around us backstage says anything, and the way they look down or busy themselves seems to indicate if not quite disapproval then certainly some confusion over what we have unleashed.
No one is sure yet, but the temple may have been desecrated.
• 1978: Forms the band Bored Games while at Dunedin's Kaikorai Valley High School.
• 1981: Bored Games breaks up before the 1982 release of their only EP, Who Killed Colonel Mustard.
• 1983: Forms the DoubleHappys.
• 1985: While the band is traveling by train, bass player Wayne Elsey is killed when he climbs out of a carriage and the train passes under a bridge.
• 1986: The two remaining members form the Straitjacket Fits.
• 1994: The band breaks up.
• 1995: Carter forms Dimmer which goes on to win several music awards.
• 2005: The Straitjacket Fits reform for a New Zealand tour and Carter receives a lifetime achievement award at the NZ Music Awards.
• 2008: The Straitjacket Fits receive a legacy award at the NZ Music Awards
• 2012: Dimmer disbands.
• 2011: Carter joins supergroup The Adults with Shihad's Jon Toogood and former Fur Patrol singer Julia Deans.
• Carter releases an album under his own name, Offsider, largely funded by a crowdfunding campaign.
Dead People I have Known
By Shayne Carter
Out May 9
Published by Victoria University Press