Top Ten TISM: A Tragicomedy in One Act
Rolling Stone, August 1995


SCENE: An artist's garrett in bohemian St Kilda, Melbourne. Humphrey B. Flaubert and Ron Hitler-Barassi from TISM sit in obvious despair. A chilly June breeze cuts in from across the Marina and ruffles the thread-bare curtains, momentarily catching the acrid wisps from a smouldering Gitane in the ashtray. Coltrane wails eerily from an old fashioned turntable as the two gaunt, yet somehow ruggedly appealing young men sit in deep concentration.

Humphrey: Let us get an erection.

[Ron sits, unmoving. Long pause.]

Humphrey: It might mean we can hang ourselves.

[Ron sits, unmoving. Long pause.]

Humphrey: Stop blabbering, Ron. It's not that bad.

[Ron sits, unmoving. Long pause.]

Humphrey: Fuck. We were naive to underestimate their power, sure. But it's only one magazine.

[Ron sits, unmoving. Long pause.]

Humphrey [mockingly]: "Ron sits, unmoving... Ron sits, unmoving." Is that the only fucking stage direction you can come up with? I can still say "fuck", can't I? I'm still that much of an artist. OK, OK, we've got a top ten album. It's not that bad. Our avant-garde facade has been ripped away to reveal we are the same as the very faceless, facile, mainstream, bland pop garbage we've spent our whole careers hypocritically attacking - so? [Flaubert is clearly not convinced by his own argument.] That just means we're like all alternative bands, 'cept we've got more than 15 cough mixture junkies listening to us...

[Unmoving Ron sits. Pause, of a long nature.]

Humphrey: Look, we're still the crazy darlings of the underground. Look, look. Let me read the reviews:

"Consistently inspired musical content" - Beat, Melbourne

"This is the recording that Australia had to have" - db Magazine, Adelaide

"A masterpiece of derision and the ridiculous, against all odds and better judgement" - On the Street, Sydney.

"If you only buy one album this year, buy this one" - Triple J.

See, Ron. We've still got street cred. Here, pass me a needle and spoon. I'll show you. Those reviews are proof we're a credible underground alternative artistic force, pursuing our creativity with the highest of aesthetic motives. Why, those mags must be credible street level organs of the avant garde, Ron - no one reads 'em, for Christ's sake.

[Ron remains unmoving as he sits. The pause? Long. Then suddenly:]

Ron: Has Kathy called?

Humphrey: NO!!! No, you absolute bastard, she hasn't!!! Fuck you!!!

[Whilst pausing in a long manner, Ron sits and is unmoving. Humphrey frantically paces, working himself up into a frenzy.]

Humphrey: We'll get over it. We've lived through this before, remember? They reviewed Great Truckin' Songs back in '88. Gave it one star. The same edition, Jason Donovan got two. But we got over that, even though it did make us go top 40 in Melbourne. We fought back, regained our credibility. We were young, sure - but we've still got it in us. C'mon, Ron. We are top 10 now, but soon we'll be back churning out the confronting horse shit to pinheads who read Beckett. See - no-one will get this joke. We can't be that mainstream.

Ron [whose pause is long as he neither moves nor stands]: Has Kathy called?


[Who is sitting? Ron. Does he move? No. And the pause he leaves? - it's a long one.]

Humphrey: You win! You win! You're right. The Rolling Stone review of Machiavelli and the Four Seasons has wrecked our career. Everything was going so well - ten years in the underground, and then the Stone said: "bland throw-away boogie... a passable amount of wit and a container-load of obviousness." Oh, it's destroyed us. [Humphrey despairingly gasps out the rest.] "Grievously slick and funky to a point beyond satire." Mocking us as "fearless iconoclasts" who wear masks. Oh God... oh God... But it was even worse than the critical pasting: the very next day we hit the charts! One bad review in Rolling Stone, and everyone loves us! [Humphrey hysterically sobs.] Two and a half stars, and the record stores are besieged. Just like Offspring - the Stone calls 'em a "good average band" and they sell five million! Is there no end to the power of this magazine? To destroy years of carefully managed artistically pure obscurity? To propel us into the top ten like this! Why couldn't they give us four stars, like You Am I, and leave us as the credible but commercially unsuccessful artists we so crave to be?

[Unstanding, Ron does not unpause, and does not do this for a short time. Suddenly, phone rings. Humphrey picks it up.]

Humphrey: It's for you Ron. It's Kathy Bail, editor of Rolling Stone.

Ron: Kath! Hi! Wasn't expecting you to call. What? Industry party down at Molly Meldrum's place? All major record companies and radio stations to be there? That'd be great! Look, it's our turn to drive, so we'll be happy to come by your place with the limo about, say, ten. Fine? You'll bring the powders? Cool. Ta ta, darling. [Puts down the phone, and looks at Humphrey.] Fuck, thank God. For a while there I thought we weren't gonna get an invite.

Humphrey: Yeah - it's tough in this industry, Ron.



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