Crusaders for Citizen Average, Brett Buttfield, dB magazine, 1/2/95


"Who's interested in our snivelling little efforts besides a coupla thousand people max in every major capital city and some snivelling journalists who are just doing this job so that they can get a real job with the Adelaide Advertiser?" -The Ron Hitler-Barassi phone interview

Those masked marauders of modern consciousness, This Is Serious Mum, are back. More disturbingly, they appear friendly. There's a description of an apocalyptic band in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's conspiracy epic "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" which has always read like a description of TISM:

"The secret of their popularity was that they were so appalling. They reminded their fans of all the evils that were being daily visited upon them, and thus hearing them was like scratching a very bad itch. They suggested that perhaps youth had captured its opporessors or identified with them, and they momentarily turned the pain of the whole scene into pleasure. To learn how to enjoy suffering, since suffering was their lot."

TISM have always seemed deeply misunderstood. I've seen them lose fans by denying them their petty heroes and seen them hated for raging against alternative complacency with the same virulence with which it's okay to cry out against the mainstream rot. They lose people. Or, as the Pet Shop Boys recently bemoaned, it could be that "irony doesn't work on a mass level". Since they burst into life in the turgid eighties, TISM have subjected journalists to all manner of sensory deprivation under the guise of interviews, and their 'fax interview only' policy has always kept them at a safe distance. Now, Ron Hitler-Barassi is on the other end of the phone, and he's ready to talk.

"We're just deeply scared people. I think it does come from the fact that we're men and we haven't got large penises at all. THere's just a problem with penises in this band. We sort of feel that we haven't got anything to say and we're not alone in that. We could do the standard rock interview here Brett, but the tedious detail, the bottom line accoutrements of rock and roll are as boring and as unexciting to outsiders as any profession. You turn up to this place and it takes six hours to plug the digitizer machine in and another four hours to get that synched in with the DAT tape and after eight hours everyone stands around saying 'What a great bass sound'.

Look, it's not exactly Teen Spirit, it's not exactly the voice of rebellion. It's the tediousness of a profession like anyone else's profession. So the moment that we get all over the mainstream media I also want to see Joe Bloggs from the local carpentry firm all over the media and he can bore everyone crapless about his new nail gun."

So the, is this unexpected outburst of Glastnost in the TISM camp a conscientious attempt to win media exposure and maybe have that elusive cross-over hit? This is, after all, the band who wrote in their manifesto 'The TISM Guide to Little Aesthetics', "TISM are very prepared to exchange their ideals for as much money as you would care to offer." Hitler-Barassi doesn't skirt the issue.

"It would be the ultimate extension of our art to be transformed into that sort of trash product. We've always wanted to have a trash product, but only mainstream trash product can do it. You can't fake that level of insincerity. We've always tried to cut the art out of our art, but it's always crept in.

Like TS Eliot said, 'the best poems are written when you're not there'; it's all just the objective voice of poetry speaking though you. We've always wanted the objective voice of puerile, facile, gormless, entropic capitalist culture to be speaking through us and our own pathetic selves have always intruded."

Intriguing, but does it explain how the self-confessed 'verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, double chorus, end, hard edged indie oz rock' boys came to be working with paranoia-techno disciples SNOG in the perfect match of Australian pop on their latest single Jung Talent Time? Apparently the moment of revelation came in Adelaide when they appeared at the Big Day Out.

"Because, unusually, the guitar band and the techno vibe were butted up against each other within walking distance, you could walk from the Soundgarden concert to the Boiler Room. We went down to watch Soundgarden and there's ten thousand blokes mainly and it was very solemn, it was very serious. I'm not saying it was bad, but you had to go through a cathartic, arty experience. Up in the Boiler Room were all these good-looking girls dancing and having fun. At a techno gig if you're not having fun you might as well not be there. The role of Ministry's audience, for good or bad, is to say 'You are in Pain. You are alienated. You are emoting and I share your emotion and am too stunned by it.'

Most people have fairly cathartic experiences when the buzzer goes off and they have to get up and go to work. No one needs to go to a workshop or listen to a Ministry record to have a cathartic and anxious experience. I'm sure that the public service buildings across Australia are full of people sitting at their desks having fairly cathartic, depressed, bored, alienated experiences."

With such a powerful work ethic it's hard not to wonder why it's taken TISM such a long time to deliver a followup album to 1990's 'Hot Dogma'? The last time they toured here they performed a whole swag of new songs, only a few of which turned up on the 'censored due to legal advice' EP. What gives, Ron?

"We did have an album recorded that we dumped. We went through a process of deciding it wasn't exactly where we were at the moment. It's the lost TISM album. What we feel we've done now is return to our roots, and our roots have always been very machine-oriented and very mechanical. We've always had a drum machine, the tackier the better and we've always had keyboard lines and the cornier the better. We were techno before because we weren't good enough to be anything else. We needed a Casio beat, we needed a drum machine. We couldn't pull it off without a lot of mechanical assistance.

We're trying to return to the manufactured days of yore, back to the machine-like, pop, technological, throw-away sensibility that we did, after all, start out with. We're really pleased with our new direction and we feel at last we're breaking free from constrictions, and the Naomi Campbell thing, we would like to show that we're not just a pretty face."

Ron Hitler-Barassi was sounding restless. I asked if there had been any line-up changes and he assured me: "On the good ship TISM a few planks might change, but the ship remains the same." He assures me that the new TISM album 'Machiavelli and the Four Seasons' will finally be released in March and admits that it's time for him to stalk off and make himself Tea.

I throw one last question at him; in media promotions for REM's 'Monster' album, Michael Stipe has grieved that Kurt Cobain was the only media figure with whom he felt any kinship. Ron Hitler-Barassi, who does TISM feel an affinity with?

"We only feel kinship with the people who don't get mentioned in the media. We feel kinship with the people who read the media on the 7.15 train to work, when your hair's wet and you can't turn the page 'cause the bloke next to you has gone to sleep. The woman down the next seat is wearing her earphones. The bloke standing up in the corner is staring dully out the window. It's a Tuesday morning and it's still dark outside and you know that when you get home it's going to be dark as well and you don't particularly like your wife and you realise, in the end, that you don't really like your kids and you're reading a newspaper and you're consuming this rubbish, because you've got a rubbish filled life.

That's the person we feel sympathy for. Not the fucking Michael Stipes and Kurt Cobains. Kurt Cobain! The last thing that went through his head was the bullet, but I bet the second last thing was the post-bullet headlines. It's the pain of someone who knows that pain ain't gonna get anywhere. That pain ain't gonna make you money. That pain ain't gonna write no chorus. That pain ain't gonna get on no magazine cover. That pain ain't gonna get dressed up as something glamourous and interesting, or obsessive, or junky, or frightening, or artistic. It's just normal, dull,, everyday, common, no-name brand pain that you buy in the supermarket and you stick it on your shelf and you put it in your pantry and you chuck it out when it goes off. That's the people we're after."


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