Man, You're Beautiful, Ian Bell, Rip It Up, 06/06/96

There's always a sense of dread at the prospect of an interview with TISM. Whilst no member of the media has ever actually died as a result of journalistic intercourse with TISM (that we know of), they are often left emotionally scarred at ritual humiliation, and demoralising stunts that are the TISM's media rounds. Being a veteran of sevveral pieces of the hooded ones in the past (albeit at a safe distance via their now famous fax interviews), it was with renewed terror that I found I'd be speaking directly to Ron Hitler Barassi on the telephone regarding their lightning return to Adelaide. Ron turns out to be a pussycat - although probably the kind of pussycat that craps in your house somewhere, but it takes some weeks to find out exactly where.

For the past 10 years, This Is Serious Mum have been offending... well, just about everybody. From the anonymity of their ever masked faces, they make fantastic records with the sort of good Aussie themes like yobbos (Fosters Car Park Boogie), drugs (John Bonham's Coke Roadie, [He'll Never Be An] Ol' Man River), violence (I'll 'Ave Ya), popular icon (Les Murray, Sophie Lee, Michael Jackson, everyone called Trevor) and have been the subject of verbal attacks from the likes of Derryn Hinch.

Frankly, I think they're doing a sterling job, despite the fact taht some of their records are crappier than others. When they play live, it's a volatile mix of traditional rock posturing, theatre, disco, comedy and plain incitement to unsavoury acts. When they released (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River last year, it took them to a completely new audience. Suddenly, TISM were a chart-topping act. The song itself was at the same time incredibly offensive and completely irresistible, lyrically repugnant but set in such a frantic sing-along techno/rock groove that it broke into the general public frontal lobe and stayed there.

During their triumphant Big Day Out stint in January, Ron Hitler Barassi was not present. The reasons for his non-appearance have been much speculated and theories range from having his eyeball pulled out by an over-enthused punter during one of his famous stage dives to his training for the Olympics. So, Ron, why weren't you at the Big Day Out?

"I just got bored with it. You're all there backstage at the Big Day Out and all the other rock stars there are doing their accounting and their homework, and getting their assignments ready for their teachers... but I sometimes want to rock out. So I head down to the local secondary school for a bit of sex, drugs and violence. Sometimes I wonder... you know how they don't let young kids into R-rated movies and they ban them? Yet we make secondary school compulsory. Why's that? Because all the sex and the drugs and the violence happen in the secondary schools. I would advise all the children reading this magazine, they nipped into the pub under age or they've popped into the groovy cafe and picked up Rip It Up, my advice to them is to save the 50 bucks that they would have spent on a ticket to the Big Day Out and just hang around the back of the shelter shed at school, make fun of the teachers and graffiti on the desk is far more exciting than most rock concerts.

The thing about TISM is that unlike most bands we are actually quite exciting on stage. We are trying to work this out of our act. This Dionysian element of thrilling physical violence, this undercurrent of fear. Most rock bands are very formal, static and as conventional as a Church of England high mass. You know what the stage is going to look like, you know what it's going to sound like, it has appropriate responses, there's an almost cathedral atmosphere. There is an analogy between rock music and the western regions that have a heavy dependence on the dramatic formalism in the performing of its rits and the rite that is a rock music show. Let's take the theme of discomfort and apply both to rock music and religion. You kneel down before the altar and stand and chant and kneel again. The physical discomfort by the sound and smoke, discomforted by the crush of people and the ache in the back of your legs. It's all the worship that is part of the rock music show. Good Lord, I just made all that up."

So where do TISM fit into all this worship and the reconstruction of worship?

"Worship and the reconstruction of worship?! We could write a Ph.D. between us! We need another phrase though. Worship and the reconstruction of worship: A Marxist/Freudian view... maybe not. We've probably lost half the street mag readers. By now they've turned over to the Cruel Sea interview to see what Tex is up to with his syphilis."

The last time I saw you on a stage was at the all-ages show in Adelaide last year.

"One of the central defining experiences of my rock life was playing that all-ages show in Adelaide. We did a show on the Saturday night and there was a shitload of people there. They were turning hundreds away. And then the next day, we had no more than 75, 14-year-olds staring at us blankly. I looked out and they weren't screaming, they weren't yelling, they weren't doing anything. So I went down amongst them, amongst these innocent faces: young girls, a sweating, heaving buffalo of an adult [So you did see me there! - Rip It Up Ed.] And it was repulsive. I was still hung over from the night before. There was an awful sense of disinterest and boredom. My balaclava was reeking. And one of them pulled my balaclava half off and took one look and said "Man, you're beautiful". How could this 14-year-old, pubescent, flowering youth with her golden curls think that this sort of ugly, bogus, bored, disinterested, hung over, drunken again man was beautiful? And there was only one reason and that was that I had just come off a stage - and there is something very frightening about that, I think. 'Course, I had to fuck her. No, I should take that back. I didn't fuck her - that would have been wrong. She had a younger friend that I fucked, actually.

"Samantha Riley's a cheat! Print that!" Ron blurts for no apparent reason. "Samantha Riley is cheatin' and Kieren Perkins is chokin'. The Cheater and The Choker heading our swim team to Atlanta. I couldn't have dreamed for more. In the months leading into the Olympics, that the leading Australian golden girl is caught cheating and the leading Australian golden boy is caught choking. It's liek a dream. What sort of name for a kid is Kieren? Kieren - that's a Japanese beer, mate! If he was called Ken Perkins, he'd be all right and he wouldn't have choked. Kenneth Perkins at a push, but Kieren!!! He might as well be called Izitsu Perkins or Diawu Perkins. They wouldn't put up with that in Darwin, mate. Someone called Kieren would be dead behind the pub by the time they were 15!"

I was always suss of him after he made those ads for that pretend milk.

"I reckon Sam Riley should be doing ads for those cough lollies she took. I can't believe no one has gotten onto that yet."

As I start to wind up our conversation, Ron interrupts with a concerned tone. "What's going on here?! Mate! The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir seem to have just walked into my lounge room. Hang on, Ian. I've got to get them out. Jesus, there's all these Abyssinians in here." At this point, a huge gospel choir starts to sing and clap and chant, getting louder and louder over the 'phone. Over the top of this cacophony, Ron is screaming, "Get out, get out you Abyssinians! Get out of my lounge room you Abyssinian bastards! Get oooooooooooouuuuuut!" Beep, beep, beep. The line is dead. Interview over.

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