Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chris Knox: The Trick of Standing Upright

I am too young to have really been there and I've never talked to the guy, but it is clear that Chris Knox is a force of nature. His recent stroke has prompted me to reflect on his role in my musical education, and his many contributions to my enjoyment of my misspent youth.

It's easy to forget today that there was a time when the emergence of a particularly New Zealand music culture didn't seem inevitable. But there was Chris Knox with his 4-track, his friends in all those amazing bands, his songs. Even the one where he recites the alphabet.

I remember him as the shambolic troubadour with the banana shorts doing gigs at the University of Canterbury in the mid-nineties. We were all too cool to admit that "Not Given Lightly" was our favourite, so we had to hide our disappointment when he pretended to have forgotten the words.

I particularly recall four of us dancing around on the grass like maniacs while Chris played the End of Lectures Stein in 93, or was that 94? It was a warm and sunny spring afternoon and it sticks in my memory as one of those perfect occasions of youth; your friends around you, your whole life before you, the best music in the world. Who knows what Chris made of it when two blokes (I won't admit here to knowing them) got up on stage for a bit of a pash with the great man. He certainly seemed game.

Before the live music, and the communal appreciation of musical greatness, there was my teenage bedroom fanboy phase.

I don't remember exactly what prompted me in 1989 to give up on the FM radio stations and take up with student radio for good. At this time the Pixies were my favourite band in the world, but student radio being what it was in those days it was inevitable that I would eventually discover New Zealand music in the shape of Chris Knox and his cohorts at Flying Nun.

I remember going on a school bus trip to Akaroa in 1990. It involved singing. Despite not being able to hold a tune I was that kind of kid in high school; the choir and the debating team. I remember being counselled about Flying Nun on the trip back by a guy who was a year ahead of me. By this stage I think I had decided the Verlaines were my favourite. He urged me to reconsider Straitjacket Fits. We talked about Chris Knox and how prolific he was, the fact he was there at the beginning with Toy Love and a 4-track for the Clean. He recommended the early Tall Dwarfs EPs and "Seizure".

Today I can't even remember name of the guy on the bus but I still have a TEAC C90 mix tape of Flying Nun music he made for me. Side A is a selection from the Clean compilation that was around at the time. Side 2 has the best bits of "Bird-Dog" and "Hallelujah All the Way Home", Toy Love's "Rebel", and a lot of other gems like "Joe 90" and "Happy Endings" from Bored Games, and "Native Waiter" from the Victor Dimisich Band.

Pretty soon I had bought myself a tape of "Seizure", and the new Tall Dwarfs "Weeville" when it came out. This weekend I've taken advantage of modern technology and bought them off iTunes. I still know every word. I still feel like Chris is looking me right in the eye during "Hallelujah Boy".

I'd forgotten how much he sang about the challenges of living a good life. Admittedly, these reflections are often phrased as invective against some character who has lost everything in the pursuit of money or fame.

The songs that recount his obsession with bodies and with bodily functions seem painfully tinged today with the awareness that the body can become a prison.

Get better Chris, there are lots of us out here wishing you all the best.

1 comment:

Hayden said...

I remember the first time I saw the Tall Dwarfs play: at the back of the Carlton as warm up for the Chills (on their Sumarine Bells Tour). This was the first ever concert I went to, at the grand old age of 15!