The TISM schism, Bob Hart, Herald Sun (Melbourne), 10/07/04

IT IS two years since I last chatted with a member of TISM - far too long for some people, but not nearly long enough for others. Because TISM, Melbourne's masked madmen of venomous art rock, polarise the music community like no other band.

Devout TISM followers, Australia-wide, have clearly succumbed to their shameless "seduction by confrontation" approach. While those who take their popular music all too seriously - angst-ridden, intimidated rock critics among them - are seldom seduced, or even amused, by the band's output.

This is a pity: Australian rock urgently needs a regular dose of TISM. And TISM - who expect us to rush out and buy their new release, a two-DVD, one-CD release called The White Albun (Madman) - are just the boys to deliver it.

This week, rather than fence with the band's usual spokesperson, Humphrey B. Flaubert, I exchanged pleasantries with mild-mannered Ron Hitler-Barassi, who was wearing a strange, silver ensemble at the time. I'm not sure why.

Q: Is there some significance...

A: What's happening here? You don't look a big TISM fan to me. Did you draw the short straw at the office?

Q: Not at all. I've been looking forward to this. I've even listened to the album.

A: Really? You're the one...

Q: Absolutely. I think the parallels with The Beatles White Album are uncanny...

A: Quite right. For example, The Beatles album was a magnificent collection of sprawling pop and rock songs with advanced sensibilities, and ours is a shoddy load of electro-rock pub anthems.

Q: Yes, I noticed that...

A: Also, The Beatles were good and The Beatles were successful, and we're neither. That's uncanny, too. It's no wonder people keep saying we're copying The Beatles.

Q: The Beatles White Album sold squillions. Are you expecting something similar?

A: Not really. There are some very minor members of the Melbourne underworld who have been responsible for more hits than TISM. Let's just say we are unlikely to attract the attention of the Purana task force.

Q: You're too modest. I still say there are uncanny parallels...

A: Possibly. By calling it The White Albun, we are simply doing to a Beatles album title what Jet do to Beatles music - that is, copying it and changing it a bit. If it works for those boys, it might work for us.

Q: It's a bit risky, isn't it?

A: Look, I know Paul is a litigious man and I know he is not pleased with TISM's use of the name. There could be some problems. But on the plus side, we've heard nothing from John or George, so I think we may be in the clear.

Q: The other strange thing about the album name, to me at least, is that I see this as your Sergeant Pepper rather than White Album.

A: Many people have said that, but they're wrong, and so are you. Pepper was our album before last. The fact is we are no longer working as a band. We are working as individual sets of songwriting units. Hence the White Albun.

Q: But you are touring, and there seem to be seven of you on stage. How can that be?

A: Only one of us shows up and we simply grab the first six paying customers through the doors, put them in masks and they're TISM. Also, Humphrey has a new Asian girlfriend . . .

Q: Japanese, by any chance?

A: Yes. And I think her presence is causing tensions within the band. But you should really focus on the secret subtext to The White Albun.

Q: Which is?

A: It's secret. However, I can tell you that TISM has become aware of the existence of an AFL player -- to be specific, a Hawthorn player -- who shockingly has been having consensual, monogamous sex. What sort of an example is that for the young kiddies?

Q: Ordinary. I notice there is a song about Shane Crawford on the album. Is there a clue there?

A: Definitely not. The reason we wrote that song is because we are sick to death of Shane hanging around us at discos and trying to pull our chicks. We've been trying to help him relate to women for years now, but enough is enough.

Q: Don't girls like Shane?

A: How could they? What has Shane got that red-blooded women like? He's an AFL footballer for a start. He has blond hair and good looks and what Aussie girl would be fooled by that?

Q: When you put it like that...

A: Australian girls, as far as we can tell, prefer a man with a nice sense of humour, deep intelligence and a working knowledge of 17th-century Dutch art, especially Rembrandt.

Q: You're sure about this?

A: Quite sure. Shane's difficulties prove it. The same difficulties are shared by the whole bloody Hawthorn backline, if you must know.

Q: Is there a typical TISM groupie?

A: Of course there is. She is six feet one and plays rugby. That's what we find.

Q: Seriously, is everything going swimmingly within TISM?

A: Look, it's like the Eagles. They hate each other and who can blame them? I hate them and I'm not even in their band. But in TISM the level of personal hatred and acrimony that exists among band members is so great that, after this tour, I will refuse to appear on stage with any one of that bunch of jumped-up, talentless, mask-wearing, anonymous, gutless, one-joke wonders ever again in my life.

Q: Really?

A: Actually, no, sorry. I am referring to Jet. TISM, I actually don't mind.

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