Jono Waters interviews Touchstones author Steve Mascord

Touchstones coverJono Waters: Let’s go back to your early life. You were born in Wollongong, is that correct? 

Steve Mascord: “No, I was born in Sydney and I never knew my (birth) mother. I was put up for adoption when I was only three months old.”

JW: Do you know your birth name?

SM: “Andrew John Langley. I’ve recently discovered the name of my likely biological father. He could be still out there, he could be listening. Hello if you are. I was subsequently adopted out to a lovely family in Windang, suburban Wollongong. I had a sister who was also adopted, Tammie, and despite what you may think they did a pretty good job of raising me and yeah, here we are.”

JW: Your early school – primary school, secondary school – where?

SM: “I went to Windang Primary. Windang was a suburb in Wollongong. I think at that time, the suburb might have been only two or three thousand. I walked to school every day. A good childhood. I could hear the surf as I went to sleep every night. Then I went to the nearest high school we fed into, which was Port Kembla High, which was a bit different. There were a lot of people who worked at the steel works, a lot of immigrant families. Windang was quite Anglo at the time. It was a new experience. I knew the Macedonian word for brothel before I knew what a brothel was. I went through to year 12 at Port Kembla High School and made some good friends. Then I was one of the last generation of kids, certainly in western countries, to get a job in the media out of highschool – without having to go to uni or college.”

JW: When did the interest in rugby league develop, along with rock’n’roll. I mean, was there a local Rainbow club in Wollongong?

SM: “I think ‘rainbow club’ means something completely different in Wollongong. No, I think the interest in rugby league was down to my uncles. My uncle Colin never married and he lived with us and with my auntie and he bought Rugby League Week every week. Along with the collecting of football cards at school … we used to collect football cards and swap football cards. I guess I was always a little bit out there. I wasn’t one of the cool kids. It was maybe a bit of a status symbol at school. You collect footy cards. I guess I went overboard with it. It was always the iconography of rugby league: the colours and the jerseys and the badge, all the things around it that attracted me. You know what I mean? Rather than just the aesthetics of the sport. It was a tough game and I wasn’t a particularly tough kid. I wasn’t very good at playing it. I played from the age of five but very poorly. I think I was attracted, like I said, by the iconography of it, the colour of it, the noise, that sort of stuff.”

JW: Before the mass branding of league and the rest of it, what was the Wollongong team known as? Was it always the Steelers?

SM: “No, the Steelers joined in 1982 so when I was a kid, I used to follow St George. The Illawarra was in the Country Rugby League. It had its own competition and it had a representative side which used to go pretty well. St George, they were the nearest team and my favourite colour was red. My second favourite team was North Sydney because they had red in their strip as well. It just so happens that when the local team came in, they were the reddest team of all. The Steelers: bright scarlet jerseys. You’ve got to remember, I was a little kid. I was 10, 11, 12. I think I bought one of the first Steelers jumpers ever. I’ve always been a kind of early adopter of things. This team didn’t exist so other kids were, like, ‘I don’t know what this team is. I’ve never seen them on TV. Who are they?’ But I was instantly into it. I was into it before they’d signed their first player. I went to their first training session, actually. My sister and I … November 1981 … in North Wollongong. I remember Barry Jensen putting a finger over one nostril and blowing the contents of his nose all over the ground in front of my seven-year-old sister. I think to this day I’m kind of the same. I’m an early adopter of things. I have faith in things quite early.”

JW: OK, that’s the league side. What about the rock’n’roll side. You didn’t answer the question on the Rainbow yet. What is the first song you can remember liking? What is the first album or, in those days, seven inch single, that you bought?

SM: “I remember getting old Beatles singles at the local church fete but it was Elvis, really, when I was a kid and for the first few years I became aware of music and rock’n’roll, that was the only artist I liked. My mum liked Elvis. It was, sort of, something we had in common. I used to have a boxed set of every song Elvis ever released, 132 songs or something. But when you go into high school, you can’t really like the same bands as your parents. It’s not the done thing, it’s uncool. So like every kid in the early eighties in Australia, just about, and it other parts of the world, I sort of got into KISS. There was one kid in our class, Kellie Grenfell, and she loved KISS and she got all the merch and that sort of stuff. I got into it late. I can’t really remember the penny dropping. Everyone else liked them because of the fire-breathing and blood-spitting and stuff but I actually liked the music. Actually, that’s not correct. Before that, I used to love the Partridge Family. David Cassidy was the main guy. They used to go around on a bus … so my bridge between safe, what was safe in the mid-seventies, into dangerous in the late seventies in KISS – they were demonic, supposed to be devil worshippers – was the Partridge Family!”

JW: So you hadn’t got to charity sales, you’d actually put your hand in your pocket and bought a new record of David Cassidy?

SM: “I think I did but the first album I ever purchased and again it was being anally retentive. Rather than getting the big album at the time, Dynasty … (KISS) were already on the way out as a commercial force in America – couldn’t get arrested – but they were on the way up in Australia. Even though that was the biggest album at the time with “I Was Made For Loving You”, “Sure Know Something” … I wanted to start at the beginning. So I wanted to start with the first KISS album, 1974. The first album I ever asked my parents to buy was the first KISS album.”

JW: You started off at AAP or you were on one of the suburban newspapers?

SM: “No, what I did was when I left high school … before I left high school I sent away a heap of letters and…”

JW: How old were you?

SM: “I was 18. I remember my first day after high school I went to a music festival. I’d already been covering games for AAP, Australian Associated Press. When I was 16 I first covered first grade football. I used to write letters away and ring people up and harass them. I think the first thing I covered was a goal-kicking competition. I got a cadetship at AAP and I think the first day I was at work at AAP, I got a phone call from News Limited saying ‘do you want to come in for an interview?’. This would have been 1989. I said ‘well, I’ve already got a job’. I said ‘I thought I went terribly in the cadet exam’ because I didn’t know who any of the politicians were. There were all these questions, ‘who’s the minister for this?’. So I stayed at AAP and they were great years. I had to be talked into leaving, actually. I liked it so much. Everyone was about the same age and we had a lot of fun.”

JW: You were on George Street, then, 259 George?

SM: “No, we were on the corner of Sussex and Liverpool. The day I met you, I think you came in and met the boss. ‘Take me to your leader!’. I met Jono, he came out with the South African Sevens team for the World Sevens.”

JW: You were still at AAP.

SM: “I was, yeah. But I think I’d already agreed to leave. Has the statute of limitations passed? You gave me a scoop.”

JW: Which was?

SM: “That one of the South African players was under a drugs suspension from rugby union. I’d already agreed to leave to go to the Sydney Morning Herald. I had the Telegraph, Peter Frilingos, ringing up saying ‘I want to go home. When are you filing this story?’ Everyone was waiting for it. I must have tipped them off. That was a good feather in my cap when I was already about to leave anyway for the Herald. That was good for them, good for my rep’ and everything, so thanks.”

JW: No worries. Around this time, rugby league was starting to become increasingly professional. Cricket had already gone its way through Kerry Packer … the money was coming in through TV rights and stuff like that. Super League was about to take off. Do you tie your music and your events in rugby league together?

SM: “They had ‘Two Tribes Go To War’. But, not really. They had – and you probably weren’t going to ask me about this because you don’t know about it – when I was working at AAP, I was working for street magazines like On The Street and Juke magazine which was a national broadsheet music newspaper in Australia. I had stuff published in Kerrang!, which is my favourite magazine of all time, in England. I just found in Australia there was no respect for music journalism. I put in my column once that the new album from the Baby Animals was called Shaved and Dangerous. Because they had paid for advertising the following week to announce that it was called that, it was taken out of the column. I said ‘it’s already been announced in England’ but back then that didn’t matter because no-one in Australia knew. Very early experience of having stuff censored for commercial reasons. Equally, some of the stuff I wrote back then made me cringe. I just imitated what I read in the English press. It was very scathing. I didn’t have the age or experience to use that wisely. One of my favourite albums of the cock rock era was Cocked And Loaded by LA Guns. I wrote a scathing review of it. I found it recently. It was the ravings of a dickhead. I was ashamed of it, ashamed to read it. I made a decision that sport is on every weekend, you’re going to get paid for it on time because it’s mainstream and if someone drops the ball, there’s no argument on whether they dropped it or not. Whereas, if you say a record’s crap, someone else says it’s good, you’ve got to interview the same people that you’re bagging. If you don’t bag them, you’re not doing your job as a consumer advocate. It did my head in so I just got out of it. I pretty much decided I wasn’t going to write any more music stuff at all and I didn’t do it again for 20 years.”

JW: (We play KISS’s ‘Detroit Rock City’) Sitting alone in a darkened room feeling alone is something people associate with that genre but it still appeals to you.

SM: “I actually identify with the first half of that song and try to ignore the second half. It’s like the first half of the movie Wall Street, the modern morality tale. But who hasn’t (sat alone in a darkened room), particularly at that age. I would have first got into that song maybe eight years after it came out, so 1984. That’s an age when your hormones are awaking and you feel exalted. The whole idea of getting in your car – I didn’t drink or smoke before – and nothing else in the world matters and turning up the stereo, it just came along at the right time for me and, I think, for millions of others as well. The word that comes to mind is exalted. I still feel that, I don’t know if you do Jono. Do you ever feel that? When you’re going out?” JW: Yes. Well, I like my beer. So where’s the overlay now between Australian rock and heavy metal? You’ve got Chisel coming through, becoming an institution. You’ve got the rise of Midnight Oil. Chisel didn’t have it but certainly quite a few others like INXS are starting to become recognisably international bands. How much of it was imitation and how much of it was creativity? SM: “A lot of the Australian pub rock bands, they sort of defy classification. The scene wasn’t big enough to be ‘we’re a hair metal band’, ‘we’re a punk rock band’, ‘we’re a new romantic band’. The scene wasn’t big enough. When you played, you had to hold the attention of enough people. That’s all that mattered in Australia. It was really good to be involved an have a front row seat for the rise of … well, not AC/DC, unfortunately, but the second coming of The Angels and other smaller bands like … the first band I ever saw live was a band called the Choirboys. I used to go to Shellharbour Workers, which was just down the street from where I was raised in Wollongong. I remember, you couldn’t get in if you were dressed like the band. They used to have these dress regulations. If you wore black jeans and sneakers and a t-shirt, you couldn’t get in. You had to wear a collared shirt to see a rock band, it was ridiculous. INXS started the Kick Tour at Shellharbour Workers. Jimmy Barnes used to live at Bowral, he drove down and got up and did ‘Good Times’. That was obviously the high point of their career. Kick went multi-platinum and had five hit singles all over the world. It was great to actually be there…”

JW: Was this the Rainbow Club of Wollongong? What was it? An RSL?

SM: “That’s a Returned Serviceman’s Club. No, the Workers Club was just a licenced club that gives money to … trade unions? That was the local club we went to. Until then I just went to school discos. I don’t remember the music they played at discos but when I went to see live music, it struck a chord with me. But in a lot of things we’ve been discussing Jono, and it’s still the case, I feel a bit fake. A lot of things I got into, I got into a later than everyone else. I guess I just hung onto it more tightly than other people did. For other people, whether it was collecting footy cards or whether it was KISS or whether it was when I branched out and listened to other music…”

JW: I think this is one thing that people remember about Steve Mascord – your enthusiasm. If you’re going to collect cards, you’re going to do it in a more enthusiastic way than others. I’d just like to say that this is when you meet your great friend Jim Savage and continue your lifelong friendship with him. Jim is Steve’s best man. Maybe a word or two on Jim…

SM: “Basically, the other thing about me which hasn’t changed – and not much has – is that anything different is more important than anything familiar. I don’t know, I’m more important than impressing strangers than friends. It’s a weird thing and I was so excited one day when I went to the local news agency and Open Rugby, the English rugby league magazine, was for sale. They’d crossed out the price in pounds and written in texta the Australian dollar price. We drove everywhere but I seem to remember that day for some reason my parents were waiting for a bus, or waiting for someone. My parents were outside the newsagents at Warrawong. I said ‘can I have this?’, I got money and then I sent a letter off almost immediately looking for English penpals. Jim was one of four people who responded. I actually see one of the other ladies, Dawn Skelton, she’s a massive Leeds fan. I see her at Leeds games all the time. There was another guy called Stuart Pedley, who at one point was the Wigan ballboy, and there was Louise Murray from Hull. They were my penpals. Jim, he was the most enduring penpal. He used to write letters, he’d write on the front and the back of these foolscap pages. We just talked about rugby league all the time. For me, I practised my reporting. I’d go to a game and I’d write a match report to Jim. It was only after two years that he said ‘I’ve got a picture of Terry Randall on the wall next to his fellow Australian Angus Young’ and I was like ‘he likes similar music to me as well’. Then we started swapping tapes and stuff like that. Jim now lives in Boston, he’s emigrated to the US. His family are like my second family. I know his nephew says ‘my Australian uncle is getting married’. So yeah, that has been a life-long friendship.”

JW: What’s his music taste, then?

SM: “It’s very similar, very similar, but he’s less open to new stuff. It’s very hard to sell him on a new record. If I sell him on one new record every five years, I have a party. He’s also got a very set idea of what’s credible and what’s serious and what’s not. It’s the same sort of music but I guess I would say we could have a record that we both like but my favourite song on that record would be his least favourite and vice versa if that makes any sense.”

JW: For example, the Choirboys…

SM: “He doesn’t like the Choirboys. They are just kangaroo pub rock. He doesn’t like pub rock at all. He likes blues-based English rock. He likes a lot of stuff that I don’t like. I can never get him into any pub rock but he does like Airbourne because they sound like AC/DC. Even then, he says the lyrics are trivial.”

JW: Onto the likes of Van Halen.

SM: “When we were kids, they were the guys in the magazines. I know now it’s, like, Justin Beiber. In our magazines there were amazing lives like what Tommy Lee had. That was even before we saw the video, haha.”

JW: But at least they could play instruments.

SM: “Yes, exactly. We would get glossy magazines. I remember I saw a picture of Paul Stanley’s niece in one of these magazines like Faces Rocks or Hit Parader and then I had a crush of Paul Stanley’s niece. She was about my age. But we didn’t know how to pronounce some of the names. They say when Motley Crue first went to Eastern Europe, the crowd were chanting “Motley Creugh!” because they were pronouncing the umlauts in the name and Motley Crue didn’t know how the umlauts were pronounced. We didn’t know how these musicians names were pronounced. That’s the other thing, Jono. I mean, I got Look What The Cat Dragged In by Poison on import. It was a thicker record than the local pressing. I used to go to Utopia Records. I bought Trash, the Alice Cooper album….”

JW: Are they still there?

SM: “Yes, I go there on my way to work of a Saturday and buy a CD each week. When I was writing music, they look down their noses at me because I was just a kid and I knew nothing. One of the guys there, I still see him every Saturday, he said to me ‘if you don’t know what you’re talking about, I’d rather you didn’t write anything at all’. He knows my name, we talk footy and he doesn’t remember saying that to me at all.”

JW: Good advice for some people, that’s for sure. Your interest in the West Coast of America is starting to develop about now….

SM: “That’s all because of the hair metal thing. I met my uncle two years ago, my biological uncle, and he could tell a ripping yarn about crossing the street. It runs in our family, this ability to build a grand narrative and to romanticise almost anything. Or maybe me saying that is the family ability to build a grand narrative. Like, sixties hippies deified Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco. Punks look back on seventies London. The whole hair metal thing, it was a perfect storm for me culturally. Hair metal was not about misogyny and suicide. It was actually very positive. It was for working class kids and it was about individualism. It was about not being afraid to be different, you know? I really bought that message because I was always a bit of an outsider. I remember going to a Johnny Diesel show, which I had a press pass for, and this girl only went with me because she was going to possibly meet Johnny Diesel. I was the most uncool. I was wearing stone washed jeans, high-top sneakers and a bright coloured shirt with the sleaves rolled up. That was the eighties. I went from thsat to going to LA in 1990 and buying everything off the shelves there. Everything skull-and-crossbones, leather, denim. I suddenly went from the uncoolest kid to the most overdressed scenester ever. It took me a long time to grow my hair for the first time. I held off doing that. It was kind of an act of defiance. That era and that music helped me feel like I had an identity. I felt like I belonged to something.”

JW: Was that important to you, though? Why did you feel like you belonged more to the rock family than to the rugby league family?

SM: “I didn’t feel more or less. I just felt that rugby league was very straight-laced. Despite the fact I liked it for all the nerdy aspects of it, the people playing it were the people who beat me up at school. I didn’t feel 100 per cent comfortable that way. I was still bad at playing it. What hair metal said was ‘you can be different, you know, and girls will still like you’. There was travel. I liked the music, I felt it. I get goosebumps from music almost every day of my life, you know? Like I said, culturally it was a perfect storm for me and when I landed in Los Angeles in 1990, Michael Gudinski – the great rock entrepreneur, the Mushroom Records founder – he and Sue McAulay who was his PR head, they got me a room at the Mondrian and I was a kid straight out of Wollongong. I was suddenly at this enormous room. The room was so big that there was an earthquake warning and I sat under this giant oak desk. It was my first half day in America. My first concert in America, I went to see Tom Petty and Springsteen and Dylan got up for the encore. I remember everyone laughing at my accent. And I remember ‘what’s that smell?’ I’d never smelt it before – everyone was smoking dope. I was overdressed. The entertainment centres (arenas) were new in Australia, people used to dress up to go. In America, they had arenas since the sixties and people used to just wear jeans and t-shirts. I was dressed up to go to a Tom Petty show. People just laughed at me. I got lost on the way home, drove the wrong way down Sunset Boulevard. I’d go to parties. I was just thinking last night, when I was doing this music stuff I’d go to parties with Richard Branson. I couldn’t believe that in one of my first nights in Hollywood I was at a party and Bruce Kulick from KISS was standing next to me. I’d been in school with Faces Magazine, putting these posters up on the wall, and there I was suddenly there with them. I went to a Challenge Cup final and my first KISS show in the same week on opposite sides of the Atlantic in 1990. I went to a Challenge Cup final at Wembley and that was the first time I met Jim, in the weeks leading up to that. Then I flew to Texas and I did a KISS feature for Kerrang! that was on the cover. That was in one week, when I was 21 years old. It was pretty amazing.” JW: How did this not play with your ego? You’re in this world of the rich and famous, you’re only young, you’ve got on the other side of the bullies.. SM: “Jim actually said that. You know, when I first met Jim he introduced me to some friends and said ‘this is Steve, he’s the guy who’s writing in Kerrang! And it was like ‘oh wow, how come he’s not a big head. How come he hasn’t got an ego’. I still always had that doubt. I felt like I’d fought my way on my own up to that point. My family had done anything they could but I was a little bit different. I used to see things a different way. I guess it was the memory of the bullies and the toughies and the cool kids, it never left me. It probably still hasn’t left me.”

JW: I don’t think it ever leaves anyone. I have this position on Facebook; if someone from junior school is trying to make friends with me, I’m fine with it because you never really had an idea of anybody then. But at senior school you knew whether you liked them or you didn’t like them or they were a bully…

SM: “Yeah, I’m actually different. I’m available to be anyone’s friend, including anyone who pushed me around in school. I still don’t think there’s anything about me that is worthy of me having an ego.”

JW: Low self-esteem….

SM: “Maybe it’s balanced self-esteem, because there’s balance on both sides. Heavy weights on both sides. “Anyway, there’s two tours of Australia I got massive publicity for. One was Stryper, who were a Christian heavy metal band and I rang up Fred Nile and asked what he thought of them, when I was at AAP. He said ‘they’re the devil’s work and I’ve told all the churches to send back their records. This was 1988. It was a marginal metal tour and suddenly they were on all the current affairs (shows). It was absolutely massive. Are they the devil? Are they really Christians and stuff like that. I’ve seen Stryper recently quite a few times. The other one was Poison because I read in Kerrang!” that they had a groupie computer. This was the early days of computers. They had all the addresses of the groupies and they’d look them up when they came to town. That got mentioned in Queensland parliament. We can’t let these deviates into our state. That went through the roof. Rob Goldstone, I worked with him at AAP and he subsequently went out and became a publicist. He was doing publicity for the the tour. He actually took me to Melbourne and I shared a room with him. I was so full – you say ego, I was still a fuckwit – of myself … it was like ‘this is what you do on rock tours’. I went out and grabbed a whole heap of people and brought them back to his room to party! Bret Michaels is in the next room, you know? I can’t believe Rob talks to me after that. I did an interview recently with a guy from the band Love/Hate. He said: in the eighties, it was cool to be wasted, it was cool to be completely fucked up and it isn’t now.”

JW: What I really want to mention is: if there was a third leg to your life, it would be AC/DC. What I am trying to say is it spans this period and is still going today.

SM: “Well, AC/DC … I kind of discovered them a bit late. Everyone else was into AC/DC. I guess I became aware of them … I remember Back In Black coming out, at K-Mart in Warrawong. I remember being at the markets as a kid, I guess I was 10 or 11, and they had these t-shirts ‘RIP Bon Scott’. I wasn’t really sure what that was about. It was grown up music. I didn’t really know what that was about. They breathed fire and spat blood and flew around the place. They were like super heroes. I only really became aware of AC/DC and started to think about them for more than two minutes when there was a live concert they’d shot in the Midwest somewhere that was replayed on all the music shows. It was the first time I’d seen the big bell and all that sort of stuff. But even then it seemed grown up serious music. It was more serious than Van Halen or any of the hair metal.”

JW: But showmanship, still…

SM: “Yeah, well I didn’t realise that until I saw them live.”

JW: What my prognosis is here is that this has overarched your life, this band. You are saying you first became aware of them when you were 11 and you’ve been to their concert last week. I would say that takes up most of your life.

SM: “Yeah, but KISS takes up more. The thing with AC/DC is that Jim was really into AC/DC. Like I said in the earlier part, he had Angus Young on his wall. He kind of sold AC/DC to me and then I discovered the Bon Scott era, long after he was gone. I do prefer the Bon Scott stuff because it’s got wry humour and double entendres and clever writing and he writes about people in a really sardonic way whereas the Brian Johnson stuff is more just about sex, really – in a pretty blunt way, too. Not in a clever way. ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’. What’s that about? I guess AC/DC’s been a slow burn for me. If anyone asks me what my favourite bands are, I say ‘KISS, AC/DC, Van Halen and daylight fourth. GN’R might be fifth, with nothing fourth.”

JW: I’ll put you to the test here, which one are you going to go for?

SM: “KISS is still my favourite because it got me into rock’n’roll. The guys from The Angels, the Brewster Brothers … they say ‘I like you but how can you get into KISS?’ and I say ‘you guys are a generation older than me. Whatever got you into rock’n’roll, Bad Company or Free or Zeppelin, for me it was KISS and so I owe KISS that, even if Gene Simmons says stupid things every day for the rest of his life. So definitely KISS and definitely AC/DC after that because I like big chunky riffs. My favourite song by any band you can name is their song which sounds most like AC/DC. My favourite LA Guns song is ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. It goes on and on and on. It’s the chunky, big, chugging riff. That’s what I look for in a song.”

JW: Vegas is in my top 10 cities. Where would you put it?

SM: “Well, I’m not gambler. What I do like about it is that if you are with someone who is gambling, you get drinks for free. I’ve been back a few times but that’s just been for gigs.”

JW: So it’s worn off on you?

SM: “I’m not sure it ever wore on.”

JW: So let me guess the top five for you: LA, London, Sydney…..

SM: “I only live there for work. I’m not a huge fan of Sydney. I do like the Gong. What’s your criteria? I like LA because it’s fun. I like New York because it’s epic. I like London because it’s vast and diverse. I like Wollongong because it’s home. I like Rio, even though I’ve only been there once. It’s a little bit dangerous. Then, after that, I’m a little bit… I like Hong Kong, I guess. I’m growing to love Manchester more and more. Paris would have to be in there. You don’t like it? I do.”

JW: We’re in the age of Steavis now. We’ve gone through the nineties with the Sydney Morning Herald, which was the grunge era or the BritPop depending on where you lived. We’re into the noughties, you quit working for the Herald…

SM: “My last day (at News Limited) was the 2008 World Cup final, won by the Kiwis. It was also the very day that Chinese Democracy came out, the long-awaited Guns N’Roses album that we’d been waiting twenty-something years. A lot happened on the same day. The biggest of these was me leaving. I had 2006, 2007 and 2008 at News. Both my mothers, there was one I never met, died the same year – 2006. My biological sister rang me up, all that stuff happened at once pretty much. It was incredible and it changed my perspective a lot. The stuff we’ve been talking about until now, I guess I always lived in my own little world.”

JW: What had you been told?

SM: “I was originally told my biological parents had died in a car accident. I was told that because when I was young, my mother Elizabeth wouldn’t sign off on my papers so every time a man in a suit came to the door, he could take me away. I had to be told I was adopted, because ‘why was this guy coming around every month’ but in order for me not to be scared of him, I was told that my parents were dead and when the adoption papers were signed, I had a big fifth birthday party and they just decided to not correct the fib. When Stephany called me, I still .. although I suspected it was a lie but that was still the prevailing narrative at the time. That changed things a lot. I guess I was jolted out of the little fantasy land where I obsessed about football and music. That was in 2006. I had my three years at News and then I quit. I quit because I wasn’t enjoying it and I subsequently started off as a freelance.”

JW: And how’s that panned out for you. I’ve always been a strong advocate of ‘don’t give away your information for free’. I obviously work in a much smaller pool where I don’t have as much competition. But I never set up a website. I never signed up to this idea … to me, content costs money and it’s my bottom line and people must pay.

SM: “Yeah but I only put up stuff I’ve already been paid for. I’ve refined my attitude and my approach. I’m always thinking about it. I set up a personal wordpress site in 2011 and I’m only now gaining an understanding of how advertising works. You know, ebay Associates Amazon Associates and google adwords and wordads. I guess the difference is, Jono, that until very, very recently, I just liked it because it was fun. It’s good to have your own website. I’ve learned a lot about skills in that time and now I am more oriented towards ‘OK, how can I leverage this stuff?’.”

JW: Because to me, a resource like you going out there and giving information away for free does in some ways undermine the industry. It makes it harder for people to be able to charge for content that is generally not very good these days anyway. The Sydney Morning Herald of today or The Age or something like that, I tell people that you can go and have your redesign, turn into Berliner format and whathaveyou … quite frankly your content’s boring and it’s not all about celebrities so fix it. But it just seems that wave after wave of retrenchments have just weakened the whole structure. 

SM: “But Jono, I’m very idealistic about journalism. I see it as a central part of society, not just an entertainment medium. I think journalism was compromised the first time an ad was put on a page because I think journalism makes democracy function. I feel a personal imperative to inform people. If I can earn enough money, that’s great. If I had to go work in McDonalds or K-Mart, I would still feel the imperative to tell people things. I’m lucky at the moment. I can earn a living from two or three outlets. Some of the stuff, I wouldn’t do unless I was being paid for it. But I still have a sense of duty. It’s not just a job to me. I see a lot of people now who are blogging. There’s an American columnist, I think his name is Clay Travis, and he wrote a column about ‘how stupid are these old journalists. They don’t live stream, why don’t they go out and get their own sponsors and sure I’ll plug sponsors and not declare it as advertising and people know’ and all this sort of stuff. I can sum up his confusion, the thing he doesn’t understand, in three words: sense of duty. He doesn’t have a sense of duty. I still feel that. But at the moment, I am definitely thinking more pragmatically about my web presence. I’ve moved to self-hosted so I can have more advertising. I’ve started a music site where I’m paying a guy $11 a story. He’s a really good journo. For 50 bucks a week I’ve got really good content and I’ve got ads on that site. I’ve just completely redesigned Hot Metal. The podcast, I’m doing less of because there’s no way to make money out of it. I just don’t do it much anymore. But I still enjoy it. There are a thousand things in the world that you might enjoy so you might as well pick the things that could help you pay the bills.” JW: It’s a short life – and tomorrow you’re getting married. SM: “Her name’s Sarah and it’s a good story. It’s good practise for my speech tomorrow. I met Sarah 10 years ago and the fellow who introduced us, I subsequently introduced to his wife. He was a journo and he is now the Australian trade commissioner to China. It’s all because I went out one night in Moscow. There was an Uzbekistani girl in the internet café with hair armpits and she said ‘are you going to go to the Hungry Duck tonight’ and I said ‘aw, this is my last night, I’ve been drinking too much, I might stay in’. She said ‘no, you gotta come out, you gotta go to the Hungry Duck”. I went, I think I saw her briefly but at the end of the night I met a Russian girl who was going to Australia the next week. When I met her friend Tanya, or Tatjana, she was walking up William Street (in Sydney). You didn’t see many Russian tourists back then. I said ‘are you Tatjana’ and she said ‘yes, I am’. I introduced her to Dan. Not only that; there’s a lot of serendipity involved. With Sarah, we went out and broke up, went out and broke up because I was the immature person you’ve heard me describing over the last hour. One January we were down in Brighton and she said ‘I was talking to my friend Valda and I said ‘if Steve does a book and it’s no good, we can just use his pseudonym after that and she said ‘what’s his pseudonym?’ and I said ‘Andrew John Langley’.’ That’s my birth name. Apparently this woman Valda just went cold because she knew the whole family. She said ‘his mother was a ballerina’. Obviously co-ordination skips a generation. So by sheer co-incidence, Sarah knew someone who knew my whole family but not only that, but when we did some research the SKEGS school in Sydney has a plaque that commemorates a Langley that is born in Ireland. Not only born in Ireland but from around here. So the church we’re getting married in tomorrow, a 12th century church, has an ancestor of mine buried next to the pulpit and that comes from someone who was adopted out, dropped in the middle of suburban Wollongong and his entire biological heritage hidden from him to coming back here to get married in the county where we came from. It’s almost like a branch of the tree has been glued back together, a branch that was almost broken has been glued back in place. That’s the sort of narrative I’m going for in the speech tomorrow night. What do you reckon?”

JW: Not bad. A sense of belonging. You like your trips to Africa because you think that’s where man started. So, what did you think of Tom Petty’s collaboration, the Travelling Wilburys? Too poppy for you?

SM: “I wasn’t really a fan. I wasn’t into the songs so much. I always thought Tom Petty had a California edgy hippy kind of vibe and I liked that. He’s a great storyteller. Loved Tom Petty, wasn’t such a big fan of the Wilburys.”

JW: So conclusions Steve. Just to knock off the final thing, what’s the one thing you can’t do without.

SM: “I can’t do without music, Jono. A lot of people would say friends, I guess, but I probably could do without friends! Ha. Air, water, food. I’m only joking about doing without friends but I don’t think I could live without music. It’s a funny thing, trying to write a book about finding the underlying meanings in sport and music. In a real way, sport is the way we mark the passing of time. There’s an unpredictable even happening each week and we map our lives according to … young players come and go…”

JW: Can I interrupt there? It depends if someone is throwing the game or not, firstly. And secondly, there’s a little bit of misplaced emotion in this. ‘I’m going to support the Steelers regardless’ and then then lose and and is that really … I can take it’s an unwritten script but …

SM: “We use the word ‘tribal’ in inverted commas but I think we can trace it back to when we don’t need the inverted commas. It was tribal behaviour. It’s your tribe against theirs’ and I think it’s an essential part of human behaviour. It’s the same thing with music. Music makes you do things involuntarily, it sets off chemical reactions in your brain, it’s physiologically verifiable. I can show you goosebumps. I get a physical reaction from music and I think humans need that sense of belonging. We talked about a sense of belonging. We talked about finding your tribe. I guess that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last hour. Sarah will have a go at me about having long hair. In middle age, I know it’s not about looking good. If I go to the NAMM convention in LA, where every middle-aged guy’s got long hair, I want to identify as one of them. I guess they are both (music and sport) are about tribal behaviour. The search for a sense of belonging is something I’ve only discovered by talking about it. That’s what this is all about.”

JW: Is that what life is about? Do you have to belong?

SM: “Yeah, maybe it is.”

JW: Or perhaps not feel alone in the world. Is there a difference? Because for me, there always was.

SM: “I’ll tell you what Jono, before you hit record on this last segment you said ‘is there any advice you could give anyone’ and I didn’t have any so I just said ‘hit record’ but the one thing I would say is ‘don’t let your sense of identity rely on your reflection. Don’t rely on other people to define you. That’s the secret of life – to know who you are even if you are in an empty room. That if people treat you like you’re great or people treat young like you’re shit, it doesn’t impact on your sense of identity at all. You rely on other people to build that sense of identity but once you have it, you shouldn’t rely on others to maintain it.”

JW: Aren’t you just becoming middle aged yourself? That’s one of the things people will tell you. There are age related illnesses. You get little creaks and groans in your body but you also have this amazing sense of letting things go, not worrying about what people think about you.

SM: “Yeah but I’m not talking about that, actually. I know what you’re talking about. I’m very Zen this week. Nothing can ruffle me. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is your sense of self and how we rely on others for our sense of self. That can be at any age. There’re people our age who still desperately look for validation or they walk around and they are their job. I’ve lived that. Going from, I sought a sense of identity, to be involved in something that had legitimacy in society, which was rugby league. I climbed on board that train because I felt adrift. I climbed on board the good ship rugby league and sailed the horizon and got to the point where I could earn a living in it. I don’t think people should need that. Along the way, you will gather elements of your identity from others because of the way you interact with people. You can’t say ‘I went and robbed a bank but I’m an honest person’. Your actions do form your identity. But you should get to the point where you don’t need that validation on a regular basis. You should reach the point where your sense of identity is impervious to minor goings on and the reflections of others, where you judge your own actions … whether you stuffed up. A lot of people aren’t honest with themselves. They don’t say ‘I stuffed up, I’m in the wrong. They don’t go out of their way to apologise if they’re wrong, you know what I mean? If you cannot be your reflection, if you can be something else – that’s what I’ve learned along this journey.”

JW: So if you were to do it all again, is there anything you would … I mean I get the same feeling when I read stories I wrote 30 years ago. It’s embarrassing. I think you can get beyond that. Is there something you would change?

SM: “I do wonder what my wedding would be like had I stay involved in the music industry. Then again, I might be dead and a lot of the guests might be as well. We probably wouldn’t have had to pay the band. I think there might be a lot more drugs floating around. I’d probably be just as poor, I don’t think I’d be an richer or poorer. Probably poorer and probably a lot of my friends wouldn’t have been able to afford to come. I may not have even met Sarah. I think you really need to meet and deal with really selfish and self obsessed and shallow and dishonest people in order to be able to identify those qualities and avoid them. I needed to go out with a few nightmare people to appreciate what I’ve got now. With friends, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m always available to be someone’s friend but I’m not available to be anyone’s ally as far as work is concerned. If you want a favour from me at work, you’re not going to get one. I’m available to be anyone’s friend that I encounter any day. But I’m not going to do some of the things that others consider the price of friendship. I’m not willing to. I believe: truth first, loyalty second. I believe in objective truth. I don’t think you can be a journalist unless you believe in objective truth. I’m not going to be loyal to someone I think is wrong and that is not an attitude that a lot of people will accept. People who expect blind loyalty, I don’t tend to make friends with them because I’m not like that.”

(Steve’s note: my biggest regret is not finding my biological mother, Elizabeth, before she died in 2006)

JW: No last word then?

SM: “Three months old, I was left alone in a hospital and adopted out and not told about where I came from and for a lot of my life I guess I lost myself in a fantasy world made up of the subjects we’ve been discussing. Slowly but surely, those things helped me find the truth in the end. I don’t regret the years I spent buying records and going to rugby league games, you know, but in the end I’ve managed to discover a few truths and in the end I guess that’s all you can hope to do in life – discover as many truths as you can.”

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